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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 5: Rich world, poor world?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Life on the farm
View the documentActivity 2: Selling food
View the documentActivity 3: Who suffers, who benefits?

Activity 1: Life on the farm

Students will read about peanut farmers in Senegal and about U.S. farmers. They will interview a local farmer and then discuss similarities and differences in farming around the world.


· To compare farming in Senegal and the United States with respect to recent changes and the control of production and sales
· To interview a farmer and discuss what it is like to be a farmer
· To develop a class presentation based on research about farmers


· Student handouts:

Peanuts, Profits, and Poverty
Hard Times in the Heartland
Interviewing a Farmer

· Poster board or newsprint, markers


Thirty minutes to one hour for teacher's introduction, two to five hours for students' research, and two hours for class presentation


Written or oral answers to study questions, class presentation can be graded.


developed country, gross national product, natural resources, underdeveloped country, World Bank


1. Ask students if they think there are "rich" countries and ´'poor" countries.

If a country has lots of resources, do students consider it a "rich" country? You can discuss their responses by comparing Zaire and France. Zaire has more than seventeen acres of land per person and France has only 2.47. Zaire is also rich in minerals such as cobalt, copper, and diamonds while France is relatively poor in minerals.

If a country produces lots of high-tech equipment like stereos and computers, is it a rich country? If students think of the U.S. and Japan, they'll say yes. Point out that Mexico and the Philippines produce high-tech equipment, yet are not considered rich countries.

Discuss with students how we are often taught to look for the differences between ourselves and people in other countries, rather than the similarities. Dwelling on differences leads to stereotyping others, breakdowns in communication, and blaming others for problems. (Students can discuss times they've been stereotyped and the problems and ill feelings it created.)

"Poor" and "rich" hide the fact that people all over the world face many similar problems. Tell students that this activity will compare the lives of farmers in a third world country with farmers in the United States.

2. Pass out the three student handouts for this lesson. Explain that students will be comparing the United States to another country to decide whether the causes of hunger exist only in "poor" countries or whether some of the same problems are faced by people in both "poor" and "rich" countries.

3. Give the students an opportunity to meet with each other to decide how to complete their handouts. They may also need to divide the tasks or organize out-of-class time to work on presenting their information to the rest of the class. Assist as needed in helping them organize their work.

4. Arranging an interview with a farmer can be a learning experience for students, but there may not be time for them to find a farmer. In that case, you can locate a farmer for students by following the procedure in the student handout Interviewing a Farmer.

5. When students begin to work on their presentations, try to schedule time with them to go over ideas, give suggestions, etc. Suggest that students use the questions on their handouts to help them decide on important points for their presentations. They should also start thinking ahead for ideas on how to present their findings. Presentation ideas might include oral reports, panel discussions (perhaps with guest farmers), graphs, charts, posters, flow charts, maps, collages, poems, plays, skits, songs, and quizzes (perhaps done in a game format).

6. Schedule class time for presentations. Afterward, discuss what students have learned.

7. Wrap up this activity by discussing ways that farmers in both the United States and Senegal could improve their situation.



· Agribusiness in the Americas (book), by Roger Burbach and Patricia Flynn
· American Agriculture Movement (organization)
· American Friends Service Committee (organization)
· Center for Rural Affairs (organization)
· The Fat of the Land (book), by Fred Powledge
· Gaia: An Atlas of Planet Management (book), Norman Myers, ed.
· Rural Advance (periodical), National Sharecroppers' Fund/Rural Advancement Fund


Students can use the farmer interview as the basis for an article in the school or local newspaper. Students can view a film or video, write a review for the school paper, and then show the film after school or to other classes. Suggested films:

· Hamburger, USA, American Friends Service Committee
· Potatoes, National Film Board of Canada
· Roots of Hunger, Roots of Change, Church World Service

Peanuts, profits, and poverty

If you don't live on a farm, it's easy to forget that food is not just something bought at a store. Whether it's an apple or a nacho chip, it began on a farm. All over the world people spend the* lives growing food for other people to eat.

This project compares the lives of farmers in two countries, Senegal and the United States. As part of the project you will study readings about farming in Senegal and in the United States and perhaps interview a farmer. Please answer the study questions following each reading.

