Saturday, 12 November 2011

ZNFU4455: An SMS service offering smallholder producers in Zambia a brighter future #ict4d

Once a luxury item, mobile telephony is now a catalyst to bring about economic development and social inclusion in developing countries, especially in Africa. For economist Jeffry Sachs “mobile telephony is the single most transformative technology for development”.

Mobile phone numbers talk for themselves. According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) the number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide has reached 4.6 billion.  ITU estimates show that in sub-Saharan Africa there is 60% mobile coverage and one-third of the population has a mobile subscription.

Over the last decades we’ve seen the socio-economic benefits of mobile telephony on the lives of many poor rural people. We’ve seen how thanks to mobile phones those who previously were both socially and economically excluded are now actively participating in the economy and are able to connect with their families and friends. We’ve seen how mobile phone supports bottom-up economic development, provides entrepreneurship opportunities and gives voice to poor rural people and the voiceless.

Experts categorize the benefits of the mobile telephony in three categories:

  • incremental: improving the speed and efficiency of what people already do
  • transformational: offering something new such as comprehensive agricultural services (what to plant when, where to buy inputs, access to price information, potential buyers, transport, pest control and more)
  • productive: offering employment and income opportunity

Next time you are in Zambia,  ask a smallholder producer, what is your lucky number. And do not be surprised if they say: “ZNFU4455”.

ZUFU4455 is a market information service open to all smallholder producers and traders, a service that encapsulates and touches on all three categories of benefits of mobile phone listed above.

Designed in 2006 with the assistance of IFAD-funded smallholder enterprise marketing programme and in cooperation with the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), ZNFU4455 provides accurate and up-to-date agriculture and market information covering the entire value chain. It allows smallholder producers to make informed decision about what to grow, volumes required, storage, processing, marketing and investment opportunities.

ZNFU4455’s prime objective is to make markets functional for smallholder producers and traders. The service provides a list of 180 traders - 50% of whom are active -  and their offer for 15 commodities. To find the best price on offer, smallholder producers and traders send an SMS message to 4455 containing the first four letters of the commodity and the district or province. They immediately receive a text message listing the best prices and codes designating the buyers offering them. After selecting the buyer that best responds to their needs, farmers send a second SMS with the buyer’s code. A text message is returned with the contact name and phone number. Farmers are then able to phone the buyer and start trading. Each message costs around US$0.15.

This demand-driven service responds to the evolving needs of the Zambia smallholder farmers and traders. It has helped reverse the trend of smallholder producers being exploited and passive players to becoming successful entrepeneurs by addressing challenges such as:

  • limited access to credit
  • limited access to price information
  • limited access to appropriate technology
  • limited business and negotiating skills
  • weak organizations
  • weak bargaining power
  • poor access to transport networks
  • little or no knowledge of market trends

The success of this service is manifold. To start with, it benefitted from an excellent marketing campaign.  It’s business model is based on making revenue through advertisement and sponsorships.

It is one of those few IT applications that has little bells and whistles, it is easy to understand and use. It is a service that provides information upon request, as opposed to indiscriminately pushing content. It does so through different means such as  cellphone (SMS), internet and radio. The radio programme is broadcast in seven local languages and in English.

Most importantly, it got the government’s full support and is an integral part of the national agricultural policy. Zambia’s good rural coverage of mobile phones and the fact that it is hosted in a credible institution, such as Zambia National Farmers Union, with a strong management team have contributed to its impressive success.

Between its launch in August 2006 and August 2009, ZNFU4455 managed to improve the bargaining power of smallholder producers, by providing them better access to markets and allowing them to deal with traders on an equal footing. Farmers have managed to reduce their transaction costs, are now producing more high value produces and targeting different markets. Thanks to the weekly updates, they are no longer overproducing, thus eliminating storage challenges.

Policy makers are using ZNFU4455 up-to-date information to identify trends in price fluctuations and to flag emergent and imminent food security challenges.

To date, 90 percent of traders and 60 per cent of the Zambian farmers have benefitted from ZNFU4455. Forty percent have managed to negotiate better prices, 52 per cent have sold their products to different traders and buyers, 23 per cent managed to build new trading relationships, more than 50 per cent increased their income, 15 per cent of initial SMS messages to the system led directly to farmers selling their produce, and over 90 per cent of the calls to buyers led to transactions.

ZNFU4455 and many other similar initiative and services highlight the fact that developing countries see and want mobile phones as the preferred information delivery system. At the same time, there is enough evidence that poor rural people are willing to spend part of their income on such services. The challenge now is to move beyond pilots and make sure that we systematically embed and mainstream ICT4D activities and projects in rural development projects and programmes so that we can have many more successful experiences such as ZNFU4455.

For more information visit

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

My take on “what everyone is too polite to say about Steve Jobs”

The other day, my friend and colleague Gauri Salokhe shared this article on the “dark side” of Steve Jobs. When I finished reading it, I thought to myself, is there anyone on the face of this earth who does not have a dark side?

It made me think, if Jobs was not so demanding both of himself and of his team, if Jobs wasn’t such a perfectionist, if Jobs had not called a spade a spade, if Jobs had not challenged himself and his team, if Jobs had sweet coated every time he had to break bad news, if Jobs was not honest with himself and his team, would he have been able to lead the revolution that changed our lives and let’s face it changed humanity so radically?


Quite frankly, I do not think Jobs aim was to live a beauty contest life or else he would not have achieved what he achieved nor served humanity the way he did. He had a vision and did everything he could to fulfill his vision. And yes, sometimes this meant harsh words, and yes, he may not have been loved by his colleague and yes he may have had a reputation of being an authoritarian. SO WHAT.

Jobs was a visionary, he was a strategist, he was a gifted human. He was one of a kind and guess what, we will not have another Jobs for years to come.

A word on charity..... giving charity is something very private. Those who sign cheques in public and use it for their self-promotion are not charitable people, they are narcissist and individuals who are very full of themselves and very empty people.

We will miss Jobs’ genius mind, his creativity and his insight. And you know what, his colleagues and team will miss his Jobs dark side and his bouts of anger when things start going wrong and when the going gets tough!!!!  It will be in these moments and hard times that they will miss Jobs, realize the difference he made and that is when they will say: “If he was here, these things would not have happened, we would have done things differently”.

It is safe to say that we have all benefitted from  Jobs "dark side", his obsession for perfection and his vision. The world needs more visionary people who thrive on perfection and if this means you need to have a "dark side" so be it!!!!

Steve, may you rest in peace and you're already missed tremendously.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The tale of two lakes: Lake Ahémé and Nokoué

Last week as I was leaving Cotonou for Rome, I promised myself to spend the weekend and finalize the last blogpost of the Benin series. Despite all my good intentions, I did not quite manage to do so. And back in the office, I literally got swamped and swallowed by a web of meetings, emails, phone calls and process work.

Despite the delay, I sincerely hope that the text that follows recreates my rich experience.

Benin’s fisheries landscape
Benin has a coastline of 121 kilometres stretching from Togo To Nigeria and an exclusive economic zone1 of approximately 27,750 km2.

Fishers community living on the riversides, coastal lagoons and lakes primarily practice inland fishing using pirogues. Pirogues are small boats designed in such a way that they can be used in shallow waters and can easily be turned over to drain water that may get on board. Typically, artisanal fishers use paddles, sails and in some cases outboard engines on their pirogues.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Benin’s maritime artisanal fishing fleet is composed of 825 pirogues, more than half operating without an engine and 52,540 pirogue are used for mainland fishing.

The country’s fishing sector is faced with challenges such as a decreasing fish stock due to over exploitation and soil erosion which has led to degradation of water bodies.

To overcome these challenges and others, the IFAD-funded Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme, better known as PADPPA through its activities:

  • put in place numerous spawning beds and acadja or “fish ambush trap” enclosures
  • undertook reforestation efforts to restore vegetation and reduce soil erosion
  • provided pirogues to crab collectors
  • equipped women fish wholesalers with iceboxes and improved Chorkhor ovens for smoking fish

A typical day for an artisanal fishers such as Ambroise Zounon begins at 5 in the morning when he set out for the lagoon in his pirogue.

Zounon has a fleet of seven pirogues and uses the acadjas for fishing. Thanks to the training received from PADPPA, he has managed to diversify his activities. He not only earns from his fisheries activities, but is also practicing pig farming and rents out his pirogues to other fishers.

“The fish stock in our lake was almost completely depleted”, says Zounon. “Thanks to PADPPA’s efforts, we now have the spawning beds in this lagoon”.

“Acadjas is a traditional fishing technique which provides a substrata of plants and animals and help to enhance fish production”, explains Zounon. “The spawning beds, on the other hand, are underwater solid surface used to increase the fish stock.”

These different methods have allowed Zounon and the other fishers in village of Houinta in Porto-Novo to have a relatively flourishing fishing business which in turn provides income generating opportunities for the women of their community.

Power women
The clear division of labour in Benin’s fishing practices is quite impressive. For example, fishing crabs and selling fish are exclusively a woman’s job. This is why whenever you visit a fish market in Benin, you can be sure to be greeted by a cheerful and colourful army of “mareyeuses” - women fish wholesalers. I challenge you to find a male fish wholesaler in the entire country!

The mareyeuses activities is not only limited on land. Even if you venture on a lake or lagoon where men are fishing in the spawn beds or acadjas enclosures, you’ll find the “mareyeuses” on their boats, buying fish from the men and selling it there and then.

Eugenie Bocovou is the president of a mareyeuses association which has over 8,000 members. She, like other members of the association, buys her fish directly from the fishers on the lake.

“I leave the house early in the morning for the lagoon, where about twenty men fish in the spawning beds and the acadja implemented by PADPPA”, explains Bocovou.

“I buy fish from them and sell it directly on the lake and what ever is left, I’ll bring it back to shore and sell it at the local market”.

The mareyeuses not always have storage facilities, such as iceboxes on board of their pirogues. Lack of adequate storage facility, combined with the lack of processing culture, are amongst the many challenges of women fish wholesalers.

One of the many new frontiers for Benin’s fishing sector and especially for the mareyeuses is the processing industry. You hardly find anyone employed in cutting, scaling and storage business. In fact, this is an underdeveloped sector.

To overcome these challenges, PADPPA has been providing iceboxes to the mareyeuses and has equipped certain communities with fish smoking facilities.

Smoking and frying fish are practically the only processing techniques practiced by the mareyeuses. And unfortunately, modern smoking techniques are not quite widespread in Benin.

Women still use firewood and rudimentary ovens. This means there is a high incidence of respiratory and eye diseases among women. Furthermore, smoking fish is practiced in less than hygienic conditions.

Recognizing the benefits of smoked fish such as longer shelf life and enhanced flavour, PADPPA provided mareyeuses such as Afi Lea Amoussou one of the 12 environmental friendly and clean smoking unit - known as chorkhor ovens.

“Thanks to these new ovens, I have better quality of smoked fish because the smoke circulates better and this way the entire fish is smoked. This improved quality means I have better business, I have reduced significantly health hazards associated with smoke inhalation, burns and my eyes do not tear as they used to before”, says Amoussou with a smile.

“I manage to sell my smoked fish anywhere from CFA12,000 to CFA25,000”.

