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Helping People Help Themselves

Helping People Help Themselves

Helping People Help Themselves

One of the African Community Advancement Initiative’s main goals is to provide education and resources to farmers in Rufiji, Tanzania so that they can increase their agricultural output. One aspect of our program is the provision of higher quality seeds. This is important because a seed that is genetically stronger can make more food, and grow in adverse environments. Strong seeds can better withstand flooding, drought, and lower quality soil. Even the best farmers can do little to improve their output without good seeds.

Recently in Rwanda, farmers have been complaining about the slow delivery of quality seeds promised to them by the government. They also claim that they are receiving less than what was promised to them. In some areas “beans are not delivered at all and farmers still use the old variety”. If farmers do not have access to better resources, they will be stuck using the same materials and techniques that, so far, have not been able to alleviate poverty. Also, in places where maize seeds were delivered, they “never sprouted because they did not adapt to the soil”. In addition to better seeds, good fertilizer is crucial.

Nonprofits and the government, for the most part, have usually provided better seeds. However, there has been massive recent expansion in the private seed industry. Dr. Joe Devries, director of Program for Africa’s Seed Systems, says “we were using public agencies to get seed to farmers. We were doing ad hoc projects funded by donors to get the seeds to farmers, but we never really treated it as a local business”. He seems to believe that allowing seed provision to enter the free market would improve the efficiency of the provision system. It would also open up another area for citizens to make money from. Governments and NGOs do not always
operate at market equilibrium prices and this can alter the incentive for quality production and distribution.

Part of the reason high quality seeds are typically not provided by free market means is due to a lack of education on their importance, leading to insufficient demand to sustain a market. In Rwanda, for example, farmers are concerned about seed provision because they have seen how important good seeds are. This is why ACAI’s program includes our own farm, in which we will demonstrate the importance of good seeds and fertilizer. It is our hope that local farmers will see our larger output and, through our training, be able to replicate it. This will allow them to create a surplus and purchase their own good seeds and fertilizer later on.

There are a lot of different opinions on the effectiveness of NGOs versus the free market. I think that NGOs can be effective if they act as facilitators to entry into the free market. That exactly what ACAI is aiming to do, and why I am so enthusiastic about ACAI’s goals, and why I decided to apply for a position here. Their template is replicable and does not entail dependency. Most people want better lives for themselves, but many to not have the means to do so. Providing education, healthcare, and startup resources is the best way to help people help themselves.

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