On this Day 10 of 21 Days for World Hunger, I am sharing the second part of my interview with Dr. Anteneh Roba of International Fund for Africa (IFA). Dr. Roba, humanitarian and animal rights activist, shares his thoughts about politics, veganism, global warming and effecting change for world hunger.
Q: What are your thoughts about pastoralists, specifically the Africans who make their livelihoods from animal agriculture?
Well, I have a big problem with it, but that’s because of my stand on animal issues. It’s a big dilemma for me. It forces me to deal with a problem that I have a moral conflict about. Let me give you an example: Donkeys. Donkeys in Ethiopia are working animals. What trucks and trailers and big SUV’s do in the US are what donkeys do in Ethiopia. The livelihood of a lot of people depends on what they do.
If the donkey dies, the family suffers. It is very hard for anybody to take a position and say I don’t care about human beings that these animals should be left alone and not be worked to death. On the other hand, it’s also very hard to say, who cares about the animals, they are just animals. Human beings come first. We have to protect our species and we have to survive. There are organizations like the Donkey Sanctuary in Ethiopia out of Great Britain. Their philosophy is, yes, they should work. They should work for human beings. Even Genesis says it in the Bible, but they should be treated fairly, with respect.
They shouldn’t be abused. So what they do is basically train people to take care of their animals – to give them proper medical care. If a donkey is sick, they come to the clinic, they’re treated and while they are there, families are taught and trained how to take care of their animals and then they are sent back to work for them.
My personal view (not the view of my organization) is I don’t believe human beings have the right to work any animal, anywhere, anyhow. I can’t speak for my organization. We haven’t been faced with this issue at this point. By nature, I am an animal rights activist which means that I don’t believe animals were made for human beings; they are fellow travelers on the road of life. They are no less or no more important than we human beings. It is a controversial position to take, but that is how I see it.
Q: What about pastoralism in Africa where the land is so barren and so arid that vegetation wouldn’t be supported, and the only option for these people is to have herds?
Well, I will counter that by saying two things: 1) the reason that areas are arid is because a lot of times people in rural parts of Africa have too many animals, and over the course of decades by simply overgrazing, they have made the land barren. The animals have grazed to the point that nothing is left. The land becomes barren and nothing can grow any longer. That’s one of the huge problems with having lots of animals. The picture (at the top of this post taken by Dr. Roba) shows what happens to lands that are overgrazed by animals coupled with global warming. The animals, as well as the people, have nothing left to eat so both species die.
The Amazon is being destroyed every second to make way for animals to graze on the land so that meat can be shipped to North America and Europe. The more we’re doing that, the more we’re causing climate change that is affecting the availability of water etc., and basically increasing the chance of the land becoming even more barren. We have to have fewer animals to make the issue of global warming go away, or at least mitigate the effects of global warming. The more animals we have the more global warming becomes an issue.
A report from the World-Watch Institute that came out October 21, 2009, basically refutes the claim by FAO that says 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from intensive animal agriculture. Well, the World-Watch Institute came back after evaluating the numbers and said the numbers are much much higher than 18 percent. They are 51 percent. Animal agriculture causes 51 percent of the current global warming. The methane they produce, the confined situation they’re in and all the associated damage that’s being done.
The other problem is related to resource use. In order to satisfy the voracious meat-based appetites of people in western countries, the number of factory animals has to increase, and one resource that is being quickly depleted because of this is water. We are using huge amounts of water. Water is an issue that is causing obvious problems. Not having available water to drink – potable water, water to irrigate, water to use for growing things.
Water is disappearing because we’re giving it to animals. Having more animals is not the solution. The same things animals need, so do human beings. The same life sustaining elements needed to keep humans alive are needed by animals, so the argument that more animals are needed for human beings to survive in inhospitable and arid climates is an illogical assumption. These animals need to feed. They need grass to eat. If humans can’t survive, animals are not going to survive in that barren land. Most of the animals pastoralists have, they don’t even eat. They sell them. They use them for bartering. People have animals in Africa not necessarily to sit down and eat them. In some cultures they are a sign of wealth and in some societies they consume their by-products only.
