Friday, June 23, 2006

Taking Food from the Starving

Much can be said about the differences about Development and Aid. Simply put, some might say that development is better, it’s long term, it reduces dependency, it’s a hand up and not a hand out. But in the case of the Sorghum commercialization project that I’m working on with EWB and CARE international, the main difference is the direction of the truck.

This project is becoming very popular, we’ve had visitors coming every week, at first I thought it was just because Livingstone is a great destination for a visit, but the truth is that CARE, one of the worlds largest NGO’s is trying a really different style project.

When Mike and I first entered the CARE warehouse we were amazed with the amount of food awaiting a destination. One of the most shocking things was that the quality of Sorghum which was “Donated by the people of the United States of America” (as each bag proclaimed in large letters) didn’t even compare to the quality that the farmers were producing with extremely limited technology in Rural Zambia.

It was interesting to see all the different flags adorning the 50kg sacs of grains, oils, beans and energy supplements. Sweden and the U.S. appeared to be the most generous. It was really frustrating to see the lack of bags that were labeled from as coming from Africa, even though many African countries have huge food surpluses. 70% of Zambia is unused fertile land just waiting and beckoning farmers. There is NO reason that Zambia can not be able to feed itself. But there are many reasons why it is not feeding itself. As anyone here loves to point out the government is to blame, not just for the vast unemployment, but the government actually promotes Maize as the national crop. It was a scheme to focus on one crop, get it right, and move towards food security. The result today, (other than eating corn porridge for breakfast, thicker corn porridge for lunch and dinner, as well as the corn powered energy drinks, and the popcorn we have as a snack before dinner) is that everyone loves Maize the country relies on one crop. This leaves the country being extremely prone to pest and disease which could take the crop of the entire country. Maize also fairs poorly in droughts, which have occurred in 7 of the last 10 years. So hopefully we can all agree that it makes a lot of sense to try growing other crops such as Sorghum which is one of the few native African grains, and is drought resistant.

CARE’s new ground breaking project is extremely simple. Find a group of farmers give them the inputs to grow Sorghum, some lessons on the proper procedures, a market where they can sell it, and give them a hammer mill so they can easily process it for their own consumption. But this project is so different from anything CARE has done in the past. CARE is one of the best when is comes to food aid, which is crucially important and certainly has its place; if people are starving, they need food. But when free food from the US is being given out just after the country has had a bumper harvest it’s hard to believe that it is helping people climb out of poverty and not just destroying the market.

The unconventional nature of this project really struck me, as we were driving back from Sikaunzwe to Livingstone with 10 tons of grade A Sorghum. At one of the checkpoints we were stopped and after we told them that we were with CARE and carrying a load of Sorghum, the guard responded with “There are people starving and you’re taking food away from them!”. As we got to the CARE warehouse and unloaded the 10 tons of Sorghum in a small corner designated to our project, surrounded by thousands of tons of food aid donated by generous people from around the world we realized we were probably the first people with CARE to bring food the “wrong” direction. I really liked Mike’s suggestion of stamping the bags with a Zambian flag and proclaiming “proudly grown by the farmers of Sikaunzwe”.


Anonymous Sal Ajek said...

Hey Rob
I am glad to hear your news. Hope you're enjoying the experience.
The circumstances seem to have placed you right on the front line of the aid vs. development dilemma. Being exposed to the emotional consequence of appearing to be 'taking food away from starving people' must be interesting. Keep posting the reactions of people you meet to replacing aid with development; and keep up the great work.


8:51 p.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home