Friday, 24 December 2010

The journey from arms to agriculture

In November 2010, I had the pleasure of meeting an extraordinary person: Dominique Kenga who is helping the young people of Congo to surrender their arms and engage in active and peaceful income-generating activities. Here is Mr Kenga's story:

The turbulent history of the Republic of Congo with its troubled transition from centralized planning under a Marxist government to a market economy, together with economic mismanagement, military coups and brutal civil conflict during the 1990s has definitely marked the people of this country.

The Republic of Congo, once one of sub-Saharan Africa’s main oil producers, today has more than 40% of its 3.7 million people living under the poverty line most of whom live in rural areas earn their livelihoods as smallholder farmers and fishers.

The country’s economy relies on subsistence agriculture and livestock. Cassava, rice, vegetables are among the main agricultural products and the population is also engaged in rearing small ruminants.

The civil wars of 1993-1994 and 1997-1999 have had a devastating socio-economic impact on the country. During the civil war all fundamental and foundational infrastructure was destroyed. More than 800,000 people were displaced, the population suffered from severe food insecurity and many young children became soldiers.

Once the civil war came to an end, the United Nations family began its post-conflict effort. In 2000, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in an effort to reintegrate the displaced people and encourage child soldiers to surrender their arms, launched the seven year «Action Communautaire pour le Rétablissement Post-Conflit» project. This project provided basic social services and helped the population to engage in economic activities.

In 2009, building on the UNDP project, IFAD funded the Rural Development Project in the Likouala, Pool and Sangha Departments (PRODER3).

“The objective of this project is to increase the production, productivity and income of poor rural people in a sustainable manner and encourage the young people to put down their arms”, explains Dominique Kenga, Coordinator of the IFAD-funded Rural Development Project.

The project reaches out to 160 villages and covers 15,750 households. The 62,800 poor rural people benefitting from this project are engaged in in the local cassava-based farming system, fisheries and livestock related activities.

The project is enabling farmers to produce, multiply and disseminate improved, disease-free cassava planting materials and seeds. It is providing training and agricultural extension services to give smallholder farmers full access to inputs and know-how. And it is also financing the rehabilitation of rural roads to better connect the over 600 villages.

“One of our other priorities is to encourage the 3000 young people, living in the Pool department, to put down their arms and start engaging in agricultural related activities”, says Kenga.

“During the civil war, Pool department was very badly hit. Things got really bad back in 1993. During this period, many died and as result families were shattered and many young people ended up on the street”.

“For these young people the only way to survive in the fury of the war was to take up arms”, explains a visibly moved Kenga. “What was devastating was the fact that almost 100% of the 3000 young people living the Pool department had become child soldiers. So after the unrest, we had a huge challenge at hand.”

Using rural radio, Kenga and his colleagues launched a campaign to encourage the youngsters to surrender their arms and to embrace agriculture.

“Convincing a young person who has experienced nothing but violence in his or her life is a Herculean undertaking. And we are dealing with 3000 devastated and shattered souls and bodies”, clarifies Kenga.

“The physical and psychological impact of the violence experienced by the youth is beyond words. Our challenge is not only to convince them to put down their arms and go back to the farms, but more importantly to do so in a peaceful and harmonious manner. The last thing we want is for them to act as aggressor and be disrespectful to their parents and other villagers. We want peace!”

To overcome this immense challenge, Kenga and other PRODER3 colleagues provide every young person who surrenders their arms and takes up agriculture between 25,000 to 50,000 CFA and 1.5 acre of land, along with inputs such as seeds, fertilizer. Mostly, the disarmed and demobilized child soldiers cultivate the land belonging to their family. If they are landless, PRODER3 facilitates a renting arrangement where they pay an annual rent of $50 to work on the land.

“We are going further than agriculture and are encouraging them to also engage in fisheries, raise poultry and rear small-ruminants”, clarifies Kenga.

“Farming in Pool department is very much a manual activity and at best the smallholder farmers can produce approximately 2 tonnes of cassava a year, of which 60% is used for local consumption mainly in the form of foufou – processed cassava.”

The goal of Kenga and PRODER3 staff is to ensure food security and transform farming into a viable business. This is why the farmers are now using part of their income to invest in better inputs.

“Our vision is to have an economy based on modern agriculture, an economy whereby we are not dependent on imports but can ensure food security for all”, says Kenga.

“So far we’ve managed to disarm 20% of the young soldiers. Our goal is to disarm the remaining 2400, build a peaceful society based on respect and trust. A society where everyone can lead a decent life, can put enough food on the table and is engaged in a profitable and dignified economic activity".

“Building a better future starts at home. Now that the leader of these youngsters has disarmed and is part of the government, we hope that we can build a peaceful and better future”, says Kenga with smile.

Only time will tell, but definitely, Kenga and his colleagues are on the right track to build a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Likouala, Pool and Sangha Departments.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Berlin calling: Development world, please wake up. There is an urgent need to put back #ICT4D on the global development agenda

The ICT for Rural Economic Development conference jointly organized by GTZ and BMZ from 18-19 November 2010 in Berlin, concluded on Friday 19 November with an engaging panel discussion on “What role can development cooperation play in ICT for rural economic development?”

The two day event brought together numerous practitioners, policy makers, donor organizations and private sector players. The event allowed colleagues to interact, network and share their rich experience and at the same time put on the table a number of challenges.

I think, it is safe to say that there was quite a bit of apprehension about the fact that some major donors have abandoned ICT4D sector. For those of us in the agriculture world, this is a déjà vu. But if there is one lesson to learn from our experience, that is under-investing in this sector – similar to under investing in agriculture -  will have negative impact in the lives of poor rural people.  We’ve learnt that ICTs are tools and for these to add value and improve the livelihoods of poor rural people, they need to be:
  • Affordable
  • Scalable
  • Self-sustaining
  • Sensible
  • Appropriate
We also learnt that we need to:
  • Focus on PEOPLE and not technology
  • Ensure ownership and appropriation
  • Develop local content
  • Ensure language and cultural pertinence
  • Ensure participation
  • Mainstream ICT4D activities as part of development projects
  • Build local capacity and scout for local talent and local innovations
This is the message that came out loud and clear from the concluding panel, moderated by Corinna Kuesel, Head of section for economic policy and private sector development of GTZ.

Ms Kuesel kicked off the panel discussion by sharing her impressions about the event. “I am impressed to see what an important role ICTs play in economic development and at the same time perhaps I am a bit concerned that development cooperation is moving out of ICT4D”, said Kuesel.

