Archive for the ‘Sustainable Development’ Category

Peacekeeping and Blow drying, Leaving CAR

In CAR, Sustainable Development, Travel on November 23, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Coming home

November 22, 2014
Aboard Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca

Bangui bid me adieu with a thunderstorm. Grey skies, lightning not too far away. Local people trying to start their day, dealing with their normal hassles but with the addition of mud and rain.

There was a huge congregation of trucks near the halfway point near where the UN base is – it was the convoy for the Cameroon border. The routes in all directions are full of bandits and militias, so all NGOs and commercial trucks have been advised to follow various UN convoys on set days per week. The convoys basically clear the way, providing the security and scouting. A helicopter actually follows the convoys looking out for the worst.

According to a report from a few days ago, MINUSCA, the peacekeeping force here, assumed control of the Bangui airport. They’re the soldiers checking your vehicle on the way in, and they provide the security around the airport. In fact, I saw the peacekeeper soldiers deployed to clear the runway of locals so our plane could land. The airport appeared to allow regular people to cross and walk along the runway to pass through to the other side. I noticed they used the UN convoy escort helicopter to dry off a puddle that had built up on the main runway, on its way out.

There were a bunch of UN helicopters at the airport. It was basically a humanitarian airport that lets commercial flights move through. The UN had their several helicopters and UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, usually managed by WFP) has a few planes. MSF and ICRC had their own planes. Usually there are others but I wasn’t looking too hard. There is a camp next to and spilling into the airport for displaced people who were fleeing the Seleka. The Seleka are cordoned off in a part of town that most people on their way to the airport need to pass through, so any time something would flare up it stresses you out, wondering how you could get out if things got really dicey. But, I was confident that the omnipresent peacekeepers would be able to put a lid on anything these guys could throw at them. Indeed most violence is internecine now, the Seleka are divided, and the Antibalaka,who oppose them, take their opportunities to hit them when they can. Any time foreigners are hassled it’s pure criminality.

Getting through that airport was not awful, as usual I go into my traveler zen mode, where nothing can make me mad and I will myself to have absolute faith that I am not the only one being hassled. As long as I get to the airport on time I know I should be ok. The Bangui airport isn’t as bad as Juba or Khartoum, it’s just super small, although it wasn’t as jammed and dysfunctional as Juba. They seemed to move people through reasonably well. They checked my bag no less than 4 times, before I checked in, after I checked in, security scan, and then one final time. The last spot was where they took my spray deodorant and my nail clippers, both of which have been in my carry-on bag around the world with me a few times without hassle. Oh well.

They had a decent lounge upstairs where you could get an egg sandwich and Nescafé. That’s the most expensive Nescafé I’ve ever had, it was about $2 (1000 cfa), the egg sandwich was $4. I can afford it but they know they’re getting a premium from foreigners.

In the end I don’t care too much, this country has had a truly rough time of it. The people are weary, the local people on my flight seem to have this sense of solidarity having gone through some difficult experiences together. Maybe this is how New Yorkers were around 9/11.

Long flights home but I’ll be happy to be back. I had a much better trip than my last one for work, and much better than my last time in Africa. It was good to put Juba behind me. I was happy to speak a lot of French, I was able to get some stuff done and I hopefully was able to make some new friends. So I can’t complain. I’m lucky to have a job like this.

As always, I remain inspired by my colleagues. The heroes are the Central Africans trying to help rebuild their country. All we can do is help them help themselves.


Nigerien Agriculture – from my experience

In Appropriate Technology, Economic Development, International Development, Natural Resource Management, Niger, Peace Corps, Sustainable Development on March 14, 2014 at 8:04 pm

(For the record – in English – someone from Niger is a Nigerien, someone from Nigeria is a Nigerian.) 

An acquaintance asked me to describe my experience with smallholder farmers in Africa, this is what I ended up writing for her.

