Over 170 world leaders are converging for a United Nations (U.N.) Summit this week to discuss issues touching on extreme poverty, human rights and security. Of what significance is this summit? World leaders will have a chance to network and exchange notes on how far they have hit or missed the Millennium Development Goals. It will emerge basically that the living standards in Africa have generally been declining while standards elsewhere are improving. Old resolutions will be reconfirmed and new ones endorsed. A media blitzkrieg will follow fully loaded with messages of hope for the poor.
While meeting farmer volunteers for the Inter Region Economic Network agriculture project in Eastern Kenya, one of them could not hold back her sadness on some bad news that had hit the village. Most parts of Eastern Kenya fall under low to medium potential agricultural areas. They receive very little and erratic rainfall. This is one part of Kenya that has for decades relied on food relief partly due to unfavorable climate. As I write this piece, the Kenya government jointly with the World Food Program has sent out a request for food aid to the tune of over 1 billion Kenya Shillings.
As we passed by a water tank built by an international aid agency, Damiana Mule, pointed at the tank with a look of desperation: “They are now leaving because their project time is over, I don’t know whether we shall keep receiving water services.” Shocked at her expression I inquired why she felt strongly that the project would collapse. She expressed doubt that her tribesmen’s would manage the project.
At the U.N. summit, resolutions will be made in the name of the poor and project designers, supporters and implementers will be dispatched to the fields. The likes of Damiana will see them arrive in four wheel-drive vehicles. If it’s a water problem, the water will flow only for a short time but at sunset the target group will still be left wondering whether they can manage the project. How best can the plight of agricultural villagers be addressed?
Improving agricultural performance is at the core of improved economic development and growth. Its role in poverty alleviation and re-establishment of human dignity cannot be overlooked. Employing a commercial model, where low resource farmers operate using business strategies will lead to productivity. To set things in motion, established businesses can consider investing in the farming community with a view of expanding their markets.
The solutions to challenges facing low resource farmers lie in the formation of farmers’ and multi stakeholders’ linkages/ networks. Such networks could focus on need based projects through commercial approaches with the aim of ensuring food security and poverty alleviation. Through a network, farmers could agree to pull together their resources such as land; and arrange on how to commercially exploit it. As a farming business, they could link up with other relevant bodies such as banks for loans; farm industries for provision of seeds, ploughs and pesticides; Think Tanks, NGOs, CBOs, University students and youth groups for business strategic ideas. With proper market information, they could also access only those markets that provide the best prices.
What the African leadership ought to do is to get the business infrastructure in Africa up and running. Incite Africans to go for profits. This cannot be achieved through United Nations resolutions; it ought to be driven by the African governments and the African people. To export the African problem to the U.N. will perpetuate the predicament that Africa faces at the moment: lack of good managers!
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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