Self-Reliance Ethos Sets Africa Charity Apart

Friday, January 29, 2010

While billions of pounds have been spent on food aid for developing countries, only a small portion has made any long-term difference to the future economic prospects of subsistence farmers in the world’s poorest communities.

“Sometimes in Africa you could feel as though you were just pouring money into a bucket with a big hole in the bottom,” says Simon Maddrell, who founded the charity Excellent Development in 2002 with Kenyan farmer and engineer Joshua Mukusya.

Schemes such as sand dams, which provide a year-round source of filtered water, and terracing soil to reduce erosion, repay the community’s investment of “free” labour by giving a more reliable harvest of valuable food and dramatically reducing the number of hours individuals spend walking miles to collect clean water.He was determined to ensure the new charity would take a longer-term view by only developing projects at the request of the local community, and that these should be built using voluntary local labour.

“Nothing comes for free,” says Mr Maddrell, 44. “It is generally true that people don’t value what they are given for free as much as what they have worked for. We want communities to engage with and own the process of the project.”

As a result of securing community involvement, benefits can be provided at lower cost; typically, every £1 donated by a member of the public achieves £1.44 worth of improvements, fostering “independence and self-reliance”, as Mr Maddrell puts it.

“It is challenging the idea that farmers in Africa are idiots who need to be told how to grow food,” he says.

The charity is currently helping 67 community groups in Kenya. By way of example, it says a typical one-year project might see a group mobilised to build a sand dam, dig 4,000 metres of terracing and plant 3,800 trees to counteract deforestation caused by population growth.

The community contribution would amount to more than 2,500 days of labour – digging, building and collecting stones, sand and water. Groups must also provide the food eaten by the workers during the one day each week they are expected to contribute.

Based on the minimum wage for an agricultural worker of about £1 per day, and adding the cost of food, the local input would be worth £6,771.

The cost to the charity of providing technical expertise and imported materials such as cement would come to about £15,255, so almost one third of the total £22,026 cost is met by the recipients.

Source: The Telegraph (link opens in a new window)