While recognizing that development agencies are competing for funds and funds are getting scarce, Kuesel made the case that this should not lead to abandoning ICT4D, because we’ve now have the evidence that ICTs can indeed make a difference in the lives of poor rural people.

Kuesel underscored the importance of public-private partnership and called on development world to:
  • play a facilitation role in forging partnership
  • build the capacity national governments, grass-root organization and poor rural people
  • create an enabling environment so that ICT4D initiatives can be implemented and scaled up
Susanne Dorasil, head of division economic policy, financial sector of BMZ underscored the importance of using ICTs to get better outcomes. Recognizing that the ICT4D community has a challenge of being heard, she talked about:
  • importance of working towards putting in place regulations to reach the goal of universal access
  • challenges and opportunities of linking up and broadening cooperation with the private sector to develop a robust ICT sector
  • importance of showing impact and showing how ICTs contribute to and add value to “hot development topics”  such as rural development, food security, rural finance and more
Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, CEO of Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization talking about private-public partnership brought in the missing dimension – namely PEOPLE. He talked about public-private-people partnership. Spio-Garbrah talked about importance of involving not only national governments, but also local governments. He talked about not exclusively partnering with multinational private sector, but local enterprises and grass-root entrepreneurs. And most importantly he talked about the very PEOPLE, who we work with and work for – the poor rural people and civil society.

Wow, what a concept….. During the course of the two days, I must admit, we focused primarily on technology and perhaps not enough on People. So thank you Dr Spio-Garbrah for putting PEOPLE in the forefront and for sharing your vision of intra-institutional cooperation.

Giacomo Rambaldi, Senior Programme Coordinator, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, CTA echoing Dr Spio-Garbrah reminded the audience of the need to involve the civil society. Rambaldi talked about the risks of ICTs and how ICTs could both help disseminate/preserve but also usurper indigenous knowledge.

He talked about how ICTs have provided access to information that previously was not readily available and how ICTs have democratized access to information, citing the examples of services such as YouTube or Google maps have given a voice to the previously voiceless segment of the population.

Rambaldi reminded us of the importance of generating localized and relevant content.  He talked about how as development workers, we have to make sure that ICTs actually add value and contribute to knowledge generation and becoming a catalyst to disseminate locally generated knowledge.

After all we have to remember that  ICTs are tools and if they are not used to generate and disseminate relevant and local content, they are nothing but a useless device which can end up gathering dust!!

David Grimshaw, Head of International Programme: New Technologies with Practical Action and Senior Research Fellow, DFID, made the case for mainstreaming ICT4D initiatives where we have solid evidence that these have improved the livelihoods of poor rural people. Grimshaw underscored that technology has no magic power and is not a silver bullet. It is what we do with technology and how we use it that will make the difference.

“We need to focus on the HOW and on the process to move to ICT for DEVELOPMENT”, said Grimshaw.
Challenging the development world, he said: “You cannot work with logframes when you are doing a research project. These types of projects are different”. Concluding his remarks, Grimshaw said: “We need to focus on the process and focus on people’s need.”

Anton Mangstl, Director of the Office of Knowledge Exchange, FAO, underscored the importance of conducting impact assessments and learning from existing activities and pilots. He urged us to work with governments and other key stakeholders to scale up those activities that have worked. He reminded the audience that similar to development projects, for  ICT4D projects  to succeed they too need be sustainable.

Given the key role that ICT4D activities play in rural development, Mangstl put his finger on a crucial challenge, namely why have bilateral development donors such as DFID and SDC stopped their ICT4D programmes and investments.

Mangstl echoing the other panellists made the case, that donor agencies – be it bilaterals or multilaterals – need to mainstream ICT4D activities in their core activities and integrate these more and more with their respective knowledge sharing and communication for development activities.

Ilari Lindy, Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland asked the fundamental question of whether ICT4D activities were well positioned to show impact in rural development and agriculture related activities.

He urged the participants to pay attention to policy and regulatory frameworks when designing and implementing ICT4D activities and repeated Mr Mangstl’s call for action – that is the need to improve knowledge sharing on ICT4D activities and integrating ICT4D activities with organizational knowledge sharing activities.

Lindy pointed out that to innovate, there is a need to bring together and create bridges between development and scientific communities. He also talked about the importance of convergence between North-South networks and last but not last the fundamental prerequisite of responding to grass-root demands.

Our colleague Tobias Eigen from Kabissa, reminded the audience that Africa is the hot bed of innovation and made the case that we should have more African innovators in events such as these.

Madam Dorasil from BMZ in her closing remarks reiterated the following fundamental points:
  • there are no silver bullets in development
  • we need to listen to and cater to the needs of the people who we work with and work for
  • we need to build local capacity and groom local talents
  • we need to get better in documenting, sharing and capturing the impact of ICT4D projects and feed these back into the learning and development loop
  • we need to have indicators that clearly demonstrate how ICTs are changing the lives of poor rural people
  • as a development community, we need to join hands to make sure that developed and developing countries governments and decision makers understand the importance of ICT4D activities and assist them in putting in place an enabling environment so that these activities flourish and replicate
  • we need to raise awareness about ICT4D and make a concerted effort to put this topic on the G20 agenda
  • we need to adopt an integrated approach and mainstream ICT4D activities in rural development projects and programmes
  • we need to show how ICTs are reaching those living in the “bottom of pyramid”
As the event came to a close, I asked myself – how long will it take for ICT4D to make it back to the global development agenda? Do we need two decades of under-investment in this sector before we hear the wake-up call – or can we show that we learnt from the negative impact of under-investing in agriculture and start mainstreaming and investing in scaling up ICT4D activities?

At this event I talked about "Development 2.0: Putting ICT4D Lessons into Action to Make M-Development a Reality"

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ghana has another Yaa Asantewaa: A powerful lady cassava producers and community leader sets up shop in rural Ghana

The best part of my job is meeting, talking with and interviewing some of the remarkable people who have benefitted from an IFAD-funded project and programme.

Yesterday, at the 2010 West and Central Africa Implementation workshop,  I attended the Rural Entrepreneurship session where I met an extraordinary lady by the name of Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. This morning, thanks to Moses’  facilitation, I interviewed Agyeiwaa – an extraordinary Ghanaian community and woman leader.

Agyeiwaa, 42 years old, lives in Techiman municipality in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana.  She is married with three children of 12, 9 and 3 years old.

“When I was eight years old, I remember seeing my mother spending her days processing cassava by hand”, says Agyeiwaa.  “We were so poor that everyone had to help or else we would not be able to make ends meet”.

When Agyeiwaa finished primary school she benefitted from vocational training. But she had to stop going to school and start working.  For two years she became a seamstress.

“I am a cassava processor at heart. It is in my blood. So being a seamstress was not really my vocation”, explains Agyeiwaa.

When she got married she decided it was time to fulfil her dream of becoming a leading cassava processor. After consulting with her husband, Agyeiwaa, a head-strong and strong-willed lady, decided to set up her rural business.

In 1998, she managed to mobilize 250 Ghana Cedi and bought a cassava processing machine. A leader that she is, Agyeiwaa, took it upon herself to visit the ladies in her village. She went door to door offering the ladies who had little or no income an employment opportunity.  She managed to mobilize 36 ladies who joined her newly born business.

In 2003, she requested a rural bank for a loan of 3,800 GhCedi and received 3,400. Agyeiwaa used this money to help the 36 ladies to plant and process cassava.

“I was lucky enough, because the ladies already owned land, so I did not need to worry about renting or buying land”, says Agyeiwaa.

“I gave 1 GhCedi to those with 2 acres of land and 0.5 Cedi to those with less than 2 acres.” 

The women used this money to hire labourers to do the heavy work on the land. The remaining money was used to buy the necessary inputs for planting, harvesting and processing the cassava. Agyeiwaa visited the ladies on a monthly basis to buy their produce and collect money due to her. 

This great entrepreneur adopted a “win-win” business model. She created a situation whereby the women had both a secure source of employment and income and she, herself, had a secure source of processed cassava. 

Agyeiwaa proves to be not only a charismatic leader, but also an excellent book-keeper. She kept track of who had given what, and having a business flair, she knew what was produced and how much each women owed her. This way she made sure that everyone was treated equally and no one paid more than what they had to.

“I take pride of what I’ve managed to do. You know, some of the women who worked with me, now have gone independent and together we have formed an association with 12 members!”, says Sakyi with a big smile on her face.

This remarkable entrepreneur who firmly believed in her vision, in 1998 bought her factory’s land from the village head for 80 GhCedi and paid 40 GhCedi to the village chief to start her business. Today she processes, packages and stores  her cassava products in her  factory and her factory  is recognized as a “good practice centre”. 

“I produce gari – which is processed cassava. The processing stages are peeling, washing, grating, fermenting, pressing, roasting, sieving and finally storing what we’ve produced”, explains Agyeiwaa.

“I have 12 people peeling who are paid 1.5 Cedi per day, 1 person in charge of washing who earns 2 GhCedi a day and 1 person who does the grating. I pay 16 GhCedi for 5.2 tonnes”.

“Afterwards, we proceed with the storage routine. The gari is stored in transparent polyethen bags. This type of bag acts like a preserving agent. This way the cassava keeps its taste and freshness. The bags are then put in a juke bag”.

Every week, Agyeiwaa produces 20.8 tonnes of different types of cassava.  “I produce both normal and a more sour version of processed cassava, which is achieved by a more prolonged fermentation period.”

“I package the processed cassave in bags of 150 kilos which I sell them for 90GhCedi. My factory makes on average 40 bags a week. If the quality is not too good, then I earn 20 GhCedi. What is great is that I often manage to sell everything I produce, when I do not, these remain in storage”, concludes Agyeiwaa. 

Agyeiwaa spirit of “rural entrepreneurship” has made her  a successful businesswoman. Her business is flourishing. As a child, she did not have money to go to school and back then, she promised herself that she would not allow her own children go through the same hardship. “I want my children to go to university and lead a much better life”, says Agyeiwaa – the mother!

Thanks to her cassava processing business, today her three children go to private schools, she owns her home, she has a pick-up truck and every year she makes approximately 187,200 GhCedi.

When the IFAD-funded Root and Tuber Improvement and Marketing Programme started its work in 2005, one of the first things the programme did, was to scout for local talents. And they identified Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. The programme was so impressed by Agyeiwaa’s achievement that they started inviting her to meetings, workshops and events, so that she could share her story and experience. Today she is one of the two ladies who sit on the steering committee of the programme.

Recognizing her remarkable achievements and the high quality of her products, Agyeiwaa ‘sfactory was awarded as a “Good Practice Centre”.

“Since I’ve received this reputable award, my name is on the list of certified sellers”, says Agyeiwaa proudly. “This means, I do not have to go market, rather customers to me. At the same time, I am selling my products higher than the market price, because I produce better quality!”

In 2008, Techiman municipality  awarded Agyeiwaa as the Best Cassava Famer. The municipality has now nominated her for the 2010 best processor award.

“These awards are very important, because I not only get some money, new equipment, but most importantly I get a seal which are like Royal Warrants that the Queen awards!!!”  

“I am very proud of the what I’ve achieved, it is very satisfying to see that I’ve managed to provide a viable and sustained employment opportunity to the women of my village and to see them become independent and join our association!”

I ask this amazing lady, if she were to close her eyes and project herself in 5 years, where would she like to be. Without any hesitation, she said: “I want to be the big and best cassava processor in Ghana”.  I am sure this will happen SOONER rather than later.

The world has many more Faustina Agyeiwaa Sakyi. We just need to find them, provide them that “little push” so that they can get going and as you can see, the sky will be the limit!

Dear Faustina GOOD LUCK. I am sure you’ll soon be awarded as Ghana’s best cassava processor.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Enough with pilots, let's get serious and start investing in m-development and m-applications #ict4d #m4d

In March 2009 I wrote a blogpost entitled: Mobile phones: the silver bullet to bridge the digital divide?

18 months later, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates show that over 40 percent of Africa’s rural population has access to mobile phones, that at global level there are 4.6 billion mobile subscribers and ITU forecasts that by end of 2010 there will be 5 billion mobile subscribers.

These numbers make mobile phone the most rapidly adopted technology in history and the only sector that has not suffered from the recent economic downturn.

I’ve been reflecting why despite the well documented socio-economic benefits of mobile telephony, high penetration rates and the above encouraging figures, there are not equally compelling mobile applications for agriculture and for rural development in general?

I keep asking myself, with 500 million small farms around the world, why are not there applications such as M-PESA, Usahidi or Facebook for agriculture? Why have not applications such as Esoko, Farmer’s friend, Google Trader picked up like wild fire and become viral and mainstream like Facebook or Twitter?

More importantly, why has not m-development picked up like wild fire? Why is not the development world using mobile phone and turning it into a service delivery platform since it has the potential of facilitating the delivery of agricultural, financial, health and education services and also has the potential of overcoming isolation, poverty and creating more freedom?

Considering that mobility has become the preferred way of disseminating information because it is affordable and easy to use, I continuously ask myself why are not donor agencies embedding ICT components and m-applications across the board when designing and implementing rural development projects?

