25 November 2013

Americans Don't Like Foreign Aid

A new survey shows that Americans know little about the US foreign aid budget and would support cutting it to save money.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) is back with its annual survey on foreign aid. It again finds that people overestimate the amount of money spent each year.

More than three-fifths of people surveyed said the US spends too much money on foreign aid. When told that foreign aid only accounts for 1% of the federal budget, support swung in favor with two-thirds saying the US spends too little or the right amount on foreign aid.

Support is stronger for global health spending, but when it comes to cutting budget deficits, foreign aid is on the cutting room floor. Foreign aid one of the first things Americans want to see cut, even before government employee salaries, social programs or defense spending.

Talking about global health specifically appears to get more support from people surveyed, but there is not a significant increase in support as compared to foreign aid. The majority of people continue to say that the US cannot afford to spend more money on global health. It is a trend that is relatively constant dating back to March 2009.

Political leanings are also reflected in attitudes towards foreign aid and global health spending. Self-identified Republicans tend to think too much is spent on global health by the US and what is spent won’t lead to meaningful progress. Democrats are more favorable and Independents stake out a middle space. It further affirms that Democrats are more likely to be allies in the rallying cry for foreign aid.

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07 November 2013

Struggling to leave extreme poverty

Yala, Kenya  - The world's leaders want to reduce extreme poverty to three percent by 2030. Mary Anyango would like to see progress now.

Getting to the overall target means halving the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by 2020 to nine percent, World Bank President Jim Kim said earlier this month.

“Our strategy calls for more investment in fragile states, and it also calls for working on a variety of fronts to combat climate change; and to improve health and education systems, especially for the benefit of girls and women,” said Kim at the Bank's annual meeting.

But it is one thing to talk about lifting people above the $1.25 line; it is, of course, another thing to do it.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is an initiative aimed at showing how and it started in Sauri, Kenya in 2005. By providing a series of opportunities and interventions, the MVP was designed to meet some of the Millennium Development Goals and create an environment that would tackle problems like extreme poverty.

It has managed to help some improve their lives, but Mary Anyango still struggles. She has benefited from the assistance of the MVP, but her income continues to slide following the death of her husband in 2000. Getting her out of extreme poverty is proving to be difficult.

DSC_0049She built her current home by hand ten years ago. The mud structure shows some cracks around the edges, but features a metal roof. She and the four children that stay with her (two are hers and two are grandchildren) sleep under bednets provided by the MVP to protect against malaria.

The farm is the most significant drive of income for Anyango. She says she used to use local seeds and no fertilizer for her crops. At that time she could only count on one bag of maize per season. Now, thanks to improved seed and fertilizer, she has more than four bags sitting in her bedroom.

“I have benefited a bit from the program,” she said.

Beans are now grow on her two small plots to return nitrogen to the soil. When planting maize, Anyango follows the improved farming methods recommended by the MVP staff by planting two seeds every seventy-five centimeters.

Farmers used to be provided inputs for free by the MVP, but it weaned people in the cluster off slowly and transition them to microfinance loans. The poorest are provided the seed and fertilizer in exchange for one bag at harvest.

Two thousand woman in the MVP cluster, including Anyango, are considered indigent. They are the the most vulnerable and a majority are women who are widowed or abandoned by their husbands. Besides the MVP, Anyango received from the local Community Development Fund and FHI360.


School fees for her children cost 53,000 KSH per year. A sum that Anyango cannot afford. NGO support reduces her annual fees to just 5,000 KSH each year. Without support from FHI360, her children would not be in school.

Some small sewing helps to bring in additional money, but most of it comes during the Christmas season. She uses a sewing machine provided by the MVP to also make school uniforms and other clothing.
The white skirt and blouse that she put on for our arrival was made by Anyango. She enjoys the sewing and wishes she could do more. However the resources to expand are not available.
“If I had a shop I could increase my machines and begin trainings,” she said.

Further support from the MVP is evident on the property. Aside from the farm, bednets and the sewing machine, there is a water pump. The program has helped Anyango and possibly kept her from the brink, but getting her out of poverty remains incredibly hard.

Earlier rains make it harder for Anyango's crops to grow. A child who fell ill from a school deworming tablet adds another concern. However she remains hopeful.

One of her children, she says, dreams to be a lawyer and another a journalist. She never imagined her children would have such lofty goals. Describing it brings a visible sense of pride to her face.

“I leave it to God,” she says.

06 November 2013

From food to cash: raising chickens in Kenya

DSC_0121Visitors to the farm of Francis Ondier, 52, must wash their hands and shoes before coming onto the property.

“I don't want you to bring any diseases from other farms here,” he says.

Ondier is used to having visitors from across Kenya come and see his farm. They want to learn how a small-holder farmer can raise chickens as a business. Things are going so well for the former train mechanic that he recently turned down a salary job in Nairobi.

Most families around western Kenya own a chicken or two. The few eggs produced are collected and usually fed to the children. The chicks that do survive may be sold or eventually eaten. For most families, a chicken is a source of food. For Ondier, it is money.

“Few people realize this is an income generator,” he said as he pointed at a group of new chicks.