In Africa, in rural parts of Africa, you will see thousands of animals, no question. But none of them are actually being eaten by the people that own them. They can’t afford to do that. They need them for selling so they can get other things they need. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. It takes 60 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. A meat-based diet needs 4,000 gallons a day. A vegan diet needs 300 gallons a day. If we stopped feeding ourselves and other countries meat, we could save 3,700 gallons of water a day. We live in a world that is quickly losing its resources of water. In the U.S. 70 percent of the corn and wheat and other grains are fed to animals. I can go on. This idea that other parts of the world need to eat meat to survive is ludicrous. The main thing is to ask questions. For example, what are the effects of the Western diet on African countries? That’s what my speech was about when I went to Africa.
That is where I have an issue. Africa is quickly becoming one of the main resources for meat production for export to Western Europe and America. It’s still very low, but it is projected to be huge. In 1984, remember Michael Jackson and other musicians sang a song for the famine that hit Ethiopia? That same time Ethiopia was exporting all sorts of food items including grain overseas, during that starvation period. The Western society demands meat (cows eating grain), so poor countries with their meager resources try to accommodate the needs of richer countries and basically transfer animals to western society so they can consume them.
What we are doing with our meat-based diet and living habits is destroying third world countries in many ways. If you want my opinion, world hunger is not an issue of lack of food; it is a lack of political will. It is a cruel joke perpetrated by Western societies and African countries whose leading politicians are not doing what is necessary to help their people from starving to death. There is enough food in the world to feed every human begin. We feed 70 percent of the grains in the U.S. to animals. If you stopped feeding animals – stopping eating meat three times a day – we can feed every human being on this planet.
This may sound harsh but I’m just stating the facts the way I see it.
Q: You mentioned the lack of political will with African politicians, what about U.S. politicians?
The U.S. government subsidizes U.S. farmers and agricultural companies. They subsidize the farmers. When Africans or other 3rd world countries want to export other agricultural products, they will not accept them without heavy penalties if at all, to protect their farmers. They can send all sorts of junk food to 3rd world countries and force them to reduce their tariffs or basically take away their tariffs and accept the food as is. The other way around is not acceptable. This is supposed to be free trade. Who can compete with a farmer in the U.S. that is supported by the U.S. government, in the world market, even if African governments were allowed to subsidize their farmers, which they are not, and they don’t have the money to do so.
The bottom line is that the IMF and The World Bank use free trade laws as a leverage to screw small countries. It’s all a game. It’s about politics and economics; it’s not about a lack of food. Food is there and available for everybody if we want to do the right thing. If we wanted to mitigate the effects of global warming, we would change to a vegan world or at least reduce the amount of meat consumption; so that not only do the animals and the wildlife and all the other living things survive, but also humans. We have enough water to survive in the future. Right now oil is a big deal, but some institutions and think tanks predict that in the next couple of decades water will be the big deal. Wars will be based on lack of water. It’s not an issue of not having food available; it is a lack of willingness.
Haiti was one of the largest rice producing countries in their hemisphere. However, because of the Clinton Administration and its dealings, and by instituting structural adjustment policies by WB and IMF, basically they forced the farmers in Haiti to accept without having any powers or any way to regulate the import of rice from the U.S. American farmers and companies started to flood Haiti with rice to the point that the Haitian farmers were forced to abandon their farms to become beggars in overcrowded ghettos in different cities in Haiti. Now Haiti, once a self-sufficient country has to import rice from the U.S. and other countries to survive. This is the game we’re playing with people’s lives.
Q: What would be the top 1-3 choices that an American can make to help mitigate this problem?
1) Educate, educate, educate yourself. Learn about the reality. Don’t sit down and listen to CNN and Fox news and expect to get a good view of the world. Have you ever watched CNN outside of the U.S.? There is a huge difference between CNN U.S. and CNN outside of the U.S. They have a more detailed, a fairer reporting of events that are happening outside of America. They are trying to appeal to Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Africans, who are more discerning. Who are more sophisticated as far as understanding world politics and what is happening in the world. They will not take useless crap from corporate media outlets.
