Different yet similar

I’ve lived in Finland for 26 years and in Ecuador for 4 months, but I know more about Ecuadorian agriculture than I do about Finnish agriculture.

Ask me about banana prices, production per hectare, soil, irrigation, tools, harvesting techniques – no problems! But what is the work day like for a Finnish greenhouse owner? What’s Finland’s most important agricultural product? How much does the dairy farmer get paid per litre of milk?

That I can’t answer, which makes me a little ashamed of myself. When I get back to Finland, I want to learn more.

Sure I’ve heard about organic farming, the EU bureaucracy, the farmers’ organizations and the agricultural subventions. But don’t ask me to explain the details. In Finland I was never interested in agriculture. When certain political processes were on the agenda, I stayed up to date to be able to write texts and edit other peoples’ texts on the subject. But it wasn’t my favorite subject and I never went in depth.

Here in Ecuador, I’ve become interested. After living with farmers for four months I’ve become curious about how life is for the farmers in Finland. Here, agriculture is the most important industry after the oil industry. Banana, cacao, flowers and shrimps are the most important, but there are loads of other products too – rice, maize, veggies, pineapple, mango, coffee. That’s why many people ask me what we grow in Finland, and what the most important product is. I mention the greenhouses in Närpes and the strawberry farms in Suonenjoki. And the dairy farmers and the swine farmers and the egg producers. But I wish I knew more.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, even with my limited knowledge of Finnish agriculture. The farmers’ lives in Ecuador and in Finland seem pretty different on the surface, but many things are similar too. A lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. Work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, and hard to get time off. The fight to make ends meet when food is so cheap and productions costs so high, whether we’re talking eggs or bananas.

The difference is that in Finland a farmer can give up and switch to another business. In Ecuador it’s almost impossible, because there’s nothing else to live off.

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