“We love these ovens, because they do not cost too much to build, I can smoke much more fish, they are easy to use, the firebox is very accessible and I have significantly reduced the consumption of fire wood, which means we have to cut less trees and I do not have to spend a lot of time collecting firewood so I can do other things”, explains Amoussou with an ear to ear smile.

Amoussou, Bocovou and other mareyeuses are now running successful businesses and as a result have gained a social status within their communities.

It is common knowledge that there are no limits to women’s inventiveness and creativity and the mareyeuses are no exception. Their next frontier is to expand their processing business and to enter the export business, something that Albertine Fanounonsi is successfully practicing.

No crab mentality in Benin!
Crab fishing is another source of income for women fishers in Benin. Pierrette Medeho is one of the women crab collectors who lives in the village of Dohi in Comé district on Lake Ahémé.

PADPPA provided capacity building to this crab collecting community and equipped the women crab fishers with seven pirogues.

“Before we had our own boats, we used to take our husband’s boat when they were not using them and if we had a bit of money, we used to rent them”, says Medeho.

“Now that we have our own boat, during crab fishing season we are able to go out every day.”

“Collecting crab is a tough job. I go out with five other women”, explains Medeho. “We leave the house at 5 in the morning and if the weather is good, we stay out until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon”.

On a good day, the women manage to come back with four to five baskets of crab each. And when they come back to shore, they have Albertine Fanounonsi waiting for them who buys their entire catch.

Medeho and her four campions use the money from their crab sale to send their children to school, contribute to the household expenses and they put aside the money they used to pay for rent for a rainy day.

Fanounonsi who is one of their main customers runs a thriving “crab export” business to Togo. She has devised a sophisticated delivery system in some ways similar to dabbawalla - the Mumbai lunchbox boys.

She buys a small basket for 1,000CFA and transfers the contents of eight small baskets in a big one. Fanounonsi’s crab baskets carry her brand which is her business trademark.

The crabs travel for two hours on road and then a boat takes them Togo. Someone on the other side picks up her baskets and sells them for her. Amazingly enough, thanks to the branded baskets which act like a bar code on a DHL package or a luggage tag, just like the dabbawalla lunchboxes in Mumbai, Fanounonsi crabs never go astray!

Fanounonsi visits Togo once a week to cash the money from the crab sale. On average she manages to sell one of her branded baskets between 9000-12,000CFA.

These women crab fishers collect crab, but as you can see they not have a “crab mentality”. For those who may not know what a crab mentality is - it is a metaphor describing how when crabs are put in a basket, they grab at each other and by pulling each other down, they prevent any of them from escaping.

There is a lot to learn from the women crab fishers of Dohi village. Their total lack of a crab mentality has allowed the community as a whole to thrive and prosper, with Fanounonsi running a thriving export business and Medeho and her companions running an equally flourshing crab collecting business.

The next logical step for industrious and intelligent women like Fanounonsi is to seriously consider adding value to her business by embracing processing and packing techniques and setting up a global crab export business!

Meet the people of Ganvie: Living on water
One of the last sites that my mentor Daouda Aliou wanted me to visit on this extraordinary trip, was lake village of Ganvie.

Ganvie is located in Lake Nokoué not too far away from Cotonou. It has a population of around 40,000 people, with 3,000 stilted houses spread out in 11 villages.

Ganvie village dates back to 17th century when the Tofinu people to escape slavery and the wrath of the Fon warriors - whose religion did not allow them to enter water - settled in this lake village.

It lies several kilometers from the shore. To avoid continuous trips to the shore, the inhabitants have organized themselves in such a way that they are completely self-sufficient. The floating markets, similar to those of Thailand, Viet Nam and Indonesia, sell fish, vegetables and fruits and acts like a social hub.

The villagers of Ganvie may have no running water or electricity, but almost all of them have a cellphone. While it is true that the main income generating activity on the lake is fishing, however, as you move around in pirogues on the lake, you’ll come across villagers selling cellphone airtime from their floating houses or running a thriving business of recharging cellphones for 100CFA. I wonder how long it took the “recharge votre portable” gentleman to pay for his generator - which incidentally is the only one on the entire lake!

Thanks to PADPPA, the artisanal fishers in Ganvie are using acadjas technique which is helping the polluted lake to restore some of its biodiversity and increase the available fish stock.

PADPPA has also introduced alternative income generating activities such as rabbit farming on this extraordinary lake village.

“What we really liked about the PADPPA approach was the fact that they listened to and understood our needs”, says BlandineKossou, the President of the rabbit farming association.

“We had our share of challenges with the villagers, as they thought that PADPPA was here to give them money and handouts”.

“The villagers who understood the scope of the programme and embraced the various activities such as fishing and rabbit farming today have a secure income”, explains Kossou.

“For example, we are able to sell our fish at the market for an average of 10,000CFA per basket and our rabbits between 4,000-5,000 CFA.”

The rabbit farming association has taken all of this one step further and ever month is putting aside 10,000CFA which is used to buy feed, repair or buy new rabbit cages.

“We could further expand our business and increase our income if we could get a loan, but you know having access to credit is not easy”, concludes Kossou.

“It is within this context that IFAD’s next interventions in Benin amongst other things will also focus on rural finance. This will hopefully allow people like Amoussou, Mensah and Kossou to finally have access to credit and be able to expand their businesses and turn their dreams into reality”, says Ndaya Beltchika, IFAD’s country programme manager for Benin.