Begin by locating Senegal on a world map. It is a small country in West Africa. It is a low-income country, according to the World Bank.


Long before Columbus sailed to the Americas, in the part of West Africa that today is Senegal and western Mali, the Wolof and Serer peoples established prosperous societies. Their economies were based on agriculture and on trade with the desert-dwelling nomads of North Africa. Skilled weavers and ironworkers produced cotton and woolen cloth, tools, knives, and cooking utensils.

The peasant farmers' fields in the river valleys were watered and enriched by annual floods. When the floodwaters receded, the farmers planted the nutritious grain sorghum. On higher ground they grew millet, watered by the seasonal rains.

Farmers traded their extra grain to nomadic herders in exchange for milk, butter, meat, and hides. Because this trade took place between relatively equal partners, neither group prospered at the other's expense. Although they lived in the arid Sahel region on the edge of the Sahara desert, the exchange between farmers and herders helped both to survive droughts.

In 1659, France established a slave-trading outpost on the Senegalese coast. About one-eighth of the slaves traded to North America were taken by way of Senegal's port. During the nineteenth century, French armies conquered the interior of the country.

The French colonial rulers then set about to change the region's economy into a source of wealth for French investors. For the Senegalese people this meant shifting from producing food and crafts and supporting only themselves to producing enough goods both for themselves and the French. In economic terms, this is called shifting from a subsistence economy to a market economy. The French administrators also decreased trade among Africans by taxing the sale of locally made products. Artisans were put out of business by the taxes, and traditional manufacturing of cloth, shoes, tools, and soap declined. This helped create a market for products sold by French trading companies.

Additional taxes were imposed on men, women, and children over the age of seven. Those who couldn't pay were jailed and sometimes brutally tortured or forced to labor for the French. To get cash to pay their taxes and to buy goods now available only from France, Senegalese peasants had to grow new crops for sale to French traders.

Peanuts for Sale

The crop desired by the French was peanuts, a profitable source of oil. Regular shipments of peanuts to France began in 1884. The amount exported rapidly increased to 200,000 tons in 1914 and to over 1 million tons in 1965.

By 1970, Senegalese farmers had to supply six tons of peanuts in order to obtain the same amount of goods they had bought for one ton of peanuts in the early days of the trade. This meant that the farmers had to bring more and more land under peanut cultivation.

The more land used to grow peanuts, the less there was to grow vegetables and grain. Most food was eaten in the month right after the harvest. Little or none was left to trade or to store in case of drought. In this way Senegal's food self-sufficiency was destroyed.

To make up for the shortage of food, Senegal began importing rice from the French colonies in Indochina. (There, as in West Africa, peasants were forced by taxation and the loss of their farmland to produce cash crops for export.) Even with food imports, food availability in Senegal has continued to decline.


Invitation to the Desert

In addition to removing land from food production, peanut farming caused great ecological damage. Peanuts deplete the soil of minerals and organic matter. Constant plowing and harvesting exposed the soil to the wind and increased soil erosion.

For generations the peasants had conserved the land by cultivating millet and sorghum, planting alternating rows of peanuts and grain, and allowing the land to lie fallow for several years between crops. The pressure to produce peanuts for the world market forced them to abandon their preferred farming methods. Increased peanut cultivation was an invitation to the desert to expand its boundaries.

When harvests were bad, hunger forced poorer peasants to sell their land to the wealthier farmers in exchange for food. The result was the development of a small class of well-off farmers and absentee landowners and a much larger class of landless laborers made up of the farmers who had been forced to sell out.

Not only small farmers but nomadic herders also suffered. It became harder for them to obtain grain from the peasants in exchange for animal products. Farming areas, which had provided grass and grain for herds during droughts, were now used to grow peanuts. Herders could no longer seek refuge in the river valleys during drought and had to graze their herds on the already eroded desert land. The result was chronic hunger even in good years and widespread starvation in bad years. Millions of farmers were forced to leave their traditional homes to become laborers on coastal plantations or to seek work in the capital city of Dakar or in other West African countries or in France.

