On Assignment: THE Jinja Agricultural and Trade Show [Vegetables]
A lot rides on these trade shows. Every company spends the entire year designing some product and perfecting their marketing for it, with the hope that their newest innovation will lead to an influx of cash, or at the very least, pique the interest of an investor. Additionally, every company gets to see what their competition has been up to over the past year, and will walk away from the event feeling triumphant, or crushed.
Just as important, The Jinja Agricultural and Trade Show, which occurred from July 23-29, was an opportunity for agriculture enthusiasts to convince the public that they should give a damn about what happens on a farm.
I walked to the trade show just after lunch time. Little gangs of school children – blue uniforms, purple uniforms, green uniforms, maroon uniforms – lined up in front of turnstiles, waiting to go inside. They giggled and hopped around and talked loudly with excitement.
The fundamental problem with this event was already clear, and I hadn’t even been inside yet. The agriculturalists were on a mission to make people who don’t care about agriculture care about agriculture. They were going to use terms like “food security” to create a sense of urgency and soberness. The kids, on the other hand, were on a field trip. Their primary goals were to eat sugary things, have fun and secretly hold hands with the girl or boy they like. The agriculturalists were getting ready to deliver practiced, impassioned speeches to an audience that could not care less.
The fair was organized like a typical African market, which means that it wasn’t immediately clear that any planning whatsoever went into the overall layout. The seed companies and the banks that will shut them down if they don’t pay their loans opened stalls next to each other, fraternally. Smaller stalls selling biscuits, soda, lotions, carpets, African art and second-hand clothes squeezed in amongst the stalls of fertilizer and farm equipment companies.
My first stop was the bathroom, which had a nice banner describing it as “modern.” I wanted a look. The “modern” toilets were long-drop toilets, which means you have to squat down and drop your crap into a hole. People have been doing this for thousands of years. The steward of these ground-breaking bathrooms stopped me on the way out.
“It’s 200 shillings to use them,” he said. That’s about 10 cents.
“I was just looking,” I said.
“Ahh we can make a deal,” he said, laughing. “It’s 200 shillings for a long call, 200 for a short call. But we can negotiate.”
“Yea, I’m good.”
Afterwards, I went over to the Kakira Sugar Limited stall. They had a demonstration of their innovative sugar cane growing and harvesting techniques. One of the benefits was reduced “stool motality,” whatever that means.
In the beginning, it looked as though the agriculturalists were winning. Everywhere there were attentive students in clean uniforms vigorously jotting notes in their notebooks. A group of about 20 kids listened attentively to a presentation at the British American Tobacco stall, which dutifully pretended as though they grew tobacco for the fun of it, and not to kill people with.
Over at the East African Seed Co. stall, dozens of children gawked at the vegetables brought in to demonstrate the quality of the company’s seeds. In a brilliant stroke of marketing, they’d planted mature corn stocks around their stall and peeled the husks off of the corn ever so slightly, so that the firm, cream-colored corn peeked out, sexily.
I know I should be interested in these things. It’s important to know how food gets onto your plate. Population pressure and global warming and hunger and desertification will ruin the world if we don’t pay attention at our agricultural fairs. But after 45 minutes I’d lost the will to care. Some guy tried to tell me about his biofuel company. He was eating sausage on a stick, which reminded me that I should be having fun eating meat on a stick, too, instead of caring about how you turn a castor bean into a source of renewable energy.
Many of the stalls were absurd. Over at the Ugandan Reptile Association stall, there was a guy with a boom microphone inviting no one in particular to check the reptiles out. They might have received more visitors if they didn’t have a picture of a giant, enraged cobra on their banner, seemingly poised to attack anyone that walked by.
The Uganda Prison Service had a large stall of pigs, piglets, chickens, and feed for sale. It was unclear how the prisoners were involved in any of this.
“How are prisoners involved in this?” I asked some guy in a lab coat who I assumed was someone of importance. He handed me a booklet about pig farming.
“What do the prisoners do?” I asked, handing the booklet back to him.
“Do you know Kampala?” he asked.
“We’re located there,” he said.
The prisoners, as it turns out, were hanging out behind the stall, in bright yellow jumpsuits. They were shouting things at me in a language I didn’t understand. I gave one of the guys my bag of pineapple and that seemed to make them happy.
At a fishery promoting innovations in fish farming, I watched a large silver cod swim upside down in it’s tank.
“Why is it upside down?” I asked some guy who had been talking about how “sweet” tilapia is to a group of children.
“Well the power went out last night and we just turned the generator on this morning, so there was no air in the tank. It’s on its way out,” he said. Oops.
I poked around at another stall selling bottles of liquid home remedies for ailments like diabetes and heart disease.
“How is this stuff made?” I asked the guy sitting behind the stall.
“It’s for diabetes,” he said.
“What’s in it?” I asked.
“How long have you had diabetes?” he replied.
As I walked away, I found it strange that the diabetes potion looked exactly like the sexual appetite potion.
There were so many school children buzzing around that sometimes I couldn’t get to the front of the stall to see what was going on. It was as if they didn’t understand that I had a Very Important Blog Post to write.
After an hour and a half, I couldn’t learn any more about animal husbandry, crop diseases, and the various varieties of peanuts Uganda exports. It was time to find the amusement area, which wasn’t hard once I started following the bad house music (bad house music is huge in Africa). The amusement area covered maybe 25% of the park, but there were just as many kids there as in the rest of the park.
The rides were unsafe. They did not have the facade of danger, as good park rides have; they were actually dangerous. One game involved kids standing on a shaky wooden platform that hovered over two motorcyclists spinning their bikes around in a small vertical tube. Another game involved a circular swing that lifted kids high up into the air and spun them around a center pole. The swings were held to the center piece by single rusted chains.
The food was not fair food. Uganda does not have fair food. The “fair food” was food you can buy on the street, anywhere: chapatis, fried doughs, soda, candy, goat meat on a stick, chicken on a stick, sausage on a stick. No funnel cakes, no cotton candy, no deep-fried Snickers. Hundreds of Ugandan children are being deprived of proper fair food. There are no NGOs addressing this issue.
None of this seemed to bother any of the kids. They seemed content to eat fried foods and ignore all of the agriculturalists trying to save the world.