At my house there is an almost daily battle. It’s a three-way fight between me, the fridge and the bin.
Trying to ensure the family is fed before we hit the sell-by dates – is an ongoing food fight.
I hate to throw food away – it feels so wrong. But in many parts of the world, the fight over food waste is not just a moral issue, it’s an issue of survival.
I was in Kenya, in a town called Nakuru near the shores of lake Naivasha. We were there to film a story about how insect infestations and disease were devastating crops. It was causing huge amounts of food wastage and resulting in the misery of millions of Africans.
I had travelled to the outskirts of Niavasha to meet a small-scale farmer called Purity. She lives in a small house with a few surrounding fields. Showing us through her front garden, we had to step around the graves of two of her children and her husband. Here, hardship is so common as to be unremarkable and people regularly die young from disease and illness.
Purity grows maize, one of Africa’s staple crops. But disease has devastated her harvest and when a crop fails so does her family.
With no crop, she had to sell her only marketable asset – the family cow. The money they got, enabled her to keep her remaining children in school. But if the next crop fails – there will be nothing for it but to take the children out of school and put them to work.
The culprit which had attacked her fields was Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease or MLND. The disease seems to have started in Kenya but has spread to Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. It can be devastating and there is little small-scale farmers can do about it.
The answer to Purity’s problems may lie not far from her door. Earlier on in the day I had met Dr. Boddupalli Prasanna, the Program Director of the Global Maize Program at CIMMYT which is trying to develop new crops, resistant to disease such as MLND.
But in Africa there is a large gap between what happens in the world of science and big agricultural firms and what happens in the fields of small scale farmers.
New crops are very expensive for ordinary Kenyans and many who scrape together enough money to buy them, are conned by small time crooks who say they are selling new disease resistant seeds, when in fact they are not. It is after all, very hard to tell one seed from another.
This scandal of counterfeit seeds wasn’t the story I had come to report on, but as is often the case – the more interesting and important tale is not always the one you turned up to tell.
Having heard the BBC were in town, a small group of women had gathered outside Purity’s house and were clearly waiting to talk to us.
The most vocal of the ladies grabbed my hand. “There is a scandal here.” She said. We have to buy our seeds in the local market. They say these are the new varieties but they sell us old rubbish seeds and our crops fail.” She implored me to try and help.
I held her hand and said I didn’t really know what I could do.
It’s a cruel crime which takes money from poor farmers and sells them a promise of disease resistant seeds which are nothing of the sort. They fail, leave the farmers penniless and hungry with neither money or crops.
One lady in particular wouldn’t let go of my hand. The crew were already in our car waiting to leave and I was trying to edge my way towards them without being rude to the lady who had come to see us.
“Please tell our story” she said repeatedly. Tell people how ordinary Kenyans are sold old seeds and our crops fail and our families are destroyed. “Please tell them.” she said.
They were words she kept repeating as I got in the car. “I’m not sure I can do anything to help” I said.
“If you tell them, they will know our hardship and maybe something will happen to help us.” She implored, not keen to let go of my hand.
The crew were in the car. The story we had come to film was in the can. But standing outside the car was another, perhaps more important story. “I don’t know if it will make a difference” I said, “but yes I will try and tell your story.”