Invest and Aid African Development

Garret Wyse, Tramore with African farm workers from Amfri, who works in the dried fruit processing plant.  This is where Western money is invested to process local food products.

Garret Wyse, Tramore with African farm workers from Amfri, who works in the dried fruit processing plant. This is where Western money is invested to process local food products.

At the same time the borrowers, small farmers in 30 developing nations from Bolivia to Uganda and Bangladesh are now in a position to help themselves and their families.

The loans the farmers receive are used to boost production and incomes and therefore be able to provide more of the basic necessities of life for their families, from healthcare and education to housing and transport.

This concentration on trading and developing partnerships between developed and developing world economies is likely to offer the people of developing nations their best chance yet to rise from the abject poverty which has blighted them for generations.

This first article outlines the process through which Garrett helped the poor to help themselves, and also got to experience an unforgettable journey into the ‘Heart of Africa’.

‘Misungu’ in the Heart of Africa

Going into the supermarket I had a feeling it would be strange, although I was not quite prepared for just how much. Upon seeing the ‘Heart of Africa’ dried fruit for sale, the whole cycle was complete. I had after all, loaned money to farmers in Uganda through a local microfinance institution (MFI: a community bank for poor people in developing nations), who had in turn used this money to buy various farming equipment, and the result of this process was there in front of me, in a packet labelled, the ‘Heart of Africa’.

Another aspect of this process is even more impressive, the fact that the farmers family now had extra income with which they could and would improve their homes, be able to provide for better medical care for their families and also be able to afford to send children to school. This is where the real impact is felt. I was getting a strange sensation, knowing I had done something positive, yet also more fully aware of the plight of everyday life for these people.

Irish links

The Heart of Africa is a brand of high quality foods made available in Ireland through Traidlinks, an Irish Non-Governmental Organisation which is funded by the Irish government to promote the Irish private sector engaging with developing nations.

In Uganda recently having talked with these farmers and walked their small plots of land, we heard stories of sadness and sorrow about the ravages of HIV, ongoing crippling poverty, and ever-present corruption, as they permeate through everyday life. This was their reality and day-to-day life, it was my idea of a living nightmare in places.

Even so the sheer enthusiasm and vibrancy for life in Uganda and in the countryside is continually uplifting and inspiring. There are masses of people everywhere you look, everyone is eking out an existence and getting on with life. From the saddest of circumstances, it is quite obvious that there is a driving desire within people to improve their lives, and that of their families.

Heart Of Africa

There were quite a number of people and organisations involved in getting this particular produce from farm to shelf, from the grower and the

local financial institutions, which lent them the money to buy the necessary inputs for the farm, to the processors, Amfri Farms in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Also involved was ‘Traidlinks’ an Irish NGO working in the space between the private sector and the aid and development sector, attempting to bridge the gap between trade and aid, as was the Ugandan government, and various supermarket chains in Ireland putting the ‘Heart of Africa’ brand on the shelves.

Fiorsceal

Watching a programme on TG4 recently called ‘You White People’, which in Luganda, one of the languages spoken in Uganda, is

‘Misungu’, brought home to me the vast distance and difference between reality and perception of developing nations. ‘Misungu’ was used to refer to strangers in general, but has morphed over time to predominantly denote white people. The young boy who was the focus of the programme, issued an open invitation to come and visit Uganda and see how things are for ourselves.

Well a few weeks ago we had the privilege of doing just that, although this was a slightly different trip. Having invested as a private individual, through a special investment fund, which invests in small bank-like institutions (Microfinance Institutions) in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and one of these happened to be in Uganda.

Also it transpired that some of the clients of these institutions had gotten loans and used them to grow organic produce, which is on sale in Ireland under the ‘Heart of Africa’ label, which is available in Superquinn in Waterford and other places.

So if my thinking was right I could find people who I had loaned money to and who then grew produce, which is available in Ireland. And so off I went armed with a camera and notepad.

