They say necessity is a mother of invention and albeit any human being faced with challenges, will tap into the inner strength and knowhow reinventing themselves so as to survive or probably thrive with the changing dynamics.
Last week I travelled to Turkana, a far place from my base of operation, Nairobi. Turkana is at the border of Kenya with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda. So isolated is this place, that the residents here feel less of being part of Kenya such that in conversations you will hear people referring to the nation’s capital, Nairobi as Kenya – that is how bad the disconnection is and unfortunately this has been going on for as long as pre-colonial times. Life expectancy here is 46 with constant challenges of conflict as a result of cattle rustling with the neighboring communities, drought and scarcity of food. But all is not lost and things are now changing in Turkana. With a total population of approximately 840,000 people, 95% living below poverty line, most of them are now looking for alternative sources of livelihoods to supplement their age-old tradition of pastoralism which is under threat due to long dry spells and lack of enough pastures for their animals. Most Turkana people are now getting involved in small scale farming and fishing which not only provides supplementary food for their families but also as an additional source of income generation.
When I spoke to Albat Hamisi a pastoralist turned Aloe farmer and it was quite evident that times are changing. “I have moved from being just a pastoralist to growing Aloe Vera as a business. I harvest the produce and from it I make products such as Aloe juice, which adds value to my newfound source of income. I have now diversified and I no longer depend on my animals as the only source of income and I’m more resilient. Before I only had livestock now I entered in aloe vera business so I’m better prepared for the rough times to come” He says. Albat further tells me that he made a mind shift by identifying what he was capable of doing. This has indeed enabled him to deal with the changes most of which are beyond his control.
Its not only the men who are looking for means and ways to adapt, during my visit I came across women who are doing something for themselves for the greater good of the community. I met Elizabeth Lokaut who is part of a women’s group that has created a Savings and Loans scheme. With this scheme, women are able to save and borrow money at a low interest. The women’s group also provides a platform for them to discuss and share on important issues affecting their community. This has exposed the women to different ideas opening up their minds to think differently while appreciating their customs and culture. As Elizabeth explains, “I am now more aware and understand better the importance of animal vaccination in fighting diseases. The savings and loans have also given us opportunities to access finances easily whenever we need to. I feel now more conscious of my own power in my community and what I can contribute!”
The other thing that captured, as always, my attention was the strong interest parents do have in sending their children to school. It is obvious that they do realise the importance of education though the levels of enrolment are still quite low with primary school enrolment being at 42% and mainly boys and adult literacy at 27% …am sure with time this is bound to change significantly as they embrace new ways of managing change.
In my opinion, Turkana is awakening…and this is a fact we all have to appreciate. The various challenges have actually gotten the communities to think of other means and ways to cope. All those I met, heard and saw impressed me. In Turkana, they are not just sitting waiting for the government or some NGOs to come to their rescue…they are taking charge of their lives and working hard to change the narrative of poverty and food scarcity to one of prosperity and hope.
Thanks to Makarand Sahasrabuddhe, colleague but more important a friend, here you may find a summary of my tweets in Turkana.
Alice was beginning to get very tired; Not , but not of because of just sitting by her sister on the bank while she was reading a book with no pictures. Actually, like her sister, Alice could not read. In her land, only one of two women were able to read. This is is not very surprising in a country ranked the last in the Human Development index. Of course one must not forget that the same country has a fabulous wealth in minerals needed for every cell phone is the world.
In her nightmare, Alice saw the white rabbit but he was always late. She looked hard the magic mushroom that would get rid of her nightmare, but never found it. Her government, the rebels, the international community promised her the magic mushroom but it never arrived. Last time she needed it was three months ago. The armed group M23, well supported from abroad, decided it was its moment to create its own state in Congo, in North Kivu. Then the armed clashes started with the Congolese Army. We could see the Heart Queens playing their croquet game and Alice losing again.
Alice and her family, who happen to be Hutu, ran away from their village with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They went to Goma. They ran away before they could be killed, raped or any of her sons could be recruited forcedly by M23 as cannon fodder. A young soldier is a good prize and since he is expendable as he is Hutu, it is even better.
Alice is one of the more than 400,000 people displaced because of instability in the country. Once again the Congo is in the news!! But this time almost no one noticed; there are too many hatters around pretending to be mad. When Alice and her family arrived in Kanyaruchinya, just outside Goma there were 60,000 people there already! Their camp soil is on the lava from the last volcano eruption. There are no mattresses and they sleep on the rocky, hard and irregular land. They have just got some food but Alice was amazed about the poor quality of the beans. It is not only that being that poor they have not much nutrients despite how much Alice and her family needs them. It also implies more time for cooking them, hence more firewood, hence more trips or more time in the bush, hence more work for Alice and her daughters and much more risk to be assaulted or raped.
There are 200 latrines…for 60.000 people –don’t do the maths- and 70 showers –keep not doing maths. Oxfam is working hard to build more but…most donors say this is not a priority and we can hardly find money for Alice and her family.
Of course there are no schools, no livestock and now the planting season is going to be missed because of the conflict. That means in three months Alice will struggle to harvest anything….but that looks so far now, she has enough with living every day. And now her elder son has told her he is going to enrol in the Congolese Army. The Army that disrespecting any principle is recruiting young unemployed people –they have no choice- in the camp. Just more cannon fodder!
Alice told me she was happy with the water she was receiving and thanked me for it. Then she saw my cell and said “Oh, I have been told that works with the mineral is extracted from my village and that is the reason we have had to run away.. Is it true?
I could not answer her…would you know what to tell Alice to help her awaken from her nightmare?
That pearl of wisdom came from a taxi driver yesterday in Barcelona. He did it as a conclusion of a conversation we had around politics, economy, religion, poverty….basically a typical taxi conversation, with no football by the way.
Today, while reviewing the draft of the new Oxfam Strategic Plan I found this statement, “Oxfam believes that there is a realistic possibility that the present decade could witness a tipping point, with the power of global elites successfully challenged by accountable and active global citizenship.”
My first reflection thought was what my colleague, now I can call him so, the taxi driver said. That is exactly the sentiment he expressed; … this is going to change, and it is going to change because it cannot continue it is now.
It cannot be that, that in a world plenty of obscene wealth, inequality and poverty is increasing. In a hyper connected world, where everything may be instantly known, that we do not know about a huge number of inaccessible secrets like tax havens, lack of transparency in governments or the use of funds of big corporations. Nothing happens when someone breaks a bank, a government or a country.
Hence, if my taxi driver was right and so is Oxfam, it looks the capacity and onus for change is on us. The push may come from indignation or hope or even ingenuity, but it seems that accountable and active global citizenship may have some of the answers. At the same time on those answers we find our challenge, those three adjectives.
Accountable, so easy to say but so easy to forget. This is one of the task, to tell, to share, to disclose, the actions, the successes and failures, the mistakes and the right decisions. We have been thinking that the triumph is only of those ones who never mistakes, what a silly thing! All of us succeed everyday in something, no matter what it is. Taking care of one children or our elders, go to work hard everyday, or go to find a job, be everyday a bit better, we do it, and we succeed, and not always things are right, we make mistakes but we continue doing our best. That is the collective spirit, no matter to make mistakes, only matter to keep doing the same mistakes and to avoid that accountability is the best vaccine.
Active, what a laziness! With so many things I have to do, am I going to engage in such a thing? Well, it is your call. The old Greeks, wise people even misogine, call “idiot” to those who refuse to participate on the issues of the city, on the common issues, on the public issues, the things related to the citizenship. You can always end being happy with not participating, but remember, you will be happy idiot.
Global, very hard that one! How difficult is to feel those suffering 8,000 miles far away are my siblings. How difficult to feel solidarity to those we do not even know. It is hard with the acquaintances, so guess how is it with the aliens? So in such moments we became hard with the immigrant, with the different, with the weakest. We compare cynically our poor with the poor of the others. But such a thing does not exist. One of the reasons of our trouble is that false difference. The solution to be a solution needs to be global, I cannot save myself without saving the other.
And now I am back to my colleague the taxi driver: “This can’t be as it is and it’s going to change…” Are you going to be one of those who engage with the change or you rather will be a happy idiot?
For a number of reasons I’ve been working over the last few weeks on how to handle the shrinkage of the civil society space. I can see it happening in many countries. While thinking about it, I am also dealing with the issue in real time…Managing a specific case in which some social organizations are being harassed for keeping specific position that are not pleasurable for those who are economically powerful, economically and politically.
During that process some government officials have repeatedly said to me , “We love NGOs, but they should do their job and not do politics.” As for myself, I naively wonder,….We fight injustice and poverty. Is that not politics? We struggle to change the imbalance of power in societies towards those less powerful. Is that not politics? We try and give voice to those who are voiceless. Is that not politics?
For sure it’s politics. Social organizations have been doing politics since the beginning of the game, what they didn’t do, and some of us keep thinking should keep not doing, is to do party politics. I mean aligned themselves with a specific party or other, but they should align to a specific ideology or another. Taking sides with those more in need is a very clear ideology in itself, but they shouldn’t be dealing with day-to-day politics.
So I regularly answer, Yes Mr Minister (almost always is a he), we don’t do politics (and I mumble party politics), just we defend the interest of the poorest…and I think, well maybe it’s possible that this is the politics you, honorable powerful, don’t want us to do……
Five weeks ago, I was in Mali. At that time, we were talking about the Sahel food crisis which had the potential to become a huge tragedy if not addressed on time.
It was just a short time back but since then two other issues put Mali in the news ;, the coup and the return to democracy. According to the President of the Election Commission, Mali was expecting to hold elections in April, despite the conflict in the north which was also being talked about as a rebellion by the Tuareg. Even the coup was associated to that conflict and the fact the Tuareg were very quickly taking over big part of the territory.
This is not an article on the coup, or the elections or indeed the food crisis. I want to share a story. A story of investment, innovation and entrepreneurship. I want to talk to you about Madame Fatouma Djara. She is the founder CEO of the company which is the star in my story.
A couple of years ago her business was in difficulty and desperately, needed injection of capital to get out of the red. After hard efforts she managed to get an international investor interested in investing on her business. The investors were banking on her management skills However, they were cautious and agreed to invest in three instalments – the first in May 2009 , the second in October 2009 and and the final one January 2010.
With the fresh money of the first instalment Madame Djara decided to enter in the ready-to-eat food. She knew that in in Mali, specifically in Fakola in the south, the families spent long hours in working so there seemed to be a clear market in the market for her products. The savings in time and the convenience of having the food ready will be worth if she was able to find the right price range. She started it and the business was doing very well, the company was selling out all the production, the initial investment was paying off, actually the demand was so huge that production could not keep up. .
Then it arrived the moment for the second instalment. Madame Djara encouraged by the initial success decided to keep the investment in the same business but expanding it geographically. She saw a very clear opportunity in satisfying the market demands of other locations beyond the original one. Transportation was a challenge, but she was able to overcome it. And not only that, also the company invested in diversifying the suppliers so getting better prices, reducing costs and increasing profits. The business was going even better than before, but Madame Djara was already musing something different.
So when the third bit of the international investment arrived she decided it would be worth to diversify. She analyzed her current market and thought it would be difficult to make it grow because of the associated costs of opening new markets further and further away. Some issues related to health were coming up in the ready-to-eat food business. So the decision was to embark the company in a new sector, in apparels. There was hope that the customer base for the ready-to-eat food would move to the apparel segment too.
In order to minimize the risk the decision was to keep both businesses at the same time. This would provide evidence on what was more profitable. Finally the figures were clear, the margins in the apparel business were higher. So she disinvested in the ready-to-eat food business and focused in the apparel one. And that is as she told me her story and how I learned it my recent trip.
That is with no doubt a clear tale of business success. A story what could be printed in the business pages of any newspaper. The only reason is not in such papers is because the international investors who trusted in Madame Djara are Oxfam. Because that investment amounted only 90USD, paid in three instalments of 40,30 and 20. Because the ready-to-eat business was selling around french fries, first in her village and later in close villages. And her apparel business was selling second hand clothes in those villages. And, you know, such stories lack the glamour you need for business pages.
But nobody will deny me a couple of insights. The first one, the story is as good as any of those big multinationals if we think in how to achieve business success and to show that talent, innovation and entrepreneurship may work in any place, no matter the scale, the starting point or the difficulties. Even more, such success may help people like Madame Djara to get out of poverty.
The second one, what is much more important. To be poor is not a synonym to be dumb, or not be entrepreneur, or to be lazy, or not to be innovative. To be poor is a synonym of not having opportunities, nor access, neither the trust of the others. Because as Madame Djara taught me, when the opportunities are provided, the access granted and the trust showed, all the potential explodes and you achieve amazing results. Nor a single international investor, as all the Oxfam supportes are, could never have used 90 USD of investment better that in this wonderful story of success of a women like Madame Djara that now can feed her family and can keep dreaming with a better life.
I have been collecting data to write about Inequality for long time. No one can argue that Inequality is not a central issue in Development and Humanitarian work. In fact is also central in moral and politics. In the last years, the trends show that we, as a world, are not yet going in the right direction.
While occupied in my reflections I happened to watch this wonderful TED Video of Richard Wilkison Co-director of Equality Trust which is a UK based institution working to promote equality. The central argument in their book “The Spirit Level” is that equality is better for everyone.
The video starts with a very provocative statement, if we look at the relationship between life expectancy and GDP per capita among different countries (the study focused on rich countries) there is no correlation, but if we do the same analysis within a specific country there is a huge correlation. Something similar happens with a set of social indicators or with the UNICEF indicator of Child Well Being, the performance of those indicators have little to do with the GDP per capita, but has a lot to do with inequality within a given a country. The more unequal the country the worse the performance of such indicators.
We can also observe what happens in the more unequal countries with mental illness, violence, people in prison, trust or social mobility and we clearly will arrive to the evident conclusion, equality is not only morally desirable is also the needed condition for a better life in a better society.
Enjoy the Video.