The first thing people should do is read and learn about what is really happening. Why is global warming happening? Why are there food shortages? What is IMF doing? What is the World Bank doing? How is it affecting other countries? Once you are armed with the knowledge, then you can institute changes to make a difference.
2) Because the effects of global warming, the effects on health, the effects it has on water resources, on desertification, on losing habitat, on losing wildlife, you name it; meat production and eating meat has to be decreased severely or eliminated altogether. The second thing Americans should consider is walking away from foods that are animal-based because they affect health, the environment and people’s lives. They kill people day in and day out. We need to cut down on meat eating. Those are probably the two most important things that I think any American can do.
Once you’re educated then what you can do is start agitating. We live in a democracy and if it’s a democracy and we run the government – not the other way around – then the politicians should listen to us and not to corporations. If you learn about the unfairness and what the Monsanto’s of this world do with GMO foods, which is probably going to be a disaster for everyone then you will not sit ideally by. Call your Senators, call your Congressmen, write letters to people in power, and write an op-ed in your newspaper. Be an activist. Effect change by agitating. The more people know about these things, the more people care, eventually politicians – assuming that we do have a democracy that is for the people, and then they will have to listen to our complaints. That’s how we can bring about change.
Getting information out is probably one of the most important ways to bring about change. Having lived here (the U.S.) for 20-something years, living among the American people; one thing I’ve learned is that Americans are very kind people but have very little knowledge about what’s going on in the world – relatively speaking. So, it’s not a lack of caring. It’s a lack of not having the information available.
Once you disseminate the information and they believe it and if it’s credible then that’s how change comes about; by a) individuals getting involved themselves to help other countries or through organizations like ours. Or b) by going to their Senators, their Congressmen and influencing policies that are kinder to other countries. That’s the way you bring about change.
Q: How is it possible to truly relay to people the urgency of this situation?
I don’t have the solution for that. The only thing I know is that people like you and me that see the need to change how we eat for our health, our planet and for the sake of the animals must speak out to as many people as possible, every waking moment of our lives.
Let me give you an example. We did an event in San Francisco called Soul Food for Thought. And basically the idea behind this came to me while sitting in my hotel room, after a combination of experiences that led me to creating the event with the help of a good friend and a fellow vegan Bob Linden, who was the producer and genius behind the event. Bob Linden is the host of a program called Go Vegan on Green 960 AM radio.
One of the first experiences that led me to creating Soul Food for Thought began in Ghana. I was in Ghana attending the 2nd West African Congress Sponsored by the International Vegetarian Union. I went there and saw a vegetarian society that was very progressive. Very enlightened. Very determined to get their voice heard in a country that is a meat-eating country just like Ethiopia, where the people can care less about animals.
They had the vision and the tenacity to fight for something they believe in. I was so inspired by them, because being from Africa, I know the odds, the insurmountable problems one faces trying to bring a concept like veganism into a place like Ghana or Ethiopia. In the US, at least you know it’s an industrialized country, the population is educated, and it’s a little easier to promote this type of concept. But in Africa, it’s a different world, because the priorities are so different. And so if these people in Africa can get up and fight for a cause that they truly believe in that will make a difference, why the hell am I not going and doing that?
The other piece of the puzzle that inspired me to create Soul Food for Thought was going to the Elmina Castle, on the Coast of Ghana. It was a trading post for the Dutch which eventually became a pick-up spot for the Atlantic slave trade. Basically these people hoarded African slaves that were brought from the interior of West Africa and then they were shipped to the Americas.
About 300 years or so ago, 7,000,000 of the slaves left from that castle of which a huge percentage never made it to North or South America. When I went to the castle and saw the dungeons that housed the poor souls, and I physically felt and mentally imagined how it must have been for those poor slaves and how it is now for the factory farm animals that are in concentration camps all over North America and Europe and now developing in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that realization hit me hard and made me realize I could not stay silent any longer.
I related the two so much that when I came back to my room in my hotel, the combination of seeing the heroic efforts of compassionate Africans promoting a peaceful diet and my experience at Elmina Castle made me want to share my experience with Americans and especially with the African American population. Afro-Americans more so, are the ones who historically relate to the continent of Africa, and if they have that type of attachment, I wanted to let them know how our behavior here in the U.S. affects people in Africa, how the kind of foods we eat affects hungry people in Africa.
