High in the Peruvian Andes, an unexpected and severe February frost wipes out the potato crop of hundreds of farm families toiling at an elevation above 8,000 feet. The farmers have no safety net; they’ve lost not only their current crop but their seeds for the next growing season as well. “I am crying as if one of my own children died,” one farmer says,
tears streaming down her face.
As a visitor, I am surprised by what comes—or rather, doesn’t come—next. The news does not get out. No one knows what’s happened. The
farmers are mostly illiterate, they possess no radio stations or newspapers, and the Internet remains alien. Journalists rarely talk to them, either. Even their own government makes no announcement after learning of their emergency.
The plight of the Andean farmers, devastated by unexpected weather and now facing malnutrition as well as the difficult task of obtaining seeds for next year’s potato crop, presents a classic problem in communication about development. The Peruvian farmers,voiceless, essentially don’t exist. Though their country posted rapid economic growth last year, approaching an impressive 10 percent, these Andean subsistence farmers remain one bad day away from the worst kind of food insecurity.
Their story has yet to make news in Peru and almost surely never will.
The plight of these poor farmers—and how the media should go about telling their story and many others like it—is the subject of this essay.
How best, in short, can the media cover development?
The issue of development is one of the most divisive of our time. Development for whom? Privileged elites? The mass of poor? The striving
middle classes? And development at what cost? Should it come at the expense of the environment, so that rapid economic growth lays the seeds for future catastrophes? Is development essentially economic or human? Is it best measured by the health and education of people?
The market for corporate equities? Employment?