My most intimate experience was as a Peace Corps volunteer living in a rural Nigerien village.  Farmers would generally have “ownership” or at least control over 1-3 hectares of land where, if the rains were perfect, they’d grow enough millet and sorghum for most of the year.  Land was not “owned” in our northern sense though, it was apportioned by the village chief or county chief (Chef du Canton).  Farmers could not take out loans against their land titles, there are no titles per se.  So, if a farmer wants to improve his yield – the options are (and all include money):

  1. To work WAY harder: rehabilitating degraded soil which you need tools or to employ manual laborers for, in which case they need the funds for these tools or laborers, which they almost never have.  Animal traction is difficult because of the soil but it depends on the geography.
  2. To purchase fertilizer/improved seeds: all the various scientific studies about Niger (google ICRISAT) and farming millet show that the only way to improve yields is to use fertilizer or invest in improved higher/faster yielding seeds.  For this you need money, but it also entails significant risk because this is an entirely rain-fed exercise; if you invest in fertilizer or improved seeds and the rains are inconsistent or otherwise deficient, you lose your investment.
  3. Irrigate: This is almost a non-starter as it’s so expensive or the field has to be in a perfect location close to a water source.  Definitely possible for some farmers that I knew along rivers or seasonal lakes, some of them invested in pumps and would irrigate their fields, planting more water-intensive crops such as maize.

The other issue is the whole market situation – most of the farmers I knew were straight-up subsistence farmers.  They were almost never selling their harvest unless it was a dire situation or something unusual like a wedding.  They otherwise needed the food to survive, and barely survive.

I found that in general my villagers were experts at managing their risks, they knew the bare minimum they had to do to avoid a huge loss but to keep their family alive.  In rough years like in 2005 and I think 2009/10 (I can’t remember the last really bad year) they lose/deplete their coping mechanisms, which are basically selling assets like their cattle/sheep/goats, sending family members away to earn money (sometimes young children), or migrating to urban areas as a last resort. These really bad years used to be far enough apart that people could recover, but now they’re closer together, leaving people vulnerable.  Also, population growth, even with intense family planning interventions from the government and NGO’s, is very high (something like average 7 living kids per Nigerien mother) so any improvements are negated by population growth; there’s not enough to go around.

In some cases the environment has degraded slowly enough that villagers still maintain their mental model of their home villages being a place where Allah should allow them to farm – but the land has become so degraded and dry over time, through deforestation and erosion – that harvesting a survivable crop is all but impossible.  These people make up the majority of those accepting WFP food distributions and literally living off of aid.  There are ways to rehabilitate the land; there’s a thing called “Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration” that has had great success using indigenous trees and grasses but it takes years to show an effect.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now

Dollo Ado Trip – Bringing Water to Dollo

In Environment, Ethiopia, International Development, Natural Resource Management, Sustainable Development on September 2, 2011 at 10:53 am

Note: these blog posts were originally posted on the IRD Voices blog: http://www.ird.org/voices/


Dolo Ado, Ethiopia

Arrived in Dollo Ado on a UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight this morning. Nice plane, only about half full, almost all expats decked out in REI gear. First time I’ve landed on a dirt runway. It’s good to be out of Addis.

Dollo couldn’t be more different. Where Addis is cool, rainy, and verdant, Dollo is dry, dusty, and hot. The Addis airport is an international hub, the Dollo airport is really only for expat aid workers and their colleagues. When we arrived, there was an army of white land cruisers lined up, to pick up the people arriving and drop off those that took my plane back to Addis.

There is a windy, flowing river here, the Ganale. Some of our proposals have involved encouraging irrigated agriculture along this river, which flows year-round. The town seems to be set up on a kind of grid, all mashed together with whatever is around – cast off tents, old brush serving as compound walls. Lots of people walking around. From the plane I could see one of the camps for the Somali refugees that come here. Nearly 200,000 of them are spread out into 5 UNHCR managed camps. There are dozens of NGO’s here catering to them, studying them, observing them, serving them.

I’m here to help start-up our water trucking project. It’s a daunting task, we’re starting from nearly nothing. We’ve got a collaborative partnership with a local NGO, and Save the Children is letting us crash at their compound (where I’m typing this.) This compound is sprawling – low-slung cement buildings with corrugated roofs, when there’s power the TV is turned on and there is a wifi hotspot, although unconnected a lot of the time.

Hopefully by Friday when we leave, we’ll have more figured out – such as the exact villages we’re going to work in, who will work for us, etc… How we’re going to do it, really. Just the basics.

