A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: happydaves

12 August 2008 Kakamega, Western Province, Kenya

Crossing the land

sunny 24 °C

Blog 12 August 2008 Kakamega, Western Province, Kenya

Well – Happy Dave is back on the road beginning another different adventure. After almost two years of working in Agricultural Development for Africa, I have learned a lot about the priorities, problems and styles of working in order to improve the lives of small resource-poor farmers. I remain committed to using Science and Technology to help achieve these ends, but now add Enterprise to the bag of tricks that I think will work.

Essentially I want to helping all involved to see and create value from their work and be able to feel the rewards. I think it is essential that the farmer values the seed she/he’s obtained. The person getting the seed to the farmer and the company, NGO (charity), or research institute producing the seed must also be rewarded. Without the sense of value from the farmer’s perspective, she will not treat for the new seed or technology with appropriate methods, water and care in order to get the best from it. Development interventions are all too often short-lived and/or very localised in scale due to lack of incentive to reach enough farmers over a long time period. If the disseminators experience the sense of value they will ensure this does not happen.

However, I have been painfully aware that, despite wanting to use Science, Technology & Enterprise to help small farmers in Africa, I have been painfully aware that I have only ever met 3 small farmers. As such, I don’t have genuine first hand knowledge of those people I want to benefit. I needed to experience working directly with my stakeholders so that my experiences can confirm, contradict, clarify or deepen some of the things I’ve learned about them from chatting in pubs or reading authoritative reports.

This is why I’ve come to Kakamega.

So, at the kind invitation of Paul Seward, I’m going to spend the next 2 months working with FIPS-Africa (Farm Input Promotions Africa – www.fipsafrica.org). I’ll be placed in Kakamega, in Western Province of Kenya. If you look on a map, its about an hour’s drive north of Kenya’s third city, Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria.

I left Nairobi yesterday with Musau and Gichuki driving quite slowly in a 4 tonne truck out west from Nairobi. Two hours drive got us about half way along a fantastic newly built road to Nakuru (home of the flamingos and white rhinos). The next many hours along bumpy roads got us less far to the Kericho – in the heart of the Tea Picking lands for Unilever’s PG Tips, Lipton and Brookebonde. It was strange driving across the rift valley – the area before Kericho suffered some of the worst tribe on tribe violence during the post-election clashes in December/January. A number of burned out houses could be seen by the road-side and people still living as IDPs (Internally Displaced People) in tented camps outside several of the villages.
“Why are they still there?” I asked Musau as we drove past. “The election was 7½ months ago.” From seeing Kenya in Nairobi, this was a reasonable question. There is a reasonably functional Grand Coalition between members of both parties; the country has returned to a state of nervous normality with more mistrust but most things happening. Some people have even said that the IDPs just want to keep having an easy life and being fed by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and WFP (World Food Programme).
“You can’t make them go home!” replied my new friend. These people have had their houses and farms burned by their neighbours. People they once considered to be friends. If they return back, notes are put through their doors saying ‘You don’t belong! If you stay, you will be killed.’ What can they do? Where can they go? Would you take your family back to the place they’d been for 60 years if that had happened to you?”

Food for thought!

Anyway – it was getting towards 6pm so we stopped for the night in Kericho before heading on towards Kakamega this morning. Today we negotiated access to some great new varieties of Sweet Potato developed by KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) and squeezed 75 large bags of vines into a 4 tonne truck. After, I came to my new residence – ate some beef stew and rice and now to bed.

Posted by happydaves 07:41 Archived in Kenya Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Uganda – Life

Blog 2007March17

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Well, I’ve been in Uganda for some time now. Really enjoying myself in so many ways.

Firstly, after an extended period without a real Role back in Scotland, its good to have that back again. A job to do.

Secondly, I’m loving that job. The atmosphere in my office is totally different from the atmosphere at the UN or the Kenyan NGO I worked with last year. The people are relaxed, yet professional. They know what their work is and they get on with it – and have the resources to do it. I’m learning lots and contributing something quite valuable too, I think. I also like to believe that they enjoy having my cheery face around the office.  We all sit together for an hour every day at lunch time and talk about the issues and challenges of our jobs or Eastern Africa in general (particularly the Kenyan situation).

One thing that I really like is that staff at all levels seem to feel valued. There was a staff meeting shortly after I arrived, and the boss of the shared office gave everybody the chance to introduce themselves and bring up any issues. The gardeners (Mangeni and Bakali, who I love) told us how they work hard to make sure the flowers are beautiful and they are happy to know that that helps the rest of the team do their job better. They also mentioned they were IT illiterate and asked if they could learn computer skills; the next day were supplied with an old desktop to play with.

