Poverty in Africa

No folks, I am not being rude but you may remember my blog on how an english cow changed an African woman’s life.

Well you would not believe it if I told you that on 14 May 09 I actually found myself in Helen’s home town. I was disappointed with myself for not having planned ahead, because I missed the opportunity to meet Helen and the superstar cow:(

The one thing I can tell you about Helen’s village is, it is green, clean and has views to die for and above all people there have to be the frindliest people on earth.

Uganda country side

Uganda country side

The reasons I was in this village was to do with a coffee roaster based in North London. He was unhappy with the way he sourced his coffee and wanted to change, by sourcing his coffee more ethically. This meant that he had to travel out to Uganda to meet the growers on their turf so to say, and get a clearer understanding of what life is like for them. He had no idea as to how he would achieve this as he had never been to Africa.

He decided to get out onto the UK Uganda community networking circuit which is where he bumped into me last September and 8 months later we were in the middle of a Ugandan countryside on the trails of ethical coffee!

An english cow in africa

An english cow in africa

Heading out of Helen’s village we headed further east in a village called Sipi on the feet of Mt Elgon, where I met an actual English cow doing nicely thank you. I am not sure how old man David the coffee grower  acquired his cow but he was putting it to the same use as Helen did!

You see we here in the west have got into all things organic and the African farmers have listened. Old man David is an organic coffee grower and has two English cows. During our visit we had a chance to plant our very own coffee trees.

The process involved a hole being dug in the ground, a farm help went over the fence to where the cows were grazing and he came back with some cow dung straight from the Cow! This was mixed with the soil that had been dug up and put in the hole before the seedling was put into the hole and covered with more soil.

Tony planting a coffee tree

Tony planting a coffee tree

This was the rainy season, everything on the farm was alive, it was interesting to note hwo land is used here. In order to protect food supply there is a kind of inter cropping and we had fun identifying the various vegetables, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, bananas, we even spotted a kind of wild marijauna. Old man David told us it grows wildly there and it is of no interest to anyone, however it helps would be land buyers tell  if the land they are interested in is fertile;-)

Ugadan coffee organic coffee farmer

Old man David and Tony

Old man David is a pleasant and jolly man who has lead an interesting life. He has 4 children in high profile positions in the capital  city , there is a teacher , a police man, one at University and another at the main airport. We asked him how he had acheived this and he responded in one single word COFFEE!

not sure what that is?

not sure what that is?

Folk as I have often said, folk out there are capable of getting themselves out of poverty given half the chance and this old man and Helen are proof of that

So Go on SEND A COW to more Helens and David’s of this world!

Whilst driving home today I tuned into the evening news on BBC Radio 4  I heard something that left me dumb founded. I actually didn’t think that it was possible to be shocked or surprised by what is wrong with AID to developing countries.

The news item that left me dumb founded was vulture funds and at this stage I would like to come clean and say I had never heard of  Vulture funds  and perhaps that is why I was left dumb founded.

These funds work on the basis on buying up third world debt, knowing very well that the third world country is so poor and is unlikely to pay and when this become evident the “vultures” pounce.

What is shocking about this is that these vultures are not breaking the law well not here in the UK anyway. There is however an irony in this because the third world country is unlikely to pay and the only way that country can pay is by dipping into the AID that is allocated to it for health, education, or food. Furthermore, AID is made available through our tax system and as such we the tax payers are  putting money into these  vultures pockets.

This is disturbing news indeed! I have just finished reading  a book called DEAD AID by Dambisa Moyo in which she makes a case for cutting AID to Africa. She argues that Africa remains poor because of AID. It is an intriguing book and one I would recommend everyone interested in matters of international development should read.

She isn’t without   her critics and one of them is Stacey Patton however based on the case of vulture funds it is easy to see why her suggestions make sense. Interestingly her native Zambia was the first country to become a victim of vulture funds.

Sally Keeble a British MP has taken up the call to end this practice and you can read about it here


I am at a loss as to what it would take for western governments to realise that unless AID is structured and monitored there will always be the case of winners and losers and that the losers are those in dire need of our support.

Would love to hear your view on any of the issues raised here

Strange question you might think  and like my friend Margs you would probably think I have lost the plot, her answer to this question was “I would make a beef Casserole”!!

But when Helen Kongai a woman  in a remote African village in Easterrn Uganda it literary changed her life.  Helen’s story is typical of a lot of women that escaped the war in nothern Uganda, with her husband, mother and son dead, Helen  faced a bleak life until the charity SEND A COW came to her rescue by giving her a cow.

I listened to Helen’s story on BBC Radio 4 with great interest. her story should give some comfort to those who support the charity SEND   A COW as they can hear first hand the impact of their contributions on other’s lives. The reason this story interests me is two fold, I am a great believer in “giving people the tools to face day to day challenges” or helping them help themselves out of poverty.

