Earlier this week, I read this article.
The gist is that Bill Gates has donated 100,000 chickens to impoverished communities all over the world.
Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish eat for years. It’s a great quote and the underlying philosophy for trade not aid being the route out of poverty.
Gates is giving out chicken starter kits (a rooster and hens as well as tuition for husbandry and on going support) meaning that within a year, a farmer will have many chickens producing eggs and they can sell further chicks to market. Gates is avoiding some of the pitfalls of initiatives in the developing world: providing the ongoing support (there are for example many broken donated technologies laying around Africa and no means of maintaining them or finding the spare parts); he’s worked out that chickens are raised mostly by women and when women receive income, the cash is far more likely to be spent on nutrition and school fees than if it went to the blokes; finally, a condition of receiving such a gift is that the first offspring is donated to someone else in need. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
It sounds like a fantastic and well thought through scheme, except one thing popped into my head – what about the local chicken producers? Perhaps chickens are only donated to people that would not have the means to ever buy chicks, but Khady buys breeding chicks here for just under one euro, so they’re within most peoples means and there are many local producers making their livings from this business. I can only speak for my local region though.
Problems can be unfathomably complicated and what may seem like simple solutions can on occasion lead to unintended consequences.
It could of course be that Gates has located farmers in each country to source the chicks but there are many other examples of donations impacting local markets, a notorious one being “Tom’s shoes.” When you buy a pair of Tom’s Shoes, they give another pair to a poor child in the developing world. Whilst critics argue that donations takes business away from local shoe manufacturers and sellers, thus hindering potential development, others say that by giving one child free shoes, parents are then forced to buy their other children shoes, so shoe markets in fact get a boost. Maybe, although I’m not too convinced that that would happen here.
It’s tricky and I suppose if you worry too much then nothing would ever happen, but it’s important to be mindful of “unintended consequences.”
One of my guests introduced me to Kiva and perhaps this is the future for small scale development in Africa. It’s a micro-finance scheme where anyone with internet access can lend to anyone across the world. So, let’s say a woman in Senegal needs $100 to start a vegetable garden, she makes her case as best she can and then perhaps a guy in London might lend $25, someone in New York $50 and the balance may be paid by someone in Sweden. A set period and a fair interest rate is agreed and she makes regular updates on her progress. In Kiva’s first three years, $30million was lent over 45,000 loans to people in 42 countries.
What do you think?