I’m also getting to see so many different things here. Part of my job is to visit the 14 agri-businesses funded by my organisation. This has taken me to Nairobi and Thika in Kenya (will shortly visit Kitale in the west of Kenya). I’ve also been to Hoima in Western Uganda and Gulu (home of the Choli people) in Northern Uganda. The businesses do a range of interesting jobs – including, selling seed and farm inputs, organic certification, integrated pest management, buying high value vanilla or avocados from farmers for export to Europe: its so interesting! And I have to come to some sort of judgement about what developmental impacts these businesses are having. What type of farmers their helping? Etc.

Thirdly, I love living in Kampala. When I think about it, I can’t help comparing it to Nairobi. Yes, its true that Kampala is less developed than Nairobi. The electricity is much less reliable. There are only 3 sets of traffic lights. The traffic is terrible. And yet, it is beautiful. The lake side city was (like Rome) built across 7 hills so wherever you look there is a hill and some trees. With about a million people, Kampala is much smaller and feels it. Yes, downtown still has the tower blocks of many cities. Then there are a few big roads heading out of town… but move off those big roads for just a few metres and your on hard packed mud roads with little fields of cassava or maize and small houses.

I’ve joined a running group here called “The Hash”. About 100 people meet every Monday after work and follow one of three routes, marked out with chalk on the ground… W for Walkers, R for Runners and H for Hashes (people who run bits then walk when they get tired). The three routes cross regularly and everybody stops a few times to breathe and let stragglers catch up. Its so nice running across the hills of Kampala and footing down through the small ‘village like’ bits. After Hashing for an hour, we meet together for beer and food and rowdy behaviour before going home. The Hash apparently meet in many cities across the world and is generally the realm of ex-pats, but here in Kampala, probably 70% are Ugandans, so it’s a good way to make friends too.

Yes, Kampala is much more friendly than Nairobi. People here are much less aggressive and, often, want to talk just to get to know you – rather than for money or a job. I’ve heard it said that the relationship between foreigners and black Kenyans in Nairobi has been in place for too long, making it too established to break out of. In Nairobi it is very difficult, even for a friendly Dave, to break that mould. In Kampala, it’s much easier to choose. One of my favourite people here is the guy who I buy bananas from. Freddie owns a small (2m2) shop at the bottom of my street and sells me bananas. After talking for 5 minutes on my first day, he clicked, then squeaked (as Ugandans tend to do) before predicting that he thought we would become friends. One week and many bananas later, he pronounced “David, I think we are friends now. Eeee!”

Perhaps a consequence of the friendliness, Kampala is strikingly safer than Nairobi. Here it feels good to walk around the city centre at night before jumping on the back of a motorbike to take me home. I’ve not heard any tales of robberies here at all.

Similar to Nairobi is that among the internationals, Americans tend to stick together…. And only work in the faith based charities. Unfortunately, my flatmate is one of those, so I’ve had an overdose of them. I only know a few Europeans – and think I’m going to have to be a bit more pro-active about muscling in on their social circles. While I love my Ugandan friends, its always good to have some people who understand you a bit better.

My twin laughed, when I told him that I’m going to Aerobics classes after work several times a week. “Aerobics in Africa? Difficult to imagine,” he said. And, yes I know what he means – but this aerobics is quite different from the British feminine style. Classes are run by super-fit African men. Similarly, most of the participants are very fit African males. Easily as tough as a circuit training class back at York – they really put us through our paces. Add to that Lingala (Congolese) music and a smattering of tribal warbles/calls at exciting points from people in the class and you have a really fun evening that really re-freshens me after a day at work.

Anyway – hope you’re all well.


Posted by happydaves 15:58 Archived in Uganda Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Uganda - back in Africa

Contact Details in Uganda

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Mobile: 00 256 7542 190 10
Home: 00 256 414 220 202
I’m also on Skype

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SUBSCRIBE button the right of this page.

To see photos of the office look at the page below (I’ve written “DOT” instead of “.” So that people looking for the organisation won’t find my blog.

www dot aac dot co dot ke

Posted by happydaves 08:27 Archived in Uganda Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Uganda - back in Africa


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Blog Uganda 08-01-02

Happydave is back on the road. After a few enjoyable months back home in Scotland, I jumped on a plane bound for Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

For those with rusty geography, Uganda is a hilly banana loving country in East Africa. To the south lies lack Victoria, and then Tanzania and Rwanda. The river Nile starts its long journey from this lake and then winds its way up into Sudan in the north. To the west lie the war torn jungles of Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). And to the East is my old home, Kenya.

