Farm Ireland

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Opinion: In the grand scheme of things most of us have few complaints

Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

There was a power cut in our locality recently. The outage was not caused by Storm Brian or ex-Hurricane Ophelia, the power was simply turned off for a few hours to facilitate essential maintenance.

In the course of the morning, I continuously forgot I had no electricity since my laptop was working on battery. At one point, I went to fill the kettle but, of course, nothing came from the tap. I absent-mindedly tried to put bread in the toaster and wondered why the implement wouldn't accept it, and again I remembered, there was no power.

Ours was just a small outage and nothing compared to the lot of those without electricity for a week and more despite the valiant and superhuman efforts of the ESB crews. As I sat in the grey October light, I turned to ponder what the world might be like without electricity. In the course of my musings I was struck once again by how fortunate people at this end of the globe are. It isn't all that bad.

As a young lad, like many others of my kind, I would dream of being rich some-day - not stinking rich but sufficiently well-off that Paris, London and New York would be as familiar to me as Borrigone, Ballyhuppahaune or Ballynagleragh. I also had an eye for a nice car and daydreamed of walking into a main dealer, taking out my credit card and saying, "I'll have that one."

In my early days in journalism, I thought a career trajectory mirroring the likes of Andrew Neil would be mine with a lifestyle and perks that included Paris, London and New York, not to mention a range of motor cars that would give Elvis cause to drool.

But time and tide change everything and thankfully they change one's definition of good fortune. These days, I am very grateful that stories about land transactions around the country are keeping me out of mischief and putting bread (along with the occasional croissant) on the table.

Yes, the definition of good fortune is a moveable feast. What's more, I have come to realise in recent years that anyone with clean water at the turn of a tap and constant electric power at the flick of a switch is rich, and rich beyond the wildest dreams of most people on the planet. In this country, we are very fortunate on both counts. We have an efficient and effective electricity service and plenty of clean water.

Our farmers are also a fortunate lot. Many of them might dispute this with good cause, but by and large they manage to survive the bad years and thrive enough on the few good years to ensure they can stay at it. My late father was as good as anyone when it came to passionately bemoaning the plight of the farmer but very often, especially after watching the Nine O'Clock news, he'd say, "Lads, we haven't much to complain about." I thought of this recently when I read a story about farming in Sicily.

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It appears that the Mafia, now that they have been squeezed tightly throughout Italy by the forces of law and order, are returning to their old stomping ground in Sicily and driving farmers off the land.

Using tactics such as releasing cattle and horses on to tillage, and burning harvested crops, they are attempting to force landowners to sell for knock-down prices. They are hoping EU subsidies from cattle farming on a grand scale will replenish their coffers. The story published in the Guardian newspaper tells how three farming sisters have stood up to the returned Mafiosi while others have succumbed.

In Kenya, tensions between cattle farmers and tillage farmers has resulted in violence as northern cattle farmers move south with their herds in search of grass and water. Farmers that once carried herding sticks and walking sticks are now sporting Kalashnikovs.

In Puerto Rico, Storm Irma swept away most of its farmland, ruining the livelihoods of its 13,000 farmers. Storm Maria followed and destroyed 80pc of the territory's crop value, according to the territory's agriculture secretary, Carlos Flores Ortega in an interview with the New York Times.

Yes, it is good to be able to walk out your door needing nothing more than a coat or an umbrella for protection. It is a real luxury to turn on a tap and have clean water gushing out, and it is material bliss to flick a switch and have, in an instant, light or heat or the means to boil a pot. It is surely an added bonus if farmers in Borrigone, Ballyhuppahaune or Ballynagleragh have land for sale and have use for someone who might scribble a few lines about it. In the grand scheme of things, we haven't much to complain about.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a ­basic water service is a protected drinking-water source within a round trip of 30 minutes to collect water.

Up to 844 million people lack even this basic drinking-water service, including 159 million people who are dependent on surface water.

Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 502,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year. According to the charity 'billion bottle project' a child dies every 20 seconds from a lack of clean drinking water.

A safely managed drinking water service is one that is located on premises, available when needed, and free from contamination. Most of us in this country have such a supply along with 71pc of the planet's population, according to 2015 WHO figures.

In relation to electricity, World Bank figures show that in 2014 a total of 85.3pc of the world's population had access to electricity, although in many places this could be a restricted supply operating for a few hours a day.

However, in Sub-Saharan Africa the figure is a mere 37.4pc with poorer countries such as Malawi at 11.9pc and South Sudan as low as 4.5pc.

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