On my recent flight to Sweden, I sat next to a fascinating woman. She works with training small-scale farmers on how to do organic farming in Zambia. We had a very interesting conversation and since she was staying in Sweden for a while I decided to interview her for my podcast. Unfortunately, I had some technical problems with our microphones. As I believe our conversation is relevant and important I decided to transcribe the interview into a blog post. Normally, I discuss personal development, business and how to live a good life on the show. This interview is slightly different but I believe very important. First talk about the history of Rhodesia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Something that is very current as Zimbabwe and President Mugabe have been a lot in the news lately. After, we discuss organic farming and eating healthy. Me and my wife try to eat organic and after talking to Bridget I am convinced that everyone should do it! We also discuss GMO´s a little bit at the end.

Oskar
So Bridget, welcome to the show. We had a very interesting discussion on the flight and I didn’t have any recording device so I decided to meet you again here in Stockholm.

Bridget
Okay. I enjoyed the discussion during our meeting.

Oskar
So you work with certifying organic farmers and you work with small-scale farming in Zambia. So we are going talk more about that at the end of the show. I want to hear first about your background growing up in Africa because. I believe a lot of people don’t know so much about Africa from the rest of the world and it’s a big continent with a lot of different countries. Can you share a little bit about your background?

Bridget
I grow up in Zimbabwe from a very young age; I think I was about 2. My mother was an English South African, but my father went out to Africa when I did, I was one year old at the time. As whites in Africa we had privileges, but somehow my mindset was not extreme like a lot of other whites in Africa, so I ended up being very happy to travel to other countries. I lived in Botswana, and I lived in Zambia when my parent was first in Zambia in the 60’s and 70’s.

And then I was actually invited to Zimbabwe in 1980 to help build Zimbabwe. It turned out to be not as I had hoped for.

Oskar
Can you share a little bit about the history of Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, and that region at the time in 1980?

Bridget
At the time Zambia was Northern Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe was southern Rhodesia.

Oskar
And Rhodesia was under the British rule?

Bridget
Rhode was the man it was named after.

Oskar
Okay.

Bridget
At that point, there was pressure on Southern Rhodesia to become more inclusive because, in the early 20’s, they were permitted to be ruled by a settler government whereas in Zambia it continued to be a colonial government.

Oskar
So what’s the difference between a settler government and a colonial government?

Bridget
A colonial governance is more like governors and the colonial office, people are there as a part of the British Government. Whereas for the white settlers government, some of them were South Africans, some of them came out after the World War.

Oskar
Aah, so there was white coming there.

Bridget
So they formed their own government in which pressure was now building on Britain to change. Zambia got their independence in 1964, and there was now much pressure for change also in Southern Rhodesia, so they became Rhodesia-Zimbabwe as sort of a half step while not really involving the liberation movement at all, so that didn’t work.

South Africa who had given a lot of support to Rhodesia was also having pressure put on them to pull that out. Finally, it ended up with the Lancaster House Constitution for a conference which mapped a program for Rhodesia to become independent and that happened in 1980.

So I had been in Botswana for 4 years where I was recording music, traditional music to be precise.

Oskar
That’s interesting.

Bridget
When I came back to Zimbabwe, we were very happy because we thought we were going to rebuild Zimbabwe.

Oskar
So what happened with the settler government? If am correct it was 1980 that Mugabe came in power.

Bridget
Yes. The settler government in 1965 when the pressure was coming on them to change decided to declare a unilateral independence and that triggered the effort in population to see what they could do about it. Thus the liberation almost started at that time and there was 15 years of civil war.

Oskar
Did the white have any allies among the black communities? Because they were the minority in Zimbabwe, I assume.

Bridget
The whites were the minority, but they were the ruling minority.

Oskar
So in that civil war, they had more money?

Bridget
They had the army, they were the power and allies were South Africa because at one stage they were partly South Africans. And they had allies, even when Dag Hammerskjold was shot down. (so unfortunately in Zambia)

Oskar
What year was that?

Bridget
I think it was 1961.

