Size Matters To Most Internationals

IMG_20130117_125232My wife and me, a few buckets, some drip lines, standing in a dry and barren waste land, with some local women, sowing some vegetable seeds.

I get consulting requests from all over the world asking me about Drip Irrigation. I am happy to take some time to point people in the right direction. Most agencies hold their information and expertise like money. Because it is money, time is money.

So why do I share information about what works when I can? Because I am not in West Africa for me, I put on the magic “Invisible Humanitarian” cape because of the bottom billion subsistence farmers, who are the poorest on earth. Consulting is a way for me to multiply knowledge of simple concepts to other poor families around the world. I do it for them.

However, it is incredibly difficult to do a consultation with Westerners, because we are not all on the same playing field.

We, personally, will only use simple, economical, easily repeated (By locals at their income level) solutions to local food security and development. Simple solutions locals can take to their neighbor, without us even being in the picture.
In the face of other agencies big funded programs, I will admit to being embarrassed to tell them about the simple things we do. We are running around Mali with simplicity and repeatable in mind, with buckets, barrels, and drip tubes in hand, encouraging women to build stick garden fences, and teaching and demonstrating to the poorest of the poor how to GRAVITY supply irrigated garden kits work where it does not rain for nine months a year. (Check Man Of Peace Development)

I am not even speaking the same development language as most International workers.

The people who contact me are rarely working among “abject” poverty, and they are almost always operating with a methodology ten notches above in cost and complexity.

Did you know that the bottom billion poorest on earth, most of whom are subsistence farmers, on average, own 1 hectare or less? In China 96% of the farms are 1 acre or less.  So why are we Internationals doing projects on 5, 10, 20 even 100 hectares? Not working with the true poor if they own that much land. (Andy Rayner)

Sometimes we throw MONEY at a project, often with little though about sustainability, or repeatably.  No, that is not fair… we all give lip service to these concepts. WE ALL DO. Yet, most of us don’t actually end up operating that way in the end, do we?  We begin to build thirty foot water towers, buy 250 horsepower gas run water pumps the size of a car. Heck, if there is no power, a generator the size of a car, or erect solar panel arrays the size of my house in Canada, same cost too. Man it is great for the ego to point to a green ten hectare project like that. Easy to sell the image of progress back home too. But I know locals can’t repeat that, and a great deal of dependency is created by that.

However, I bless them all saying, “Well, at least the moderately poor people are being helped too.” What else can you say , without being a little less of a human being?

What do you see with us? Look again at this picture. You have my wife and I standing among three or four women with a 20 liter drip irrigation bucket, some drip lines, on a dry piece of land. dozens of kilometers in the bush off some road.  The poorest of the poor. Nothing very complicated, costly, or flashy in this picture, is there?  I wish you could discover, truly discover the power in simplicity.

But we do not have any capital funding programs for buildings, 10 hectare land purchases, 4*4 trucks, houses, compounds, training centers. No programs to raise money for tractors, mechanical plows and harvesters, or to fill containers with supplies to…. to…. AND then to……

An old mentor with forty seven years of experience told me to never invest in property. “Rent anything, rent everything.” (Lew Cass)

People tort, “What if the rent is unreasonable, or a suitable building is not available?”

“There is always another solution. That solution is still more sustainable than building and maintaining property.”, he would say.

He stressed that we never know how long we will be, can be, or are permitted to be in a given area in Africa (The coup, radical jihad element take over in the north, and now Ebola all bring clarity now).  Also, we are supposed to be here to work ourselves out of a job, right?
When we rent we are free to move or relocate as needed, without the loss of huge capital funding investments. Capital investments distract huge sums of money from grassroots investment in work with local people.

We are not here building an institution or brand within this country. (Oooppps! Yes, most of us are), but to facilitate a change within the local people.

We, and our agency, should become invisible behind the people movement. But that is so backward to marketing and branding ideology today, isn’t it? And that is why our agency is small and will always struggle with funding. I’d rather help a few hundred locals in a way that does not create dependency, than ten thousand who are rife from the attitudes of dependency, waiting for the next funded thing to come along.  (Andy Rayner)

I had a rural Ugandan farmer email me about his onion patch. I took time to walk him through how to irrigate his small onion patch, on a slopping hill. That was real.

When westerners contact me, I often cringe because I am not even in their ball park in magnitude, nor magnificence. They soon realize we are miles apart in funding, and food security philosophy. What we do should be designed to be quickly scaled up to reach many people…. But not scaled up in cost and complexity which kills the movement.

Talk to me about how to grow a dozen varieties of food, on one acre or less, with greater harvest. If your idea is about something larger than 1/4 acre concept….  for one variety, It probably does not apply to the bottom billion.

My wife and me, a few buckets, some drip lines, standing in a dry and barren waste land, with some women, sowing some vegetable seeds. Then they showing their neighbour the same thing.Power in simplicity.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Harm Fokker says:

    permaculture…? simple think about what can make the system more self-sufficient…. search the internet for some permaculture skills, that will help you!


    1. Yes we are slowly building up to the wholistic permaculture concept. The region we work in us almost 100% illiterate women. They do not speak a written language. So it’s slow going. We began with drip irrigation, then introduced compost tea free fertalizing, now ground cover cincept. Next is no till concept and then companion interplanting with trees etc…. been fun. Thanks for sharing. You unto Perma? What region?


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