Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Monday 11/12/12

Jambo Means Hello in Swahili

Jambo everyone!

A Kenyan woman harvests tea near the town of Githongo, Kenya. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

Yes, I am back from Kenya and grateful for the experience. I've got two notebooks and 1,000 pictures to sort through, so it's going to be difficult to break down the entire trip into some rational articles because there is so much to describe. I am certainly grateful to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and the Netherlands-based Agriterra for giving me a chance to participate.

Most of the 18 people on our tour were from Europe, although we had three North Americans and two South Africans as well. We only saw a small portion of such a beautiful country. A fellow American journalist on our last night summed it up quite well when she described Kenya as a country of extremes. There is so much wealth and yet so much poverty as well. There is so much potential yet so much not acted upon.

Let me give you an overview of my scattered thoughts, observations and experiences:

Wow, Nairobi is huge. 4 million people? Our driver is going to kill us. This traffic is unlike anything I've ever seen. I guess they don't check cars for emissions. No, I really don't want to buy that. What an amazing city. Dang, I feel uncomfortable walking around downtown. I told you not to stop and talk to those people. Look, here's $5 bucks for some rice. Now go away.

Goat-meat stew's not so bad. In fact, I kinda like it. That cassava stuff would taste better if they just added some salt, pepper, garlic and maybe some onions. Your Twitter profile says you are always grumpy? Yes, I'm always grumpy. You are the only one who didn't stand up when you introduced yourself --- typical American. Yeah, this Tusker isn't bad beer.

Mzuri means "fine" in Swahili. Hey, I was raised in Missouri. But we're not fine. In fact, our football teams stink. How do you say stink in Swahili?

Eighteen of us are going to share this bus for a week and the first place we are stopping is a stockyard and packing plant? Holy crap! Thank God for the U.S. meat industry and our meat inspectors. No, I probably shouldn't have stepped over there. In America, you can't hit cattle like that. You think it's worse to use electrical prods? We wouldn't slaughter cattle that small. She would be hamburger. You are trying to turn methane into biogas and sell it for families to cook? That's pretty fascinating. You probably shouldn't smoke so close to that place.

You just have the sows right next to the house, huh? Land cost how much right near Nairobi? Dang. I can't believe all of these kids are orphans. Sure, show me your cows. Let me take a picture of you, John. I miss my kids. I took a semester off from Michigan to come work here. I love it. Cell phones have helped turn a country from a cash-based economy to one with people using bank accounts. They just text their payment information?

The biggest problem in the country is rampant unemployment. Working on a farm is considered a punishment or a low-class job. Everyone wants to come to Nairobi and get a white-collar job. There are a lot of people just standing around because they have nothing to do.

Goat-meat stew for breakfast too. Look at the way some of these people live. Everyone believes they can just set up a stand on the road and make money. So the government runs this dairy? Look, they use HACCP rules. That machine was built in 1925. Yogurt is huge. How come you don't make ice cream? Right, few people have freezers. You guys just started selling yogurt too? Zero-grazing? We call those confinements operations. In my country, one cow means you are unemployed.

They just graze wherever. No, I don't know what's going to happen with the election. I live in Iowa. We're a swing state. No, not swinger. That's different. What's a Mazunga? Ah, right -- honky.

It's hard to deal with all of the poverty. Kenya is growing by about 1 million people every year. There are supposedly thousands of non-governmental organizations in Kenya, but the only person I have seen actually out helping someone is a college student from Michigan. Yes, Jeanne Bernick is a really nice person, but she is a competitor. So if you want to leave her, I'm cool with that.

Happy Obama Day! Obama is my cousin, but we are all Obama's cousin. That's a lot of tea. How long does it take to fill one of those baskets? So they make about $4 a day. We're all going to get out and take pictures at the equator sign. Goat stew and that cassava stuff again. They make a lot of coffee in Kenya, but it's all exported. Everyone drinks tea. You are only a 30-year-old woman and you own your coffee farm -- that's pretty impressive. How tall does the tobacco get? He says he started the banana crop to diversify his operation. Oh great, goat-meat stew -- again.

What happens in Meru, stays in Meru. And bring us another round of Tuskers.

Farmers have trouble getting loans. The SACCO credit-union lady said the big cooperative bank charges 18% interest but the big cooperative bank guy says they never charge the SACCOs more than 15%. I'm confused. There is a bunch of smoke pouring out of the back of the bus. There's another one coming. We don't have time to shower or change before we go to the big reception the ambassador is giving us. This guy knows a lot about Kenyan agriculture that he wants to share with you, but you can't quote him. Yes, I can see there are a lot of trials and tribulations to being from a wealthy country and working on poverty issues in a developing country. These prawns are awesome.

Yeah, but we Americans don't sing. I do know some verses from "A Boy Named Sue."

They apparently don't hire people to fix potholes in this area. The idea is that we get all of these farmers together to sell for the markets and also produce more. The grocery stores aren't ready to commit to anything. Do you mind if I take a photo of you with your carrots? The Rift Valley is beautiful. What's the name of that volcano? The Kenyan climate is perfect for growing roses so we grow them all in greenhouses using geothermal heat. We are lowering our carbon footprint so everything is sustainable. The country faces frequent shortages in some foods, but a lot of people make money shipping roses to Europe. Yes, I suppose if they are working full-time that means they have more money to buy food. If you used the land to grow more food rather than export coffee, tea or roses, then there would also be more food. Wow, this place is beautiful. There are zebras, wildebeests and giraffes everywhere. It's going to be difficult to say goodbye. Everyone is going to give a speech. I'm going to make sure I stand up this time.

You learn a lot spending a week with a bunch of people on a bus. You learn even more when you go Congo dancing with them in Meru.

Kwa heri means goodbye.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.

Posted at 1:27PM CST 11/12/12 by Chris Clayton
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