Gold & Potatoes
In Zimbabwe

Dateline: 27 May 2014

The movie below was posted to YouTube in 2009, which was during the worst of the hyper-inflationary crisis in Zimbabwe. The paper money of the country was worthless. Poor people were starving. Able-bodied poor were panning through tons of earth for minuscule specks of gold, which could be traded for minimal amounts of food. Older people, unable to dig and find the specks of gold, were dying.

One of the lessons that can be taken from the movie is that in an economic collapse, when the government's paper money became worthless, gold became a medium of exchange. If you had gold, you had something of value with which to buy the necessities of life.

But the movie raises more questions than it answers. For example, why are people on the land starving? Zimbabwe (the former Rhodesia) has decent land and a good climate to grow food. Why aren't the rural villagers tending productive gardens? The film shows one man with a hoe hacking the soil in a sorry-looking patch of corn. What's wrong with this picture?

I've watched the film clip a few times and I've come to the conclusion that the people in the village were not growing food because they didn't know how to grow their own food. And they didn't know how to grow their own food because, prior to the economic collapse, they had been dependent on the government to keep them fed. When the government teat ran dry, they were pretty much helpless. 

Without the tools and the experience needed to make the land productive, the people were unable to provide for their most basic needs. As the movie shows, it's not an experience that anyone would want to go through.

There is another aspect to the film that is painfully obvious to me. The village appears to consist of mostly women and children. Where are the fathers and grandfathers? What's wrong with this picture?

It is easy to look at a poor African nation and feel superior to them and their poor situation, but much of America resembles pre-collapse Zimbabwe in many ways. We are a nation of broken families, with large numbers of women and children totally dependent on the government for their sustenance. We are a nation of people who, for the most part, do not have the skills and the tools to grow our own food. And we have a paper money system that will eventually collapse.

In some ways, Zimbabwe was (is) in a better situation than America might be in a hyper-inflationary crisis.  For example, the poor of Zimbabwe live in small villages on land that could be productive. And their soil is peppered with little specks of gold.

The Antithesis

In stark contrast to the first film clip is the story of a Zimbabwe gold panner who learned about the Foundations For Farming Ministry in Zimbabwe. It changed his life. He brought the spiritual and agricultural principles taught in the Foundations For Farming program back to his village. The images of family, community, and productive farm land in the film clip above are an uplifting testament to the life-changing impact of this unique ministry.


After watching the movie about gold for currency in Zimbabwe, I happened upon the above film about a woman in Zimbabwe who has a business growing potatoes in sacks. The clip was posted to YouTube a couple of months ago. It's a downright interesting story.

It so happens that growing potatoes in sacks and pails is an idea that a lot of people are trying. YouTube has lots of movies on the subject. I'm not impressed with most of them, but This Guy's Yield is Impressive.

Personally, I'm resistant to the idea of growing potatoes in sacks. I once tried growing tomatoes in one of those upside-down bags, and they all died. I tend to think that potatoes grow best in the ground, with soil hilled up around them. But I may try growing a bag or two of potatoes next year.

Have any of you reading this grown potatoes in sacks. What was your experience?


Dani said...

One of the reasons that Zimbabwe is unable to grow their own crops is because they forcefully requistioned the highly productive farms, kicking the (mainly white) farmers off their land with little to no compensation. The people the farms were given to were complete farming novices who have let the crop production slide into non-existence. And that is apart from the completely destroyed / unmaintained water supply system.

Add to that the constant fighting between the two major political groups - especially ZanuPF, who "raid" and "burn" out the locals when they are on a rampage, and you get some idea of why they can't, and don't, grow their own crops and are starving.

This is all due to the warped principles of the man in charge, Robert Mugabe. He should be put up for crimes against humaniity. The starvation in that country is pitiful - especially when countered against the well-publicized, accumulated wealth of this man who is supposedly in charge. Of the estimate 13 millions Zimbabwians, approximately 3.5 - 4.5 million are now living in South Africa - where they find jobs / work, and most importantly, eat.

As for their currency - as far as I am aware, their currency is worth very little, and, due to the number of male Zimbabwians employed in South Africa, who send their earnings home to their families, they have now adopted our ZAR - because that is the only currency that is "in circulation". That is why there are so few males visible in the movie clips.

