What do tomatoes have to do with mass migration? Tomatoes are a poker chip in global trade policies. Subsidized products from the EU, China and elsewhere are sold at dumping prices, destroying markets and livelihoods in Africa in the process.
Edward still harvests tomatoes. But he is no longer on his own fields in Ghana. He now works on plantations in southern Italy under precarious conditions. The tomatoes he harvests are processed, canned and shipped abroad – including to Ghana, where they compete with local products. The flood of cheap imports from China, the US and the EU has driven Ghana’s tomato industry to ruin. Desperate farmers find themselves having to seek work elsewhere, including in Europe. For many, the only route available is a dangerous journey through the desert and across the Mediterranean. Ghana is a nation at peace, a democracy with free elections and economic growth. Nonetheless, tomato farmer Benedicta is only able to make ends meet because her husband regularly sends her money from his earnings in Italy.
A former tomato factory in Pwalugu, Ghana, illustrates the predicament. This factory once helped secure the livelihood of tomato farmers across the region. Today it lies empty, guarded by Vincent, a former employee who hopes to keep it from falling into ruin. In the surrounding region, the market for tomatoes has collapsed and most farmers are no longer growing what could easily be Ghana’s ‘red gold’. An agricultural advisor is trying to help local tomato farmers, but has little by way of hope to offer. Conditions like this are what drive local farmers to cut their losses and head for Europe. Once in Italy, migrants from Ghana and other African countries are forced to live in desperate conditions near the plantations. They work as day laborers for extremely low wages, helping to grow the very tomatoes that are costing people back home their work and livelihoods. These days, canned tomatoes from China, Italy and Spain are available for purchase on the market of Accra. Some may call this free trade. But economist Kwabena Otoo says free trade should open doors; not destroy people’s lives.
Every two seconds, a person is forced to flee their home. Today, more than 70 million people have been displaced worldwide. The DW documentary series ‘Displaced’ sheds light on the causes of this crisis and traces how wealthy industrialized countries are contributing to the exodus from the Global South.
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