Great Malian NGO Project- Poor Execution…. I Hope It Endures…..

You all know I am a great believer in drip irrigation.

As far as I am concerned, it is the  number one way to help subsistence farmers make more money. Drip irrigation is the answer to the Sahel agriculture issues. The investment-to-profit ratio is off the charts. Nothing else compares… not even close.

However, I am fully aware that even our very simply designed systems are foreign concepts that take time to appreciate. My experience is that the first year, people doubt it. The second year they are OK with it. The third year they are hooked for life.  But you have to keep walking with the people involved for a while, or they give up every time during that first garden cycle.

Well  a 300 L barrel drip irrigation kit went up in the swamp area of Sikasso last week (it is dry in the drought season), right on the main road that branches out to Bobodioulasso, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast.

The backer is some NGO funded program from Bamako, with all national staff. The sign says the kits are for sale in Sikasso, and I will check to see today to verify that. However, yesterday I went down to look over the system and talked with the owner. Well, what little I could, as he did not speak a word of French, and my Bambara is marginal still. However, I could tell he simply did not get the point.  That was confirmed to me when I spoke to his friend in French.

The plot was poorly prepared. The people promoting the stuff arrived,  plunked the drip system down, put up a sign, and left. No follow up at all and the guy is struggling with the system….

He did add water to the barrel for me so I could see the system… The filters were plugged, so much so he had to wash it out twice before it would flow. There was a lot of dirt in the barrel.  The design is a good system… and I think the price is right.

However, the guy is now THE WORST advertising ever. He tells people he doubts the system very much. And by the look of the suffering hot pepper plants (also poor advertising) he had on the drip system, he was not watering them much with the drip irritation at all. I’d say he gave up. I don’t think he even fills the barrel anymore.

Their drip lines are a little different than mine, so I asked the farmer how he goes about unclogging a drip hole if it gets plugged.  He said they have him a little hand tool for cleaning the drip holes when they plug. When I asked to see it, he said he did not have it with him, that it is in the bag they left him, back at the house… So the guy is not even checking the drip flow of the system…

May as well take the whole kit home. I wish the agency would work this out, as he is killing a very very powerful and needed tool here.

Anyway, I hope the kits are actually for sale here (I am checking today), and that the kits remain for sale here for years to come.

I may possibly just begin to use local now. That helps me, and it helps the local sales market as well; a win-win situation. However, I’m afraid they will sell none and the kits will just disappear before I return.

 But this is the kind of crap that happens with NGO’s sometimes. Plunk down new technology down and leave… and 6 months later it’s dead. Why do we bother? The technology alone is never the program. Habit change is the real work. You cannot convince these people in one day, or even one month; maybe after one full growing season. 

Anyway, if this local guy keeps talking like he does, the agency will not sell a single kit, and by next year we will not be able to get one…

However, I am always glad to see a locally supplied solution, and I think we should support local Africa selling products versus shipping in. This mechanism is all but lost to some NGO’s, and almost non existent among Christian missions. Everything we import duty free, and give away, actually undermines the local market and mechanisms from long term solutions and sustainability to the whole country. There are more factors involved than a good idea, marketing ones that most people are oblivious to.

For example, now that there is a possible local solution (big question mark on that yet) from a Malian NGO, I need to not run counter or in competition of their program. They are here, and will be for years to come… Me? Who knows, right…. we could be kicked out tomorrow for all we know, or I get sick, whatever. I need to stop bringing my kits, and point people to the local supply, and let the market work. If I want to give them away for charity… fine. But I buy them here, support that local market supply.

It will not hurt their project. The more of them I buy and give away, and the more I train people, the more likely this local shop is to sell more kits and survive. This is good for both of us.

Think about that before you go overseas next time, and stuff your local suit cases with goods from home. Almost all of that stuff can be bought local, for the same price (in some cases, cheaper). I say buy it local… support local vendors. Sure, the kids need pencils and pens, and paper… and socks, shoes, and underwear. Buy it local. Stock up when you arrive.  Almost all of the basics of life people need are now here in Africa, and at an even better prices.  You don’t need to pack and haul bags to Africa in most cases.

My opinion. Support local.


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