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

6:45 am

We felt like we were imposing on Save the Children, so my colleague Abdulahi, a Somali (they don’t like to be called Somali-Ethiopians) got us some space at the government guest house about 100 meters away. This is like old-time Peace Corps hostel bush living again. Foam mattress on the floor, pit latrines, bucket bathing.

I got to walk around town a lot yesterday. I get the feeling that expats don’t stroll around Dollo Ado much. They have the good old stare-at-the-foreign-guy thing going here. I had to pull out my decade-old coping mechanisms. Abdulahi assures me that this is a safe place. I just try to smile and be friendly.

Went into a local restaurant yesterday and they greeted Abdulahi like he was a returning hero – he’s spent a lot of time here in former jobs. They seated us in the back away from staring eyes. The food was three separate plates of rice, meat, and sliced veggies (onions, bell peppers, tomatoes). They included lime, which Abdulahi slathered around – I followed his lead, feeling like it would disinfect. Not bad, especially if you’re hungry.

The best was afterwards, I noticed there was an espresso machine near the door, an old, beat-up La Pavoni push-lever one, which is a good idea if you don’t have reliable electricity. The barista very happily made me an espresso, which tasted well enough for the only game in town, and especially for 5 Birr (about 30 cents US).

Tuesday, when we got here, was Eid – the day after the end of Ramadan, a national holiday in Ethiopia. So there wasn’t much we could do – government offices were closed. So we ended up hanging out at the guest house all afternoon and Abdulahi napped. He was wearing a wrap, a leg-length cylinder of fabric that he would tuck around his waste, he’d use it to shield himself for privacy when getting dressed. We later got one for me in town, it ended up being great for sleeping.

Today we will rent a car with a driver, and drive out to some of the villages we’re going to deliver water too. I’m excited to get out to the real field.

Thursday, Sept 1, 2011

Yesterday was the bush trip I’ve been wanting to make since I completed my Peace Corps service and left Niger over 10 years ago. Loaded up in a 4×4 with funky music, rolling way out on donkey cart paths to remote places where they could use a hand.

We visited 4 villages (or, kebeles, as they’re officially called here) in the Dolo Ado woreda. They all need water. Desperately. There wasn’t much point in talking about anything else – it’s the reason we were visiting them, we didn’t have a lot of time, and I’m not about to make perfect the enemy of the good.

Our route took us west along the Ethiopia-Kenya border, at one point my colleague pointed out a spot where all three countries meet – Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia – the Horn of Africa countries (minus Eritrea and Djibouti). Most of the Kenya/Ethiopia border that we followed was a river, and it seemed to be the only real source of green for many, many miles.

This place hasn’t had any real rains in over 2 years. The trees are almost all dormant or dead. The villages look abandoned. We formally visited 4 different villages – three that desperately need water, and one that will likely supply the others from their bountiful well. In one village, they showed us their water source – a large area that looks like it could be lush in better days, supporting several animal watering stations and four round cement wells. When we looked into their well, the water was barely there, you had to literally scratch the surface for more water. There’s just a profound feeling of dread that you must feel when you see something so essential, barely out of your grasp, slipping away.

I told them we’d do the best we can.

6:15 pm

We spent the day in the Dolo Bay woreda. I thought the Dolo Ado woreda was a dry place, but Dolo Bay (pronounced like “bye”) is more parched and desiccated. We visited a village where their water literally ran out 2 days ago. In fact, they thought we might be coming to them with water – which is exactly what the Dolo Ado government rep had told us the day before – that these people don’t need any more visits, they need help. NOW. The area has hardly had any rains for 2 years now.

In these villages, a common way to save water and prepare for drought is to build “burkitts”. These are basically covered rainwater catchments – you build where a lot of water will run in a storm, dig a deep, cemented in area, cover it up with a good roof to prevent evaporation, and lock it up until your regular water source runs out. In one village we visited, their burkit had a little bit of water. In the other, it was dry – a wet spot drying where they drew their last drops only 48 hours before.