On a personal note
I want to close this blogpost with thanking all the extraordinary people who I had the privilege of meeting on this mission. And they are:

Paul Allognon, Rose Mensah, Kuassi Oke, Vincent Deyo, Afi Lea Amoussou, Raphael Tokpowanou, Eugenie Bocovou, Ambroise Zounon, Augustin Amoussougbo, Pierrette Medeho, Albertine Fanounonsi, Blandine Kossou, Julienne Ebleou, Brigitte Bonou, Hounkanrin Vincent, Afomasse T, Mesmin, Richicatau Sale, Aglinglo A. Crespin, Gérard Gnakadja and, Daouda Aliou.

Thank you for your time, for you generosity and for your honesty. Thank you for sharing your stories, achievements, successes, challenges, aspirations and hopes. And I hope I’ve managed to share a sliver of your rich and inspiring stories.

Bonne chance for all your future endeavours and I hope our paths will cross in the near future.

Read more from the PADPPA series:

1/ Exclusive economic zone is an area of coastal water and seabed within a certain distance of a country's coastline, to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities.

This blogpost originally featured a a series on IFAD social reporting blog.

Learn, adjust and aim high

We’re about to wrap up the Benin mission. Before leaving, I need to thank Daouda Aliou, the Fisheries and Environment Specialist of IFAD-funded Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme (PADPPA), who was my guide and mentor for the last three days.

I had the pleasure of spending three days with Aliou and have learnt so much from him. He took me to many project sites, and introduced me to some extraordinary people who had benefitted from PADPPA.

This morning I asked Aliou to share his views on PADPPA’s achievements and challenges. Here is what he had to say.

The good, the bad and the ugly aspects of PADPP
I think I am safe to say that there is unanimous agreement that PADPPA was the first ever project in Benin that focused exclusively on artisanal fishers, their livelihoods and their communities. It was also the first ever project that provided them capacity building on how to better manage their fisheries resources and helped to rehabilitate the wetlands and other water bodies.

Given the ever declining fish stock and the competition over fishing resources, it was the first ever project that endeavoured to provide artisanal fishers with alternative income generating activities. And where it managed to do so, it was very successful. A case in point is Paul Allognon, the fisher who became a farmer.

While it is true that changing people’s mindset is perhaps one of the most difficult things in the world, however, there was consensus that in retrospect, to change the fishers’ mindset and encourage them to embrace agriculture-related activities such as horticulture, rabbit or pig farming, PADPPA could have mounted a more aggressive awareness raising campaign.

Reflecting on PADPPA’s achievements, Olivier Vigan, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries observed: “Only if we could have changed the mindset of many more fishers, that would have made this programme a success”. “In retrospect, we should have had many more awareness building programmes and prepared the fishers psychologically to convert from fishing to other activities”.

Echoing Mr Vigan, Aglinglo Crespin, responsible officer for rationalization of the fisheries subsector component, said: “We could have done a better job if we had managed to change more mindsets. At the same time I guess if we had spend a bit more time on the ground and monitored more closely the various activities, we could have really made a dent and converted many more fishers”.

As the first ever project focusing on the welfare of artisanal fishers, PADPPA launched a safety and security programme. “We go proud of the programme’s activities in the area of safety and security”, says Richicatau Sale, responsible officer for the institutional capacity component. “Thanks to PADPPA’s efforts and our partnership with the military marine, we trained fishers on safety and security measures. Today, the fishers know how to avoid colliding with other boats, what to do in case their nets get damaged or their boat capsizes or the engine explodes. As a result causalities have declined by 50%”.

“We’ve also observed that fishers are no longer going out alone, but in pairs if not more and all of them have a mobile phone, this way, when in danger they are just one phone call away to ask for help”, concludes Sale.

Another feather in PADPPA’s hat is the literacy, reproductive health, hygiene and sanitation trainings and awareness building campaigns. A very proud Sale shares how when the women who received reproductive health training, asked that the same training be extended to their husbands.

But as Aliou put it so well this morning, “we could have had better impact if we had first sensitized the men on reproductive health issues.” And he is so right. You always need to start at the source!

The literacy programme offered by PADPPA has definitely helped many poor rural people, fishers and producers to manage their income and resources more efficiently. Those who attended the various sessions, are now able to read, write and keep track of their income generating activities.

PADPPA’s community-driven development (CDD) aspect helped the programme to better understand the needs of the people it was serving. Did it do an equally good job in making sure that the communities also understood what was their role in the equation?

Well, maybe not quite. It seems that not everyone - and here we’re talking about beneficiaries, extension workers, programme and government colleagues - fully appreciated CDD’s fundamental pillar of giving control over planning decisions and investment to communities and local government.

PADPPA also focused on rehabilitating wetlands, water bodies and engaged in reforestation activities. Amongst other things, it financed the creation of a number of spawning beds, which are allowing fishers to count on secure catch. “I believe that thanks to PADPPA activities, we’ve managed to lay the foundation of a national fisheries policy for Benin”, says Afomasse T. Mesmin, the officer for the wetland management component.

In terms of project management, the programme could have benefitted from a more efficient and effective administrative and financial management team. This weakness ended up hampering implementation, causing unnecessary delays in the provision of services to beneficiaries.

The programme witnessed a turning point in 2009 when IFAD started to provide implementation support and directly supervise its activities. I wonder how things would have panned out if we had provided implementation support and directly supervised this programme from the beginning.

What came out loud and clear
Here are my take-home messages and I am sure none of these are new to anyone. I just wonder, why is it that we do not systematically apply the learning from one programme to another.... I guess that is a whole other debate.