I was shocked to see that SIDA report on Innovative Use of Mobile Applications in East Africa did not include AGRICULTURE alongside financial services, governance, employment, education and transportation coordination as having a potential for m-application.

Pilot, pilot and more pilot
Over the last decade or so, governments, donor agencies, NGOs, private sector have designed and piloted ICT for development (ICT4D) projects. We can no longer effort just to pilot. It is high time to roll up our sleeves and start to design and implement sustainable ICT4D project and programmes.

According to the recent literature, the reason why pilot mobile applications fail to graduate to full-fledged comprehensive and sustainable service delivery applications is due to:
  • lack of adequate infrastructure (towers, electricity)
  • interventions not being scaled
  • mobile applications poorly marketed
  • low literacy rate among the target audience of these applications – mainly farmers, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples living in rural areas
  • lack of project sustainability and funding
  • lack of coordination and collaboration among stakeholders across the different sectors
  • general lack of investment in ICT applications by governments and donors
  • lack of charismatic and evangelist leaders who push the agenda forward and attract investors after the pilot is over
I wonder if there are any lessons we can learn from the uptake and success of social media? Namely create demand-driven and locally relevant content and enable users to be both producers and consumers.

Wanted: M-application and m-development
There is evidence that subsistence and smallholder farmers are increasingly using text, voice messaging and unstructured supplementary service data to access information, such as weather forecast and market prices.
At the same time, studies show that poor rural people are willing to spend more or less 50% of their disposable incomes on mobile communications.

Thanks to all the pilots, we’ve learnt that for m-applications to be successful they need to serve multiple purposes and at the same time have a functioning, dynamic and productive mobile ecosystem where different stakeholders are responsible for the following aspects:
  • setting up
  • operating
  • sustaining
  • expanding
The next logical question, is who are the stakeholders. The SIDA cited above1/  lists the following as potential stakeholders:
  • policy makers and regulators
  • mobile network operators and service providers
  • handset manufacturers
  • content providers and application developments
  • government and specific sector players
  • private sector and small and medium-sized enterprises
  • researchers, innovators and consultants
  • civil society and users
Oddly enough donor and development agencies are missing from this list. I am not sure if this was an oversight or whether they deemed that donors and development agencies do not have a role to play or simply are not suitable stakeholders.

While it may be true that donors and development agencies may not be engaged in first person in developing m-applications, however, considering that m-applications are part of the bigger m-development picture, they definitely have an important and strategic role to play, if for nothing else but to scale up the m-application implementation/adoption.

Definitely all the stakeholders and indeed donor and development agencies can:
  • play a role in ensuring the m-applications are usable – there is no use of developing an application with lots of bells and whistles which does not do what it supposed to do, or worse, does not meet the immediate needs of the farmer
  • use the learning from past failures and successes – which means that we all need to get better in documenting and sharing our learning
  • use participatory approach and involve users in the design of the application and content creation process
“Clever people come up with clever ideas”
Over the last decade we’ve seen the socio-economic benefits of mobile telephony on the lives of poor rural people. We’ve seen how thanks to mobile phones those who were previously both socially and economically excluded are now actively participating in the economy and are able to connect with their families and friends. We’ve seen how basic mobile phone supports bottom-up economic development, provides entrepreneurship opportunities and gives a voice to poor rural poor. We’ve seen how mobile phones support the informal sector.

We’ve seen how users have pushed the phone to its limit which has resulted in innovative uses such as integrating M-PESA application with mobile insurance schemes2/ , or Lifelink which allows users to buy water credit with their M-PESA account3/ , or a taxi driver in Zambia using his phone’s internet browser to diagnose diseases4/ .

We’ve also seen how money transfer applications such as M-PESA have created a new banking paradigm and how the “unbankables” today can save, ask for credit and have suddenly become “bankable”.

A 2009 World Bank report, building on the 2005 London Business School study that found that for every additional 10 mobile phones per 1000 people, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rises 0.5 percent, states that an increase of 10 percentage points in mobile phone adoption in a developing country increased growth in GDP per person by 0.8 percentage point.

To prove the above points, a recent study by Center for Global Development5/ , states that for example, in Uganda mobile phone coverage is associated with 10% increase in farmers’ probability of market participation for bananas, although not maize, suggesting that mobile phones are more useful for perishable crops. It also states that in Niger the cost of cheapest mobile phone is equivalent to 12.5 kilos of millet – enough to feed a household of 5 for five days -  and yet the farmers are willing to pay this amount to get a mobile phone as this communication tool allows them to access and use information, find jobs and enhance their productivity.

The writing is on the wall, developing countries SEE and WANT mobile phones as their preferred information delivery systems. They see the mobile phone with a laptop lens which allows them to use it for transactions and at the same time provides access to data and information.

Partnerships – private and public sector
Everyone talks about partnering with the private sector. At the same time, increasingly private sector service providers have corporate social responsibility programmes. However, we know that a private sector company will not embark in an adventure if the initiative has little or no prospect for making profit. At the same time, we also know that the priority for private sector company is to come up with innovative products and services to maintain their market niche or to dominate the market.

Another important factor is that the private sector lives on the fast lane and fast track. Government, donor agencies and in general the public sector works within the confines of bureaucracy and this often does not resonate with private sector way of working.

So, quite frankly speaking, I see private and public sector as two separate circles, who are continuously struggling tofind an intersection point. However, the reality is that public and private sector live in different time zones and do not seem to have found their preferred collaboration tool which allows them to seamlessly work together and indeed create a win-win situation!

I also ask myself, if both parties were to find this intersection point, will it be a true partnership among equals, or a tug of war where one dominates and the other has to succumb.

Perhaps we all have to come terms with the fact that this partnership will not be on equal footing. Rather, if we want to achieve the bigger good, we need to abide by the rules of the “stronger” species. This begs another question, can we as development practitioners who depend on public money do so?

How to make m-development a reality
There are no ’ifs’ and ‘buts’ vis-à-vis the need to put m-development on the agenda of decision and policy makers. To do so, as development practitioners we should promote the idea of doing development using digital platforms.

This means we need to engage with, work with and invest in local talents – people who know what their peers want and need. At the same time we need to work on blending old and new ICTs so that we can reach out to the entire “user base”. If we get serious and do this we’ll end up converging what smallholder farmers, fishers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples NEED with what they WANT.

To create a virtuous circle and help poor rural people to come out poverty, while understanding the constraints of rural information economy, development projects need to ensure that smallholder producers are integrated and participating in local, regional and global markets and have access to:
  • price information in such a way that they can make planting decision and not just focus on post-harvest
  • good cultivation practice – pre and post harvest
  • inputs, seeds, fertilizer and pesticides
  • information on improved crop varieties, pest and disease management
  • financial and insurance services
  • weather information
The challenge is to see how we can develop and rollout m-applications and services that meet the smallholder producers needs and cover the entire value chain, knowing very well that there will not be a “one size fits all” application.

