Oliver Walston: I should never have offered farm aid to Africa

Oxfam wouldn't take money from supermarkets and thus had to refuse my offer

Share

There are some things it is impossible to dislike. Venice, Bobby Charlton, labradors and Oxfam. Or so I thought until the other day. But now I'm not so sure about Oxfam.

It all began back in 1984, when I asked Oxfam if they would be able to distribute 1,000 tons of wheat which British farmers had raised in response to the Ethiopian famine. Their answer surprised me. It was, in effect, "Thank you, but no thank you." They went on to explain that dumping grain into a Third World country would inevitably damage the local farmers. If, however, we were to offer Oxfam cash, which they would then use for development aid, they would accept it gratefully.

British farmers had just experienced the best harvest they, or their fathers, had ever known. And as if that were not enough, the price of wheat had touched £100 per tonne. Though they would never admit it, they were richer than they had ever dreamed possible. The obscene contrast of bulging barns in England and starvation in Africa made them want to do something more than simply write a cheque.

We eventually found a small charity, War on Want, which was run by a young man called George Galloway. Unlike Oxfam, they had no problems accepting the offer of wheat. Our first load of 1,000 tons actually arrived in Port Sudan before Bob Geldof had even thought of Band Aid. By the time the appeal ended a year later, we had shipped 12,000 tons of British wheat to Eritrea.

On one of my visits to Hull docks, where our wheat was normally loaded, I noticed another ship being filled with grain. I was told that this vessel had been chartered by Oxfam who, it seems, had eventually realised that in a famine it makes more sense to distribute food than to dig wells.

Nearly a quarter of a century passed, during which time George Galloway dressed up as a pussycat, Bob Geldof became a national icon and Oxfam reverted to its traditional function of helping the poorest people on the planet.

As I lay in my bath a few weeks ago, I had a eureka moment. The price of wheat had recently risen one third to £90 per tonne and, as a result, most arable farmers in Britain were feeling slightly more relaxed than they had for the past decade. Maybe now was the time to ask them, once again, to share their prosperity with less fortunate farmers in Africa.

The campaign would be called Oxfarm and would involve my fellow farmers and no paperwork whatsoever. When the farmer sold his wheat he would simply utter the magic word: "Oxfarm" to his grain merchant, who would deduct the price of one tonne and send the cheque to Oxfam.

The same system would apply to livestock farmers and would enable auctioneers to deduct an amount after an animal had been sold. Our only condition would be that the resulting money would not go into Oxfam's general funds but would be ringfenced and used on a specific agricultural project which they would select.

But this time there was to be a wrinkle, about which I was inordinately excited. The supermarkets of Britain today have a distinctly uneasy relationship with farmers. The reason is because their economic clout is out of all proportion to that of the farmers and growers who produce the meat and vegetables.

As a result, the farmers feel faintly resentful and the supermarkets faintly uneasy. It occurred to me that, because of this angst, we would challenge the supermarkets to match whatever funds the farmers gave. If they accepted and all went well, I estimated that we might possibly raise £2m in a year.

This time I knew that Oxfam would be enthusiastic, since we were proposing precisely what they had insisted on all those years ago. No nonsense about tons of wheat; this time we would give them cash to spend on development aid. Which is why I was so optimistic when I e-mailed Oxfam with the proposal.

After a few days the reply came in the shape of a telephone call. The answer was eerily familiar: "Thanks, but no thanks." Their reasoning was as simple as it was surprising. They were unwilling to accept any money from supermarkets and thus, with great regret, they had to refuse my offer.

Had I challenged the crack cocaine dealers or the child pornographers to match the farmers' funds, I could, perhaps, have understood Oxfam's refusal. But to suggest Tesco and Sainsbury and Waitrose are so tainted that any money they provide is dirty money is unjust, unbelievable and (if you happen to be an African farmer) unhelpful.Meanwhile, Oxfam preserves its purity and the Third World pays the price.

The writer is a farmer in Cambridgeshire

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum