If you have been paying attention to news headlines with respect to international development you will have noticed the WHAT IF campaign.
If you have missed it, the IF campaign is an initiative that brings together NGOs, campaigners etc., ahead of the G8 summit in June and they are essentially calling for more aid for the poor, more food for the hungry, an end to tax avoidance and transparence in government.
I am not quite sure what to make of this campaign right now and my situation is not helped by the fact that I am reading Dambisa Moyo’s book DEAD AID again having finished William Easterly book White Man’s Burden last week.
In addition, I have just spent seven days in rural Uganda and some of the things I saw out there do not need more aid in my opinion, but instead good old investment and political will.
And in fact, no amount of aid will change some of the situations I encountered.
One of these situations was the amount of food going to waste in gardens and on farms and one such farm belonged to old man Sansa. Sansa’s farm is located three hours west of Kampala in Rakai district towards the border of Tanzania.
To say that this farm was engaging is an understatement; there was so much to do and to see. Farm activities include, cattle keeping, timber harvesting, coffee picking, bee keeping, fruit, vegetables etc.
But the farm has a secret too, and one that no amount of aid can fix!
Old man Sansa and his wife can only consume so much food that is produced on their 50 acres. They exchange some of it for farm labour and what they can’t get to market is left to rot on the farm.
Everywhere we looked on the farm, were bananas, jackfruit, passion fruit or a pumpkin simply left to rot. This was perfect organic food! So much effort, money and time had been invested in producing this food that no one wanted/needed and it could not be sold.
Everyone else in the village produces large quantities of food; therefore the local market is saturated and it would appear that supermarket buyers do not come this far either.
This situation is compounded by the consumption habits in the country, which are partly driven by globalization.
I grew up in rural Uganda. Back then, when you wanted fruit juice you picked the fruit and made your own.
Today, the situation is different, there are pre-packaged fruit juices everywhere and this is what folk prefer, even those in the rural areas.
Can more aid fix this? According to farmers in Rakai district the answer is NO!
In fact more aid in this region may kill off farming altogether, which is the point that Moyo raises in her book. If you can access free money, why would you put in long hours on the farm?
The community and I spoke at length about various issues, including aid, globalisation access to markets and what they would really like to see is some multinational company like Coca-Cola pitching up in their village and buying up all the mangoes, jackfruit, passion fruit etc. and turning this into authentic tropic fruit juices at affordable prices.
They would also like a means of adding value to their fruit, vegetables and other foods.
The IF, campaign is calling for more aid to fight poverty instead of Business. Leaving Rakai behind, I hit the road to Ruhanga and the story was the same. There were gardens and farms littered with pumpkins that no one wanted.
Ironically you will also find some NGOs peddling nutrients in sachets in both these villages. It is scandalous, that whilst there is plenty of food in countries like Uganda, it is going to waste in gardens and farms due to lack of technology to enable farmers to add value to the food yet 2 million Ugandan children are starving.
This situation cannot be fixed by more aid.
What is needed is political will, to get the food from Rakai and other districts and to where it is needed. An idea that has been floated is using the army to collect and distribute the food.
The country is not at war; therefore this would be an ideal way to put the army as a resource to good use.
The point I am trying to make here, is that more aid will not resolve some of the problems that communities in under developed countries are grappling with.
More aid has gone into meeting the Millenium Development Goals and business was largely sidelined when in fact it offers sustainable solutions to some of these challenges.
What we need to figure out is how to prevent waste on farms and gardens so that we don’t have pumpkins rotting whilst millions go hungry. That is the scandal that we must be addressed urgently.
Your thoughts please