  • for a project to be sustainable, the beneficiaries and their communities need to own it
  • do not underestimate the value of exchange visits. Seeing is believing and there is nothing better than hearing from a peer how a rural development activity has changed their lives
  • changing people’s mindset and behaviours does not happen overnight. It requires systematic and sustained coaching, mentoring and awareness raising
  • it is absolutely crucial for everyone on the project team to have a common understanding of what the project is set to achieve
  • it is equally important for everyone on the team to understand their respective roles and responsibilities, know what is expected from them and be accountable for delivering results
  • efficient and effective administrative and financial management is key to good project management
  • sound monitoring and evaluation mechanism allows the project team to detect challenges early on and address these promptly
  • project coordination unit staff need to be rooted and grounded in the field, in touch with the reality on the ground and systematically provide backstopping

What next?
Many of the people who benefitted from PADPPA indicated access to credit as an enormous challenge. Lea Afi Amoussou, a farmer in the village of Nicou-condji in Grand-Popo shared her plight of getting a loan: “I went to ask for credit. Completed all the forms and submitted them. A month after submitting, I followed-up and was told to come back. When I went back, they just told me I cannot have the loan and did not offer any explanation”. Rose Mensah the successful rabbit farmer wanted to get a loan to build a new rabbit pen and was faced with the same obstacle as Amoussou.

IFAD in close cooperation with the Government of Benin is in the process of finalizing the results-based country strategic opportunities programme which will guide IFAD’s intervention in the country for the next five years. It is within this context that IFAD’s next interventions in Benin amongst other things will also focus on rural finance. This will hopefully allow people like Amoussou and Mensah to finally have access to credit and be able to expand their businesses and turn their dreams into reality.

In a couple of hours time I will be catching my flight back home. I am leaving Benin with a heavy heart. It was such an amazing mission. It was a treat to work with great people such as Daouda Aliou and his colleagues. I am ever so grateful to Ndaya Beltchika for giving me this opportunity. It was a great learning experience and I hope I met her expectations.

I still have to tell the stories of the fishers, crab collectors and my humbly experience when I visited the lake village of Ganvie. So, keep an eye on this space.  I am leaving behind the “Centre de miracle”, but hope to share and transmit all the positive vibes I got to my colleagues in Rome.

This blogpost originally featured a a series on IFAD social reporting blog

Once a fisher always a fisher? Maybe not...

WOW, I had one of the most productive days in a long time. It was a day with no meetings, no emails, no phone calls, no deadlines and no process work. Wondering why it was so productive?

Well, I had the privilege of spending an entire day meeting and listening to the stories of smallholder producers who benefitted from the IFAD-funded Participatory Artisanal Fisheries Development Support Programme, better known as PADPPA.

Ndaya Beltchika, was appointed as the country programme manager for Benin in 2010. In closing PADPPA she took the bold step of documenting the success and challenges of this programme so that others could avoid making the same mistakes and reinventing the wheel.

Kudos to Beltchika, as she is a true knowledge worker and one of the few people I’ve worked with who fully appreciates the power and potential of learning both from successes and failures.

I think it is fair to say that PADPPA has both impressive achievements and faced massive challenges.

It was approved in 2003 and has a 50-50 cofinancing arrangement with African Development Fund (AfDF).

It took over two years before it started its operations in 2005. For the first four years it only disbursed 10.13%, which classifies it as a poor-performing project.

“One of the major challenges of PADPPA was the 50-50 cofinancing arrangements between AfDF and IFAD”, says Gerard Gnakadja, the National Coordinator. “If I had to redo the project, I would strongly recommend against such an arrangement and would have each donor fully finance a component thus making implementation more efficient and effective.”

The turning point was in 2009, when IFAD started supervising its own projects and providing direct implementation support. As a result, literally overnight there was a boast in the project activities and in just a little more than two years the disbursement rate increased from 20.47% to 50.53%.

The programme is coming to and end. Over the last eight years, it has focused on strengthening the fisheries sector in Benin by:

  • rehabilitating wetlands and lakes to increase fishing opportunities
  • strengthening fisher’s community and building their capacity to better manage the fisheries resources and other natural resources
  • encouraging fishers to take up alternative income generating activities

My productive day started with meeting three extraordinary smallholder producers who had given up fishing for other types of income generating activities.

Agriculture is cool: Meet Paul Allognon, the fisher who became a farmer

Paul Allognon, once a fisher, today thanks to the programme is a successful smallholder farmer. He is one of the 200 fishers who received training on agriculture-related activities offered by the Vice-President of the Agricultural Chamber, Adjehoda Amoussou, and his colleagues.

“Usually these training sessions last between 15 to 30 days and afterwords, the project provides extension services and monitors the farmers to make sure they apply what they learnt”, explains Amoussou. “However, the PADPPA trainees benefitted from an abridged version of the training and from what I understand not all of them received the post training backstopping”.

Although Allognon did not benefit from the full training programme, however, he learnt the basic agricultural practices such as rotating crops, when to plant what, when and how to use fertilizer, when to harvest and how and where to market and sell his produce. Understanding the importance of a good irrigation system, he installed a water pump and has a CFA350,0001 irrigation system on his land.

As a result, Allognon is now cultivating onions, tomatoes, pepper, parsley and cucumber.

“The village ladies visited me a couple of weeks ago and asked for onions. This is why we’re planting them now”, explains Allognon. “I plant based on needs, this way, I hardly ever have any surplus.”

On this farm, Allognon has a number of coconut palm trees which are another source of income. “I sell the coconut oil for CFA500 per litre. Every three months on average I manage to produced 120 litres of oil”, mentions Allognon.

“I dry the shell which is then used as firewood. The shell is also on high demand by the ladies who are in fish smoking business and also as animal feed”, says Allognon with a smile.

By embracing agriculture, Allognon has managed to triple his income. He is now able to offer employment to six other people and can afford paying them CFA15,000 per month.

“I would never go back to fishing. Believe me, fishing is not worthwhile. You go out to the sea at crack of dawn, stay out 3-5 days or if you make day trips, you come back at dusk and with what? What a basket full of small fish”, remarks Allognon.

