As the unrest increases in parts of Africa, middle-east and other disputed regions of the world, thousands of refugees are plating new hopes of a peaceful life on US soil. Through the resettlement programs of the UN, a huge number of Somalis refuge who fled the civil war and prosecution in the horn of Africa are finding a new life in crop and vegetable farming.
Farming Life of the Somalis Refugees in the US
The Somali Bantu Community Association, Lewiston, is helping thousands of refugees, preserve the Somali Bantu culture, and is giving a new living to the former refugees. Set up by Muhidin Libah, a Somalis refugee who fled the country in 1991 and spent 10 years in the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, the community association has become a source of empowerment for the war-torn refugees who cannot speak English.
In the association, each of the 220 family farmers, three-quarters of which are women, are provided with one-tenth of an acre. As a result, they are free to incorporate traditional Somalis farming with modern technologies to grow different types of vegetables and fruits.
Muhidin says, “We want to maintain our way of life as much as we can but at the same time adapt to life here, keeping the best parts of Somali Bantu and US culture, so we can nurture kids who are well-rounded and can thrive in this environment” The story of Muhidin’s community is one of many stories where refugees and immigrants are using farming as a new way of living and coping with the American way of life.
The Complex Chain
Along with re-creating livelihood for themselves, the relocating refugees and immigrants fulfill the farm need of all the agricultural sectors. According to Farmworker Justice’s estimation, a large majority of the American farmworkers are immigrants, of which 49% don’t possess authorized immigration status by the current US laws. The un-authorization restrains the immigrants from owning land.
But with the UN resettlement program in action, many refugees have been able to procure small plots. According to the New York Times, these small plots have become the major source of income in most immigrant families, providing them an income, ranging from $5000 to $50,000 in a year.
Currently, hundreds of farm aid programs across the United States in helping these immigrants find new sources of income and living. For example, wholesome Wave, a non-profit organization, based in Connecticut, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention offer $20 monthly to low-income shoppers for buying more produces.
The Ripple Effects of the Immigration Debat
Local farming businesses, fresh vegetable markets, restaurants, and chefs depend immensely on refugee farmers for their farm produces. From planting seeds to availing the end products in the market, every step of the hundreds of refugee farm aid programs includes immigrants finding life in the states. But, with the rippling effects of the ragging immigration debate, many farms are worried about labor shortages.
Farms and numerous dairy industries will also be dramatically affected, as, without immigrants’ help, there will be a steep shortage of laborers in the farms. As an effect, the prices of dairy products, especially milk, will shoot up.
A study by Texas A&M University shed light on one of such spelled disasters in the dairy industry in scarcity of refugees. It found that in 2013, the industry employed approximately 150,418 workers, amongst which 76,968 were immigrants. Loss of workers in this huge number would put about 700 smaller family farms at risk and could result in a 90% surge in consumer milk prices.
The Farm Bureau study of 2014 shows that an enforcement-only approach for immigration, i.e., strict border security, aggressive deportation, etc., could alone cause a 5-6% spike in food prices, hitting the vegetable and fruit market the hardest. In addition, with the shortage of immigrant workers, the net farm income could see a 15-29% drop caused by lower gross receipts, lower production, and higher expenses.
Refugees In Hope of a Better Tomorrow
Immigrants are deeply rooted in the complex chains of farm produce in the United States. As an essential link to the country’s food system, refugees have become an integral part of rural America. The contribution of the immigrant workers to shape the economic and cultural fabric of rural farm-based communities of the US is undeniable.
Lack of security or food, or just in the search for a better tomorrow, many refugees cross the border. Fortunately, the UN, farm aids and non-profit organizations are facilitating these refugees and immigrants with a new way of starting a life. As Muhidin says, “Farming will help integration as food is a universal language. It will bring our communities together, and we already see this when we sell our produce at local farmers’ markets.”