Saturday, September 28, 2013

Quails, an alternative to chicken farming?

Chicken production can be very profitable both in Kenya and Ethiopia, but it can also be a tricky business (see my previous blog post about this topic). Indeed, it is a business where barriers to entry are low, meaning that many producers can join the market easiely, produce and prices will drop.  Therefore challenges, next to disease control are, accessing the distribution chain and produce for the more difficult seasons (fodder shortage, cold weather) when prices are high.

During my last trip to Nairobi, I visited my friend who avoids the price volatility by producing a niche product : quails.

Batteries full of quails
She produces them in the suburb of Nairobi in a shelter standing in her garden, in batteries. Ok, this does not correspond to European animal welfare standards, but this is Kenya. You cannot ask better conditions for animals than for human beings. Nonetheless, as quails are considered as wildlife, you need an authorization to keep them from the Kenyan government to produce them.

Quails eggs ready for incubation
She is breeding the quails, using her own eggs, and incubating them. At this stage, her business is to sell young chicks, and as the business is very good, her small incubator is not sufficient anymore, she made a deal with a friend, so that she can access a big incubator.
the small incubator
The new born quails are kept together with one adult quail and kept warm with a simple bulb in a box, at least until the building of the shelter for young quails will be finalized.

Young quails
At this stage, the major business is producing young quail chicks and sell them farmers. But the long term success will depend on how the quail market in Kenya will develop. Will quail egg become a standard product in supermarket? will eating quail meat become a trend? a gourmet item?

Wanna produce your own quails? you need some information or even some chicks in Kenya? Feel free to contact Treazah with this form.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Can we take back the power over our food chain? a reflection on food sovereignty

Food scandals are getting more and more frequent, the wrong meat in European lasagna, Chinese children dying of poisoned milk power. As a result, food sovereignty is becoming an emerging issue. Some month ago i received an interesting book, entitled food for thought, on food, power and human rights, by Gunnar Brulin and Malin Klingzell-Brulin, from a friend who interviewed the worker's unions.

It is a book that shows how the big companies have been taking over the power of our food chain, making us consumer powerless. We don't know anymore where the food comes from where and by whom it has been processed.

The authors of the book work for the Swedish food worker's union, and take the reader on a travel around the world, meeting those who produce the cheap food for us. From the Marabou (the famous Swedish sweets producer) precarious jobs (contract jobs only) in Sweden, to the coke drivers in the Phillipines with 12-15 working hours, passing through the shrimp production with child labor in Thailand, or the Ghanian producer suffering from dumping products. The book shows us how workers in the food industry have less and less power. This is pretty critical for our food chain, as theses people are the one responsible for the quality of our food. If we loose control over these jobs we loose control of the quality of food. But the book is not only negative, it also illustrates some small battles can be won, showing that a better food chain is possible, as for example with RSI victims working for Nestle in Brasil.

What i learned from this book is, that it is possible to take the power back of our food chain. "It is not easy to achieve sustainable production chains. It requires that the purchaser in the retail sector pay a reasonable price for food. Quality comes at a price. The different part of the chain need to be transparent and monitorable. It also requires that the workers themselves, via their trade unions can ensure that their working conditions are decent. Better jobs security means safer food. Government and other organization must be able to guarantee that production compiles with official standards and is environmentally sustainable." (taken from the conclusions of the book p 213).
"The right to food concerns everyone's right to a livelihood. The food shortage, hunger, is an issues for the UN and the ILO where nations, employers and trade unions can meet and make decisions that government promise to follow. It is crucial that there a jobs with a living wage. The trade unions member were have met are involved in food productions globally and locally. There doesn't need to be a conflict between these, if they compete on fair terms.  " (taken from the conclusion p. 220)

Next to enlightening stories and conclusions, the book has also a great appendix showing facts about our globalized food chain, from the seed and fertilizer company to the consumer, showing where the power truly is.