New Freedom, Continued Dependency

In 1960, when many African nations were achieving their independence from colonial powers, Senegal became an independent country. However, the distortion of the economy and the destruction of the environment caused by eighty years of emphasis on export agriculture remained. Senegal still had to export peanuts to pay for imported manufactured goods and rice. In 1981, Senegal imported $241 million worth of food, 28 percent of its total imports.

As an unequal trade partner, Senegal is still at a disadvantage in the world market. The price of peanuts has continued to decline in relation to the price of imported goods.

- Adapted from Kathy McAfee, Exporting Peanuts and People (Oxfam America, Boston), unpublished manuscript


absentee landowner, chronic hunger, distortion, ecological damage, economy, fallow, market economy, nomadic herder, organic matter, peasant, plantations, sorghum, subsistence economy


1. What are some changes that took place in farming communities in Senegal in the last one hundred years? What were major crops one hundred years ago? Today? What were the occupations of people in these communities? What have been the causes of these changes, according to the reading?

2. How did farmers in Senegal decide what crops to grow one hundred years ago? Today? What is a similar situation in the United States?

3. Is the number of land-owning farmers decreasing or increasing? Why is the number of farmers changing?

4. How has peanut farming affected the environment? How has peanut farming affected the culture?

5. How were Senegalese farmers hurt by the French colonialists? How did the French benefit from the Senegalese?

6. If you were a Senegalese farmer, which type of farming would you wish to do: growing food for your family, growing peanuts for cash, or both? Why?

7. Why, after gaining independence, couldn't the Senegalese go back to their traditional ways?

Hard times in the heartland

Find out what is happening with farmers in the United States and compare this with what you have learned about Senegal. The article that follows describes some of the problems of a U.S. farm family.

The United States took this part of the country, with its rich, productive soil, from the peaceful Delaware Indians in 1783.

A couple of years later, the government established the Indiana Territory. A white settler named George Clark was awarded twenty-five acres; the deed to his land was written on a piece of sheepskin. He built a small log cabin at the north end of his property, cleared the land of rock and trees and planted a crop. The cabin's stone foundation is still there.

Hard times in the heartland

It was the beginning of a central Indiana family farming legacy. The story may soon come to a sad end.

The Clarks have planted their crops in the sweet-smelling black soil for nearly two hundred springs. The land has had no other owner.

Dub Clark, sixty-two, is the current custodian of the land. He is also one of the 4,000 Indiana farmers who, state officials predict, could be wiped out in the current agricultural crisis.

"I had a dream when I got out of high school," Clark says, "I was gonna work until I was forty and then take it easy while the boys took over. I never got that dream, and I'll probably work until I drop dead.

"I'm sixty-two, and it seems the harder I work the further behind I get. I never wanted to be a rich man - just to have something to pass on to my family, like my daddy before me and his daddy and all the way back."

Clark, a proud and gentle man, is seated in his kitchen, mashing some Kentucky Club into his pipe and sipping coffee. His hands are chapped and calloused from a lifetime of outdoor labor. The possibility of losing his farm nearly renders him speechless. His soft blue eyes fill with tears and he stares into his black coffee, unable to force words out.

That such a horror could befall his family is incomprehensible to him. The Clark farm is not merely a business broken down on balance sheets. It is the fabric that binds this Midwestern family together.

Jean, Dub's wife of thirty-six years, stands behind him, gripping his shoulder. "We're scared to death," she says softly. "It's worse than the Depression. We never thought it would come to this."

The original twenty-five acres grew to 198 over the years. Dub Clark still lives in the house he was born in. His father built it in 1901. The house is wood and stone, shuttered snugly against the winter wind that roars across snow-covered fields.

The elder Clark and his sons, Stan, thirty-four, and Richie, twenty-eight, who both live within a mile of the farmhouse, work the 198 acres they own outright, plus another 1,000 leased acres. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay.

In addition to growing the crops, the Clarks operate a dairy. The eighty-five cows must be milked twice daily, a chore that takes five hours a day. The eighty hogs also must be fed, the manure dumped into a snuck and spread over the frozen fields to enrich the soil for the spring planting.