Thanks to a steady income, Allognon is able to send all his 9 and 4 year old children to school. He has managed to buy an 2000 m2land, and is in the process of building a house for his family.

Reflecting on PADPPA’s achievements, Olivier Vigan, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries observed: “Only if we could have changed the mindset of many more fishers, that would have made this programme a success”. “In retrospect, we should have had many more awareness building programmes and prepared the fishers psychologically to convert from fishing to other acitivities”.

I wish, the programme would have used people like Paul Allognon as mentors to show the benefits of embracing agriculture and engaging in agriculture-related projects. And yes, more awareness building and proactive actions to change the fisher’s mindset would have definitely resulted in many more fishers converting to agriculture, rabbit farming or other income generating activities.

Rabbit farming: a viable alternative to fishing

On this very special day, after meeting Paul Allognon, I met Rose Mensah and Kuassi Oke, two former fishers who are now fully emerged and engaged with rabbit farming.

Mensah lives by Aeheme lake where she used to be a fish wholesaler. However, the lake’s fish stock has depleted significantly, thus making fishing a risky business. Mensah was lucky to benefit from PADPPA’s rabbit farming activities. In 2007, PADPPA gave her three female and 1 male rabbit.

In a month’s time she had 18 rabbits and ever since then, it has been a growing business. Today she has over 200 rabbits and can count on a steady flow of 30 rabbits per month.

Thanks to her new activity, she has 20 fixed clients - among which some hotels in Cotonou. On average she makes CFA100,000 a month.

“I sell the rabbits for CFA3000. Thanks to the money I make from my rabbit farm, not only I am able to feed the family, send the children to school, but I am also able to put aside at least CFA10,000 a month”, explains Mensah.

Mensah’s vision is to be able to build another big rabbit pen. “But to do that I need one million CFA and I need to able to get a loan. And that is not an easy thing to do.”

Kuassi Oke, a 55 year old rabbit farmer, has an equally thriving farm as Mensah’s. He too in 2007 received 3 females and 1 male and ever since then, he’s gone from success to success.

Oke is a real businessman. To ensure that he has a steady stock, he has put in a place a bullet proof reproduction scheme. “I have 25 females. Each month I have half of them reproduce. This way, the females get a rest every other month and on average I have 115 new rabbits.”

He manages to sell 50 rabbits a month to clients in major cities, hotel owners and in to people in his village. As a true businessman, he has fixed price - CFA3000 per rabbit - and does not provide any preferential treatment to his fellow villagers!

Thanks to his new activity, he is able to provide a good life to his 19 children, three wives and has a monthly saving of CFA40,000. Realizing that not everyone has been lucky as him, to help others, he has created a village saving scheme where on a monthly basis he deposits some of his savings which is used to assist villagers in moments of dire need.

Initially the villagers were a bit intrigued and suspicious of his activity. But, today, thanks to his flourishing business, he has earned a social status. He is now providing rabbit farming training to interested villagers and is the adviser to the village chief.

He has put in place a succession plan by training two of his sons which will take over from him, when and if he decides to retire!

Oke has expanded his business to poultry and is looking forward to be able to buy himself a motorcycle.

New frontiers for rabbit farming: Processing and packaging

One would hope that sooner rather than later Mensah and Oke will learn how to add value to their rabbit farming business by embracing some processing activities. Hopefully, they will be able to access credit, challenging as it may be, so that they can acquire the necessary skills and set up the infrastructure needed for processing, packing and selling rabbit meat.

It would have been nice if PADPPA had seized this opportunity and offered these sterling entrepreneurs the opportunity to add value to their rabbit farm by exposing them to the processing and packaging world.

Keeping close to “Centre de miracle”

As we were driving back, I thought to myself, WOW, what a great day. Would it be possible to replicate this miracle every day? I guess if I keep close to this “Centre de miracle”, I will have a good chance of experiencing it over and over again.

I wonder what will my boss think, if I call or send an email telling her that I have found a new vocation and do not want to leave?

I’ll be covering the story of fishers on the next series of PADPPA blogposts. So, keep on eye on this space. More to come. For now, goodbye and good night.

This blogpost originally featured a a series on IFAD social reporting blog

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

What does it mean to be an empowered woman in a man's world?

Last week while visiting the IFAD-funded Central Kenya Dry Area Smallholder Community Services Development Project and Mount Kenya East Pilot Project for Natural Resources Management, I had the privilege to meet inspiring and successful women such as Jane Njaguara, Lizz Wangari Bundi and the Wangu Environmental Conservation Women’s group.

As development workers we are always trying to get hold of data and statistics to show the impact of our work. I guess one of the most important statistics is how rural development projects have transformed the lives of poor rural people and their communities, and how these interventions have managed to bring economic viability to the rural space by providing profitable on and off-farm employment, minimizing migration from rural to urban areas and providing attractive employment opportunities for young people, so that they stay in rural areas and join the active work force.

Jane, Lizz and Wangu women’s group stories demonstrate how when women are empowered the entire society thrives.

Just one buck away from a better life

Visiting IFAD-funded Central Kenya Dry Area Smallholder Community Services Development Project (CKDAP), I met Jane Njaguara, a 32 year old strong willed woman who is one of the 13 members of the Busara dairy goat group in Kirinyaga District.

In 2003, this group received its first buck and that was the beginning of a successful economic and social transformation for its members.

A proud Njaguara, giving a tour to IFAD President, Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, said: “Thanks to that one buck that we received 8 years ago, today I am running a successful business. I have managed to expand my goat dairy farm. I have diversified my activity and now have poultry, cows, I have a thriving milk business.”

