Finding a business solution to Tanzania’s agriculture problem | 

DSC_0275-e1380999665533-300x451Iringa, Tanzania – In center of this East African nation, two organizations are working with poor farmers to prove that business, rather than traditional aid, is the key to making sustainable gains out of poverty.

The idea is a popular one in the development community, and seemingly obvious, but moving from concept to reality has it challenges.

The government of Tanzania and foreign donors are intensely focused on improving food security. Two foreign firms, Cheetah Development and the One Acre Fund, are promoting market-based solutions to farmers that they contend are more productive and sustainable than charity or hand-outs.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that both are non-profit organizations that depend upon charity and donations in the West to catalyze their for-profit business solutions in Africa. But more important is that One Acre Fund is monitoring and evaluating its projects; Cheetah simply assumes if people buy-in to its small for-profit venture here, that’s proof enough of its impact.

The two organizations are neighbors in Iringa, a small agricultural community in a very dry part of the country. The rains have not yet arrived and red dust coats the withered maize stalks.

Though located literally next door to each other, Cheetah and One Acre Fund take significantly different approaches to the needs of Tanzanian farmers. Cheetah takes a page from the business handbook, having launched a for-profit subsidiary that tracks sales of products – like its newly launched solar food drying system – to determine what is or is not working. One Acre Fund (OAF) offers loans, does farmer training and evaluates progress each step of the way.

The number of people reached by the two may reflect their respective tactics. Reservoir, a business under Cheetah that sells solar drying racks to farmers, has reached only 55 farmers so far this year. OAF worked with 1,150 farmers in the 2012 growing season, its first in Tanzania, and will enroll more than 3,000 for the upcoming planting season. Continue reading

At the intersection of health and peace, a genocide survivor returns to Burundi | 

Burundi has some of the world’s worst health indicators, including high rates of child malnutrition and mortality. It suffered from the same genocidal catastrophe that Rwanda did in the mid-1990s.

But you don’t hear much about Burundi in aid and development circles. In this week’s podcast, we explore this enigma with Deogratias Niyizonkiza – Deo for short – a survivor of the genocide who is trying to rebuild his country through his non-profit, community based health organization Village Health Works.

Deo’s extraordinary life is the subject of Tracy Kidder’s best-selling book The Strength In What Remains. He’s without question one of the most inspiring people I’ve met this year. Tune into hear Deo discuss his escape from genocide, what it was like to arrive here penniless from a country most have never heard of (there’s a funny story there) and Village Heatlth Works’ truly grassroots community-building work.

Listen or download the mp3 below.

Good governance is not one-size-fits all | 

One of the pillars of economic development is governance.

Programs like the broad-based Washington Consensus relied upon improving governments to ensure that economic reforms such as trade liberalization and privatization of public enterprises. The alphabet soup of major donors like the World Bank, USAID and DfID have a applied wide-stroke solutions to governance.

The policies that made up the Washington Consensus did not help out Latin America, says BU Associate Professor of International Relations, Kevin Gallagher in the Guardian.

The 30-year record of the Washington consensus was abysmal for Latin America, which grew less than 1% per year in per capita terms during the period, in contrast with 2.6% during the period 1960-81. East Asia, on the other hand, which is known for its state-managed globalisation (most recently epitomised by China), has grown 6.7% per annum in per capita terms since 1981, actually up from 3.5% in that same period. Continue reading

The most amazing story from a most neglected country | 


The East African country of Burundi is so poor and neglected it doesn’t even seem to be of interest to most aid organizations.

“We are off the map, almost completely ignored,” said Deogratias Niyizonkiza, an expat Burundian who thankfully just goes by “Deo.”

Maybe you know Deo’s story. It’s in a book by Tracy Kidder called Strength in What Remains. And maybe growing up in such a neglected place with such a violent past will explain Deo’s amazing story of survival, perseverance and ingenuity.

Maybe you want to hear more from Deo himself, which many did Thursday in Seattle at an event sponsored by Global Washington.

I wanted to talk to Deo because his story is a glimpse into a mostly neglected part of the horrific tale we may only know as the Rwandan genocide. But mostly, it’s an amazing story of how one man survived, thrived and now has returned to his forlorn country to help it rebuild itself.

Deo, Seattle host Andrew Haring, and Village Health Works co-founder Dziwe Ntaba

“He hasn’t read it,” laughed Dziwe Ntaba, Deo’s long-time friend, physician colleague and co-founder of a project in rural Burundi, Village Health Works, aimed at addressing the needs of the poorest people living in one of the world’s poorest places. Continue reading