Sad that such a good book is so hardly accessible (you can order it from the union directly). If the Swedish workers' union were serious about transforming the food system, a first step would be to get his enlightening book to a wider public. Maybe it could be an idea to set it online for free? 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

benefit sharing mechanisms to insure sustainable tourism

Rural tourism is a tricky business, it can represent an opportunity for a rural community, but it can also break the ties community has, through making some people very rich and some very poor. To avoid this, it is important to find option to make community as a whole benefit from tourism, but this without killing the entrepreneurship of individuals.

Recently i visited a community that has been building its own lodge. Today  would like to share with you how the community has been organised, so that the community as a whole can benefit from tourism.

The first thing that stroke me, is that each household had to hand in some land, that would then become communal land. This is a hudge step for Ethiopian smallholders who just recently got land security (i.e. long term leasing) from the goverment. On this newly communal land the lodge has been build and registered under the community's name. It has a board and a manager who work for the lodge. They also manage the bank account that is on the name of the community. As this lodge is at its very beginning the community has decided to save money, so that they could invest it further into the tourism industry or to keep if for an exceptionally difficult situation for everyone (such has hunger). There are clear rule on how money from the lodge can be used.

The material from which the lodge is build, as well as the baskets and other items for sale  are locally made by the women's labour exchange organisation. They are organised in groups of 20 women. Each group has its own bank account on which the money from a sale goes. The women then decide on how to distribute this money.

We were discussing pricing of goods sold to international tourists, and see how they would actually handle the value added from tourism. For them, it was always clear that they would charge a bit more (but also mentioning they would always stay fair) to international tourist. We discovered that any items sold would be first cashed by the community lodge and then paid to the women's group. In that manner it would be easy to fix a tax, insuring that the women's group get a fair price (why not 10-20% higher than local price) but what is above that would stay on the lodge's account and can be used for the whole community.We also discussed that they could actually sell goods at local prices but then charge an entry fee to foreign tourists which could be paid to the lodge, and then be used by the community.

We were pretty impressed by the smart way this community is organised to share benefits of tourism with the community as a whole. These mechanisms allow us to be sure that tourism will not hurt them, but contribute to real rural development. They earn the money they need through their own effort (i.e. do not depend on aid) and can decide themselves about what their priorities are to spend the money. What ever they do with the money, they will be feeling the owner, use it efficiently and maintain the purshased things/ investment. Also they will make choices that are feasible and useful to them (even if we sometimes might not understand these priorities).

In order to not forget anything that the community representative told us, we made a movie to capture the discussion. This quite lengthy movie, shows how difficult it was to understand clearly how the community is organised and how their benefit sharing mechanism works. But thanks to the patience of the whole team, we finally could understand the benefit sharing mechanism that could be summerized into a blog post... a great thanks to all who made this visit possible, and more particullarly to Kebebe for bringing us there and his endless patience to translate our questions and their answers.

Wanna meet this community? contact inside travel !

Saturday, September 7, 2013

social entrepreurship : or what goes wrong with chartity?

Recently i have reported from a group of young people that started a social enterprise, named inside travel, that tires to offer authentic travels to Ethiopia and offer new tourism market opportunities to rural communities.

I have been thinking about how to support these communities to build up an institution/structure so that they  build a benefit sharing mechanism allowing the community as a whole to benefit from tourism, rather than just a few, splinting the community in to rich and even more poor. My first over the thumb computation showed that we would need about 100 000 USD in 5 years to make this happen. The dramatic part of this story is that not one dollar would go to the community. It is just about helping them with building up an institution that will enable them to raise money from markets when ever after and develop themselves out of their own effort... sounds like a very smart and sustainable idea, but who will be willing to fund a project where no money flows to the community? Who is willing to take the risk to fund a project that might fail?

But in the middle of these thoughts, I found this TED talk. Dan Palotta, talks out of my heart, showing what goes wrong in funding aid.

"Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta calls out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities. Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend -- not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let's change the way we think about changing the world."