It’s just so damned frustrating – IRD, my NGO, needs the money to help these people as soon as possible – we will be helping them within the next week, but no faster than that, unfortunately. All we can say is that help is coming, but many of them may just leave their villages for water before then. In the village where their water had run out, their other nearest water source was at least 20 kilometers away – they would have to send a kid on a donkey cart to bring back enough to make any difference.

These villages look like they’d be functioning well in any other time – they have schools with latrines, some of them look like they had shops at one point. Water really is life. No water, no life.

Tomorrow we fly back to Addis, then on Tuesday I leave for home. Sunday is my daughter’s 5th birthday. I haven’t had internet here in Dolo, I haven’t checked my email since early Tuesday morning. I was able to leave a short voicemail on my home phone so my wife knows I’m OK, but that was on Tuesday evening. Hopefully the Save the Children compound will let me hook in to their wifi later. I need to let them know I’m OK.

Friday 2 Sept, 2011

My Somali colleague and new hero Abdulahi was a beast this morning, he was so motivated to get things going. Within the space of 3 hours, we made a contract with the water trucking company, hired a temporary staffperson from the target region to facilitate and monitor water delivery, went to the local Woreda administration to get their full buy-in and personally meet the water-trucking company owner, and closed a few other loops (various inputs and driver/vehicle fees), all before racing to the UNHAS flight back to Addis.

This morning when we woke up, 5 different villages in the Dolo Ado woreda were completely out of water. By this afternoon, they will have water. It has been a good trip. IRD can hold it’s head high that we did the right thing, acting in an emergency to save lives and rebuild livelihoods. I’ll post pictures as soon as I can.

(and here are the pictures!)

Anniversaries in a bright new Chad

In International Development, Niger, Politics, Sustainable Development, Tchad on January 6, 2011 at 7:09 am

I’ve been in N’Djamena, Chad for two days now.  The big deal here is that the 50th anniversary of Chadian independence from France is being celebrated on January 11th – they’re calling it the “Cinquentenaire.”  All the main round-points and traffic circles are being spruced up with new cement bricks and landscaping, they’ve repainted the buildings on the main Avenue Charles De Gaulle (irony alert!) and workers are madly completing a large monument where presumably the festivities will be based.  From time to time, there are also jets rumbling overhead, which a colleague tells me are for an air show.

This Chadian colleague also told me that this is all to show that Chadians are in a new era of a prosperous Chad – they raised fonctionaire salaries and improved their housing, and are cleaning up the streets.  He also was worried that the recent republican takeover of the US congress was worrying for the future of foreign assistance.  I agreed on the last part, but remain uncertain of the new prosperous Chad.

So far, N’Djamena is a sleepy capital city by a river.  The streets do not seem that crowded, most of the people I see out and about are men.  There seems to be the usual Sahelian mish-mash of North Africans, Chinese, French, and here, Oil Workers.  We spent last evening at the Carnivore, a decent restaurant that caters mostly to expatriates. My Country Director here is Congolese, and he knew everyone, especially the other Congolese.  The Carnivore was hopping, with decent live music – one of the singers reminded me of Angelique Kidjo.  There was a point where the band was playing a cover of the Lionel Ritchie song “All Night Long”, sung by a Cameroonian, with Libyan, Chadian, and French guys all drunkenly dancing with each other and singing along.  The juxtaposition of styles was fun to watch.

My wife and I are celebrating an anniversary ourselves.  Yesterday, January 5th, it was our 10 year anniversary of closing our Peace Corps Service in Niger.  I feel like my trip back to Niger last September was reflective enough about this.  But it is a unique anniversary, and I’m happy to be spending it working in Africa, doing something I had wanted to do because of my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, all those years ago.

IRD in Niger

In Capacity Building, Career Development, Economic Development, International Development, Natural Resource Management, Niger, Organizational Development, Peace Corps, Philanthropy, Sustainable Development on October 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Note:  This post is also cross posted on the Official IRD Voices blog.

I love working for IRD because they sent me to Niger.  Most people wouldn’t make a statement like this, because by all statistical measures, Niger is one of the worst places on earth.  It’s the poorest country in the world on the UN Human Development Index, 182 out of 182.  Fifteen percent of children die of largely preventable diseases before reaching the age of 5.  Most people live on less than one US dollar per day.  Niger is currently emerging from an epic famine that most development experts consider being one of the worst in recorded memory – with up to twenty percent of the population considered to be severely malnourished, according to FEWS-NET.