Oskar
For the Swedish listeners, you obviously know who Dag Hammerskjold was but for those listening around the world who doesn’t know who Dag hammerskjold was, he was a Swedish diplomat who was in charge of the UN at that time.

Bridget
There was connivance with the settler government and South African as well as others from the western world. Britain and a lot of others felt Dag Hammarskjold was interfering in their affairs with them were making a lot of money out of the Congo in particular.

Oskar
So when Mugabe came to power in 1980, what happened with the settler government and the whites at that time, where they kicked out immediately?

Bridget
In fact, the agreement in Lancaster House in Britain was that for 10 years there would be 20 protected seats for in the Zambian parliament. There was a compromise and in that time they got used to each other.

But it was also a reason why Mugabe didn’t bring the change that people hoped for because he was bound by the constitution that he had signed and he didn’t do anything for another 10 years in terms of the land until there was the rising of an opposition which he saw as a threat and suddenly we had land invasions.

Oskar
And that was around 2002?

Bridget
It was from the year 2000 but it became quite strong in 2002.

Oskar
You described while we were on the flight how the farmers just all of a sudden had people living on lands owned by whites.

Bridget
Yes. The farmers had supported the opposition and as far as we could understand Mugabe was very angry about that and he had no mercy for the white farmers. So people or law-abiding citizens were asked to please invade the lands of the white farmers.

Because of this, they built thatched houses right on the edge of people’s lawn. It was a very creepy invasion in which nobody made an outright statement saying this is what the plan is.

Oskar
So Mugabe was not really behind this? Was it more from the people?

Bridget
Mugabe was orchestrating it.

Oksar
Did it end up in violence between the farmers and these folks?

Bridget
There wasn’t much violence, not compare to the number of white farmers who had to leave their lands. Though there was a bit of confrontation every now and then at the time.

Oskar
And how many white farmers were there at the time?

Bridget
I think about 5000 white farmers.

Oskar
Interesting. This is a region that many of us are not connected to and it’s interesting to hear this. As we are recording this in Stockholm there’s been a couple of news in the past few days about Zimbabwe and what’s happening over there.

What are your views on this occurrence?

Bridget
Okay. I will get to this shortly, but there’s something I remember we discussed on the airplane and that is, as the space for white farmers were shrinking on their farms, they saw that there was an opportunity to mentor black farmers on how to do it better. But because of the revenge aspect of this, that wasn’t allowed to happen.

In regards to what’s happening now, the people of Zimbabwe have suffered a lot from mismanagement of the economy.

Oskar
I heard they called Mugabe’s wife a Gucci Grace.

Bridget
Yes. In the past couple of years, she has declared her interest in becoming a political factor and people are not happy. The fact that there has been mismanagement and the enrichment has been for a click and about 5 0r 6 years ago the country’s currency went into exponential inflation. It cost trillions for their government and they just kept printing money. At that point, it got so bad that the ruling party had to accept an inclusive government including the opposition and that’s when the dollar rise in the economy.

It started off with people or civil servant being paid only a $100 for a month works. It slowly built up into a working economy but then they had elections in which people have felt that the elections have not been fairly counted. They have happened in a fair way with a few problems but it’s the counting of the vote that people felt has been a bit suspicious.

That interim sharing of government passed on a few years back helped stabilize the economy. Then a year ago the government introduced bond notes instead of being dependent only on the dollar and swore that it will be one to one. But already people could see that the bond notes was losing value to the point where they couldn’t even get money out of the banks.

That’s what’s been happening now and with the move of putting his wife into government, many people have gotten very fed up.

Oskar
They were talking about the vice president that was fired that he’s coming back. Who’s the most popular among the people?

Bridget
Well I think that’s hard to say because there hasn’t been a popular person that was fighting in the opposition but you can’t say that the vice president is the most popular. He is a strong man and one can feel that his a sensible man but some of the army leaders along with him were kicked out and these are the people who are trying to bring order now to the country. And hopefully it’s going to be inclusive and stick to the constitutions.

Oskar
Are you positive about the future for Zimbabwe?

Bridget
Yes.

Oskar
So you said you moved to Zimbabwe in 1980 and when did you leave Zimbabwe?