Easy access

We were lucky enough to meet many of the various people involved in this particular development cycle from a farm in Uganda to a supermarket shelf in Ireland, with the money from the ‘Heart of Africa’ going into the pockets of growers and processors in Kampala and outlying areas. The first inclination we learned of the long relationship between Ireland and Uganda was at the airport on the way there, when I was castigated for dithering at the customs gate. The officer was merely perturbed that I had waited at all, what with my Irish passport. I immediately got the impression that I would not have too much trouble over here, and so with John the taxi driver struck off into the Kampala night.

The streets are full of trader’s right until it is dark, and some even beyond. Street lighting is at a minimum and traffic lights can sometimes work, overall though no major problems.

We arrived at the missionary late at night and were greeted by Winnie the housekeeper, a Kampala woman who would be our host for the next three weeks. Included in the price was room and board and all the stories you could listen to from a vast array of travelling missionaries and development workers who would pass through, either leaving Uganda and going home, or returning to work. And all this for the princely sum of € 20 per night.

Keen to get out and see as much as possible, although a trip up north where the Lords Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony roamed, was not advised. Child soldiers, driven on a toxic mixture of drugs, sex slaves, guns and a strange interpretation of the ten commandments, were not the ones to attempt to ingratiate yourself with.

There has been progress in getting Kony to sign up to an agreement that would end years of the brutalisation of the northern part of the country. There was no trouble apart from up north and being Irish I could not help but feel a little familiar with this interpretation of the situation.

Trade And Aid

Arriving at the dried fruit processing plant in the suburbs of Kampala in the ministry car with the various officials We were invited to witness a shipment of processed fruit being exported this felt a tad strange.

We had just gotten a little lost and we were out walking ahead of the government jeep trying to find the address where the processing plant was, as I was the only one who had been there before, a few days previously. Again it struck me that the lack of proper signposting and maps, could lead one astray.

This is how it must have felt being a German on a bicycle roaming the highways and byways of Ireland in the 1970’s.

We eventually got there and sure enough a whole consignment of ‘Heart of Africa’ produce was ready to be transported to Ireland. And many of the people involved in this process had come to witness this. The Ugandan national press were in attendance also.

This ensured that there would be coverage of the event in the newspapers. Whatever about a good story about Africa in the Irish press, a good story about Ugandan business, operating at a global standard and exporting to the EU in the Ugandan press, could only help in some little way. Ugandans are quite a proud people and the thought of produce being exported to Ireland was a cause of some excitement.

This was a collaborative effort of many parties, with the end result being more money in the pockets of small growers in rural Uganda, foreign currency coming to Uganda, where everyone gained, trade with an element of aid, a model which shall be emulated no doubt.

Fortunate enough to be able to include myself in this list of people gaining from this process as my share in the investment fund I have invested in has gained in value.

(about 4% a year for the past three years).

Traidlinks

Traidlinks is an Irish NGO tasked with the building of links between the Irish business community and the Irish Aid programme in developing countries. Uganda is a somewhat natural starting point with Irelands’ long association with the country.

As such they have developed valuable links with all sectors of the Ugandan business community, from the government down to the growers. And it was this chain of production, promotion, and distribution, which was instrumental in what I was witnessing, both in the fields of Uganda and in my local supermarket.

Win Win

This was literally a situation where everybody gained. It is perhaps somewhat unique in this sense. However, the essence of the exercise proves that there is ample room for similar cycles of development to come into being.

Also the fact that Irish people were involved at all stages shows what a concerted effort can do. The Irish government has been investing money in Uganda for many years through its Official Development Assistance programme, Irish Aid. Irish civil society has been investing in Africa for years through the missionaries and more lately through Irish NGO’s. In some instances missionary groups become aid and development agencies, such as Concern, emerging from missionary work in Africa in the 1960’s.

This emergence of production chains involving government’s, aid agencies and private investors would appear to overlap nicely with this evolutionary element of aid delivery. Complementary programmes may then involve people and organisation’s from public, private and civil society sectors all interested in bringing people further out of poverty, from destitution, to survival, to prosperity. It is but one small example of what may be possible. It also offers an indication of how others may become involved in the broader aid and development movement.

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