Disclaimer: My sources of information for this post are from conversations with farmers in Chinjala and from conversations with Cooperative Management. Some information is second hand and subject to biases. Nothing should be taken as fact, rather as observations and opinions. The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the views of Engineers Without Borders Canada.
The thing about blogging is that you never know who is reading your thoughts. It could be family, friends, or some guy at the USAID skimming over volunteer blogs and putting names on a blacklist if we slander their projects making it impossible to find employment upon graduation. Kidding, but you know what I mean. Lucky for you I think you knowing how dysfunctional some development projects can be is worth the risk.
A couple months back I stayed in Chinjala Village. Chinjala literally means “big hunger”. There are not a lot of people who go without food. If you ask farmers, “are there people who starve?” they always answer, “No. Just the lazy ones.” But, even the lazy fill their bellies by relying on the innate generosity of their neighbors. Like many parts of Zambia now, in Chinjala there is 'big hunger' for something else – business.
In July 2008 the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) started funding a project in Chinjala Village called the Chinjara Livestock Cooperative Society Milk Project. First thing you will notice is the village is spelt wrong in the cooperative name. Either they were trying to be unique, or the non-local management gets that little input from the community.
The goals of this project are to “Improve the standard of living of small-scale milk producers in the Chipata District of Eastern Province”. The purpose is to increase salaries of the CLCS employees and coop farmers. You can take a look at the project description here, which outlines in more detail the purpose, the activities and outputs of the project, and an M&E scheme. I’ve also found the project budget here. The grand total comes to about 150,000 CAD.
The plan was to import dairy cattle from North America and distribute them to Chinjala Village farmers. Exotic cattle, as they call them, can produce 15-20L of milk a day, whereas the local Angoli cattle can’t produce over 5L. But, to keep the cattle lactating they also planned to use artificial insemination (AI) which doesn’t seem quite like an ‘appropriate technology’ to me but so be it. For disease control a coop vet was hired, who, like the rest of the management, is paid on salary by the American people.
Of the 64 exotic cattle that arrived in Chinjala on the first shipment, 64 are dead. Like North American volunteers coming to Zambia, North American dairy cows usually get sick with foreign diseases, but unlike North American volunteers they usually don’t get better. When the second shipment of 60 cattle arrived there was kerfuffle over who got the exotic cattle, and how many. This caused tensions in the community. One farmer threatened to sue the cooperative as he was not given as many cattle as promised. Of the second shipment of 60 cattle which just arrived, 4 are already dead.
This is the point where I walked into Chinjala.
In the village I stayed with 1 of the 4 Community Livestock Assistants (CLA) in Chinjala, who makes his business providing basic vet services to farmers. After spending a night in the village hallucinating about the awesomeness of cheeseburgers I think I referred to the cooperative as "The Cheeseburger of Opportunities" for Chinjala CLAs to expand their business. As a side project I tried to set up meetings between the CLAs and the coop. The single coop vet can’t manage to deliver necessary services to all the farmers, and the CLAs are hungry to expand their business. How could the relationship fail?
You know that farmer that tried to sue the cooperative? That same farmer turned out to be the chair person for the four CLAs in the Chinjala area. He doesn’t want anything to do with the coop. You know the coop vet? On top of his salary pai by Americans, he is also charging for services – services that when the CLAs provide take away his side business. He doesn’t want anything to do with the CLAs.
Even if these personal motives were put aside, the cooperative wanted the CLAs to provide services on credit. But, the Cooperative has no money so the CLAs refused. In fact, farmers are no longer taking their milk to the cooperative to sell; they are taking it to town because the cooperative hasn’t been paying them. No money, dying cattle, farmers not loyal to the cooperative, a flawed disease prevention system; and when I went to visit the coop they still asked me if I could help them purchase a pasteurizer and cold storage room because THAT would fix all their problems. I told them no, and they told me to come back later to pick up the proposal anyways. I didn’t.
USADF has given the project has until the end of the year to be sustainable. When the manager was asked what he would do if the project didn’t become sustainable he said he would simply leave and find another job. This is the same manager who signed the project proposal to USADF with the name of the Village spelled wrong.
Let me ask you this: What does it take, other than foreign money and capital, in order for a development project to be successful? Or, is the point that foreign money and capital inherently make development projects unsuccessful? If a business relies on donor money to operate, is that really a business that can satisfy the ‘big hunger’? Can it even be considered a business?
It’s another example of a development project that has been launched before thinking through completely where it will end up. I call it RFAD. Ready-Fire-Aim Development. It’s enough to make you want to cry sometimes.
Just stay smart out there,