Perhaps Albert Camus said it best:
“Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
Africa is littered with well-meaning aid programs gone wrong.
Traveling through rural villages, we’ve seen technology graveyards of industrial farming machines rusting in the sun because they’ve broken down or the community can’t afford the fuel to keep them running.
In our 30 years of developing and implementing appropriate technologies, we’ve learned that no idea—no matter how noble or innovative—can succeed without community collaboration.
After learning from farmers that they were losing more than a third of their grain due to inefficient processing methods, CTI began developing a concept for a set of manually-operated grain processing tools. For the past three years, we’ve met with farmers in West Africa to get their take on our equipment. Beyond whether or not the technology is effective, we want to know that it’s culturally appropriate and desired. Because, as brilliant as an idea may be, if the people don’t want it, it won’t work.
In November, CTI Executive Director Roger Salway and Program Manager Andrea Brovold visited 20 villages in Senegal to meet with farmers and have them test the equipment. The farmers were elated, but don’t take our word for it, they can speak for themselves.
One of the most perceptive responses came from Cheickh Dame, an established farmer. “In my father’s generation, the introduction of fertilizers was the boom. Those that were not early adopters or that didn’t believe this would help are no longer here. As soon as these technologies are made available, I will be the first in line.” His sentiment was echoed in many of the villages we visited. Not only do the farmers desire the equipment, they would gladly purchase it given the opportunity.
It may surprise some people, but even in the most desperately poor communities, people don’t want handouts, they want opportunities. Whether it’s a community pooling its resources to fund clean water, or women paying back a loan with their grinding business, the people we meet are smart, hardworking, and fiercely proud of what they can accomplish.
Experience has taught us that development works best when people are helping themselves. With this in mind, CTI is passing on its knowledge and technology to Africans. After our recent field tests, CTI’s prototype equipment was purchased by USAID and will continue to be operated in Senegal in collaboration with the National Cooperative Business Association, who is helping farmers improve their value chain for pearl millet grain. We have identified a manufacturer in Senegal that can build the grain processing technology and a Senegalese distributor that will train communities to use the equipment.
Thank you for your support as we’ve worked to get these tools right. This has been years in the making, but we are nearly ready to get these tools in the hands of the farmers who need them. In the words of one woman in Senegal:
“We are thankful we are thankful we are thankful!”