I’m happy I went to Niger for two reasons – first, because I get to work for an organization that helps Nigeriens, among the most perennially and consistently vulnerable people on earth, and second, because I lived in Niger as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1997-2001.  I had not visited since then, and this was the kind of homecoming I had always hoped for.  With the statistics that I highlighted above, I never wanted to come back to Niger as a tourist.

IRD has been operating in Niger since 2005, working under two consecutive US Department of Agriculture Food for Progress Title II grants, as well as grants from the UN’s World Food Program and UNICEF.  In total, IRD has monetized over 9,100 Metric tons of commodities, funding almost $ 4 Million in projects benefitting 170,000 people.  These proceeds funded our Pastoralist Livelihoods Project, which reconstituted goat herds decimated by drought and flash floods, provided cash for work on pastoral rehabilitations, and supported the creation of cereal and feed banks for women’s groups, all in the Abalak region of the Tahoua Department.

My colleague Mamadou Sidibe, a Senior Monitoring and Evaluation specialist here, was able to visit the sites in the northern regions of Niger, and IRD’s work indeed did make the desert bloom.  The simple act of paying local men to dig long trenches against the slope of a barren desert, has yielded hectare after hectare of arable grasslands, where the semi-nomadic Tuareg and Fulani herders can graze their livestock.  This has the benefit of both increasing disposable income to spend on food, and of decreasing the chances of conflict – wherein the herders encroach on farmlands in search of fodder.

Because of the current food security crisis, IRD Niger is also distributing almost 6,000 Metric Tons of food, including Corn-Soy Blend, Sugar, Beans, and Oil, on behalf of the World Food Program.  These Blanket Feedings, Protection Rations, and Free Food Distributions have been in the regions of Magaria and Tillaberry, and have benefitted 67,000 children and over 1,100 pregnant and lactating women.

IRD will soon be starting up a more long-term development project to compliment our emergency relief and stabilization activities – the World Bank funded PRODEX project, focusing on developing the Onion Value Chain.  This project will last for 4 years and help develop Niger’s competitive advantage in growing the highly regarded “Galmi Red” onion.

My visit to Niger was, to me, a working vacation.  I not only got to see old friends and refresh my local language skills, but I was able to combine my personal goals of helping Nigeriens with those of IRD – to help the most vulnerable people help themselves.

See pictures on the IRD Flickr Feed here.

The Return of Souley

In Capacity Building, Career Development, Growing Up, International Development, Niger, Peace Corps, Public Health, Sustainable Development on September 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I just got back from visiting Doutouel, my old Peace Corps village in south-western Niger. It was such an incredible day, I’ve got to get some of my thoughts down before I crash.

Here are the big observations.

The millet is awesome there this year. The rains have been good, they anticipate harvesting in the next 3-4 weeks. They seem to have planted their usual mix of millet and sorghum, with squash and various leafy greens growing near the huts. One of the all-star gardeners helped a fellow villager construct his own new garden well, on their own.

They got a primary school! Right after we completed our PC service, in 2001, the government of Niger built a Primary School. Over 100 kids attend it, they’ve had four classes now. Only 5 kids fully graduated on to the next level so far, but that’s 5 kids more than had ever even had the chance before. And, just the fact that the children of Doutouel will have at least exposure to education means that a lot of development indicators will improve – girls will get married later and have fewer children being the most important, in my opinion.

They also have a health clinic! I was totally surprised to see this – Doutouel is a pretty small village – only about 660 people, plus the outlying areas that are administratively coupled with Doutouel. But it’s far enough away from the main clinic in Torodi, the market village, that people used to wait until grave circumstances to bring sick people to the clinic. The clinic used to be seen as where people go to die, not where to maintain one’s health.