I’ve come to Uganda to work with an organisation that aims to promote agricultural development through supporting agricultural enterprises. I’m keen to use my time here to learn about how business models can be used to run projects that will sustain their own activities into the future on their own and so have longer lasting effects than some 3 year or 5 year charity style projects.

I’d originally planned to visit Kenya for a week on my way and visit old friends and colleagues, but an hour before I was supposed to check in at the airport on Tuesday – I decided it wasn’t such a good idea… the tragic situation appeared to be deteriorating Minutes to go before running out the door, I switched my flights and then legged it for the airport. I only had time to dash off a quick email explaining to my new boss that I’d be 10 days early.

Sitting on the plane as I passed over Tunisia, it suddenly hit me that I wasn’t headed for a city that I knew, with friends waiting, but an unknown destination – little idea how to get from the airport to the city or where I would stay. Too tired to worry much about it, I curled up in my seat and snoozed till morning.

I seem to have landed on my feet here. Built across several hills there’s a cosy feeling to the town, which is much gentler and friendlier than Nairobi. My office is perched on one of the hills with a nice view and friendly people. I’ve already found a flat to stay in with a view of the lake – sharing with a Rwandese/American guy whose been working in Africa for a few years. Boss took me out to Karaoke on Thursday night too! I’m hoping to spend today (Saturday) getting to explore a bit more the local area.

Posted by happydaves 08:13 Archived in Uganda Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Continued from blog of not finished

Seeds and CHile


Rockefeller is using the small-scale private sector to help with its seed. It’s sad but true. The individuals working in the public sector have little interest in success… and if small shop owners can get

can get a profit by selling seeds along with information to farmers then it means that when a project finishes the shop owner still has an incentive to distribute seed… because they will still make money. Good outputs can therefore outlast the project – sustainability in action rather than just some word in a concept note.

Also, why shouldn’t people be able to make money if they help farmers – it’s a good thing. It has been a hard lesson for a lefty liberal like myself to accept that private sector can be a good thing.

By some chance I am now entering an after work drinking relationship with a guy who runs one of these projects. We are discussing whether there could be a job in it for me.

My trip to Chile
I’ve just got back from Chile. It was good to escape Nairobi for a while. I needed a break – although this was work. But you know what they say – a change is as good as a holiday. I cannot describe to you how nice it felt to spend Saturday and Sunday wondering around the city (Santiago) with a map in my hand and looking like a clueless tourist. Not really something that is possible in Nairobi. Was also great to meet the backpackers in the hostel. Starting out on a 6 month tour of the continent. Excited. Having left their work and responsibilities behind.

On my other day off I went up to the mountains near Santiago. So nice to play in snow and enjoy the view.

Was fun rediscovering my Spanish too.

Work was interesting although the jetlag, combined with a growing cold, really killed me and in the afternoons I was a bit of a mess. I was in Chile to meet with the people who run a project similar to mine for Latin America and the Caribbean. Sharing experiences and ideas. I learned some new things and had some new thoughts. Also understood better some of the drive from my Rome bosses who had initiated my Africa project to replicate the success of the Latin American one. I now have some serious thinking to do about how much of the experience of South America is relevant to Africa.

Back in Nairobi
When I walked back into the flat in Nairobi yesterday my flatmate, Lara, asked if that was it and I was returning to Europe now. I have been a bit grumpy recently and she thought that when I saw some other place I would wash my hands of Africa – up and leave. I haven’t. Not yet.

Why have I been grumpy? I think, as I said, needing a break. I’ve had one long weekend and two other days off plus Christmas, boxing day and new year since before I arrived in early December. And the strain of being here does begin to pull. I was becoming much less tolerant of all things disorganised over here.

Also, even my weekends now aren’t much of a break. I’m looking for jobs. Searching the internet. My contract finishes at the end of July and I don’t yet have anything to go to. I have French lessons three evenings a week and the other two it is really difficult to motivate myself to stay at work late to look for jobs… also, it’s not safe to stay alone there much after dark.

Right, I’m off to bed now to nurse my cold. Hot Toddy, cough medicine and paracetamol are all my new friends.

Posted by happydaves 06:57 Archived in Kenya Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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