A Letter from Benny Dembitzer
Some of us have been talking amongst ourselves for some time and some others for less time, but if you are reading this, you will have heard of GRASSROOTS MALAWI which Benny Dembitzer started some 5 years ago. The intention was clear, and perhaps became increasingly clear as we were progressing. The aim is to explore a possible path for outsiders to help rural people of Malawi move from our aid to development that reflects local people's needs and aspirations.
There is no shortage of aid projects in Malawi and Africa, but the key issue remains that farmers are producing less and less because their lands are exhausted and have become too dry, there is less water, they have to remove trees and vegetation because there is no other source of fuel. Farmers are hungrier than ever before. Malawi has to sell more tobacco, which produces foreign currency, but kills the soil. All these challenges require a holistic approach, in which all work towards the same goal and stick to it. We are clearly not doing so and we are harming more than helping. Nothing will change in the foreseeable future.
The large NGOs - those that could make a difference - are so determined to build their own structures, that they are less concerned to achieve lasting change at the very grassroots. If WorldVision, CARE, Caritas Internationalis, the International Red Cross, Mercy Corps, MSF, the International Rescue Committee, or any of the many others, were to start advocating and supporting not imported, but local seeds, not imported chemical fertilisers but local compost-making, not imported mechanisation but introducing appropriate techniques, they would have had a lasting effect. Given the number of organisations and the size of some of them, they could have made an impact. Each should have agreed to work in a particular area of the country and commit themselves to that area. They could have supported the government's effort to bring primary education to all parts of the country. They could have strengthened the agricultural extensions service of the Ministry of Agriculture. Most of the large NGOs have become sub-contractors to their own governments' aid projects - dealing with efficient delivery at the expense of lasting transformation.
A different issue concerns the smaller NGOs. There are at least 900+ charitable organisations based in the UK alone working in Malawi.The thousands of NGO projects undertaken by the British, the Americans, the Irish, the Germans, and others, have become little oasis, and many of them run out of water. They operate totally in their own universe.
Our aim was and remains to be a forum for the exchange of bits of information resulting from practical experience - the best way to extend small and medium local seed multiplication centres, how to engage a community to look after its local water pumps, how to improve their tools, how to enable those who rear small animals - pigs, chickens, goats - to mix dung with agricultural waste. Farmers should be encouraged to produce their own food and sell it locally, not have to fight against the World Food Program that buys from the richer farmers and then distributes it for free.
We have however discovered some very positive initiatives in developing school gardens to feed school communities, windmill energy to power local warehouses to keep food cool, small irrigation dams to ensure water throughout the year, plots dedicated to growing bamboo that provide an annual crop of timber, and similar. We will publish some of the stories we have come across.
We now want to open up the discussion and the website to anyone who would be interested to join in the wider discussion and become more effective to the people we actually want to support. We are entering an era in which the rich world will be ever less interested in aiding poorer countries. It is time for those who care to transform our assistance into development. We hope that you will write in with your experiences and suggestions.
Please write to Benny at info@grassrootsMalawi.org. We welcome all relevant, helpful contributions.
"Like slavery and apartheid,
hunger is caused by men."
- Nelson Mandela