Volume 5, Number 2                                     October 9, 2001

The Farmer

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"Marked" Fish

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad

In our last article, "íSnakeí" has been served", we brought you the testimony of Mr. Eddie Slaughter as he spoke on September 27th at the forum called "Is There A Future for African Americans in Agriculture" during the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Weekend. Also on that panel was Mr. Eddie Wise, a Black farmer from North Carolina with experience in aquiculture. He presented to the audience some of the changes and innovations that he was making to survive in the new agricultural environment of low commodity prices. In particular he talked about growing talapia, a type of freshwater fish. He said that there was a large potential market for talapia but right now he had to make some production improvements because his fish had been "marked" for taste discrepancies.

Immediately the author wondered, who does the taste testing? In the authorís experience with farming in Georgia, the horror of carrying your product to market and waiting on white people to stick a grade on it, then cut the price on your product based on their grading caused me to have great empathy for Mr. Wise. The joke in farming is that a farmer must do everything 100% correct, then he has 50-50 chance of making a profit. For a Black farmer those chances may further depend on the mental state of white folks the day that he takes his product to market. Supply-demand and racism must be factored into any equation that determines the price that the Black farmer expects to receive.

The farmer is a slave to his crop from the time that he starts preparing the land until the day that it goes to market. For most crops you are talking about a 3 to 5 month period that a farmer must work and be eternally vigilant. One year we were growing watermelons and left the farm to attend a one day meeting in Atlanta. When we got home that evening, every one of our watermelons, that were due to be harvested a few weeks later, had a hole in it due to crows. We had put up all types of devices to scare the crows away, but each morning we would have to ride out to the watermelon patches to scare them away ourselves. The one morning that we did not do it, we lost all the melons. This is the type of battle that farmers have to wage everyday.

It is almost impossible to farm and then fight off the farm for justice. And this is why the Black farmers could be sold out by a "Snake" in the Reparationsí Grass, Alexander Pires. After all of the production struggles that a farmer has to put up with, he has to deal with racists who are organized on a local and national level to take his farm, and a legal system that provides no justice for the Black and the poor.

The next day the author went to another workshop entitled "Agriculture in Global Development". In this forum speakers talked about the great opportunities that exist in agricultural development in Africa and trade with Africa. The speakers admonished Black farmers for not broadening their horizons and looking to the "global market".

However, to participate in the global market you must have the ability to transport a low valued, bulky, heavy and perishable product in shipload quantities. Now a ship holds 50,000 metric tons. In terms of wheat it would take about 50,000 acres under cultivation to fill a ship.

Not too many individual farmers cultivate 50,000 acres. "Set up co-operatives" was one of the suggestions put forward by the panel. In Terrell County Georgia 25 years ago there were 38 Black farmers. Now there are only two who collectively farm 900 acres. In the 40ís, 50ís and 60ís when there were a lot of Black farmers in the South, there were a lot of "terrorists", Ku Klux Klansmen, riding around burning up crops and setting fires to barns of those farmers who dared to organize.

Fortunately, Mr. Ralph Page from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives was on the panel to bring out the logistical problems of transportation and distance to markets faced by Black farmers. Mr. Page also pointed out the low level of funding that is available for organizations trying to help Black farmers. Mr. Page admonished the government agencies (USDA) and other donors for giving out just enough funds for Black institutions to fight over, but not enough to address the deep systemic problems that Black farmers face.

Taking this history and now the results of Pigford v. Glickman Consent Decree, the question asked in our previous article still holds: "...is there a policy of the US to take away the Black farmersí land and bring the Asians over here and give them our land?"

Visit us at: http://www.muhammadfarms.com

Peace, Doc