Sunday, January 24, 2010

Income Generation Activities Galore

Just over a year ago I appealed to people I know, especially on Facebook, to help me to identify possible income generation activities suitable for developing countries where little capital, skills or infrastructure are available. I was overwhelmed by the slightly fewer than two responses I received and the first one didn't fly. So I set about researching on the internet, contacting people and talking to anyone who was prepared to discuss the subject. Now that I have started making a list, I decided to post it here on my blog so that others trying to research the same thing won't have to start right at the beginning. And maybe some people will even contribute to the list!

The list is by no means exhaustive and the categories are just based on the way things look from here. They overlap to some extent and they are in no particular order, though I think the first two are particularly important because local acceptability can make or break an income generation activity, no matter how 'good' it may seem. And some of the activities that are already widely carried out have a lot to recommend them. The community based organisation I work with, Ribbon of Hope, already grow a number of crops and have financed several livestock programmes. But it's time to branch out, try new things, diversify and ensure that people get the maximum benefit possible.

The approach we are likely to take is to ask our clients what gaps they feel there are in their local market, what local materials are available or could be made available. Also, what skills are there, what do people already know how to do. There must be local products that we don't know about and sometimes it turns out that people can make or do things but just hadn't realised the value of that skill. I'm not sure in advance what we will gain from this or how we are going to elicit the sort of information we want, but I think it could be a valuable exercise. Rather than just teaching people a skill or a few skills, we would also like them to be able to assess all the opportunities that exist and consider acquiring as many skills as possible. So that's the first category.

The second category is to get people to help us make an inventory of what could be produced in the area and sold in a local market or business. I'm thinking of things like sunflower or sesame oil, peanut butter, jam from seasonal fruits, honey, butter, cheese or anything else, even things that are already produced but for which there is little or no market, yet. I'm thinking of a campsite I stayed at in Tanzania which sourced things like this in a relatively remote area. The result was spectacular because many of these products here are only available in highly processed, branded forms (which taste disgusting). They should be produced locally if at all possible.

Ribbon of Hope already supports several shambas (smallholdings), which I have mentioned several times on this blog. Those smallholdings should produce everyday foods that people in the area need but they could also produce high value crops, such as sesame and sunflower seed, where clients can also produce the sesame or sunflower oil. These have the advantage of yielding highly nutritious oil cake as a by-product, which makes excellent animal feed. We should produce animal fodder, especially fodder that can be stored for use during dry periods, which are all too regular and protracted here. And there are all sorts of interesting crops we could consider growing, just to keep things diverse.

Dairy cattle, goats and chickens are a well tried income generation scheme and they are usually successful. Because they are such a good bet, they can require a fair amount of capital, which some of the more risky and less well tried schemes don't. But not everyone can afford to take risks. I'd say, get the low risk schemes started first and then add the others in at leisure. We mustn't forget the hides and furs of stock such as cattle, goats and sheep, either. Certainly, there are many uses for sheep wool, regardless of the quality. But another type of livestock that you don't see so much around here is rabbits, especially the very big ones that are bred for meat. There must be many uses for their fur, too.

There are good opportunities for different types of food processing here, especially food drying. Fruit and vegetables can be solar dried at very low cost. Many crops, such as mango, pineapple, banana and tomato flood the market at certain times of the year and a lot is dumped. These are all good when dried. Ribbon of Hope produced a beautiful crop of coriander in the last few weeks and this would be as good dried as fresh, except that it would be a far more viable crop if we could dry large amounts of it. Mushrooms are grown locally and are a potentially lucrative and nutritious crop that is also good dried. Yoghurt is already widely produced, cheese isn't so popular and maybe there's a reason for that. But many things could be made with local ingredients, such as biscuits, cakes, bread, cassava chips and the like.

Some of the areas here are blighted with a monoculture, especially sisal. But I'm sure people could be persuaded to make things of higher value rather than rope, which is how most of the local sisal ends up. We'll see what people who have been surrounded with sisal all their lives come up with. Not too far from here, silk worms are farmed, so that's another possibility. I've mentioned before the possibility of producing reusable sanitary pads. There are probably going to be lots of objections but many people, especially young girls, can't afford disposable ones so it's worth some effort. Leather goods may be another possibility, especially if local people are successfully breeding relevant livestock. No doubt there are other artisanal products, such as pottery, candles and whatever else. Sorry for being vague but the gaps will be filled in eventually.

Ribbon of Hope has already funded a successful project selling water and this raised surprisingly large amounts of money. Another possibility would be to pasteurize water using solar cookers or solar heaters and selling it. Included in this category, not many people in this dry province of Rift Valley use irrigation, nor do many people harvest rainwater. This is short-sighted and even journalists are apt to bemoan the fact that there is an unwise dependency on rain fed agriculture throughout Kenya (if journalists notice, it’s probably been a problem for decades). It's time to change this, even if it's only to a small extent. Equally, many people don't irrigate their land, even when there is a source of water close by. Since Ribbon of Hope started irrigating its fields, neighbouring farmers have started borrowing their pump. So it is catching on!