Today, the Busara dairy group has 72 upgraded goats and in just five years they’ve managed to make KSH 223,000. “Our vision is to have 200 goats by 2015 and to operate a milk shop,” says Njaguara.

Over the course of its implementation, CKDAP continuously provided technical assistance to the Busara dairy group. Njaguara was one of the farmers who benefitted from training session by the Dairy Goats Association of Kenya. Thanks to the training received, she is now providing extension services to Busara community.

“The training allowed us to venture into selling milk. Now we are producing 3 to 5 litres of milk on a daily basis. As a result the families have a better diet and we have a thriving business, selling the milk to neighbouring villages for KSH 60 a litre,” explained Njaguara. “You know, goat milk is rich in protein and does not cause any allergies, so there is a high demand for it.”

“My dairy farm has turned out to be a profitable business. Thanks to the revenues from the farm I was able to expand and diversify my business. Today, I have chicken, geese, turkey and cows. My dream is to go to school and get a degree in veterinary sciences,” says a beaming Njaguara.

A couple of months ago, Njaguara lost her husband prematurely. But thanks to the income from the dairy goat farm she is able to maintain her standard of life. Her two children go to school, the family lives in the improved dwelling with cement floor, plastered and painted walls and the most wonderful thing is that she has managed to buy additional land to further expand the business.

“Jane is a perfect example of how every dollar spent in a woman generates 11 dollars,” observed Dr Nwanze.

“I was so excited when Jane referred to what she does as a business. Her story embodies the idea and concept of farming as business. Jane’s business is making money and giving employment to others. She has diversified her business, as a result is able to send her two children to school, has invested in more land and what is absolutely heartwarming and contrary to many parts of the world, the land is in her name, in the name of Jane Njaguara.”

After touring Njaguara dairy farm and in thanking the community Nwanze said: “What struck me is the commitment of the women and men, the beneficiaries and the community as a whole. I am so impressed on how you’ve made this project your OWN and how through your engagement and work you’ve managed to transform the your community.”

Tapping into the gold mind of tissue culture banana (TC banana)

In Africa approximately 70 million people rely on bananas for food or income. However, they are faced with a considerable challenge, namely a decline in production due to environmental degradation, diseases and pest infestation.

TC banana technology was introduced in Kenya about 14 years ago. Over the last eight years, Africa Harvest has raised awareness and built farmer’s capacity so that they can get the most out of this technology. Tissue culture technology in Africa has the potential to increase banana production from 20 to 45 tons per hectare. This means that a typical Kenya farmer family cultivating bananas could potentially increase their income from $1 day to as much as $3 a day.

The beneficiaries of IFAD-funded Smallholder horticulture marketing programme and Mount Kenya East pilot project, having partnered with Africa Harvest have benefitted from TC banana technology.

TC banana uses clean, disease-free, and insect-free planting materials. Statistics show that over the past six years, more than 500,000 farmers in Kenya have benefited from tissue culture banana technology transfer.

Lizz Wangari Bundi, an inspiring young woman farmer lives in Mururi also located in Kirinyaga district. Bundi is one of the many Kenyan farmers who has benefitted from the tissue culture banana technology.

She joined the ranks of TC banana farmers in 2008. Before that she was a tomato and French bean farmer. “Tomatoes and French bean were both labour and capital intensive and I was subject to enormous post-harvest loss because of the perishable nature of these produce,” explains Bundi.

“In 2008 I joined the Murinidi fresh growers self-help group, where I learnt more about TC banana.”

“I must admit initially I was torn between leaving the known for the unknown, but I decided to gamble and got involved with TC banana. For one thing, banana has a good nutritional value, so for sure my family’s diet would improve,” said Bundi.

Bundi’s asset was her three-acre farm. And the prospect of providing a better life for her three children was too alluring so she decided to venture with TC banana.

Thanks to the training and support provided along the entire value chain, Bundi was able to sell the entire produce of her initial 80 plantlet. She then expanded her orchard and today she has 240 plantlets. As a result she has managed to doubled her income.

“Thanks to the steady income, I am able to send the children to school. I have expanded my business and have a dairy farm which complements my banana production,” explained Bundi. “And you know what, I use the manure for the banana orchard, this way I not only make money from the dairy farm, but do not need to buy manure for the bananas!”

Three years ago, Lizz Bundi was a smallholder farmer living on less than a $1 day. Today, she runs a family agriculture business, employs other smallholder farmers and has an average monthly income of approximately KSH 7,000 (approximately $90). She owes this to her entrepreneurial spirit of taking a risk and venturing into TC banana. Bundi has managed to ensure food security, education and a steady income for her family. She is an empowered woman and a well respected member of her community.

“I am planning to expand the dairy farm and go into poultry. My next big projects are to put an irrigation system in place and put electricity at home,” says Bundi with a smile

Lizz Bundi’s story is an example of how through improved agricultural production and strategic partnerships, we can reach many more smallholder farmers and help more poor rural people to become food security.

Talk about transformation: Firewood collectors become environmental conservationists

Moving from Central Kenya drylands to Mount Kenya, we met the hundred plus women of the Wangu self-help group who back in 2003 earned their living by selling firewood they gathered from Magacha forest. Soon they realized that this was not a viable way of life and approached the authorities requesting that they be granted a portion of forest land to raise seedlings.

The Wangu self-group ladies shared their story with IFAD President, Dr Nwanze: “In February 2004, we started our tree nursery and raised 10,000 seedlings.”

Pragmatic and self-organized as only women are, they agreed that they would come to the site at least once a week to plant the trees. And all of them paid KSH5 to buy a polythene bag and other nursery inputs.

In 2005, their production ranged around 25,000 seedlings and today they boost an annual production of 150,000 seedlings. The once fuel wood collectors, today are forest and environmental conservationists and stewards. Thanks to their tireless efforts the forest ecosystem is thriving, they have instilled the culture of tree planting and as a result have rehabilitated and maintained 213ha of degraded forest land.