The road is well traveled! The French paid for a road to be built from Torodi through Doutouel to the next largest village, Adare, which is about 25 kilometers from Torodi. The road is clearly the main reason the government finally came around to giving them a school and clinic – they could finally reach it. There was a bush taxi there when I got there. It was such a pleasant surprise. Getting down to Doutouel from Niamey used to take pretty much a whole day, depending on how we would get there. Today I went in an NGO vehicle, in perfect condition, and stopped for no one until Torodi. If we hadn’t had to stop along the way to pick up a PCV and visit the local functionaires, I could have been from my hotel in Niamey to Doutouel in less then an hour.

I cannot overstate how medieval my village used to seem when I was there from 1997-1999. You could mostly only walk there – the land cruisers could make it but with great difficulty – in fact my villagers brought out some old pictures of when they helped us pull a land cruiser out of the nearby river. But there was almost no modern technology in my village other than radios. Now, several people have cell phones. There’s the obvious clinic and school. There is a school teacher who lives there and is almost like a Nigerien Peace Corps volunteer, especially in the way he seems to act as a kind of ambassador for the outside world.

I was happy to take a current PCV with me, a young woman from Boston, just starting her second year as a PCV. I don’t want to use her name or give away her village, but having her around was very helpful for bridging the gap between PCV’s in the area. After spending the day with me, hopefully she has a sense of all the work that was done in the area for more than 20 years before she got there. She was also nice enough to use my camera to take pictures of my visit so I could concentrate on my Fulfulde and greet as many people as I could.

I was so deeply moved to see our best village friends still there, doing as well as I could have expected. My neighbor’s kids were doing great – the two oldest kids are basically adults now, with kids of their own. Even the youngest, who used to be very sick with constant ringworm, looked to be thriving.

I must stress that Doutouel was and still is a very lucky village, environmentally. Even in a bad drought year, they still have a seasonal river that they can use to water their gardens. They’re Fulani herders at heart, so they take good care of their animals. They have a low water table, and multiple coping mechanisms during lean years. They even have a granary that was built with the help of another NGO. I didn’t show up empty-handed, I brought them a whole sack of millet which they put in the granary for when they need it. So as far as Niger is concerned – they’re not a village that is a candidate for blanket feeding.

Still, they never have done all they possibly could. For instance, I’ve always thought they could easily plant rice or sugar cane in their vast water basin that gets annually inundated, and then sell it to buy food. But property rights make that difficult – it’s been brought up to them before but the organization and complications involved, and the newness of it make it too difficult for them now.

Overall, I was deeply moved – like, trying to keep it together moved – to see my old friends, and to see the positive changes in Doutouel after just 10 years. Every step I take in my career, when I encounter a question about appropriate technology or a development intervention, I think about what my villagers would do. It was so rewarding to see the key things being attended to: Primary Education, Public Health, and Infrastructure.

I hope to return the next time I visit Niger, which hopefully won’t be another 10 years from now. After all, it’s so easy to get there now! And my villagers can call me now!

Literacy Tipping Point

In Appropriate Technology, Capacity Building, Economic Development, International Development, Niger, Peace Corps, Sustainable Development, Technology on September 15, 2010 at 10:51 am

Just read this interesting article on a Literacy Project in Niger.

It’s a CRS project using cell phones in literacy projects. As it turns out, if you give illiterate people cell phones and include literacy classes, they will retain their knowledge and use their literacy skills to send text messages. This is brilliant and I consider this a tipping point: where literacy is increased, living standards will go up.

I worked on a village based literacy program in the Torodi area of Niger in the late 90’s, and one major thing that kept people from retaining their literacy skills was that there was nothing to read in Fulfulde or Zarma. If you give them something to write and read, they’ll use their skills. Otherwise literacy isn’t of much use to them in their daily lives.

Cash on Delivery Foreign Aid

In Capacity Building, Economic Development, International Development, Sustainable Development on July 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

This is intriguing.  I used to read William Easterly’s papers in grad school.  As I’ve been reading up more on development lately I’ve come across his missives from his aidwatch blog.

In any case, there’s a debate about a resurgent approach called Cash on Delivery.  Read the article on it just now.   It’s an interesting approach.  Basically, you help the recipient country develop the goals, and you promise to basically reimburse the country when they’ve achieved the goals.