By traveling in Africa and by seeing the devastation of climate change which has been brought on, by a large proportion, by animal agriculture, by overgrazing etc., I felt compelled to be the messenger that relays the information from those that do not have a voice to those who do. I came to the U.S. and we hosted the event in San Francisco, which was incredibly successful. Because we were able to inform people about the situation we made a difference in some people’s lives and what surprised me is that I thought by talking about human and animal confinement it would be perceived that I was somehow comparing animal slavery to human slavery and that most African Americans during my presentation at the event would be offended and probably walk out.
Instead, quite the contrary happened. People were clapping and appreciative of what I said, which really blew my mind. The beauty of that is when I left the room after I gave my speech; waves of people came up to me. Five to ten people came up to me and thanked me so much for what I said, and told me they learned so much. A lot of them were seasoned activists most of them Afro-American people who are vegetarians or vegans who understand the politics and what’s going on but had no idea that how we treat animals affects what is happening in Africa. Most of them were not aware that how we treat animals not only affects our health and environment here but also in Africa.
To summarize what I’m trying to say: Every little bit of activism helps – of going out and telling people – whether it’s by writing or by what we’re doing now or by talking to people, and doing presentations. Whatever we do to raise the consciousness of people is what is going to bring change.
And it takes time. I said this earlier on. I don’t think I’ll see major change of how we eat in my lifetime. Nothing worth having, nothing worth keeping, nothing worth fighting for will happen over night. It’s a process. It takes years, decades. Maybe you and I in our lifetime will not see it, but something needs to be done. Something needs to change. Granted, the way the global warming issue is going; the way things are happening; the way the earth is reacting to our abuses; I don’t know if we have that much time. At least we should start the process and do the best we can and die fighting.
Thank you Dr. Roba for taking the time to interview with me and for sharing your passions about creating change in the world – change that is sustainable for all. In future posts, I will be talking more about some of the key points mentioned by Dr. Roba.
Bring on Day 10
The energy is back, and I was on the top of my game today. I’ve had some curious mood fluctuations these past ten days, and a part of me wonders if I’m not detoxing. I’ve essentially been only eating whole foods with little variety, which could, I suppose foster a detox.
I did have a moment of rebellion about 4:00 p.m. when I just couldn’t take it anymore, the hunger that is. While my energy was okay, I felt very hungry. I hit up the peanuts, ate ¼ cup but wasn’t satisfied. I felt like rebelling and had a handful of some stale Garden of Eatin’ Picco de Gallo chips. I was a rebel. Takin’ a walk on the wild side. Dinner was…you guessed it. Lentils and spinach. The husband shared that he is ready for a change. The good news is that tomorrow we will be changing our diets to reflect the fare of those living in Latin America. Corn tortillas and beans.
Holding steady at 116. Here’s my nutritional intake for the day:
|Chai Tea||12 oz||192||4.25||30.5||0.75||0.75||65||25.5||0|
|Pico de Gallo chips||app 7 chips||140||7||18||3||2||150||0|
|Lentils||2 cups cooked||452||2||78||32||36||942||8||1462|
The fact is that there is enough food in the world for everyone. But tragically, much of the world’s food and land resources are tied up in producing beef and other livestock–food for the well off–while millions of children and adults suffer from malnutrition and starvation.
To support the organizations I write about in the series, purchase a World Hunger: Be the Solution Tee. Proceeds from the shirt will go to the Small Planet Institute Fund and the International Fund for Africa. All tees are sweat free and available in organic cotton. To see the selection of World Hunger tees at Conducive’s Humanitarian & Human Rights Tee store, click here
To follow this series from the beginning, you can click the links below:
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 1
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 2
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 3
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 4
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 5
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 6
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 7
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 8
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 9
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 11
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 12
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 13
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 14
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 15
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 16
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 17
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 18
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 19
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 20
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 21
Solutions for World Hunger: Part I
Solutions for World Hunger: Part II
Solutions for World Hunger: Part III