Saturday, July 14, 2007


“But we didn’t add any water! *humph* ma ma ma ma ma, you’re trying to cheat us!”

I see Simon Malambo’s jolly round face looking back at me, his round eyes wide, and round cheeks puffed from his open smile. I hear the laughter of recognition coming from the likes of Mr. Mwenda, the dairy representative.

I shake my head and reply “ ah ahn. No no, I tested it, and there is WATER! In the HONEY! It is YOU who is trying to cheat me! I expected PURE HONEY! I can’t buy this now!’

What the!? You might be wondering ‘Is Ka-Hay getting into the honey business?’ Actually, no, I’m not. It’s better than that. I’m acting. That’s right, making like Julia Roberts, playing Ms. Nyabako, the Honey buyer who has discovered that the honey she was sourcing from smallholder farmers has been diluted with water.

Why you ask? And what in the world does this have to do with poverty reduction in Africa?

Over the last month or so, I’ve been struggling to sit down and actually write about what I’m doing here. Not because I don’t know what to tell you - oh god, that’s certainly not the problem. No, my problem is that I don’t know where to start because the issues in development just aren’t that simple, and sometimes I feel like things need to be perfectly nuanced in order to properly communicate the details and subtleties of the realities that I’m working it. And when I think about those subtleties, my head goes into a spin thinking about where to begin, what to include, what not to include, how to say it.

It has been the start that has stopped me.

But I’ve decided that it’s time to get past that because at the rate I’m going, I’ll never be posting again. I’ve accepted that it’s never going to be perfect and I might miss out key points but that’s the way things go. So, here we go, and if you have questions, let me know and I’ll try to clarify.

I’ve got a number of projects on the go and one of my primary responsibilities for now is to develop a mediation program to resolve agricultural disputes. MEDIATION, just quickly, is a form of dispute resolution that is based on common interests, focused on preserving relationships between disputing parties and aims to create mutually beneficial solutions.

PROFIT’s overarching goal is to strengthen agricultural industries in which large number of small holder farmers participate as a means for poverty reduction at the household level. We approach this in various ways, including linking relevant players (farmers, input suppliers, buyers, service providers) together, and facilitating an environment that ensures that these relationship are sustainable and conducive for industry competitiveness.

While this objective may sound easy, making it happen is quite difficult. For this intervention to work, strong relationships between all players- private sector companies, small holder farmers need to be in place.

Agricultural Input company and Farmers meeting (click to view)

Currently the realities in which small holder farmers operate and private sector companies operate are vastly different. Rural communities tend to do business through their friends and family network and make decisions based on factors that are heavily linked to the local social structure. On the other hand, private sector companies are outsiders to these communities they operate with a set of standards that carry very little weight with rural communities. So, for these relationships to be strong, small holder farmers will need to learn how to participate in the formal business economy and private sector companies will need to learn how to work with rural communities and understand their behaviour and the social context in which decisions are made.

We believe that this will be entirely possible, but also understand that no system is perfect and that it will be natural for disputes to arise.

Currently, the only means currently available to resolve disputes is through the court system which is ineffective for a number of reasons including, inefficient, does not take agricultural priorities into account, creates win-lose/right-wrong situations rather than mutually beneficial solutions, geographically inaccessible, and costly.

And so, this is where mediation comes in. Establishing a strong mediation program in Zambia is part of PROFIT’s exit strategy as currently, PROFIT often mediates the relationships and that isn’t sustainable in the long term.

To do so, I am working with Zambian National Farmers Union (ZNFU). ZNFU is one Zambia’s oldest institutions and home to some 30 000 + small holder farmers in all corners of the country. It will be the institutional home to the mediation program and will be a critical player in promote strong and productive agricultural relationships between all players in the agricultural sector.

Jeremiah Kasalo (f), ZNFU Agribusiness Manager in one of pilot districts and Charity Ngoma ( PROFIT) during mediation training

We have trained 20 ZNFU staff and provincial chairmen in mediation skills and are piloting formal services in three districts before scaling this up nationally. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting with each of the pilot districts and working closely with the Agribusiness managers and lead farmers to develop the implementation strategy, as well as raise awareness of what mediation is and the role that ZNFU will play. It is during this time that I had my moment of glory playing Ms. Nyabako.

Henry Chikwanda and Simon Malambo, North and Southern Province Chairperson

And then over the next few weeks, we’ll be pushing a lot of community promotions and also identifying how to best create buy in from private sector players.

I'll do my best to keep you updated on how this goes!

Hope all is well back home in Canada or wherever you are!