For m-applications to be successful they need to use common and popular features and if local capacity is used, they would be able to cater for local needs, contribute to the economy and build local talents.
I am just wondering how long will it take farmers, fishers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples to become content producers and consumers? How long will it take them to develop their dream m-application allowing them to cover the entire value chain?

Can we possibly conceive of connecting farmers, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples from across the globe by giving them mobile phones and 35 hours per week free airtime?

I bet you anything, once they get to know each other and start interacting with each other, they will start both sharing solutions and coming up with surprising and innovative solutions.. I bet you we’ll get some extraordinary and priceless input which will allow the bigger agriculture community to develop and implement a user-driven m-application.

What is stopping us from embarking on this journey? Who will be the brave person, donor agency, government or for that matter socially responsible private sector who will take it seriously upon themselves to get the ball rolling?

It does not take very much, just some will power….. And when there is a will there is a way!!!

1/ The Economist: The Innovative Use of Mobile Applications in East Africa,
2/ The Economist: Security for shillings,
3/ SIDA: The Innovative Use of Mobile Applications in East Africa,
4/ IPSNews: Welcome to my Taxi – Let’s do business with my cellphone,
5/ Center for Global Development: Mobile phones and economic development in Africa,


Thursday, 19 August 2010

57 Twitter tools to make the most of your Twitter experience

I owe my presence on Twitter to my friend and colleague @mongkolroek and I cannot thank him enough for introducing me to this wonderful world.

Over the last two years, thanks to my interaction on Twitter, I’ve learnt some much, met some absolutely fantastic and remarkable people. I’ve made new friends and by keeping in touch with my peers, colleagues and friends and by mutually sharing our challenges and aspirations, I’ve had some good laughs and most importantly have been inspired by many in many different ways. I am now Tweetaddict! And I go proud of it.

Having received so much from this wonderful community, I thought it was time to give something back. Over the course of my Twitter experience, I’ve religiously hoarded lots of great links and useful resources. One of my summer projects was to compile a list of useful Twitter tools. And this is what I did. This list is by no means exhaustive.

I hope – as incomplete as it may be – you find it useful. Please feel free to share your preferred tools or resource using the comment feature. If you find this compilation useful, please retweet and share it with your peers, colleagues and friends. I just came across an interesting article on The Guardian entitled "Why Twitter matters to media organizations", which I definitely thought it was worth mentioning, if for nothing else, to show the light to the "nay sayers"  and make them understand if they do not embrace this new way of working, they will soon be out of business!

A big thank you to all my wonderful Twitter friends for such a rewarding professional and personal Twitter experience!

The 57 tools/resources are organized in the following 9 categories:

Want to keep your tweetgems?

What to know who is following and unfollowing you?

Want to manage all your social media from a single application?
  • Hootsuite [] is available for desktop and mobile devices. It’s a one-stop shop that allows you to be manage all your social network platforms in one go and of course it allows you to schedule your tweets!
  • TweetDeck [] is perhaps a real “killer” application and allows you to schedule tweets. If you’re not using it as your preferred application, make sure you give it shot. It is definitely worth the try and you’ll not give it up for anything else. Yes I am highly biased!

Need to schedule your tweets?

Dying to know who is saying what and who is what about you?

Want to tracking your influence and outreach in Twitterville?
  • Twitter grader [] helps you keep track of how “influential” you are on twitter
  • Tweet reach [] is a cool tool that shows you how many people potentially saw your tweets
  • Tweetstats [] allows you to find the behaviour of any twitter user. The statistics s include aggregate daily tweets, replies to top 10 persons you've replied
  • Twitteranalyzer [] is Google Analytics for Twitter users
  • Twittratr [] allows you to monitor whether tweets about a specific subject were received positively or negatively. You need to study the ranking because at time it gets confused :) and gives not quite the correct information.
  • Twitter rank [] tells you how you rank amongst in Twitterville
  • Twitalyzer [] provides various metrics ranging from influence score to your clout and retweet rates
  • Klout [] is an amazing tool showing your breadth of influence and clout
  • Twitinfluence [ ] allows you to find out your reach, social capital and know who are you first and second order followers

Share your Twitter stream in an on-line news and magazine format
  • [] allows you to create a daily on-line newspaper from your twitter stream by aggregating the tweet gems and nuggets in the most magnificent way. Must try. You’ll love it
  • Microplaza [] aggregates and organizes links from your Twitter stream. Has a cool feature “Being someone” which allows you to see into someone else’s world. Allows you to organize people who you follow in “tribes”. Promises to be a great tool. Right now is in beta

Check out the buzz in Twitterville on maps

Who says, the ultimate search is Google? Try one of these cools Twittsearch tools

Twitterville as a speakers' corner



Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Can members of diaspora be reliable and unbiased reporters?

It is hard to imagine media outlets of 21st century and internet era struggling to get first-hand and verified news. Yet, there are times where they are unable to get their people on the ground. So, how do they report and where do they get their news from?

More and more media outlets are encouraging and relying on citizen journalism. They should all thank the web2.0 revolution and courageous individuals who report in extreme situations allowing the media and their audiences to quench their news thirst. When web2.0 patron saints fail, they tend to rely on “sources” - be it a correspondent or a journalist or alternatively a normal human being just like you and I -  to provide them with the latest news.

Either way, it is almost impossible for them to independently verify the story and news. Because if they could verify, THEY would be reporting it in first person and not relying on a third party or a “source” – as “reliable” as it may be.

Why this long preamble? I’ve been reading a series of book about contemporary Iran and just finished reading Honeymoon in Tehran, by Azadeh Moaveni. I could not help but compare Moaveni’s book with Christopher de Bellaigue’s In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs and The struggle for Iran and the creative and innovative travelogue Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s bread by Nicholas Jubber.

Generally speaking, for the media Iran is like a hermetically vacuum packed box of pistachio nuts – there are no flaps on this box that reads “tear here to open”. Intelligence services, the media, think tanks and others are all starving and craving for FRESH and sourced news from Iran.

As the Time magazine correspondent, Moaveni was in a vantage position to report from her home country. While I admire Moaveni’s candidness and courage, however at the same time, I believe she could have used her privileged position to give a more balanced assessment of her country’s realities. I wish she had followed de Bellaigue’s reporting model which would have enabled her to cover a wider spectrum of Iranian society and at the same time give a more balanced economic and political analysis of contemporary Iran.

Throughout the book I failed to understand why as an Iranian she referred to herself as a “foreign journalist”. Was it because she was reporting for Time magazine? Or because she thought her "foreign" status wourld open doors otherwise closed to Iranians?

Instead of focusing almost exclusively on the upper-middle class society – with their 7 day a week parties, the tales of illegal satellite dishes being removed by law enforcement officers or  the woes of censored internet -  given her position of a “foreign” journalist, Moaveni would have done her readers a service if she had concentrated more on telling the “story” and the plight of the taxi driver who shuttled her to her various “appointments” and reporting about issues such as high unemployment rate or the causes of soaring inflation.

Her obsession to focus on issues that would make foreigners cringe or “make news” abroad, made it very clear that this was a book for foreigners or perhaps the Iranian diaspora living in the States who had never been back to their home country since the revolution. I must say, despite the descriptions of Iranian education, health system and the modern Iranian wedding planners, Moaveni’s political statements and analysis were not convincing as they could have been.

I believe that members of diaspora and people coming from upper-middle class are not in a position to give an accurate picture of Iranian political scene. They are too biased. Quite frankly, I do not think anyone - be it in the country or abroad – really knows how the country functions and what really goes on, much less, accidental tourists who decide to “get their hands dirty” until such time that the going gets tough and they opt for “safety above the story”.

I wish Iranian writers who decide to write about contemporary Iran would expand their outreach beyond the upper-middle class lives of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and other big cities. I wish they would travel to other cities and rural areas and talk with people from all walks of life so that they can give a more balanced and accurate picture and out of realities, challenges, aspirations and inspirations of Iranian people.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

A new paradgim for organizational incentive:it's not about money but purpose!

As knowledge management practitioner time and again I hear phrases such as "to mainstream KM in the organization we need to put in place an incentive system " or "people are not sharing knowledge because they have no incentive".

Personally I never understood why anyone would need an incentive to do something so natural as learning and sharing! And I was always made to feel as if I was completely nuts when I challenged such statements.

Well, I must say, today is MY DAY..... Earlier this afternoon I read Anand Giridharadas' piece entitled "Deciphering the cause of human motivation" in which he refers to Daniel Pink's work. Shortly after I tweeted the article and sent it along to my organization's extend KM community of practice, Mary Adams sent the link to Daniel's video!!

Make sure you read Anand's article and do not miss Pink's video.

I must admit, after watching the video and reading Anand's article - who incidently is a great guy - I will never again shy away from expressing my views of incentives -especially incentives related to knowledge management and knowledge sharing.... I now know that I am not mad, rather I now have scientific evidence that I am right!!!

Check out also this lecture from TED.Com

I hope I can find a similiar evidence showing the futility of knowledge management indicators.


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Learning routes: the quintessence of knowledge sharing

The IFAD social reporting blog ran a series of blogposts called “Africa meets the new world - Procasur learning route…. Well, guess what, the “Learning Routes” colleagues came to Rome!

Over the last two days I had the privilege of sitting in on two brainstorming and learning and sharing events organized by our Procasur and Latin America and the Caribbean colleagues.

In the true spirit of learning route, these meetings were a great source of inspiration and a unique learning opportunity.

It is very hard to explain a learning route as these are experiential experiences. You have to live one to understand and appreciate it. I believe they are the quintessence and great embodiment of knowledge management and knowledge sharing.

You’re probably wondering what I am talking about….. If you’ve been on learning route you’ll now know the difference between learning from seeing something in action and reading about something in a report.

Learning route methodology covers the three stages of learning – that is learning before, during and after. In a way it is also a form of peer assist.

When you face a challenge and feel that someone must have already faced it and overcome it, you do not need reinvent the wheel and solve it by yourself, you can present your challenge and learn from those who have already been there and done that.

One of the extraordinary characteristics of a learning route is the fact that you learn from people… That’s right, you learn from the real experience of REAL PEOPLE. It’s that a treat….

How many times have you read a report and wondered how much of what you are reading is really grounded in reality and how much of it is written just to show that the targets and indicators have been met!

In a learning route you engage in a conversation with the actors – be it the farmer, the policy maker, the representative of the local government, the rural development worker, the artisan, the mother, the nurse. And all these people are willing and are keen to share their experience, knowledge, know-how, challenges and fears. So in a learning route you have the opportunity to bounce off ideas, hear and learn from a myriad of perspectives. You have an immense portfolio of experience and knowledge at your finger tips!

Learning routes are a great example of double learning loop and a personification of knowledge sharing in ACTION!

As you may know in a single learning loop, the emphasis is on techniques and making the technique more efficient. This means while exploring the technical side you focus on following routines and some sort of present plan. A double learning loop on the other hand, involves questioning the role of the framing and learning systems, it is more creative, reflective and reflexive. A double learning loop is about incremental learning that improves the answers, helps the learner to modify his/her mental model and allows the learner to make informed decisions in a rapidly changing and uncertain context.

In a nutshell, experiencing a learning route allows the learner to explore different solutions for a given challenge and definitely helps you clear up the cobwebs!

My take home messages

As I was listening to colleagues exchanging ideas and sharing their experience, I realized one of success elements of Procasur and the Learning routes are people managing this programme. They are PASSIONATE and COMMITED. They are proud of what they are doing and believe 300% in what they do. I wonder if the programme would be what it is today with a different set of people…. Probably it would be something different…. So this reinforced my thinking that it is the PEOPLE driving KM initiatives that make the difference!!! Kudos to Ariel, Juan Moreno, Roberto and all the others!

Perhaps my biggest wake up call was the fact that we desperately need to put in place learning routes mechanism in IFAD itself. We need to get much better in sharing and exchanging amongst ourselves and within our own four walls. We are surrounded by inspiring and knowledgeable people, yet we often resort to outside resources rather than looking inside.

We need to scout for and identify our own local talents and use them as our learning route guides.

I often hear people saying, we need to put in place incentive mechanism to encourage knowledge sharing – and I must admit so far, I’ve failed to understand what this means…. Listening to the exchange made me think, what is the incentive for the learning route local talents to share their knowledge? And if their incentive is to learn from others, isn’t that a good enough, if not a noble incentive for the rest of us?