DSC_0131They are kept in a tiered coup on the side of a shed to keep them out of danger from hawks. Without the ability to provide artificial warmth, Ondier collects the chicks in a ventilated cardboard box to spend the night on the kitchen counter. Squeezing them in together provides the warmth they need overnight.

In the morning, he returns the birds to their rows to warm up in the morning sun. The location was picked so that the chicks can warm up as the day begins. When the chicks grow they make it to a larger coop before finally getting to go outside once they are too big for flying predators to take away.

Ondier's inspiration is Nelson Mandela. The South African leader's quote, “It only seems impossible until it's done,” can be found around the farm.

He knows that hardship well. When he started raising chicken for selling he did terribly. The 120 chicks that were initially born saw a mortality rate of 70% to 80%. He did not know how to protect them and keep them healthy.

Opportunity came through a training event outside of Nairobi. Put on by Winrock International and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), the goal was to train farmers in chicken rearing methods so that they can put the knowledge to work and train fellow farmers.


Ondier was not supposed to go. The MVP initially completely paid for farmers to attend such trainings. Community members traveled well, had food covered and stayed in nice hotels, he said. By the time Ondier was farming, the MVP only supported transportation costs.

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A Project Worth Supporting: Tiny Spark

There needs to be more reporting in the humanitarian industry. Especially the kind that raises questions about the status quo.

Amy Costello is an amazing reporter who is using Kickstarter to continue investigating the business of doing good. She wants to raise $25k to do more reporting herself and pay for others to contribute. She launched the campaign yesterday and has managed to raise nearly $10k. Go here and scroll down to hear some of Amy's stories on Toms Shoes, volunteering in Haiti and anti-malaria bednets. In the video below she explains her reporting and idea.

05 November 2013

School tries to profit from farm project

Yala, Kenya - It is not often that a greenhouse is found on the property of a primary school in Kenya. Muhando primary school in Nyanza province has one.

It is a part of an agriculture program at the school supported by the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

With successful crops and involvement by students and teachers, the project holds the potential to support some of the most vulnerable. Though it is still early and the teachers are not exactly sure what they will do with the profit.

One teacher asserted that it the money made from the farm must support the needy children in the school. Another said it could be used to improve lunch. School meals are available at the school for children that pay or are determined to be vulnerable. Maize and beans are cooked in giant cookstoves installed by the MVP.

The MVP is the brainchild of Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.

The program seeks to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by tackling poverty from many different angles including education, health and agriculture. The program's work at Muhando covers the full range of areas.

DSC_0174The program's fingerprints are all over the school. It bought the cow that produces twenty-four liters of milk every week. It built the rainwater storage tank that collects rainwater from the roof of the school building. It established a computer lab by providing the computers for the school. It even used to provide kale, fruit and other foods to stimulate participation in the meal program.

It's role now is mostly to check in. The meal support was pulled and transferred over to the parents who contribute with food or money. It is how the program generally operates. It identifies areas of need, provides immediate support and transitions control quickly to the community, individual or establishment.

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04 November 2013

A Kenyan milk farmer dreams of a pick up truck

DSC_0413Sauri, Kenya - George Aronyi dreams of one day buying a pick up truck. He is a planner who was laughed at when he told his father that he would build a nice home.

"One day I will get out and put up a good permanent house," he said to his father.

The father of seven children managed to turn a challenge into an opportunity. After losing his job, he took advantage of the resources of the Millennium Village Project (MVP) and struck out on his own. With a growing business of selling milk and maize, he is not far off from getting that pick-up.

A telecoms worker in Nairobi, Aronyi was laid off in 2008. He returned to his home to the west unsure what to do next. His wake up call came in the form of a son being sent home for school over 100 KSH in missing school fees.

He decided to find a job to provide for his family, but was dissuade from doing so. Nevertheless, Aronyi secured employment as a landscaper. This is where things turned around. Having done such a great job as a landscaper, one of his customers thanked him by giving him a cow.

Milk from the cow and maize from his acre of land supplied enough of an income to get by, but he needed to expand. The MVP provided free inputs to his plot in 2005. It is how he learned to use fertilizer and improved seeds. By 2008 the subsidy was not available and more land was needed.

So he leased some. The seemingly simple solution was not common practice. Aronyi again saw resistance from family, friends and neighbors, but the results stood from themselves. He went from producing 5 bags of maize per season to producing 100 bags and hiring two workers.

"I feel like I pioneered by leasing out land," he said.

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01 November 2013

Mobile money unlocks opportunities for Kenyan farmers

Kisumu, Kenya – The picture of a farmer with a cell phone checking market prices is nearly ubiquitous.

Cell phones connect people to each other as families and businesses. However, it is mobile money that may be formalizing Kenya's small businesses.

The oft-touted M-PESA cash transfer system pioneered in Kenya is changing business just as it did banking. Small businesses are using e-payments to not only collect money from customers, but expand their services.

Cell phone technologies are no longer simply places to make phone calls and check market prices. They are supporting small business growth in Kenya.

Nahashon Mugi, 46, is one business owner doing just that. His Macnut Farms sells fruit tree seedlings across Kenya. His customers make their orders and he sends a text message with information on how to pay by phone. Once the payment is received, he ships the seedlings to the customer.

“Using M-PESA is convenient and more accurate for me,” he said.

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