Bridget
I moved back to Zimbabwe in 1980 and then I moved to Zambia in the beginning of 2003.

Oskar
Okay.

Bridget
But I had been doing this organic inspections in the region including Zambia. And they offered me a job.

Oskar
Is it at the agricultural center where you are working now?

Bridget
Not quite where am working now. At first, it was for the organic association, and at the time in Zimbabwe it was the beginning of the land relinquishing and a very anti-white environment which would have been alright, except the fact that my children who were adopted felt threatened.

Oskar
So you’ve got black kids?

Bridget
Yes. So I thought as I’ve been offered a job in Zambia, let’s go to Zambia. They finished their schooling in Zambia and it’s very hard to leave now because I feel like a very part of the country.

Oskar
In Zambia is there less friction between its black and white people?

Bridget
I think there is less friction. Although even in Zimbabwe there’s little to no friction anymore between the blacks and the whites.

Oskar
That’s good to hear.

Bridget
That’s been like that in the people for a long time. Even in Zambia, I’m not saying that I think it’s wrong, but there is a feeling among the people that makes them not enjoy being managed by whites. That colonial experience is still something that’s fresh.

Oskar
Sometimes when you speak to white South Africans, they say that that’s going a little too far…

Bridget
Well, I don’t know if it’s gone far but the problem has been corruption. I think that certain people get into leadership, I don’t know if it’s because absolute power corrupts but corruption does seem to be the problem and it’s like the people in leadership don’t even care. As they amass wealth, the people are suffering.

Oskar
Let’s move on to the next topic. So we were talking about organic food. In the store when we buy organic food, for instance, my father would say that he thinks “organic” is just a marketing scam. That some big brands are just putting organic stamps on foods so that they can sell more. But when I talked to you and how you worked with farmers, I can really see how important this is. So can you share a little bit of how the certification for organic farming works in Zambia and Africa?

Bridget
I became an organic inspector in year 2000.

Oskar
In Zimbabwe then?

Bridget
I was still in Zimbabwe.

Oskar
Who did you work for? Did you work for the government?

Bridget
No. I worked for a French organic certification company called “Ecocert”.

Oskar
Okay.

Bridget
And at the time, there was a growing number of organic client for Ecocert in Zambia in particular. That’s why I was probably recruited and then I became the person that they would send to the regions like Mozambique and Namibia to inspect the farms.

But what I always tell people is that they should be organically certified only if the market is demanding it. And the reason why markets demand it, is because they want to be sure that it is really organically certified. Because their customers are asking for a reason and that’s usually a health reason.

And the further you’re away from where it’s being produced, the more likely you are to need a certification to purchase. But it’s an inexpensive process and that’s partly why the amount of certified products is higher. But at the same time, there are a number of people who take advantage of organic certification to make more money.

And even if those people are organically certified, very often they do it reluctantly. And as an inspector, I saw that they make sure they’re just meeting all the minimum requirements. But why being organic is good is because you believe in how nature was designed to do things without poisoning the environment because the natural processes are complex and very interesting.

Oskar
So organic produce it’s not only healthier, but it also contributes to a sustainable nature. So it’s bigger than your own personal health.

Is there a global definition of organic? Like what does it mean? Does it just mean no pesticide or is there anything else? Is there a global baseline for becoming organically certified?

Bridget
Yes. There are several regulations. For instance, we have the EU regulation, the US regulation and the Japanese regulation. But they all are pretty much interchangeable.

There is the International Standard Federation of Organic Agricultural Movement: “IFOAM”. They draft standards which are done in that it can be adapted to your own country. Some things might be a little different in your country but you can still adapt them. There is also an emerging type of certification supported by IFOAM which is called “Participatory Guaranty System”. That one is more for small-scale farmers or group, to be the owners of their own certification rather than have someone who they don’t know come in or them involving stakeholders in their certification and that’s particularly for the local market.

Oskar
When the small scale farmers become organically certified, do they also make more money? Because I think for the individual farmers survival is their first and foremost priority and not my health. Do they see that they can actually make better business when they go organic?

