Editor’s Note: The following is part of a series written by Anthony ‘Tony’ Peele, a social entrepreneur who co-founded Swahili Coast with his wife Caroline and a volunteer and board member of the Full Belly Project.
After our day in the field, it’s time to head back in the truck to Chipata, just 40 minutes down the road. We leave the field with 40 samples of groundnuts, ready to test and see the results of the Full Belly Project training protocol for reducing aflatoxin. Once we have a good understanding of the success of the program, we can start the process of marketing the peanuts to traders.
Economists often will recite platitudes like ‘markets are efficient’ to imply that money will start rolling into the farmers. In reality, it isn’t quite so easy. To capture the value of the peanuts, now we have to do our work with traders to facilitate that transaction. Sometimes, all that is needed is a little work to make the links between buyers and sellers, so next up I’m meeting with a couple of commodity traders in Chipata and Lusaka to talk business.
Many of you reading might be wondering why there is so much effort and money that goes into these projects. Why buy plane tickets and use grant funds just to try and deliver a modest gain to farmers’ future peanut harvest? For those of you who read our strategy and have those critiques – I want to congratulate you on being good stewards of charity and development work. Those are important questions that we ask ourselves every day, and those critical perspectives challenge ourselves to improve and do better work. I’ll try to answer that critique in the context of larger field of ‘international development’.
Charity and NGO work at one point was about giving out food, clothing, medicine, and services to the world’s poor. Those kinds of charity programs still exist for humanitarian crises, like after a famine or a conflict/war zone. However, good development work has shifted considerably to try and move away from simply handing things out, and move towards understanding what kind of challenges impede development and addressing them so that markets or local groups can manage their own development.
Think of it this way — The Full Belly Project grant spending on our program in Zambia is roughly $40,000. That $40,000 is a lot of money if we just gave it to the farmers. Certainly the 200 farmers we are working with would appreciate that kind of cash bonus! However, if we can use that money to improve peanut harvests and connect the farmers to export markets, then even a modest gain in the export price for CDFA’s 4,000 farmers would result in an additional $1.5 million USD for Chipata’s farmers every single year. That money also doesn’t just sit idle. It is money that is then re-invested into the economy in the form of capital for farming, school fees for education, and consumer spending on health programs.
It’s a fun project to get on the ground and understand how these markets work, and find the solutions to get the process working. It doesn’t always work. Indeed, many projects in the world of global development fail, but we learn from our mistakes and see what the future holds. Success is never guaranteed; we can only do our best with the information we have.
Today, after an 8-hour bus ride back, I’ve arrived in Lusaka where I’ll meet with an agricultural trader here. Tomorrow I’ll get an evening flight to Dar es Salaam where I’ll connect with my team there for Swahili Coast. Swahili Coast, my Wilmington-based fair trade brand and retail store, was started with all of these principles in mind. Given the challenges of development, we want to see how we can make global markets work for artisans in the developing world. I’m excited to visit my friends at the co-operative we started together. It’s an easy two flights with a change of planes in Nairobi. Wheels up!
You can follow along with my travels at @Anthony_Peele on Instagram
Find more information about Full Belly Project online.