I may have written about this earlier but my business trips are normally quite far from the general perception of business travels. Yes, I do stay in comfy hotels when in capitals – never the in fanciest ones but at least in those where internet is supposed to work. (It often doesn’t, of course!) But my business travels often also include trips into the rural areas with overnight stays at small guesthouses that normally attend to local tourists or backpackers, and most importantly, these trips include meetings with farmers, researchers at branch institutes, and public servants in local offices. In addition, my trips often mean spending hours and hours with colleagues from the country I’m in, a driver, and/or an interpreter, which in turn means ample of time for conversation. So I normally go a lot more “off the beaten track” and talk a lot more with locals when I travel for work than when I am on vacation. Which I think is the opposite of what many people picture when they hear the term business travels. But this time in Johannesburg, my trips was really the typical business trip. I didn’t stay at an airport hotel, but not far from it: at the Radisson Blu Gautrain, which is located just across from the Sandton train station where the airport train stops. And I barely got out of the hotel in the six days that I was there.
I came with a team to hold a training for African policy practitioners on how to conduct agricultural risk assessments (more info here). We had a great group of participants (many of them in countries where we work) and I delivered the training together with my closest colleagues, which was nice for a change as we normally lead our own tasks and work with specialized consultants. So I enjoyed this work tremendously! And the last evening, before the rest of my team headed back to Washington and I on to Malawi, we had dinner at The Butcher Shop and Grill, where I had the best meat ever (aged steak!) So just like last time, my stay in Johannesburg was great – it’s such a pleasant place and people are so nice – and I hope I will get to go back in not too long and also at some point see more of South Africa!
I have to say something more about the food in this post, because it wasn’t just the meat at the restaurant that last evening that was good; I actually don’t think I’ve ever been other than excited about the food I’ve had in Johannesburg. The cuisine reflects South Africa’s mixed culture and everything is freshly made and with good quality ingredients. Portions are in nice (read healthy) sizes, and even at our training event, the snacks in the breaks included lots of fruits, small sandwiches, etc (see pics). Even bar food and café food have been very good, and the breakfasts have been divine at the two hotels where I’ve stayed! And in addition to this fantastic cuisine, there is of course the local wine that goes with! So just the culinary experience makes Johannesburg worth a visit!
After my trip to stunning Scotland and the breathtaking Hebrides in early April (one of my most memorable trips ever), work started picking up. Several trips were coming up with preparation and presentations to go with. Little before my upcoming birthday in late April, I all of a sudden got extremely homesick and decided to go to Stockholm for a week. Fortunately, I could work from home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go with everything that was going on. But this worked out perfectly and I celebrated my birthday with my childhood friend Jonas, and also got to celebrate Valborgsmässoafton five days later – one of my favorite holidays at which we celebrate springtime with communal bonfires and traditional songs. A lovely week with lots of work but also plenty of time to catch up with friends in the evenings!
For my birthday, Jonas and I had a drink at restaurant Ulla Winbladh and then dinner at Hasselbacken, both on the island Djurgården in central Stockholm. And I had my favorite dessert – crème brulée! And outside the restaurant sat on of my favorite composer, Swedish 18th century songwriter Carl Michael Bellman!
Although it’s my hometown, I think I’m not alone in ranking Stockholm as one of the top travel destinations for a city weekend. Restaurants, cafes, and bars are frankly better than most places, and there is an immense diversity depending on what you’re up for. There is plenty of history, art, and culture (classic and contemporary), and the city itself is incredibly beautiful, situated perfectly on some 10 islands and fairly equally divided between water, parks, and neighborhoods. So I can truly recommend a visit, and also to see some of the areas outside the inner city borders. Like Hammarby Sjöstad above.
While my team spent much of their time going around the country and talking to farmers and institutions, I had a lot of meetings and events in Kigali and apart from the excursion to the lake on Wednesday, I didn’t have time to get out of the capital more than on Saturday, when I met up with part of my team who were already out talking to dairy farmers. One of the areas that we are looking at is how to sustainably and viably balance the needs of a growing livestock sector with the needs of other crop sectors with limited land available. It’s a challenge that many countries are likely to face in the coming years given the increasing demand for livestock products that come with income increases. But it was inspiring to hear the stories from the farmers we met of how getting a cow changed their lives and how, as their little herd grew, they were able to improve their housing, purchase health insurance, and send their children to higher education. Knowing the hard work and determination it takes to keep livestock, I was really impressed with the achievements of these dairy farmers!
