Thursday, January 21, 2010

Relative Deprivation in Urban and Rural Settings

It's been a mixed week so far for Ribbon of Hope in Nakuru. We spent the first few days in the hot, dry Mogotio, a few hundred metres from the equator. Despite the heat and lack of rain, there is a river nearby. Ribbon of Hope purchased a petrol powered pump, and later a foot operated pump, to irrigate their fields there. The results on our fields was so good that owners of neighbouring fields have been borrowing the pump to irrigate their crops, again, with encouraging results.

We have started trying to harvest the sizable crop of beans but very heavy rains at the end of the growing season resulted in extensive new growth, which means that each bean plant contains a mixture of beans that are ready to harvest and beans that are still green. The ones that are ready to harvest are starting to pop out of their pods and the green ones need to stay in the ground for another few days or even weeks. It's a bit of a dilemma and we are looking for ways to work around this. But the field has produced and continues to produce other vegetables and, in the end, it will more than pay for this year's and perhaps next year's costs.

The recently rented field that has been planted with watermelons is doing well and the constant irrigation, weeding and other work required gives casual employment to several local people. Mogotio is very short of jobs, most people do casual work of some kind and that's scarce enough as well. The area has depended for a long time on the sisal industry, which dominates the area completely but product output is very low and, for some reason, the sisal factories don't seem to like paying their employees. For some employees, arrears go back years.

So there are people who are happy to work in fields and there is a ready market for the produce. The soil is very good and with proper tending, seems to be well suited to quite a range of vegetables. Some of Ribbon of Hope's modest aims of reducing poverty and dependency to a small extent in Mogotio have been realised and we hope that this progress continues well into the future. It is a credit to the people there who have been so willing to work hard to ensure that things have worked out well.

There are several other similar projects in other villages and they have not all worked out so well. One perfectly viable smallholding has been neglected to the extent that there is little there now but weeds. My colleague and I felt ashamed when we walked around it because it stands out from the surrounding fields, which are packed with greenery, maize, beans, fodder crops and others. This sort of wastage of money, labour, resources and opportunity needs to be avoided, but how? Lots of people say they want help but Ribbon of Hope has limited resources. The only way they can help is by starting sustainable projects, ones that require a small initial outlay that can eventually be returned to the organisation.

One of my colleagues pointed out to me when I arrived in Nakuru that the rural based projects tend to do well but urban based projects, or projects involving urban based people, tend to fail. This has been demonstrated to me over and over again. Big NGOs don't tend to go to villages, even ones quite close to big towns. Villages and rural areas seem to be overlooked by funds, schemes, initiatives and projects, yet many people there welcome any opportunities that present themselves.

But people who are based in urban areas seem to have NGOs knocking at their doors (beating them down, even). It is not an exaggeration to say that there are people who join each and every group in order to see what they can get from it. Some have several different group meetings every day of the working week. If they don't get something to take home, something immediate and tangible, they lose interest very quickly. Ribbon of Hope runs relatively short term projects but even three to four months is too long for some people who are used to receiving cash handouts, food, clothing, per diems, courses in making things (which they subsequently never make) and who knows what else.

There is a lot of poverty in urban areas, I wouldn't wish to suggest otherwise. And I'm pretty sure there are plenty of people who know nothing about this system of 'support group hopping' and are unaware of benefits that they could really do with. But small community based organisations who can't provide people with something to take home cannot compete with organisations who can. So perhaps, given our size and means, we should concentrate on rural based groups. Perhaps we shouldn't try to box above our weight.

The last remaining urban based group that we worked with may now be drifting away and I won't be shedding any tears for them. As for the remaining rural based groups, most are doing well, not as well as Mogotio, but it's early days. We have some great ideas to try out over the next year or so. There have been more encouraging signs than discouraging ones and perhaps now is a good time to do some selective pruning and simply rip out the plants that will hold back the others in the long run. Sorry for the cheesy ending but it seems apt.


No comments: