Turning the Desert into Grassland

In a world overrun with mindless talk, mostly conducted by people who excel in looks and fail miserably in knowledge and understanding, I’m finding more and more that our biggest enemy is ignorance and therefore our main and maybe only weapon is education. Since the elections now 2 months ago I have been hearing that the US is now the leading example of capitalism’s failure and Obama socialism is some kind of relief. The whole fiscal cliff charade plays on ignorance and very few (at least in my circles) understand that it was just a smoke screen for the “next big political fight” called raising the debt ceiling.

At a minimum lift of $1 trillion a year we’re looking at a deficit of beyond $25 trillion in less than 10 years, not counting the galloping inflation that has to explode into our lives one day soon. But this essay is about growing ignorance among the people, only partially as a result of a growing disconnect from reality.

In that light some holiday conversations have stuck with me, mainly because I thought they were stuffed with ignorance overload and for me became a reason to share with you a story I remember from the mid seventies when two Irish brothers had the “crazy” idea to set up a farming operation in the Saudi Arabian desert. What lead up to that story? Well we were invited for dinner at Baxter’s and over the consumption of a delightful prime rib steak the question directed at me was: “What  do you think? Is the US really the best country in the world to live in, as so many people here claim”?
My answer to that was deliberately evasive, not only because America was once my promised land, which is why I moved here 32 years ago, but also having visited more than 180 nations in the world and having lived at least 3 months or more in about a dozen of them, my nuances have changed as they now include the wisdom of the years and retrospect and the knowledge that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” The question could be sincere as in actionable or just conversation.
Based on that assessment I decided on my personal truth.

In my corporate years New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore had my total devotion; in my active travel years I found Argentina and Chile to be interesting and attractive, as I did Australia and South Africa. Europe’s countries were great when I was young and could grab a beer at 16 (but couldn’t get a drivers license until 18), go to concerts, hang out in brown cafés and was generally allowed to be and regarded a young adult. To build companies I preferred Atlanta, Dallas and Tampa (it was the early 80s) but in my mid thirties, when I needed to step back from the killing floors of corporate burnout, the Caribbean Islands offered a myriad of sailing and ‘limin’ opportunities and frankly the feeling of personal freedom I have been looking for all my life, is still mostly alive down there.

So in other words, best places to live largely depend on your stage in life, your desire for certain creature comforts, your insistence on brand-name merchandise and choices. Girlfriend or wife with kids?, your options are obviously different than if you’re single and nothing to hold you back. Also when you’re in your twenties, accessibility to a doctor or pharmacy is normally the furthest thing from your mind. When you’re in your fifties and sixties you learn to think in terms of Walgreen, “on the corner of health and comfort.”

And then there are lots of people out there who will use the quality of available education as a measuring stick for their choices, yet these days home schooling is growing by leaps and bounds and within the next 10 years you can obtain a college education from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Like one befriended teacher recently confided: “we would all prefer to teach in our shorts from a specially equipped room in our homes to anyone who wants to learn anywhere in the world.”

So all things considered I believe that all important choices should be based on well balanced research from trusted sources, not widespread ignorance spewed by commercial media. For some or many of you, this maybe the best country in the world to live because it fits your preferred lifestyle and mindset. As long as the decision is based on educated choices and future expectations, it’s all good. But unfortunately this is often not the case.

And this finally leads me to another chapter of “comfort zone ignorance” that has descended upon the human species.

On another social occasion I was pulled into a rant of a bunch of rednecks, talking about camel jockies in the Middle East. They claimed “on the ground experience” because they had either been part of Desert Storm or George W’s folly almost 10 years ago.  Listening to their agitated one-liners I wondered why is it that so many Americans (Guys mostly) consider themselves superior over so many species and nationalities? Why is it that so many assume that the rest of the world is incapable of looking after themselves. It sometimes reminds me of the old “White Man’s Burden” fallacy that became the big excuse behind slavery.

So here is the claim that not only caught my attention, I was actually drawn into it for the purpose of a reaction: “They don’t know anything about farming over there besides goat herding and poppy seeds in Afghanistan. If we wouldn’t feed them they would starve.”

And that’s what gave me a flash back to 1978 when I was working on a book publication for Aramco in Saudi Arabia and traveled the peninsula’s country side. On one of those travels I was introduced to an agricultural dream partnership between Irish brothers  Alastair and Paddy McGuckian and a visionary prince in the Saudi Royal Family who had set out to create an integrated dairy food company that today is considered one of the largest companies of its type in the world. Almarai, which is Arabic for “pasture”, operates smack in the middle of the desert. Integrated in this case meant, the company controls its raw material supply lines (food for dairy producing cattle). In order to do that they pulled 56,000 lush acres (88 square miles) of grassland out of the desert. The grass land is mowed 10 times per year and yielded 20,000 truckloads of Rhodes grass in 2009, all to feed a herd of some 105,000 cows for dairy production. Each cow produces almost 3,400 gallons of milk per year – three times more than in Europe or the US. Other crops grown on the land are 400,000 tons of alfalfa and 300,000 tons of corn every year.

I could go on about this amazing effort to reclaim desert land in the hope that at some point ignorami here would understand how degrading it is to blindly refer to muslims as desert people and camel jockeys. Do me a favor and learn from the following Powerpoint Download Farming in the Desert and realize that this tremendous feat was accomplished IN THE DESERT!!!!..and then quietly admit that insulting monikers like desert rats and camel jockeys, only expose your own ignorance about today’s world. You know who you are!