They have diversified their activities and are engaged in beekeeping, fish farming, rabbit rearing, dairy farms and have set up village saving loans associations. Their fish ponds are stocked with fingerlings, they all each have five rabbits and those who have set up dairy farms are now selling milk.

Thanks to their various income generating activities, they are food secure, are able to send their children to primary and secondary school and college, have improved their dwellings and live in semi-permanent constructions and are contributing to the community’s welfare by investing to improve communal infrastructure such as schools and churches.

And they are a source of inspiration and mentors for other women groups such as the Mazingira and Mutitu women group who aspire to follow on their footsteps.

More power to women

Later in the week, meeting with Hon Dr Sally Kosgey, Minister of Agriculture, Nwanze shared the stories of these remarkable women and observed: “Investing in women and young girls is the pathway to stability and growth. This is why it is important to empower women, because by doing so, we make sure that the entire community thrives.”

“It was so reassuring to see the results of our work. I saw value for money, value of our investments and saw how together we have managed to transform the lives of our brothers and sisters,” explained Nwanze.

“The achievements and thriving businesses of these incredible women are a source of satisfaction and pride and show how the decisions we make in Rome are bearing their fruits.”

Commending the Government of Kenya for increasing its investment in agriculture from 2.9 to 4.5%, in his conversation with Hon Kosgey, Nwanze said: “Kenya is a power house in East and Southern Africa, I hope and trust that you will soon increase your investment in agriculture to reach the target of 10%.”

Hon Kosgey in thanking IFAD for its work in Kenya, said: “IFAD-funded projects and programmes are the most successful agricultural programmes in Kenya and it is institutions like IFAD that keep us in a state of hope.”

We on our side, pay tribute to Jane Njaguara, Lizz Bundi and the self-help Wangu women’s group as they are the personification of how women are agents of change, how in any community it is often if not always women who take on the leadership role, how when rural women are empowered, the entire society is empowered and how women are better managers of resources.

Ladies, kudos to all of you. May you move from one success to another and in the process inspire many more women.

Originally posted on IFAD social reporting blog

Monday, 14 February 2011

Personal reflection on what it means and takes to become a learning organization

What does it mean to be a learning organization? What are the underpinning drivers for becoming a learning organization? What does an organization aspiring to become a learning organization need to do?

The literature says that a learning organization is one that “facilitates learning of its members to continuously transform themselves and enables them to remain competitive”.

What does being competitive mean for the development world? Does it mean you’re the darling of donors and are in a better position to attract funding? And once you’ve done so, do you think that any organization can single handily respond to all development challenges?

Or does being competitive mean you’re highly efficient and systematically deliver high-quality products and services?

I guess the next question would be who will be benefitting from your high-quality products and services? Donors, clients, people who we work with and for or both? And if both, how do we reconcile the different needs? Can we afford putting on the back burner the umpteenth results framework and logframe required by the donor and focus our energy in writing about the learning emerging from the success and/or failure of a development initiative? Should we focus our energies on systematically documenting and sharing good practices and helping others to avoid reinventing the wheel rather than writing the next progress report for the donor?

I guess the answer is you need to do both. And we are doing both. But this begs a bigger question. By doing both, are we doing both well? What happens if we stop doing the bureaucratic bean counting and focus exclusively on capturing, documenting and sharing learning? Could that potentially lead to better results? And if it does so, would not we be meeting all the objectives set out in the results frameworks and logframes? And would not that mean that finally we’ll put an end to churning out more data and information and get serious and actually start generating knowledge?

In the development world, a real learning organization should learn and share regardless of donor demands and pressure. A learning organization should be one that has the right people doing the job and not more people doing the job. It should be a place where knowledge sharing is everyone’s business and learning does not happen just to survive, rather learning happens because the organization strives to achieve bigger and better results.

In a learning organization, people think, communicate and work together. And learning and knowledge sharing is not “done” only and exclusively to be competitive and out-do other “sister agencies”. In a real learning organization, everyone learns and shares spontaneously and there isn't a need to put an incentive system to entice and/or remind people to do so. If learning is part of the organization’s DNA is will happen naturally!

In the technology world, Apple has the reputation of being on the cutting edge, innovative, ahead of the curve and trendsetter. I guess those of us in the development world who aspire to become the “Apple” of development, should start rolling up our sleeves, get serious about using, documenting and sharing the results of our learning so that we can achieve better results.

This may mean that we stop talking about and building yet another electronic platform to collaborate and start sharing the learning in whatever form it is most appropriate – which incidentally considering our “clients”, most probably the electronic option may end up being the less attractive and less cost effective. We have to understand and come to terms that a learning organization is more than one that just collects and stores data in numerous information cemeteries, but one that acts on knowledge to create something new. And to do so, we should not sacrifice quality for quantity, nor should we fall in the trap of let’s share everything under the sun.

In the age of information overflow, where we’re being bombarded 24hrs a day, 7 days a week with all sorts of information, why are we obsessed with quantity and not quality? Why do we want our colleagues, donors, and the people who we work for and with sift through mountains of information to get to – if they are lucky – to the knowledge nugget? Would not we be doing everyone a favour if we shared that very nugget? This means, however, that WE have to do the sifting, and would not that be called adding VALUE?

Personally I would like to be associated with and contribute to a learning organization that is always ahead of the curve, is one that has its ears to ground, is visionary, takes risks, embraces and acts on emerging trends and seizes opportunities; one that knows what it knows and learns what it does not know and one that continuously unlearns to learn.

Is this utopia, or does such a learning organization exist? And Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!