One of my favourite types of income generation activity or cost saving activity relates to fuel or energy. I have mentioned solar cookers, such as simple reflective boxes or more complicated parabolic cookers. These are great for cooking food, drying food and for pasteurizing water or milk. Some of our projects involve milk production so free pasteurization would help reduce costs a lot. I've also mentioned fuel briquettes made from waste of various kinds. People could produce these for their own household but they could also produce them for sale in the local area. Wood and charcoal, the most common cooking fuels, are expensive and likely to go up in price. Solar is cheaper, cleaner and better for the environment and could be used to supplement other sources of fuel. Biogas is more difficult to produce but we are hoping to get some to train us in how to produce the stuff.

Some trees and shrubs could be a useful addition to any shamba. The Kenyan government is thinking of introducing a law about people growing a certain number of trees per acre. True to form, they are not giving any advice as to what trees should be grown and which should be avoided (there are some serious problems that result from choosing the wrong trees). And people with very small, possibly rented shambas, will not want to risk reducing their yield by sticking something unproductive in their fields. But there are productive trees and ones that are good for the soil. There are some that produce fruit without compromising the field crops and others that produce oils and even animal fodder. There are trees that can benefit in various ways, so these should be carefully selected.

Finally, some organisations end up with assets that they only sometimes use, such as equipment and tools. These could be rented out to neighbouring farmers or swapped for other benefits, such as labour or tools that are lacking. Tools and machinery are prohibitively expensive here, which is why so many farmers try to fly by the seat of their pants and sometimes fail. Even rainwater harvesting and irrigation involve costs that small farmers can't always meet. But they might be able to share, for a fee, of course. Ribbon of Hope's neighbours have increased their yields so much in the last few months by using their petrol pump that they could easily afford to pay a small fee.

Well, that's it for the moment, but that's quite a list. I'll continue researching and noting progress (and problems) and I'll add links to further information when I can get around to it. I hope people find this list useful and if anyone has other ideas for income generation activities, please let me know. Thank you in anticipation!



Silvia said...

Good post, thanks! It might be a good idea to also include bikes in your list, even though they are not really new. I know here in Zomba several NGO's are assessing how and by whom they are used. They are also looking at the types of bike parts available to see which ones are the most sturdy and can be recommended to the local users.

They are now trying to supply bikes to the health care workers in rural areas as they tend to go around to patients instead of having the patients go in to the health centers which is often more expensive than treatment at home.
Also, they can be used to transport sick people to hospitals on specific bike carts. Here, transport is a major issue - many can't afford it, not even on the local mini busses, so bikes seem a good alternative.

They are also good for transporting things to the market. Over the last few years, women have also started using bikes.

I think there are also things you could hook up to a bike to produce power while driving.

Simon said...

Hi Silvia
Thanks, you are right, some of the people we work with are community health workers and they have been issued with bikes. Unfortunately, bikes are too expensive for most people but transporting goods to market is very cheap, though a little insecure sometimes.

Interestingly, some people in other countries have developed bicycle ambulances, which would be very good. However, we don't have the money to pay for the materials and skills to make one yet.

Personally, I'm a big fan of bikes and have long been a cyclist. But I too have heard about the small motors you can get for bicycles.

I have also heard of some people who developed a bike powered mobile phone charger and a few other things like that.

I was thinking of adding another category of income generating activity: gadgets, such as the mobile phone charger. I've also seen instructions for making a candle powered bag sealer (as an alternative to an expensive electric one) and various other cool ideas that are cheap to make.

Thanks for your post, Silvia, it's a good one to add to the collection.

Silvia said...

Hey Simon!
The bikes here are actually donations. They get a container of them every few months. The fundi's here fix them up and then they are sold to mainly NGO's for a low price.They are way more sturdy then the chinese bikes that come in...

Simon said...

Hi Silvia
I'm assuming you're Silvia R! I see what you mean, do you know the name of any organisation donating them? Most of the bikes I've seen here are the standard Chinese or Indian ones and they are long lasting but heavy. But the less common types don't have standard parts so are difficult to repair. Thanks for the tip, it's a good idea and I'll look into it.

Silvia said...

Yep it's me! :-)
Here is the link to Africycle:

let me know if you need some contacts.

Keep up the good blogging!!!

Simon said...

Thanks a million Silvia, I'll take a look at that. I know donated clothes come here but they are sold on a strictly commercial basis. I'll talk to the people we work with, I know some in the isolated areas are interested in making a bicycle ambulance and I have the plans, but it looks more difficult that it may seem at first! Good luck in Malawi, hope it's all going well there.