I really felt privileged to have participated in these conversations and I sincerely hope we can institutionalize internal learning routes so that FINALLY we start breaking down the silos!!!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Untimely loss of a friend and the impact of social media on human relationships

On Thursday 29 April 2010 at 11:27am I got an email - the subject was :( and carried the text below:
“In Memoriam: In utter disbelief, with the heaviest of heart and unimaginable sadness, i heard today of the passing away of my dear friend and treasured colleague, Ramin Rafirasme. Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smile fades, but the memories live on forever..........”
I read the message three times….. and indeed in utter disbelief, I thought this cannot be true. Ramin and I had chatted on-line less than a month ago.
[02/04/2010 19:43:26] Roxanna Samii: ramin jan how are you doing? hope both you and your son are feeling better. We definitely missed you the other night at Sara's

[02/04/2010 20:09:15] Ramin: I am ok Roxy jan. Just moved to a new place, Pz. Risorgimento. Still need a bit of time putting things together in this apartment. But between opening boxes and familiarizing with the new neighbourhood, I am having fun learning how to use Skype and Social Networking tools. Might be useful also for my students.
He was really excited about lecturing and teaching journalism at university in Rome. He was also excited because he was getting his head around social media tools. He had started a new life, a new beginning and was looking forward to a brighter future.

I starred at my computer screen for about 20 minutes feeling totally numb, I finally reached out for my cellphone and called Ramin’s number, hoping that he would answer the phone. I kept thinking, this is not true, this cannot be true… But then, Hafez, Ramin’s son answered….

Alas, on Wednesday night, Ramin left us for a better place……. After I hung up with Hafez, I remembered something I had read some time ago: “to die is not the worst thing a man can do. To live defeated, that is the worst. Life without life, is no life”

Ramin was someone who loved to live. He lived everything fully. He did things wholeheartedly and at the same time, he never took himself too seriously. He was what the Italians call “solare”. He was witty, charming, had a great sense of humour and a great Iranian political analyst.

I remember in June, during the post election riots, when we met, I asked him, Ramin Jan what will happen now? He looked at me, smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said: “Roxy jan nothing will happen, nothing will change”.

Ramin, a seasoned journalist, an astute political analyst and one of the very few people who fully understood the socio-political dynamics, knew better….. While initially I thought he was out of his mind, with time, we all realized that indeed he was right…. Nothing really changed.

Ramin’s demise made me also realize how the very social media he was embracing, adopting and using has changed the way we deal with grief, sorrow and in general, how technology has modified the way we related to each other.

My latest interaction with Ramin was on Skype. I found out that he had passed away through an email. After talking with Ramin’s son, what did I do? I sent a direct message on Twitter to my friend Gauri Salokhe and subsequently shared my grief and sorrow on Twitter
Just found out about the loss of a colleague and friend. Made me think of the missed phone call and the missed visit :((
I then received the nicest and most considerate tweet from a very special lady by the name of Bonnie Koening.

We all seem to be living on the fast lane, no time to stop, take stock, bereave, mourn, be with ourselves…. No absolutely not…. Couple of hours later, I was facilitating a workshop, but my mind was really on Ramin and I tweeted:
Facilitating world cafe for our technical advisory + policy division is helping me not to think too much about the loss of my colleague
Back at my desk, in the evening before calling back Hafez to find out about the funeral arrangements and calling it a day, I sent a series of emails to friends and colleagues giving them the sad news…..

Thinking back, I find it extraordinary that I did not pick up the phone to TELL anyone but found comfort by hiding behind my computer screen. In retrospect, I find that very sad.

Later in the evening, I received an email from Ramin…. This was really spooky….Of course, it was Hafez sending an email from Ramin’s hotmail account. That email made me realize that today our most valuable assets is not our money in the bank or our home, but our on-line identity. Our virtual presence is now our public face and our preferred mode of communication is to communicate with each other on-line.

A decade ago, we had to only take care of our material assets – our money, home, land etc. Today we also have to take care of our “unmaterial” assets – our on-line identity - and make sure that our loved ones know our userids and passwords to our Facebook, LinkedIn, Blog, Twitter, MySpace, Ning site!!!

I then visited Ramin’s facebook’s page, where I found Jahanshah’s blog post which is a beautiful obituary. Jahanshah truly seems to have been Ramin’s twin and definitely someone who knew him very very well.

Ramin’s Facebook page is now becoming the place for his friends and family to come together and mourn the untimely loss of a dear friend.

Ramin jan, may you rest in peace. You’ll be missed tremendously and will continue to live in our hearts and mind.

Roohet shad! We'll always remember you, happy, smiling and full of life!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Eritrea fishery sector: An untapped and renewable gold mine

I first visited Eritrea in 2008 and it was love at first sight. In December 2009 when I landed in Asmara airport, I felt like I was back home. I spent my first couple of days visiting the irrigation schemes in zoba Debub and then went east to zoba Northern Red Sea where I visited Massawa, the capital city of Northern Red Sea Zoba which is the centre of Eritrea’s fishing industry. Massawa is one of the hottest places on earth, with temperatures soaring well above 40C (104F) and 80% or more humidity for much of the year. Yet, like rest of this beautiful country, it has its charm.

Eritrea is a relatively rich country in terms of natural resources. It has gold, potash, zinc, copper and salt. What is perhaps less known is the fact that Eritrea also has significant fisheries resources and that 20% of the coastal population’s livelihoods depends on fisheries. However, unlike the gold or copper, fisheries resources, if properly managed, can continuously provide food, employment and income to the coastal communities.

Eritrea’s 1,200km coastline is highly favourable for artisanal fishing offering rich and varied fish stocks and sheltered fishing grounds. Unlike artisanal fishers in other parts of the world, Eritrean fishers have not overexploited their resources and could potentially increase their catch from the few thousand tons per year to at least 40,000 if not 80,000 tons per year.

Their fish stocks include lizard fish, threadfin breams, and catfish (soft bottom demersal); snappers, emperors, grunts, job fish and groupers (hard bottom demersal and reef fishes); sardines and anchovies (small pelagic); tunas, mackerels and sharks (large pelagic); shrimp, crabs, lobsters (crustaceans); and squids and octopus and cuttlefish (cephalopods).

“Eritrea’s fisheries sector has the potential to contribute substantively to our national food security and can play an important role in reducing poverty in coastal areas”, says Andom Ghebretensae, Director-General Regulatory Services. “Currently we have 3,000 licensed artisanal fishers. Eritrea’s coast not only is rich in fisheries resources but also has great potential for tourism.”

The Government of Eritrea has long recognized this potential and in collaboration with a number of donors such as the African Development Bank and the European Union has built EU standard landing and processing sites. These sites are fully equipped with processing and storage facilities, where trained personnel weigh, process and grade the catch.

Eritrea’s fish exports may have been low in recent years (approximately 234mt in 2008), however, thanks to the upgrading of landing and processing facilities, today Eritrea is eligible to export fish products to European Union countries.

