As we prepare to go back to Zambia for another short term (May 8 to June 25) our neighbour Hans tells me, “We’ve sent millions down to Africa. And what has it done?” It’s a comment we hear from many others too. The prevalent opinion is that the developed world keeps pumping money into Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and there is no improvement. I decided to do some checking to see if that is true or not.
In 2000 the United Nations set a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to reach by 2015, with eight targets – including reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half, gender equality in schools, primary school completion, clean water, and environmental sustainability. It was a monumental moment, as never before have so many nations – both developing and developed – stood together in solidarity to work hard towards these goals. The developed world promised money and support. A lot of money. Did it help?
Yes. To even my surprise, apparently it did. Despite so many reports of corruption (which is very real), despite the reports of all that should yet be done, progress has been made. Check out these two World Bank and UN reports. The first one is for Sub Saharan Africa. The second one is for Zambia, which interests me particularly.
UN Report for Zambia meeting MDG
There’s a long ways to go yet though. Sobering to me is that the rural areas of Zambia have much higher rates of extreme poverty than the urban – 67% in 2006 (but down from 81% in 1991) compared to 20% in urban areas. 51 Percent of the population of Zambia still doesn’t meet the minimum level of dietary energy consumption – which means they don’t get enough to eat. That’s where we’ve been trying to help as we consult with small scale farmers.
Zambia has more water and fertile soil than many other countries. We’ve been there long enough to see that small scale farmers can produce enough food for their families and more if they follow conservation farming (CF) practices, which don’t use a lot of external inputs. Many in Zambia – both NGOs and government agencies are working hard to promote CF among small farmers, and we’ve seen it being practised more and more. But not nearly enough.
Boet Pretorius spends his time travelling over southern Africa to teach CF principles as part of Foundations for Farming. Robert and I took his five day course two years ago. Boet summed things up nicely in a discussion he had with the Tanzanian Finance Minister some time ago. The Minister asked him what his success rate was with his work.
“Between two and five percent,” Boet answered.
“Then why do you do it,” the Minister asked him.
“Because of the two to five percent.”
It’s a sobering thought, such a small success rate. But it often seems to be reality, even for us. Sometimes we’re discouraged, wondering why we are there. Then we see someone prospering because of something we helped them with, and it is enough to keep going again. Because it’s more than just the two to five percent – it’s everyone they influence and teach.
Improvement is slow, but there is improvement. That’s encouraging.