Helen said something that resoanted with me: in certain parts of Africa women are still treated as personal property of men. This might mean   when the husband dies  the woman’s  place in society may die with that man or that as in Helen’s case she loses her material possesions since her inlaws may not regonise her as a person in her own right.

Projects such as SEND A COW or ETHNIC SUPPLIES LTDgive such women a sense of identity, the right to be who they want to be, a chance to earn an income using their skills and best of all diginity. 

Helen was given a voice and a chance to share her story and in her own words and incredibly she does not ask for more AID. Helen is currently touring UK farms and is sharing her skills on sustainable farming in the light of increased climate change

If you would like to change people’s lives, the way that Helen’s life was changed please get in touch http://www.ethnicsupplies.co.uk/contact/

Mothering Sunday is almost upon us.  I would like to suggest some ethical gifts handmade by African mothers that your mother might appreciate. The thinking behind this is to enable African mothers to help themselves out of  poverty.

handmade basket from Madagascar

But please don’t take my word for it, if you can spare a few moments please take a look at this


As the presenter say, a loan of £18 is not an awful lot of money to us in the West, in fact for some folk would not think twice on spending it on a bottle of wine.

The idea behind Ethnic Supplies is to ensure that African mothers such as the one featured in the show have access to a wider market for their goods than the odd passing tourist. when this happens jobs are created which in turn enables others to access education and health care for chidlren, it ends the cycle of dependancy.


Bianca is a Mum from Weybridge and is modelling some of our clothing and fashion accessories from East Africa

Our best selling ethical fashion accessories  is the Hand made basket from Madagascar, this abg is so versatile that it can be sued for all sort of purpose, for more details please follow this link


These were the questions put to a panel made up of Kate Allen from Amnesty International, Andy Atkins from Friends of the Earth and Barbara Crowtherfrom the Fairtrade Foundation last Saturday( 28 February 2009) night in Woking Surrey.

These are all important issues that face us all but perhaps more so folk in the developing world. My take on this is poor people suffer the worst human indignity known to man, live in the most appalling environments, (if you have been to shanty towns  South Africa you may know what I am talking about) and pay the most for services and goods. The question is what can be done to correct all this?

In terms of fairtrade, I must agree that a lot has been done to highlight the plight of developing country producers and having met one of them on Friday 27 Feb 2009, I realised how important it is to have someone that advocates for these folk. you can read more about that farmer here .

The question I had for Barbara, was “why is it that cotton is certified as a FT product but the textile out of the cotton isn’t” another was “why can’t value be added to Coffee for instance at the country of origin so that the farmers can earn more and those governments can collect more by way of tax revenue? Credit where credit is due, Barbara acknowledged that the FT foundation could do more work in this area and that they have started looking at it especially in South Africa.

Human rights, I must admit Kate’s job can’t be easy and possibly takes her and her colleagues in some of the msot dangerous places one earth. My interest in this area is premised on property rights for women. In my view women are very important to the economic development of African economies in particular,  but the lack of property rights especially agricultural land and housing rights lives them and their children vulnerable to abuse an potentially a life time of poverty.  Kate’s job cannot be easy in this area in particular especially as in some part of the world women are still perceived as the personal property of the man and over the last two years I have met an awful lot of women in that situation, without a voice or anything to call their own. How do we change this? One way would be an increase of formal education for women.

Andy had a sense of urgency about him that left you in no doubt that if we don’t do anything about climate change today then we are heading for some tough and frightening times ahead.  He called for the World Trade Organisation rules to be re written and with emphasis on social and environmental consideration as well as for business to behave more sensibly. He made an interesting note too, it appears the recession has had the impact of reduced emissions as factories have closed. But how are those people that used to work in the factories managing financially.

Do you feel like we are in a Catch22 here? I certainly  do  and have more questions on this matter

Can climate change /environmental degradation be avoided altogether? How easy would that be? Can the poor afford to care about the environment? these are not easy questions and I certainly do not have the answers to them.

When I lived in Uganda and worked in a town called Jinja I used to drive through a forest that seemed to go on for ever before I got my destination, and one could hardly see beyond  a few yards for the thickness of the forest. I went back to Uganda in August 2008 and had the chance to head east and drove through the same  forest.


I was surprised at what I saw, most of the trees had been cleared and some of the land was  being used for food growing, another reason the trees had disappeared I was told was people cutting them down for fire wood and charcoal. Although folk here could use solar energy as opposed to cutting down an entire forest they do not have the means  to tap into such technology.

What they do is entirely reasonable as far as they concerned, they are using whatever is available in their environment to stay alive, earn a living etc.  We here in the west may not have such concerns but the actions of these folk may have implications for us. It therefore appears to me that one way forward would be to work with such folk and help them develop technology that would help them use what is in their environment without damaging  it.

Travelling further east towards the town of Jinja at the source of the River Nile and you find remnants of what was the Owen falls dam a source of hydro electricity, but with water levels so low, not enough electricity can be generated, to export to neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Kenya, consequently power outages are very common in most towns in Uganda.