Eritrean artisanal fishers aspire to become entrepreneurs
Eritrean artisanal fishers use two types of fishing boats – houris or sambuks. Houris constitute 80% of the fishing fleet. These are wooden boats and measure anywhere between 8-13 metres. It has an outboard engine and can take up to five people on board.

Sambuk, 16 metre wooden boat with an inboard engine, constitute approximately 9% of the fishing fleet. Sambuks can take up to nine people on board.

The remaining 11% is made up of fibreglass reinforced plastic boats imported from Saudi Arabia or Yemen, although some are also being built in Eritrea.

“I have a traditional wooden boat called a houri which I bought thanks to a 5 year loan”, says Ahmed Hamid, an artisanal fisher. “There are three of us and with our boat we can go between 8-10 kilometres from the shore and we can always count on an average catch of 800 kilos”.

“During the fishing season – which is approximately seven months – we make about 2-3 fishing expeditions per month. We use small nets and usually stay out in the sea for an average of 10 days”, explains Hamid

“We buy ice from Massawa Fish Landing centre for 0.80 nakfa per kilo and use it to preserve the fish on board”, says Hamid proudly. “We sell our entire catch to National Fisheries Corporation which then sells it to processors such as Erifish. They buy the snappers for 22 nakfa per kilo and the groupers go for 25 nakfa. And we use 20% of our catch to repay the loan”.

On the landing site, Hamid and his fellow fishers unload their 800 kilo of first class tuna, snappers, emperor and groupers in big blue containers. Their catch is immediately taken next door to the EU certified Erifish processing plant, where a team of 24 people degut, process and packaged the fish for export.

“I have everything I need on my traditional boat – a cellphone, my medical kit and a transistor radio – but I would like to buy fibre glass reinforced boat, so that we can stay a maximum of a month and come back with an average catch of 1.5 tons”, said Hamid with a smile. “And I look forward to the day when I am able to sell part of my catch freely on the market”.

Fisheries sector can help ensure national food security and provide investment opportunities
In Eritrea, meat is the preferred source of protein. Fish consumption is estimated at 0.5-1kg/person/year which is low compared both to the average Africa consumption, estimated at 8kg/person/year.

“We need to encourage our people to eat more fish and to consider fish as an alternative source of protein”, says Seid Mohamed Abrar, Director, Office of the Minister of Marine Resources.

“We have high market value fish and we can fish approximately 80,000 tons per year without any risk of depleting the fish stock”, says Abrar. “By exploiting our fisheries resources, we can contribute to ensuring food security for our coastal population and help the artisanal fishers to improve their livelihoods.”

This is why the Government of Eritrea requested IFAD’s assistance to design a fisheries development project to support artisanal fishers in the Red Sea coastal regions.

“The IFAD-funded Fisheries Development Project under the auspices of the Ministry of Marine Resources will reorganize and strengthen fishers’ cooperatives and support artisanal fishers so that they can increase their incomes and improve their food security”, says Abla Benhammouche, Country Programme Manager for Eritrea. “This project will help Minister of Marine Resources to make the fisheries sector sustainable and at the same time reduce illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.”

The Fisheries Development Project will build the capacity of fishers such as Hamid and equip them with modern fishing techniques and better and secure boats and fishing gears. At the same time, the project will encourage private sector initiatives to add value to the processing and packaging process, also build the capacity of Erifish to better market the catch domestically and expand their export markets.

To support private sector investment, artisanal fishers such as Hamid will be allowed to sell 20% of their catch to private processors and traders, with the prospect of increasing this percentage as private sector further develops.

Last but not least, private sector investment can help transform Eritrea’s Red Sea coast into a flourishing tourist resort, offering spectacular diving opportunities and uncontaminated beaches. “We can become a viable rival to other Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el-Sheikh”, says a proud Abrar.

Legacy of a visionary American biologist: Mangroves for all
During World War II Dr Gordon Sato, a biologist spent some time in a concentration camp called Manzanar in California desert. During his internment he developed his vision of eradicating hunger by enabling African nations to feed themselves. He invested half a million dollar of his own money in the Manzanar Project.

This visionary philanthropic scientist conceived this project as low-tech solution to hunger and poverty and to combat the impact of climate change, when climate change was neither on the international agenda nor on the talk of the town!

The project started during the 30-year war to win independence from Ethiopia. Sato first joined the Eritrean fighters in 1987 and introduced fish farming. He succeeded in growing fish and providing high protein food for the wounded. After the war, he focused on issues related to economic development and applied what he knew best - biological principles - to develop a self-sufficient economy in a country that is prone to drought and famine.

However, soon he saw the potential of mangroves to increase food production all the way up the food chain.

In an interview, Sato said: “I was in an area with mangrove trees, and I noticed the camels eating them. I got the idea that the trees could also supply food for sheep and goats. There was lots of available space for growing mangroves, so it seemed like an obvious solution. Initially, I had to figure out how best to grow them and how to make the mangroves good food. We found that mangroves would be adequate food for livestock, as long as they were supplemented by a small amount of fish meal prepared from fish waste.”

Years later, thanks to the Manzanar project and Sato’s legacy, Eritreans are using fresh leaves and dried mangrove seeds as livestock feed. This project has also taught herders that the seaweed that washes up on shore can be dried, processed and used as animal feed.

Ammanuel Yemane, Manzanar project manager, takes pride to showcase Sato’s teaching. Sato and his team reached the conclusion the mangroves were growing in areas where rainwater was washing into the sea. The rain was providing nitrogen, phosphorous and iron - elements lacking in seawater. The team buried the seeds with a piece of iron and a punctured bag of fertiliser rich in nitrogen and phosphorous and saw the mangroves flourishing.

Today, Yemane and his team work with women, men, herders and fishers of Hirgigo village to teach them how to use the same technique to plant mangroves so that they can effectively address sustainable resource issues such as providing food for livestock, protecting the fish and preventing deforestation. “The village is now learning to manage the mangroves and we can recover the lost mangroves in approximately 6 months”, comments Yemane

The IFAD-funded Fisheries Development Project will join forces with Yemane and his young group of dedicated and passionate Eritrean to support the rehabilitation of the mangroves and to:

  • build capacity of fishers to develop viable and sustainable business plans
  • teach fishers how to protect marine natural resources such as the coral reefs
  • teach fishers to form cooperatives
  • organize exchange visits

A brighter future
Through out their history Eritrean people repeatedly have shown their resilience and resoluteness. It goes without saying that they will be able to unleash the potential of their untapped gold mine - their fisheries sector – in the most sustainable manner and as a result contribute substantively to improve the livelihoods of the coastal population and create a vibrant local private sector.

Watch short video of Eritrean fishers unloaded their first class catch