Flexibility And Humanitarians – What Was I Supposed To Be Doing Today?

Language study morning, well, kind of. The level of flexibility demanded of a person working in Mali is unrelenting.

In 1996, a seasoned international worker that I know and respect very deeply, named Wayne Meece, slapped me up the side of the head with some reality; “None of us are doing what we originally came here to do.”, he said.

His wife and he were evacuated from Liberia to Ivory Coast during the Liberian War in the early 1990’s. He did some work along the Liberian border with Liberian refuges in North Western Ivory Coast, but, after a few years came to eventually settle in Abidjan. He certainly understood flexibility.

We have an aspect of our work we need to develop over the next few years. Charity is not the solution to poverty. The market-driven solution is the real long-term way to go. Seeking local solutions that use local supplies. We can’t grow any project so long as it continues to rely on the use of special imported materials or equipment that people are unable to buy within the local markets. A project can grow when its supplies are shown to be affordable, available, and clearly demonstrated to help people make more money. They say the sweet spot for the bottom billion $1 a day people is at $50 or less. Drip irrigation can fit this market.

We have been bringing drip kits from Canada for our project. As of now, I have yet to find any place in Mali where we could source these simple drip tape lines locally. I am not the business major, so I invite you to come to Mali for the sole purpose of setting up a local or import business to supply local markets with simple drip irrigation kits. I am confident we could easily keep the price point around $10 – $20 for smaller garden kits. I’ll teach people how to put them in, of their value, and you set up the business model to enable the local market to grow it.  World Vision Mali, the World Bank, the UN….. IDE, CIDA, Development Agencies of any kind, I call on you.

Phew….. they have never even heard of “The Invisible Humanitarian”, or Man of Peace Development, and probably never will;  that was a waste of ink. 🙂

We have been designing and testing systems out of locally available pipe and hardware supplies. I’ve said it before; you cannot simply put a hole in a pipe and call it drip irrigation. The drip rate needs to be uniform, and consistent over the whole system. If the pressure is not balanced, it will not work properly; Meaning some plants will get too much water, others not enough. A simple hole of any size produces too much water flow and drastically reduces the water conservation power of the drip system. If we can’t drastically reduce water, and the work hauling it, why bother?

Two years ago we designed a 100 sq meter garden drip irrigation kit on a 200 liter barrel at 1 to 1.5 m height. It took us four weeks, but we finally figured out the pressure balancing issue, and how to achieve that powerful, but oh so important uniform drip for all 350 drips, to water 1300 plants.  Simple physics states that 100 sq meters (10 lines 10 meters long) is actually the maximum size a gravity feed drip system can be.  Larger than this, and irrigation requires a 30 foot water tower, or pressurizing the system with a gas/electric/solar pump. That is not very simple, economical, or easily repeated.

Anyway, that test system we designed will last for thirty years, it is very solid. However, the price point we achieved is too high for the market here.  I think they refer to this as “Over Design”. Great idea, but at 120,000 cfa  ($240) per unit, it does not meet my, or the local market’s, economical criteria. So who will buy it? It can easily pay for itself, if we had a micro loan mechanism. However, that still makes marketing drip irrigation too cumbersome, one further step away from simplicity, and into complexity. That does not sit well with me.

My friend E. Coulibaly came by today and served as a perfect distraction from my Bambara Language study.

We discussed the irrigation price point a bit. This term we think we can design a perfectly wonderful 100 sq meter drip irrigation kit for as little as 60,000 CFA ($120). But we are going to push the limits, cut and chop to see if we can arrive at 30,000 cfa ($60). I’m skeptical. The other task is to design a two-line drip kit using a 20 liter bucket. We are going to get that designed as economically as possible, with all local parts, and start making it available to people for purchase, not for charity.

My Agency’s desire (Man Of Peace Development) was never to get into supplying every drip irrigation kit by importing them indefinitely. We are supplying enough kits to enough village women to get the knowledge and understanding about drip irrigation out there. We want to get 500 families (ladies) totally hooked on the power and simplicity of drip irrigating gardens through the nine-month drought season and then enable anyone, and everyone, to buy in to the concept at the local market.

My personal dream is to see no less than 100,000 families discovering and using simple small plot drip irrigation, for the health of their families, cities and this nation.  I invite IDE (International Development enterprises) to help in this as well.

A bit too ambitious? With a local supply process in place, this could easily explode exponentially. However, without a marketing person, my job is to develop those first 500 drip irrigation visionaries. I get requests every day from villages wanting to be included. So we need to get an affordable local 20 Liter drip system designed right now. People need to be able to opt in, not for charity, but by their own choice. And we, and the trained village ladies, will be glad to train you in its use.

Sometimes a humanitarian NGO must be a jack of all trades…. no, not sometimes, almost always.

So that was my Bambara language distraction for today.   I am not doing what I thought I would be doing today, never am. Thank you, Wayne Meece, for letting me know right from the very beginning of my life in Africa many moons ago, that this is actually normal, and ok. That takes the pressure off.

Oh, yes! Flexibility, and lots of it.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Wayne Meece says:

    Good article Andy. Keep up the good work. We are praying for you. Hi to Lynn. By the way, Greta is doing great after a knee replacement. She came with me to the office a few minutes today after her therapy session.


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