A prime example of how to run a beautiful, highly productive country into the ground or how not to run a country!

Zimbabwe is not a country to applaud, or to think of as "in a better situation than America" but rather a country to pity with as much compassion that you have. Dictators do such incredible harm.

Anonymous said...

Like many of you around here, I've read and re-read Wendell Berry's essays, especially the ones found in the anthology "The Art of the Commonplace" (ed. Wierzba). I began reading his classic "What Are People For" just the other day and, yet again, I am singularly impressed with some of the fundamental problems our society faces as a result of abdicating/delegating so many of our responsibilities to "experts", particularly in the government.

This post illustrates for me the fragility of a system that has come to depend so heavily on government - and in our case, technology and, again, the "expert". No, I'm glad I'm not limited to digging and cultivating my garden with a sharp stick; technological advances can often be very good things. But, as I'm sure Mr. Berry would agree, technology and expertise are not substitutes for "good work", for decency, and a sense that this is indeed God's earth given to us to use responsibly as stewards.

As I have read so often from Mr. Berry: If an individual, or more particularly, a community, cannot control its food, how free are they? Only a community grounded in a place can determine its proper limits, both relationally and agriculturally. One-size-fits-all thinking - engaged in for the sake of efficiency and profit/power by an overweening government (and often allowed - as with us - because we have abdicated our responsibilities, thus making idols out of comfort, security, the American Standard of Living, etc.) won't cut it. This is true whether you're in Zimbabwe or the US.

David Smith

SharonR said...

We generally tend to think that the poorer countries are poor because of war and famine, and being without Christ, if you understand as a Christian. But, the problem surprises me. Laziness. Just like U.S. They are no different. We are all the same really. The difference is, Christ, as the man said in the end of the second film. Thank you for sharing these films.

Anonymous said...

Going back further into history, colonialization is another element to add to this story. When Cecil Rhodes (as in Rhodesia) and others like him acquired most of the viable farmland and natural resources of the country, they often displaced many of the indigenous people. After a few generations, the skills for agriculture and more were lost by the Zimbabweans because there wasn't opportunity to use them. After all, if you have no access to land, it's difficult to farm. That's also why many became dependent on the government. The revolution of the country in the nineties involved a "reclaiming" of the viable lands from the descendents of the colonialists, but the knowledge and skills to nurture the land did not come with it. As always, there is far more to the story than is first apparent.

Herrick Kimball said...


Thanks for providing some political perspective. Two things come to mind after reading your comment…

First, I don't think that most Americans are cognizant of the reality that we have become a fascistic, bureaucratic dictatorship. While not a dictatorship like that of Robert Mugabe, the groundwork is being laid towards that end.

America is also increasingly a police state. In the event of a "national emergency" economic or otherwise, the Constitution may be suspended and America will then be a full dictatorship. FEMA will be in charge. Everything is in place for this.

Secondly, the main point I wanted to make with my essay is that, even in nation which has suffered significant financial collapse, it is possible to create islands of freedom and agricultural productivity in the midst of the crisis, as is illustrated in the second film clip.

The time to be thinking (very seriously) about theses things is now, while it is possible to take steps towards personal productivity and freedom within rural communities.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

Herrick Kimball said...

David Smith,
That is an excellent commentary!

Sharon R.,
Agreed. Thank you.

Good point. The same thing has happened in recent years in Mexico, China and India and, I'm sure, in other countries. Self-reliant rural people are being pushed off the land and herded into cities, where they become dependents. For all practical purposes, colonialization is still happening. If there is profit to be made by the financial oligarchy, self-reliant indigenous cultures will be pushed off their land. That appears to be the way of capitalism. It is all perfectly justified if your ultimate objective is profit.

Todd said...

I think there are other factors at play too. The people trading goods for gold are making a killing. .1 gram of gold is worth about $4, a loaf of bread is worth $1. Someone is still getting rich off the backs of the people. I don't know their history so I can't say where they went wrong, it does seem like a fertile area and given the small villages it seems odd they are not growing any food, unless it was illegal to do so.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

Wait until the US farmers can't get the chemicals,cheap fuel and GMO seeds that they have been slowly addicted to. The knowledge of how to plow and weed crops is being lost with every decade. The government will send more experts to come help or not.