Alfred, who has driven us everywhere and translated for me in many places, gave me a perspective that is uniquely African while we were visiting his home village. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is uniquely third-world, a perspective that is foreign to the western point of view where plenty and abundant plenty is assumed.

We came to his village to introduce Julie, his fiancé, to his parents. His father is older, maybe in his eighties, and has been quite sick for some years, often bed-ridden. We had visited this place a year ago, and he had prayed to receive Christ during that visit – now, I was glad to see him up and walking around, though very slowly and carefully. The visit with Julie went well, and it was when we were driving away on a narrow dirt track through beautiful, tall sugar cane fields that Alfred made his remark.

The villages across Uganda historically plant small farms and raise most of their food locally, so the region is typically dotted with tiny homesteads all growing some crop that crowds right up to the house, with a small place carved out for the house to sit. This pattern is now changing. Large industrial farm corporations are buying up the land or renting it to grow cash crops that will be exported for profit. Sugar cane is the crop that surrounds Alfred’s village, and there are places where the sugar cane fields cover the land as far on both sides of the road as you can see, extending to the horizon and beyond. Tea is another large operation consuming many hundreds of acres. I have spoken in other posts about palm oil farming and how the small farmers are moved off the land so that palm trees can be planted.

His remark startled me as I was admiring the tall stalks of sugar cane now crowding in from all sides of the village where his parents live. He said that he is concerned about famine in his village. I turned from my fascination with the sugar cane crop and asked him what he meant. He explained to me that if all the land is used for cash crops like cane, the people will not have any room to grow their own food. They will have to travel to the distant city market to buy food instead of picking it from the field or buying it at a local village market.

He explained that the scarcity of local food will drive up the prices. These very poor people who have always lived literally “off the land” will not be able to afford the prices that they will find in the big town and city markets.

He said this year will be a bad one. Not only has the area of land available for private farming been greatly reduced by these large farming corporations, but there has been little rain. We are in the rainy season now, and, in truth, we have not had more than ten days of rain in the last seven weeks. These small farmers rely on the rainy season, as farmers do everywhere, to grow their crops… no, more accurately, to grow their food. This combination of less usable land and little rain are joining to create a potential famine soon in Africa.

But Alfred is worried about his own village. He has forced me to look beyond the surface of his culture to the heart. I confess, I have never worried about famine in my life – I have never thought about it inasmuch as it might touch me or my own food supply down at Krogers. It is humbling indeed to shake the hands of these generous and loving people, then get in my rented vehicle and drive away admiring the vast green fields spreading out around me, only to be suddenly dropped into reality by the very real concerns of my friend about the futures of those same people I just prayed with, not even knowing what I was really looking at.