Demand for food is projected to rise by 50% in 2030. However, the world consumed more food than it produced in seven of the 8 years between 2000 and 2008 and rates of productivity growth driven by the “Green Revolution” is declining. The amount of arable land per capita has halved since 1960, but demand for it is increasing and the demand for water will rise by 25% by 2025 but is already beyond its sustainable use in many parts of the world. Those are some of the issues Alex Evans mentions in his report Ressource Scarcity, fair shares and development.
So we are witnessing a change in the traditional challenge of “there is food for everyone, but is poorly distributed,” towards “in addition of having the food poorly distributed, as we produce and consume it there is no food for all.”
Clearly, the future speaks of scarcity and we must speak also about the justice in the distribution.
As for the shortage seems evident that one of the actions is to increase production, FAO says about the need to rise by 70% food production in the coming years, but how? The first consideration to make is to what extent food production competes in land and water, with other products such as biofuels, -40% of U.S. corn production will go for ethanol this year- timber or the need for conservation in terms of CO2-maintenance of forests for example.
Therefore there is less land and more need in each aspect. The second point has to do with the increase of the global middle class that has led to increased food intake. A third factor to consider is the climate change that is affecting the patterns and amounts of production in much of the planet. All this in an environment of limited resources where we must act now, says Johan Rockstromin his great TED video
This leads us to turn our hear to a place that has traditionally been paid little attention; in the world today there are 3,000 million people who make their living directly from family farming, in Africa alone there are 33 million farms with an area of around one hectare on average. Can these holdings be the new breadbasket of the world? No doubt they can, just remember that most of them have not had access to new technologies, or credit, or marketing tools, and we can find very good examples that demonstrate how those exploitations may flourish with such care as much or more than large farms.
The other part of the equation is the distribution and this has to do both with access to food as with the way we consume it. And talking about access something is very clear, as Amartya Sen has made clear: “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough to eat”. And the amazing thing is that approximately 80% of hungry people live in rural areas where food is produced. But the poorest are heavily exposed to price volatility and in general spend over 75% of their income on food, which gives them little room to maneuver. So without regulating prices and reducing speculation, with investment in their development, their access to the food they need seems so far away.
And finally, yet closer to all of us, is the issue of consumption, in this case of irresponsible consumption, of waste, of the amount of food thrown away literally. According to Tristram Stuart with just a fourth of the food that is wasted in Europe and the U.S. we could feed 1,000 million people going hungry to bed in the world every day.
Today is the World Food Day, in such a day if we are aware of the limitations of our planet, of the possibilities of small-scale farming, of how the speculation of a commodity such food left over hungry a billion people. And finally we are also aware of our individual personal and civic responsibility in every aspect and of our own waste, we can probably take the first step towards a world in which all of us, and those to come, we will have enough food without suffering to have it.
I spent a whole week visiting Egypt for personal reasons but with a visit last day discussing with colleagues on the Arab spring and the particular case of Egypt, with a visit to the Arab League and going to the airport just at the time that police punished protesters with a tragic death toll.
Many things to share but one of those is the paradox happened while talking about the situation of women in Egypt in the same week as the Nobel Peace Prize is decided in favor of three brave and committed women.
I was able to talk a lot with Fatima, a 34 years old women, historian by profession, Muslim, single, childless, highly educated, with a clear vision of politics in general and on Egypt in particular. With a personal perspective on the revolution, which speaks loudly of her independent mind and …. to some extent, deeply frustrated by the constraints that culture surrounds her, shapes her life in a way that is not what she wants.
“Neither religion nor law imposes no limitation to me” says, “what really limits it me is a patriarchal mentality in my family and in most men I know and a good number of women.” “They wanted me to marry a man who was incapable of writing a text message without committing three errors in spelling, a cousin of mine, when I refused, was a great tragedy for my family, a shame, since we are not connected with that part of the family ”
The submission of women throughout the world is terrible, it is true that there are different places and situations; it is true that in some places such submission is formalized by law or religious rules. But it is even truer than in many other places this formalization does not exist but there is de facto. Fatima’s case is one of them. But have you tried to name countries that have had a female president or female prime minister? Sure you find a few, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Ireland, United Kingdom, Chile, Nicaragua, Liberia, Iceland, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Denmark, Brazil, Germany, Panama, India, Pakistan, Philippines …. So until thirty, we can still quote them, because of its scarcity but have you tried to name countries that have had two or more female presidents?, try it now, with male presidents and see how easy it is.
That is why the latter Nobel is so critical because the role model it represents, because it puts at the heart of the debate the power and the transformational and creative capacity women have; when usually this enormous power is darkened, and the submission of women is de facto the status quo in our societies, because our mental models relegate them to a second place.
So thinking of Fatima and the still daunting task of breaking down stereotypes I leave you with a campaign video of “The Women’s Media Center” that aims to just do that, breaking down stereotypes, (ht to Alex Evans).
 Argentina(2), Ireland(2), Philippines(2), San Marino(10) y Switzerland(7)