The Clarks are relatively debt free. In the autumn they can vegetables from the garden to sustain the family through the winter. Family chickens provide the eggs.

The Clarks are frugal, their lives simple and barren of frills. They work hard, attend church, vote Republican, believe in God and country, and it's still not good enough. Their American dream has become a nightmare.

Dub welcomes son Stan into the kitchen and offers him coffee. Stan drinks coffee with his parents every morning. He says he may be forced to get an extra job, something no Clark man has ever done.

"All l ever want to do is farm," he says. "But if it comes to the point where dad might lose the farm, l'd get a second job. I got two boys of my own coming up, and I want to help them, but I hope they don't go into farming. I don't think the family farm will survive that long anyway."

The ominous signs for Midwestern Corn Belt farmers appeared around 1979. Farmland peaked at $3,000 an acre. Crop prices were soaring. Expansion fever gripped many farmers. [The U.S. Department of Agriculture urged farmers to increase corn and soybean production for the export market.] Using inflated land as equity, they borrowed heavily to buy new equipment and more land, assuming the high crop prices would last forever and bankroll the debt.

The bubble burst. Crop prices dropped, land values plunged 50 percent, and interest rates soared - a deadly combination of events. The Clarks avoided the expansion trap and heavy debt burden, but still they struggle under sagging prices.

Since the late 1970s, farmers' costs for seed, fertilizer, equipment, and interest have risen steadily while prices for their crops have fallen. The Clarks estimate their break-even point is $2.30 a bushel for corn, their main crop. At harvest time in 1984, buyers paid just $2.40 a bushel, barely enough for the family to cover the interest payments on loans. [In 1985, many farmers got only $2.00 a bushel for their corn.] In 1980, by contrast, corn was selling for about $3.68 a bushel, which provided a modest profit.

"Psychologically, this is the worst I've ever seen it," says Gary Reynolds, president of Reynolds Farm Equipment, the local John Deere tractor dealer. "I've had good and decent people lie to me because they are too proud to admit they can't make the payments. I feel embarrassed for them."

Up the road in Noblesville, the county seat, the local agricultural extension agent, Rolla Parsons, estimates that 25 percent of the county's six hundred full-time farms are in financial distress

The grim truth, Parsons says, is that the successful farmer of the future will be a manager, a full-time agricultural business man, sitting behind a computer; plotting market strategy; analyzing crop prices, yield per acre, and soil composition [what the soil is made of determines ability to grow crops]. The future farmer will never sit atop a tractor. He'll hire people for field work.

“The greatest joy a farmer gets is smelling that plowed spring earth," Parsons says. ”The farmer of the future will never even step into the fields. It's a waste of his time and talent."

"How can you tell me I won't be able to turn that soil and stand out there and watch things grow?" Dub asks. "All year long l look forward to that spring day when I turn that first chunk of soil. It smells so sweet."

Dub Clark and his family farm by instinct, using techniques passed down through the generations.

"My dad always taught me if you can walk across the fields and no mud sticks to your shoes, then it's time to plant," Dub Clark says. "That's how I do it."

Someday the Clarks of Hamilton County could vanish, much like their predecessors on the land, the Delaware Indians, victims of the changing times and government policy.

"All we want is a fair return for our crops," Stan says. "Is that too much to ask of the government? We just want to farm our land."

-Adapted from "Hard Times in the Heartland," San Francisco Exampler, March 3,1985

agricultural extension agent, balance sheets, equity, interest, market strategy, predecessors, soybeans


1. Find the general location of Indiana on a world map. How has farming changed for Dub Clark and his family in the last twenty years?

2. What are the biggest expenses on the Clark farm? Why have these expenses increased so much?

3. What does Dub Clark think he can do about his situation? What would you do? What could Senegalese farmers do? If your group did not read the article on Senegal, discuss this with the group that read about Senegal.

4. Why did Dub and his family decide to farm more land, increasing the need for pesticides, fertilizer, and equipment?

5. The table below lists concentration of control over some agricultural supplies in the United States.

What effect might this control have on prices? What could you do if you didn't like the price of pesticides or tractors? What could you do if you couldn't sell your grain for as much as it cost you to grow it? (In your own community, how many companies control the supply of electricity and gas? If you do not like the prices, what can you do?) If you play the game Monopoly, what happens when your opponent controls most of the property? What parallels do you see between the problems of Senegalese and U.S. farmers?

6. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has shown that only 27 cents of each dollar the average U.S. consumer spends on food goes to the farmer, while the rest goes toward processing, packaging, distributing, and marketing. And even most of that 27 cents going to the farmer must be paid out again to purchase farm supplies. Less than 5 cents of the consumer food dollar remains as net income for the farmer. When food prices go up, does the farmer make a lot of money? Why or why not? What situation in Senegal parallels this?

7. Can you describe any other similarities between U.S. farmers and farmers in Senegal? (Think about effects of farming on the environment; the changes that have occurred; the loss of the farms; and the control by farmers over what they grow, production costs, and prices for their crops.) You might also use information from Interviewing a Farmer to answer this question.

Who controls the supply

Interviewing a farmer

1. First, decide whether you'd like to interview a large farmer or a small one. In the United States, there can be a major difference between how a small farm (less than $100,000 in sales) is operated compared to a large farm ($500,000 or more in sales).

If you live in the city, one of the best places to locate a farmer during spring, summer, and fall is a farmers' market. If you go to a farmers' market, remember that in some places the people who sell at these markets are not all farmers. Some buy their produce from farmers or from large wholesale markets and resell it.


Remember that a market is a very busy place for most farmers, so ask if you can set up another time to interview the farmer, perhaps after the market is closed. Indicate that it will take one hour.

If you live in a rural area or small town, go to a feed store, grain elevator, or seed company and ask the people working there if they can help you find a farmer to interview.

In most counties in the United States, there is an office of the Cooperative Extension Service. It is usually listed in the phone book as (your local) County Cooperative Extension Service. This office coordinates 4-H clubs in your county and often has listings of farmers (both large and small) who are willing to be interviewed by students.

Counties throughout the United States also have local U.S. Department of Agriculture offices. One of the agencies in these offices is the Soil Conservation Service. This office may be able to provide you with the name of a farmer who could be interviewed.

National organizations of farmers could probably help you locate farmers in your area. These include:

· National Farmers Organization (NFO), 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024.
· National Farmers Union, 1012 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005.
· American Agriculture Movement (AAM). 100 Maryland Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002.
· Regenerative Agriculture Association, 222 Main Street, Emmaus, PA 18049.
· U.S. Farmers Association, Box 8445, Minneapolis, MN 55408.
· The Farm Bureau, (often represents views of large farmers and agribusiness)

2. Get together with your group and brainstorm questions to ask the farmer. You will find some suggested questions below to add to your own.


3. After your group has located a farmer, call her or him. Introduce yourselves, state your purpose, and ask to set up an interview. Indicate that your interview is part of a class project to study food and hunger and that your interview can be at a time that is convenient for the farmer. If you have trouble with transportation, it may be possible to conduct the interview over the phone, although this is not as informative as visiting the farm.

4. Most farmers are happy to show you around their farms, so dress neatly but be ready to go outside. Make sure you arrive on time for your interview.

Introduce yourselves. Ask the questions you prepared, but let your conversation with the farmer develop naturally. You may find out about topics that you didn't even think about beforehand!

If the farmer doesn't mind, you might wish to tape record your interview. Some people may want to take notes, while others take photographs or just listen. When your interview is done, thank the farmer.

5. Remember to write the farmer a thank-you note after the interview. This is really appreciated.

6. Have a group meeting after the interview to discuss what you learned about food production in the United States and what it is like to be a farmer. (This might be a good time to work on your presentation.)

7. Your group should meet and discuss how agriculture has changed in the United States and Senegal. How are the two countries similar? How are they different? What do you think it is like to be a farmer in either country?

You may decide to give a report to the class. Can you make any diagrams, charts, or tables to emphasize your major points? Would the farmer you interviewed like to speak to the whole class?

You could write a skit about farming. Possible scenes could include a farm family from North America or West Africa discussing why and how they have to sell the farm, a Senegalese farmer meeting a U.S. farmer, or a farmer trying to get a loan from the bank.