My initial thoughts are that this could only work if the policy environment is altered to make it easier to achieve the results.  For instance, if your objective is to increase overall crop yields in a country, it would be helpful to make the inputs more affordable to the producers.  Then, once the commodity has been grown/produced, it would then be helpful to make it easier to export said commodity.  They also raise some valid points in the article about the capacity of the host country to perform the work in the first place.

This is basically like cash-for-work on a much, much larger scale.

End the poverty cycle

In Appropriate Technology, Economic Development, Governance, International Development, Niger, Sustainable Development, Technology on July 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I’ve been recently reminded of the overwhelming factors working against those in the super-poor parts of the world that I work on helping every day.   The UN’s IRIN news service published this helpful article on “Preventing the Sahel’s next food crisis,” which is already in full swing.

In the international development field, as in many others, we all have our specialties.  This may be more of a function of how competitive it is to work in this field – that many people hyper-specialize to make themselves marketable and to stay employed.  This inevitably leads to tunnel vision, where we feel like what we’re focusing on is integral to the larger objective – which in our case is reducing poverty.

With that in mind – this list of how to prevent the food security crisis currently manifesting itself in the Sahel has both macro and micro level suggestions.  (Sahel – to those unfamiliar – means roughly the region of West and Central Africa between the Sahara Desert and the densely forested equator region, it stretches from Senegal to Sudan)

I’m in a spot professionally where the programs I help support are short term interventions that basically keep people alive and at worst maintain the prior status quo.  (would I then say status quo ante?)  We can do these interventions successfully and meet all our goals.  But what frustrates me is that in Niger and Chad (the two countries that now occupy my time) are stuck in a cycle of poverty.

Yes, there are nifty administrative ways we can get food aid shipped to these places quickly – we can all communicate better, have more eyes on the ground, use social media to attract attention and allocate resources more efficiently… but when does it stop?

I want to see the system change.   Nigeriens and Chadiens need a better deal.  We need a massive reallocation of policies and resources to help bring up the poorest of the poor.  And the more I work in the development field, the more I’m convinced that it has to come from the private sector.

I don’t have time right now to really delve into this – many have earned doctorates in more specialized aspects of this problem… But, landing my plane here… I think the best way forward is to see the poorest of the poor as regular, hardworking people who will work their tails off for the chance to help their families.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Lets give them the chance to help themselves.  Lets invest in the poor.

Host Family Life

In Growing Up, International Development, Niger, Peace Corps, Sustainable Development on April 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm

For the handful of my followers, you’ll know from my twitter feed that we’ve been hosting two Nigerien exchange students for the past 3 weeks.  As I write this, they’re among the millions of travelers stranded by the Iceland Volcano eruption.  They were supposed to leave yesterday, they spent all night Thursday and Friday preparing to go, their reactions to the news that they might be temporarily stranded here was mixed.  One was stoic, the other dramatic – kind of in line with how they’ve been the whole time.

Azalia and Nadia are their names.  They’re here through an NGO called Visions in Action (VIA), who are implementing a US Department of State program geared towards bringing African teenagers and some of their teachers to America, specifically Washington DC, for civic education and cross-cultural exchange.  This particular group consists of 15 students and 4 teachers from Niger and Chad.  Through a colleague, I got an email from VIA asking for host families.  Since my wife and I served in Peace Corps Niger, and since it was only for a few short weeks, we thought it was worth the imposition.  We could repay some of the kindness that was provided to us when we were Peace Corps trainees in Niger more than 10 years ago.

Overall, I would say the experience has gone very well.  We can speak a mixture of French, Hausa, and English with them, so there hasn’t ben much of a language barrier.  The real barrier is the age old teenage vs adult issues that would bedevil any relationship between 15 yr olds and their adult supervisors.

As a parent of very young children – my two daughters are 6 and 3 – I wasn’t prepared for the strange hours and moodiness.  Maybe I expected the girls to be more outgoing, curious, or appreciative.  I was honestly naive.  They’re 15 yr olds, they miss their families, and – as much as they’ve been good about trying it – they don’t like our food.

I’ll hopefully post some more missives and stories about them in the coming days, it appears that the transatlantic flight situation is touch and go.

Plus, as always, I find myself overwhelmed with the need to get everything out in my blog posts because I don’t blog enough. There’s an outlet for everything, right?