Development sector ‘shake-up’ will benefit Africa
Merged NGO says they need to pool resources if they are to make a significant difference
The merger of Irish NGOs Gorta and Self Help Africa last Saturday has created one of the largest non-profit agricultural organisations in Ireland and Britain.
The merger comes at a time when the Irish charity sector faces a reputational challenge in the wake of controversies surrounding the Central Remedial Clinic and Rehab.
With more than 8,000 charities registered in a country this small, it makes sense that the public would start asking about inefficiencies and duplication of effort.
Senior management at the new Gorta-Self Help Africa say non-profit NGOs need to change with the times, pool resources and innovate if they are to make a significant difference, especially now that many of them have experienced a decline in funding since the economic crisis.
Pete Power, who is to become head of strategy and business development at Gorta, says he hopes the merger with Self Help Africa will “shake up” the development sector in Ireland and, specifically, lead to a more market-focused approach to international agri-development.
Both organisations have been around for a long time. Gorta was set up in 1965 as an Irish response to a UN hunger campaign; Self Help Africa had its genesis in the Ethiopian famine of 1984. Together they will implement programmes in Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso.
Power wants to see a move away from the the traditional aid approach which helps farmers increase their crop yield but fails to impart much business knowledge.
“If you don’t work on access to markets or on processing food and adding value to it, you usually have a problem where you have an increased supply of food and then the price crashes,” he says.
Improving local access
“We’re very open to working with business,” Power adds, “and we see it as a necessary part of development. Without it, you’re limited in what you can do.”
He points to the development of Irish agriculture in the last century and a half, which went from mostly subsistence farming to free tenure of property to the co-operative movement and on to multinational corporations like Kerry Group and Glanbia, as a model for sub-Saharan Africa.
“That’s how development worked in Ireland and that’s how agricultural development has succeeded in a lot of countries and not following the success of that model in Africa is kind of stupid.”
Before he joined Gorta just over six months ago, Power worked with AMK in Cambodia, a micro-finance institution with almost 400,000 customers. He says Gorta will specifically target the private sector.
He compares the price of a missionary priest who would have gone to remote Uganda in the 1960s, drawing a basic salary, to the more modern aid development worker who requires a good wage, benefits, PRSI contributions at home etc. “It’s going to cost you 10 times the price and you’re not going to get somebody to go there for 20 years.”
He says that development model has to change. “The work of the small projects are probably not as impactful, not as appropriate in 2014. So I think things have changed around us. Part of the merger is a reaction to the reality that the world has changed – we can’t stay the same forever.”
For Ray Jordan, who will become the chief executive of the new organisation, the focus is on transforming Ireland’s relationship with Africa.
“That’s all we are; we create opportunities and the opportunities are for small holder farmers. How can we help those farmers get to the market place?
“It’s exactly the same as what anyone in agri-business in Ireland wants to know: can I get my product to the highest possible quality, to the best possible price, into the market place?”
Jordan says he would like to see a period of consolidation in the non-profit sector in Ireland and a move away from a diversity of small groups each receiving funding to do outreach work in Africa. Instead, groups should work together to get things moving on the ground and, eventually, make themselves redundant.
However he also says investing in Africa now makes smart business sense. “Roll the clock forward. In five, 10, 20 years, where will the Irish Dairy Board want to be making investments, where will the Glanbias and the Kerry Groups of this world be looking for new, emerging and exciting places? It is going to be sub-Saharan Africa.”
30-40% of GDPWorld Bank
“Agriculture and agri-business will absolutely be the driving force in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Jordan, adding that he is disappointed by the lack of Irish investor interest.
“I just see lots and lots of people from China, the Middle East, South America, all in looking for opportunities and I think, why wait to be number 10 in line, why not be number one or number two? Because we absolutely know our agriculture, we absolutely know our co-operative movements, so why don’t we get down on the ground and do good business?”