Tuesday, 22 February 2011
CARE In The Communities: Project Focus Part I
High time I spend some time writing about the project itself! In the third week of the project I've flown to Addis Ababa for a week of work there. The project is for CARE International, and focuses on developing a mentoring curriculum for nominated CARE country office staff members - at the level of program manager / senior coordinator of programs.
Traffic on the way to Awassa, in the Sidama region. There was a lot of traffic about! Goats, donkeys, dogs...even camels
CARE International is focused on improving the lives of 10 million women and girls through a vast number of complex programs. One of the ways it seeks to do this is by developing the beneficiaries of their support - in the case of Ghana and Ethiopia this primarily means farmers / textile producers - to be independent in the way that they increase their income and the means of their families and communities.
The Loka Kebele Producer Marketing Group (PMG)
One of the types of programs CARE International supports focuses on developing value chain participation in communities. Broadly, this means looking at the ways to increase income by producing and marketing goods more effectively 'from food to fork'. In the private sector, this is something all too familiar. Use branding, use economies of scale or partnerships (to name just three ways) in order to make more profit.
But if you're a small scale farmer trying to feed your family, how can this apply to you? How can a value chain - especially one which involves a partnership with a large private sector company - be possible, and how on earth can it address the issue of poverty? These are the questions which the value chain initiatives CARE International champions are able to answer.
In Ethiopia, I visited the Loka kebele (a kebele is a small village - perhaps 5000 inhabitants at most, spread over a large area) and met with a producer marketing group (PMG), who are a committee working together to improve the food security of their kebele. Some of the challenges the kebele communities face mean they struggle to produce enough food, both for themselves and to sell - the rains are unpredictable; winds can damage crops; seeds are expensive to purchase and local loans carry very high interest rates.
CARE is involved here working to establish the PMG in the first place,
and to educate the kebele about how working together and approaching their farming from a business-perspective can help them to improve the prospects of the community. One of the ways it supports kebeles like Loka is to establish a village savings and loans organisation there. This is what is commonly called a 'micro-finance' institution. The kind of money needed to buy, say, a goat kid to fatten and sell is currently about 200 Birr. Roughly converted, that's less than £8.
To you and me, that's a Pizza Express main course - small beans; for a farmer and his / her family, though, it's a huge sum. Banks won't make loans of this kind, so CARE and other international NGOs have stepped in with the village savings and loan schemes to enable very small loans to be available to farmers, but at a decent rate of interest.
The Producer Marketing Group members
Now comes the value chain work - to make the loans a worthwhile investment both for the micro finance institution who supplies it, and for the farmers in the kebele, CARE helps the kebele groups to learn how to improve the quality of their products. In Loka they are waiting to buy goat kids with their loaned money, and then fatten these livestock to sell them at a profit. CARE has enabled them to learn how to do this. With other crops such as maize and haricot bean, the farmers have learned to produce better goods and now, with help from CARE are also engaging with some private sector firms to sell these goods on and earn a better price.
The role CARE has played in this in helping build independence and capabilities is huge. In Loka, the PMG chairman is excited about what CARE has enabled them to accomplish: "Since working with CARE we have created learning for our community. We were attracted by the VSLA approach and have started to organise things by ourselves. Now we've created a learning atmosphere, and we're extending what we've learned to others in the group and to other farmers outside our kebele."
Speaking to the PMG - My colleagues at CARE translating into Amharic and then into Sidama dialect
Spending time with the kebele community in Loka was inspiring - and terrifying since I was nervous about making a good impression. I also only had half an hour with the group! They were supposed to be in government training that day! Luckily they were really engaged with our conversation.
I conversed with the community through two interpreters - first translating my English into Amharic, and then into the Sidama dialect of Amharic! Despite this, and the challenges I've already mentioned, the PMG members shared their successes and vision for their country. "Our vision is to come together and access inputs together, then compete in the competitive market by selling our produce at a good price."
My work is to bring together learning from the communities, project teams, country leadership and the identified staff for the mentoring program I'm developing and learn about what the strengths and areas for development. We are going to use this information to assess where there are key shared gaps for value chain technical skills and professional - or softer skills - and then design a year-long mentoring curriculum to build these skills.
My colleague and I researched this in two different countries last week - Malawi and Ethiopia, and added to this our research from our time in Ghana so far. Now it's time to analyse the results from Ghana, Malawi and Ethiopia together - and start to build the curriculum. More to come on the project as we do...