Imagine if you will a barber who would earn more money cutting hair with an electrical trimmer as opposed to a pair of scissors. It is Saturday when he can expect to make the most money but at 12 noon there is a power cut for 4 hours!  The poor chap has no access to a power generator as he can’t afford one, but a another barber down the road whose shop is located inside a 5 Star Hotel has no such problems as the Hotel has a power generator.

What are you are views

Is there a time to be Fair? Is climate change more urgent than global poverty or human rights?


The 1994 genocide in Rwanda left the country, it’s peoples and economy in tatters. Rebuilding trust was vital and the women of Rwanda achieved this through reviving the weaving tradition. Weaving cycles were formed up and down the country as a way of promoting peace and reviving peace amongst communities. To day these women’s weaving cycles have become a way of women gaining financisl independence.

These baskets are weaved form sisal, raffia, and other  grasses. The colours are derived from tea leaves and  root plants. The baskets can be used as wall hangings and storage. Agaseke basket in particular is an ideal addition to a woman’s dressing table or bathroom for storing cosmetics pads etc

If you would like to order one of these basekts please visit our online shop


Fairtrade fortnight started yesterday and there are various  activties up  and down the country here in the UK.

I have possed the question, HOW FAIR IS FAIRTRADE on a few online forums and got three responses.

Of the three responses, two felt that Fairtrade  is not as fair as it could be. The other felt Fairtrade is not fair but goes somewayto bringing about change for framers in the developing world.

By the end of yesterday I had another question based on the level of response I got.


Then I came accross this article today


The article in part appears to provide an answer to my question. people here in the UK do not know much about Fairtrade seemingly because the government has not done enough to publicise it,both by way of benefit to the environment as well as a means to sustainable and dignified ways of poverty.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. This is because in  November 2007 I attended an event that was looking at encouraging outward investment into African countries and happened to sit next to a guy from the Fair Trade organisation. I asked him how the female producers at Ethnic Supplies could go about registering with Fair Trade. He looked me in the eye and told me that Textile and handicrafts are not included.

My question therefore is if the Fairtrade foundation does not recognise textile or handmade fashion accessories, how can the public change it’s buying habits?

In other words how can fairly traded  fashion be perceived as cool and fashionable if the powers that be do not advocate for it?

I would like to hear from anyone who has views on this matter?

Valentine’s day is almost upon us, whether you believe in it or not is another matter altogether. I am not sure what you have planned for this day but I am guessing that you may want to buy a present/gift for you loved one.

If that is the case, I do wonder whether you have considered choosing a gift that helps you contribute to the lives of impoverished African women.  By buying one of our products you enable these women to send their children to school, access health care and put food on the table and you get something that is unique and well made.

So what have we got on offer, with the increase in awareness about the impact of plastic bags, why don’t do something for the envrionement too by buying one of our handmade cotton bags or our unique  shoping baskets from Madagascar. Our home storage solutions are fun, environmentally friendly and will cause a talking point for you and your guests .

Hopefully that has given you sometimes on helping the poor in Africa as well as the enivrionment

Besi Besi

You would be forgiven for not spotting the link between alcohol and poverty in Africa. In fact if you asked me a question such as  HOW CAN POOR PEOPLE AFFORD ALCOHOL ?  I would not be surprised at all.

Poverty as a result of alcohol abuse in developing countries is wide spread, however it is unlcear how well reported it is as a contributing factor to extreme poverty.

My work at Ethnic Supplies brings me face to face with those at the receiving end of alcohol related poverty.  On my last visit I was introduced to Besi pictured here. I found her story and those of her fellow weavers heart wrenching. The women spoke of husbands without formal employment but pass their days drinking, local beer. I naively asked where they get the money for beer from. The women told me that the men take up casual work, however that they never bring those wages home and instead spend it all on alcohol.

This means that women become the sole bread winners in the household and given the lack of jobs in these rural areas women struggle to access employment and therefore the family becomes caught in the poverty trap.

My good friend and Environmental Engineer Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli had this to say

There is a co-realtion between alchol and poverty . It appears that if folk  can’t afford to pay for the alcohol  moneywise, they’ve got ‘plenty’ of time for  brewing it and growing the ingredients.  This leaves little time for doing other stuff. This was certainly my observation during my last visit to SW Uganda.

Ivan raised an interesting point  too, some of these folk drink because they are unemployed or lack anything meaningful to occupy them and as they don’t necessarily have to the money to pay for alcohol  in order to access they pass their days drinking.  They are certainly  unlikely to find any work or anything meaningful to do for that matter whilst drunk, Catch22?? perhaps!

The implications of this way of life are increased domestic violence normally towards women and children, unedcuated children, that will never have a chance to gain formal employment, this then creates a cycle of poverty for generations to come.

Aid and Donor agencies should take the issue of alcohol into account when seeking to end extreme poverty in the developing world.

I would very interested in hearing from others with differing views or similar expreiences

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