Marleen Brouwer travelled with 'talent voor de toekomst' (talent for the future) to Uganda and wrote a blog on the need for genuine business partners from the West in Africa.
One week ago the Ugandan newspaper Saturday Monitoring was dominated by the verdict of Charles Taylor and the quest for Joseph Kony. However, on page 5 I read an article about the threatening of a famine due to exceptional rainfall during the past months. Well, there has been loads of rain during the days I have spent in Uganda. Such a difference with Mali, where I conducted an internship a couple of years ago. Mali, existing mainly of Sahara desert, has a totally different climate and soil texture. The farmers I interviewed at the time were often in desperate need of rain. Climate change was only worsening their situation.
Today, back home, I read the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant about the FAO. Apparently, the UN organisation for food and agriculture propagates one agricultural method for sub-Saharan Africa. A method that saves money and labour, but guarantees high yields and big crops in the United States and Brazil. Agro policy-makers in Africa seem to embrace this ‘conservation agriculture’ method. For me, alarm bells start ringing now! The same method for the US, Brazil, Uganda and Mali? I find out that this FAO procedure is heavily criticized by our very own agro university in Wageningen; a method that works in the US and Brazil is not automatically useful for sub-Saharan countries. Without taking into consideration the local and national circumstances, (agro) policies fail. Conservation agriculture is no solution for small-scale farmers lacking (semi-)industrial tools.
The article about the FAO makes me question the advantages of Western interference in sub-Saharan Africa again. In Mali as well as in Uganda I noticed that people highly trusted imported goods and services. Modern agro technology, European foods and American ngo’s are most welcome to further develop African societies. In Uganda, I spoke the chairman of a local fairtrade coffee cooperation. He mentioned that ‘dumping through aid’ still occurs, although Ugandans are very well able to produce their own cooking oil from sunflowers and peanuts. Again, it seems to be impossible to solve a problem by imposing a solution.
Finally, the world seriously condemned Charles Taylor of war crimes. Finally, we are seriously hunting Joseph Kony. It is about time that Western governments, companies and organisations should seriously re-think their approach vis-à-vis African farmers and their major challenges. For example, Uganda and Mali would be helped by genuine business partners and processing industries to add value to their coffee and cotton crops. And in turn, Western societies should seriously combat climate change through innovation of our own agricultural practices in order to neutralise the impact of greenhouse effects on sub-Sahara Africa. Let us first understand local problems and needs to avoid the implementation of one-size-fits-all policies. Because in most cases, one size fits only one.
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