Bridget
Not necessarily.

Oskar
So that must be a big challenge.

Bridget
I think it’s the wrong motivation. I think more than anything, it’s the market people appreciate, that you have a market that stays with you, cares and gives as fair a prices as they can. But not to say that because you’re organic you’re going to make more than the next person because then people start to get into it for the wrong reason. Not because they think that this better for their soil and better for their health of their family.

Because the use of chemicals has become so dominant in agriculture today. People use to say that Africans are mostly organic by default but it’s not anymore. They’ve had agro-dealers who go to the remotest parts selling people chemicals; sometimes they also sell false chemicals.

Like in America, we know that the threshold for phosphate in the water is far higher than what people have considered to be safe. So we are poisoning the environment.

Oskar
So it’s about saving the planet?

Bridget
Yes.

Oskar
But can you convince the farmers with that argument? Because If you can make more money by not being organically certified in the short term maybe they will choose that option. The organic approach seems more long-term compare to the short-term approach but if a farmer needs to feed his family first…

Bridget
Well, it’s not as easy as that because small-scale farmers tend not to get a better yield if they keep using chemicals. Very often there are agencies but there only interested in the staple crop like maize, they’re also farmers input supply programs and farmers wait to get the subsidized input and because of this they start farming preparations very late. And sometimes they don’t get the input until the season is nearly over. So it very often messes up how much output farmers get from their production.

If they adopted certain organic practices, utilizing the resources that they have, they would get much more out of the soil. You can’t be organic by default, you have to understand the science.

Oskar
So education must be crucial both for the farmers and also for the consumers?

Bridget
Yes. I think one of the things that have happened in Africa that sort of changed the mindset is the HIV and AIDS. People became very health conscious, more than they have been in the past. So people are making decisions that they want to eat better and healthy foods. They also understand that the fast foods are not good for health.

There has been increasing in health issues, cancer is rising, and diabetes is rising.

Oskar
In the U.S I believe about 30% – 40% of the population is obese, it’s amazing. It has also become a little bit of a class thing because the prices of fast foods are so much lower, so the ones that have money they eat organic and they go to the health clubs because they can afford it.

So maybe we can get it to that part. We were talking about that the prices are higher for buying organic in the short run but in the long run it’s should be better for everyone.

Bridget
Yes. There will be less doctor’s bill for everyone.

Oskar
Can small-scale farmers supply food for the whole world?”

Bridget
This is often used as the reason why we have to adopt technologies like the “GMO’s”.

Oskar
Wasn’t your centre was accused of killing people because you were promoting non GMOs.

Bridget
In 2002, there was a big debate in Zambia about whether they should accept GMO food aid. The Zambian scientist rarely looked into it before they decided and the decision was that they don’t need that food aid. Why not give us aid from other countries which are not growing GMO’s and that’s what happened in the end.

But there was such a fury and the Pope was approached by certain countries which was supplying the food aid, telling them that they were starving the people but they ignore that and made their decision.

Oskar
So GMO is not allow in Zambia now?

Bridget
It’s still not allowed.

Oskar
So how is it in rest of Africa?

Bridget
It’s always been there, even pre-independence but there have been a big push and that’s why some of us in Zambia have studied that alliance, to look at it and say if we really need it.

Oskar
So for people who are not familiar with “GMO or Genetically Modified Organisms”. What is the downside and the upside to it?

Bridget
There are a number of things. It’s only been in existence for about 20 years, so it’s a new science but it has the capacity to contaminate biodiversity. It even suggested that if people weren’t able to plant seeds from the crop maybe that would have avoided the problem which aid would have not avoided. But there are always errors and technology is never 100%. And if there we some mistake that contaminated the seeds it could affect crops, your wealth or it could affect your genetic resources. A momentary hold was put on the technology but the patent has been withdrawn. So a lot of people use this contamination as an excuse.

There are two traits of the GMO, one is the herbicides resistant and the other is the Bt. (bacillus thuringiensis bacteria) which are able to suffocate insects by breaking the enzymes in their stomachs. So that’s a bacteria which organic farmers have naturally used for long. They put it permanently into use because they are more environmentally friendly compared to using pesticides. However, after a few years the pest becomes resistant and you have to put in more pesticides.