These last pics are from a dairy cooperative and several of the farmers we met were part of this cooperative. The top and the bottom picture demonstrate different types of ttansport used for milk collection – obviously the difference in efficiency is enormous. The little sleeping calf was a new addition to one farmer’s herd, only seven days old.
When I was in Rwanda little over a week ago, Rwanda New Times interviewed me after my presentation and the interview was published today. I thought the questions that they posed were very good and here is my take on some of the challenges for Rwanda’s agricultural sector and agriculture in general.
I’m just on what might be my shortest work-related trip ever: I just spent three and a half day in Rwanda to present our work on agricultural risks for the launch of a joint report. It was a good event and there was a lot of interest in the topic of agriculture and risks, so I’m really glad I went (you can read some of the things the Rwanda New Times wrote about it here and here). It was fun also because two old acquaintances from Moldova (one of whom I worked with) saw my name on the invitation that went out for the launch event, and contacted me contacted me. The “development sector” (for the lack of a better word) is such a small world in a way, and it’s not the first time I cross paths with people on different continents and in different organizations. The visit was really short, though, and I barely had time to see anything other than the office and my hotel, but fortunately, I’m going back in a few weeks. Here is a photo that I snapped in the car on the way to the airport – streetlife in Kigali:
One of the thing that happened during hectic December was that I was invited to hold a presentation at the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation’s congress on Adapting Food Production to. a Changing Climate. My presentation was on managing the increasingly volatile food and agricultural markets and that (video and ppt) along with those of the other speakers are now posted on their website for anyone interested. I can also recommend listening to some of the other presentations there on climate change and agriculture – it’s a topic everyone will have to care more about over the next decades!
I saw this sign at one of the hotels where I stayed in Malawi. Apparently, this must be a universal food myth! One day when I’m bored enough, I might do some research on where the idea that you can’t go swimming after a meal comes from (rule no 2 on the board).
My grandmother’s theory was that this idea developed because people used to drink alcohol to their meals, and that made them less capable swimmers. But if this is correct, how did it reach Malawi?
I’m in Stockholm right now on my way back to the U.S. I’m just doing a quick stop to take care of a few thing with my apartment and see a few friends. It dark here now – very dark! After almost a month if Southern Africa, the darkness and cold weather is like a smaller chock, but for once I don’t have a yet lag and that’s really nice! I haven’t done much here this time so I won’t write so anything about my stay here. Instead, I wanted to just make a quick note about something that I plan to write more about later, namely Sweden’s contradictory attitude to food. I thought about it when entering a bookstore in my part of town and saw the display on the photos below, in front of three full bookcases with cookbooks.
Swedes love food and are real foodies. Our restaurants have world class, Swedish chefs have been top ranked in international competitions every year for the past two decades, and cookbooks and cooking shows are more popular than ever in Sweden. We also like to try new things and food trends come and go, while some foreign cuisines become regular family meals in the Swedish kitchen. These past years, the Swedes, just like East Coasters in the U.S., have also tried to get back to basics and dig up traditional recipes and ingredients. Baking sourdough bread was for example the thing to do in Stockholm a year or two ago (I’m not sure if it still is, things come and go so quickly in Stockholm). In addition to this, Swedes are relatively concerned with the environment and do buy ecologically produced products and look for Swedish produced meat when they go shopping.
So what’s the catch? Well, Swedes have very little interest in agriculture and food production. Less than 1 percent of our GDP comes from agriculture and less than 1 percent of the workforce is employed in farming. Sometimes when I go shopping in our grocery stores, I think that people must have forgotten what fresh fruits and vegetables should really taste like because otherwise they wouldn’t buy most of what is in there. People are unwilling to pay the real cost of production and so a lot of our food is imported, also when it comes to products that are traditionally produced in Sweden. It is really ironic in some ways, given our eager interest in food and our interest in cooking and in trying new things. It seems like some groups and some geographical areas are waking up, but when I’m in ICA or Coop at home in Birkastan, I wish change would be quicker!
There are of course historic reasons for this complete disinterest in agriculture among Swedes and most of our politicians. I will write more on this topic soon.
I thought this menu was very welcoming when we went for lunch one day at the South African café chain Mugg & Bean. Great food, tea, and coffee selection and lots of vegetarian choices but best of all was the menu – who would not feel welcome with a cover like this?