This week the Department for International Development here in the UK has issued a new report ELIMINATING POVERTY : Building Common future,  which spells out a new direction  and  desire to address issue of poverty in the developing world and amongst other things the report looks at the impact of the economic downturn on those in the developing countries.

And at the UN summit of September 2000 the richest nations in the world made pledges to the development world that are summed up in what has become to be known as the

Millennium Development Goals or MDGs

  • Goal 1:  Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Goal 4:  Reduce child mortality
  • Goal 5:  Improve maternal health
  • Goal 6:  Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7:  Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8:  Develop a Global Partnership for Development

This was an ambitious undertaking on the one hand but one that gave hope  to folk in the developing world that we in the developed world are committed to making things better for them.

The question I ask today is whether these goals will be realised?  There has been an increase in AID but will increased AID have  made a difference in 2015? Can we in the west wait that long? what about the  folk in the developing can they wait until 2015 for the goals to be realised?

There is concern in some quarters that the MDGS will not be realised in some African countries and this appears to stem from the fact that

  • not everyone signed up to the MDGS ( it was reported earlier this year that France and Italy are two of the countries that ahve failed to honour the pledges made towards Africa)
  • increased insecurity in some  of the African countries
  • impact of diseases such as malaria and HIV
  • family breakdown
  • food availability
  • Climate change
  • and AID distribution to name but a few

Most including myself argue that the surest way to lift people out of poverty in a sustainable way is through trade.  That being the case how are we doing on that front? Are trade agreements more equitable now than they were in 2000? Are folk in the developing countries treated as equal or even potential trading partners?

Well one thing that is certain, is that Africa in particular has seen an increase in cheap imports from china, second  hand clothing and FOOD AID. Only last week I was speaking to a man I met at the Africa Matters get together. He lived in Zambia for many years as a farmer and produced vegetable oil.

He was put out of business in 6 months when cooking Oil given to Mozambique by USAID as part of teh FOOD AID package ended up for sale on the streets of Lusaka. I understand that cotton farmers in Zambia and Malawi suffered a similar fate with the increased cheap imports from China as well as second hand clothing.

Some African governments are fighting back by imposing huge DUTY on these cheap imports but what do you about FOOD AID?

So I ask the question are Millennium goals helping me?

In trying to address this issue a good start would be to understand that meaning assigned to the word Ethics.

The meaning I assign to the word Ethics is derived from the African ideology/philosophy of Ubuntu which is about how people relate to one another, look out for one another and a general acceptance that everybody matters. Iam becuase you are!

That being the case, the ethical thing to do whilst designing development programmes is to make them inclusive from the word go!

This means that you take time to understand the people in the community you intend to work, understand their culture, the importance they assign to things and people in their lives, environment etc

You must establish what their priorities are and if they don’t tie in what you have in mind be prepared to change/adapt yours, after all you would not sell Aspirin to some that wasn’t in pain or had no use for it

What if anything have to community done to address these priorities?

What challenges face these communities, in otherwords if whatever you are offering is a priority for the community, why hasn’t it been addressed

It is important to be open and sincere with the people.

Be prepared to learn from them after all you are their beat and they know it better than you do.

IMHO development programmes are not that different from projects elsewhere in the world and the basic reasons they fail is due to poor design and by this I mean the people/end users were left out of the planning stage.

We have several examples of this in Europe, Public Housing design, the Elephant and Castle, the Millenium Dom etc

The Ethical thing to do therefore is to have due regard for communities and not seek ” to do things” to them because we believe this is what they need!

Remember unless they have said so programmes will not be sustainable due to lack of ownership which comes from being included!

Your views please

There is no doubt that these are tough times folk and I find myself in a reflectived mood today. The wet weather here in Maidstone Kent, from where I am writing this from has not helped.

The G20 nations are due to meet in London next week and I understand that on their agenda are questions how to tackle the current economic down turn that has left many folk workless as well as homeless.

It was reported on the news this morning that this upcoming meeting has aroused some raw emotions from environmentalists, campaigners for more jobs, as well as those who blame the financial institutions for the current economic situations. And to that end several demonstrations are underway as folk strive to get their voices heard by the powers that be.

An hour ago, I was engaged in a conversation by a fellow guest here at the Ramada Hotel in Kent. After the initial general questions the converasation soon turned to the upcoming G20 meeting. She is especially interested in all issues to do with the envrionment, I must confess, apart from religion, this is a topic that I would rather not get drawn into. I find it emotive and frankly I don’t know much about it.

For instance this lady wnated to know from me if it is ok to buy peas and Mange tout brought into the UK from Kenya? She informed me that the folk in her network and family believe that the process by which the peas and Mange tout get here is bad for the environment. But she doesn’t agree with them since the production method is mostly by hand or hand held tools, which in her mind offsets any carbon emmissions.

I on the other hand believe that farmers in the developing world should have access to as many markets as possible as their best hope out of poverty is the ability to trade. This is not only sustainable but it ensures that other than waiting for handouts they are helping themselves out of poverty. The question then becomes one of which is more important, the climate, employment or justice?

This lady wanted and answer from me! We spoke at length about  AID to African countries. 

In particular Food AID.   Africa as a  continent made up of some of the poorest countries on earth most of which are dependent on all types of AID from donor countries. Some of  this AID doesn’t make sense at all when put in the context of ending poverty, climate change and human rights

This is a strange thing for me to say, you might think. But hear me out if you will. Some parts of Africa have got an awful lot of food much more than folk can consume whilst others have none at all.

 Imagine  this , what if some of this food was shipped to parts of the continent that need it as oppossed to flying peas, Maize, sugar etc form the USA to Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia etc? What impact would that have on climate change and poverty amongst African farmers?

The twist in the tale here is that AID in the form FOOD AID doesn’t always get to the people that need it. Here is an example of what I am talking about http://ethnicsupplies.blogspot.com/2008/09/food-distribution-in-uganda.html#links

Don’t get me wrong I am not against helping disadvantaged folk in the world. I am however concerned that this is sometimes done without due regard, and consequently a culture of dependency results. This happens in West too especially in the Housing provision area. This giving of FOOD AID can kill off local farmers markets completely.

Second clothing was the other topic for discusion. What about the second hand clothing charities send to out, the lady asked me? Sadly this too kills off local produce like cotton as demand for such textiles dies off, and as far as the environment is concerned, most developing countries may lack the technology to process artificial fabrics like Nylon, when they come to the end of their useful life!

I have seen goats/cows that have died as a result of eating these artificial fabrics as well as plastic bags. The sad thing about this is that where these goats and cows are all the assets folk have to sell to pay for children’s health care an education!!

As we parted company she asked if I have ever considered being  a Politician,. The answer came very quickly NO. I don’t mind working alongside politicians but I would not want to join them.

Thniking about the G20 generally and the issues at stake, the failure of the economy has no doubt hit the poorest the hardest regardless of where in the world they are, the sad thing as articulated by the Brazilian President this week, the current situation was not credited by developing countries.

My question then is , Where do we go from here on issues, climate change, worklesseness and justice? Have you got a viw either way if so please share it.

Will the G20 meeting have answers to these issues?

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.

http://www.ugandatourism.org/Mabira%20Forest.php

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?