Then again, there have been an exponential amount of spraying herbicides which also kills the soil microbes. For instance, we have microbes in our stomach which keeps us healthy and it’s the same with the microbes in the soil as they play a hug role in feeding the plants and keeping them healthy.

Oskar
So it’s a short-term approach? At least that what it sounds like.

Bridget
Once they make an novel product they patent it.

Oskar
So they patent your seeds and then you have to buy the seeds from them?

Bridget
They see this as a huge market. Not only are they trying to persuade us, saying that “it’s going to feed the world”. But they are also influencing regulations against small scale farming systems which have produced the vibrant gems that has been used over centuries. Which are from land reclamation and open pollination, but now they’re trying to make it in a way that farmers will come and buy there seeds. And we feel that is dangerous.

Oskar
How does it work with the seeds? Like you talked about the old seeds, so you plant and you get seeds left over? How does it really work? Am not actually familiar at all with the seed thing.

Bridget
Plants are very generous in their seeds.

Oskar
So each plants give more seeds?

Bridget
Far more when they reproducing themselves. In a way, it’s for their survival. And the small-scale farming systems are also very generous with their seeds.

Oskar
So these big companies want to take this and make money on them.

Bridget
Yes.

Oskar
Which doesn’t make sense if the plants are producing so many seeds why would you buy it.

Bridget
Then with hybrids, you know you can’t get the simmilar seeds again because the hybrids are usually what’s available. These hybrid seeds offer good yields but you can’t compare them to those that have not been crossbred in terms of the same output.

So already farmers have found their open pollinated seeds and even if there’s a hybrid that cross pollinate. Sometimes there is a good effect and then you can rogue out the ones you don’t want and so you can know which ones you safe the seed from.

Oskar
So for the listeners in Sweden, try to buy organic whenever you can. Is there still anything else that you think we missed and you feel we should cover?

Bridget
It’s just that when you start to look at it. A lot of people think but what can you do about pest organisms or insects. And we always say that first you have to bring back the balance in the ecosystem. There are far more predators of insects than there the pest.

And you find out that a lot of these predators are pollinators, bees are not the only pollinators, they are other flies and this pollinator needs nectar in their adult phase. So we would want to have flowering plants in your system to feed them. And then it’s usually their young which eats pests.

Oskar
So it’s all connected.

Bridget
Like the young of the musk is the ones eating the leafs, while the young of the pollinators eats them. While the adults will even lay their eggs right close to the pest and sometimes inside the pest and when this eggs hatch, they will eats the pests.

So these are natural system and it’s only as a last result that you might use botanical sprays. And in the organic regulation this usually disappears very quickly in the environment. We know that these are poisonous, that’s why it’s a last result but they don’t persist like the modern pesticides which are systemic, they persist and they’re even killing the bees.

Oskar
Are you a vegetarian?

Bridget
No, but I love vegetables.

Oskar
What about the meat industry?Because the meat factory farming in the U.S for example seems like they just put so much stuff in the cow that makes them grow fast and that is what we eat. So is there any thoughts on factory farming?

Bridget
Well. Apparently, in the pipeline is the sort of artificial meat which tastes and looks just like meat and it’s made from plant. So I think it is a problem, the factory farming of chickens and beef. And manure which is such an important resource if you’re an organic farmer has become toxic as cows is made with a special stomach that is made to eat grass. And if it eats corn all the time, it has become toxic. We’re messing with nature.

Oskar
It seems like nature is so good in itself, we just need to plant seeds and nourish it and not mess with it too much.

Bridget
What you eat is also important. Like for instance I didn’t grow up knowing that I had microorganisms in my stomach. It’s like a secret.

Oskar
Thank you so much for taking the time, it’s interesting to hear some of the perspective that you’ve given. Thank you so much.

Bridget
Thank you so much for being interested. It was nice to meet you.

Here you can learn more about the work Bridget is involved in: http://www.katczm.org/


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