The raging debate over food miles, with Tesco slapping pictures of aeroplanes onto their imported produce, threatens to debilitate Kenya’s second largest industry after tourism. Having read a little about it, the arguments seem clear. Some environmentalist or other thought up the ‘food miles
’ catchphrase and the press have taken it and run wild, leaving poor Kenyan farmers with their livelihoods in the balance. Farmers here were encouraged move away from subsistence crops some time ago and grow more profitable roses, French beans (known in France as Kenya beans) and mange tout for export. Now UK supermarkets are keen to buy flowers from Holland rather than Kenya in an attempt to cut ‘air miles’, but conveniently they ignore the fact that the artificially heated greenhouses in Europe are far less environmentally friendly than their sun fuelled African counterparts, (using more than five times more energy on heating and lighting).
The Kenyan High Commissioner to UK, Josheph Muchemi said; ‘The response of European retailers to consumers concerns about ‘food miles’ could undermine Kenya’s social and economic development’.
Perhaps the press should stop whingeing about food miles and carbon footprints and instead highlight that fact that Africa is in fact the world ‘king of recycling’ and is an example to us all, with carbon emissions per head at 200kgs as opposed to in UK where figures per head are almost reaching 10,000.
It’s easy to see why carbon emissions are so low here. Most clothes worn are recycled, shipped from Europe and sold in second hand markets in Africa (mitumba). Paraffin lamps are made from old tin cans, plastic bottles and cups are used time and again, inner tubes from car tyres are cut into strips to make useful straps (like bungees). Even car tyre treads are fashioned into Maasai sandals. Many people have few possessions at home. Children and adults commonly walk for hours every day to school or to work. Bicycles are popular and the mini buses (matatus) ferry millions around the country. The Lorries and trucks loaded with building materials are often on their last legs, driven within an inch of their lives they limp along crabwise until ultimate breakdown. Roadside snacks like sweet corn are roasted on makeshift barbeques; peanuts are sold in wraps of used paper. Children’s toys are fashioned from odd bits of wire and cloth, footballs made from plastic bags and string. Ingenuity is the name of the game.
There are also more conventional large recycling plants for materials like paper and glass. Sadly, when rubbish bags are put out, you’ll often see someone picking through the waste for objects that can be recycled and the huge inner city toxic rubbish dumps are peopled with children and adults scratching out a living from recovering recyclable materials.
If you need to throw out an old oven, broken tv or stereo someone will willingly take it off your hands and these objects will miraculously be given new life. Furniture is a boon for anyone and always gratefully received. We have already had an offer to be relieved of the ten year old unwieldy and defunct satellite dish that we finally prised off the roof last weekend. Christmas is a time to hand over old clothes, towels and shoes and a home will be found for everything.
So why not give Kenya a break and buy their beans and flowers, don’t let ‘food miles’ destroy a developing country’s chances of finally having an independent and buoyant economy.