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Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Green Smoking Revolution!

Courtesy: The Independent Observer
Environmental activist turned Presidential candidate, Peter Sinkamba plans to put an end to Copper mining in Zambia, by legalizing the cultivation and export of Marijuana.

For years, Zambia - the landlocked nation in Southern Africa, has made its fortunes by mining and exporting Copper. The red metal has been the backbone of the Zambian economy, contributing to nearly 70% of the total export market last year.

Contrary to populist claims of the copper contributing towards economic growth of the locals, a majority of the 14 million citizens live on less than $1 a day. Supporting this argument is the fact that many locals suffer from serious health complications due to open pit copper mining and toxic sulphur dioxide emissions from refineries. Additionally the paltry salaries paid to the mine workers, seems to be benefiting only the large mine owners. For years there have been calls to bring about a change, but to no avail.

But when voters go to polls in January next year to elect a new President, one candidate plans to send the traditional Copper mining up in smokes! Peter Sinkamba, Zambia’s leading environmental activist renowned for his long drawn battles against Copper mining, is planning to run on an unlikely, controversial platform. His Green Party’s main electoral agenda is the legalization of medical Marijuana and encouraging farmers grow it for export purposes.

Sinkamba believes that the export potential of medical Marijuana has the power to diminish the impact of Copper on the Nation’s economy. He surmises that Zambia could tap up to 10% of the world’s Marijuana market, estimated to be worth $140 billion by the UN in 2005, making it more lucrative than Copper mining. Supporting these claims, his Green Party released a shadow budget earlier this year, claiming that such a venture would boost the GDP by 68% by 2021!

Speaking to reporters, Sinkamba said “It (Marijuana) is cultivated massively across the country (for the black market).. So what we are saying is, look, let’s come out and legalize it”. He went  on to add “When we look at the trends, the world is going in the direction of legalizing Marijuana. But we do not want to be the last ones, but instead the first ones to do it!”.

This campaign has surely captivated the minds of the (largely unemployed) youth, who are often seen greeting Sinkamba with chants of ‘Legalize!’. Sinkamba seems poised give a tough fight for the Presidential seat, but there are apprehensions about his massive plans in this conservative nation.

To me, without getting in any legality and considering Marijuana to be just another crop, the question that remains is how is it going to tackle poverty and unemployment?

For long farmers and farming communities in the 3rd world have been looted of economic benefits due to lack to access to fair markets and education. Zambia’s problems of high unemployment, miserable poverty and illiteracy could be solved as a part of the Green Party’s proposal. By inviting NGOs and NPOs specializing in the fields of agriculture and education, to monitor the farming community in their efforts, the Zambian government can truly work towards real empowerment of its people. In this modern era of technology, tablet based education is being spoken of, and the government should move in this direction. There are hundreds of technology companies willing to support such efforts. And additionally such a system does not necessitate the construction of school buildings and related infrastructure, saving millions of dollars in return.

Coming back to agriculture, while growing Marijuana as a cash crop, agroforestry techniques could be implemented to grow food, fodder and medicines alongside the main crop. Diversifying crops through agroforestry has proven to be a stable agricultural model, and Zambian farmers could benefit a great deal from it. Moreover, the tablets supplied to children for educational purposes could double up as a tool for farmers to get information about markets, advancements in agriculture and general education. The ‘pay per tree’ model advocated by Tree Credits, could also be incorporated as a mode of providing additional income to farmers for their environmental services.

For my Zambian friends, change seems to be right around the corner. I hope that Peter Sinkamba makes this Green Revolution a non-political one where there is real empowerment of the farmers and farming community, and real efforts towards educating every citizen.

Fingers crossed,