Sunday, December 17, 2006

04. A Millionaire

Today I met a millionaire. A millionaire who claims to be too poor to keep his 12 year-old daughter in school. How can this be true and who is this monster? Allow me to introduce to you, Mr. Nyambe Namasiku.

He may not fit your typical image of a rich man but I assure you, that in Zambia, he is indeed a millionaire. Mr. Namasiku is a resourceful jack of all trades; farming, fishing and carpentry are but of a few of his specialties, but his main business is cattle - and this where he has accumulated his fortune.

He has a nice heard of 80 traditional Barotse stock cattle - a breed that is well adapted to the trying environment of the flood plains in Western Zambia where I have been working with Engineers Without Borders for the past four months.

But is he really a Millionaire? A healthy cow in Zambia fetches CAD$ 300 on the local market, or roughly ZMK 1,000,000 (Zambian kwacha). His heard is then valued at 80 million kwacha or CAD$ 25,000... making him the richest man in his community.

But why would a millionaire pull his daughter out of grade six? Meet Mable.

Mable is not happy about it, but she understands that her father can no longer afford the fees and school supplies required. She knows that she needs to help on the farm to ensure their family is food secure next season. The sad thing is, is that Mable is not alone - only 20% of children in this area even register for grade 8.

While primary school in Zambia is technically free, costs do accumulate quickly and force a large percentage of students to drop out as they lack financial support. In 2004, in the western province, only 55% of children finished grade seven, 20% then entered grade eight, and then only half or 10% of those finished their grade twelve exams.


So, what's the problem? The solution simple right - sell a cow and keep Mable in school! Back in Saskatchewan, one of my closest friends paid his way through university by selling a couple of cows each semester, so why not let Mable do the same. Well... after starting to understand the cultural, social, and economic context of the area, I see that it's not so simple.

Cattle as a bank: For many vulnerable people living in developing countries, animals are the most effective form of savings and income smoothing. Since the "modern bank" is a two day walk from his village, this traditional banking system provides security for Mable's family. They will sell a cow when needed, but only in dire straits - to avoid starvation, to prepare a proper funeral, or to help out a family member in an equally tough situation. There are a lot of competing forces to sell-off animals but Mable's dad is disciplined. This is why he has not yet depleted his best asset like many of his neighbours. Since Mable has 7 siblings all of whom would like to attend school each year... his 80 cattle could dry-up rapidly if he was too quick to sell.

Access to Markets: When I was living in Toronto I could bike to Mountain Equipment Co-op in 20 minutes, or in Saskatoon I could order items online with overnight delivery. For Mr. Namasiku, market access is a bit more challenging. Next to the bank in Mongu (the biggest city in the province) you'll find Zambeef™ (the major cattle buyer in the country). Again like the bank, the problem is the four day walk to reach this buyer. Eight days (total trip) is a long time away from home where he's needs to fish and farm. Plus it's difficult to find food on the journey and he has no way of knowing the current buying price at Zambeef. The alternative is selling to the nomadic cattle buyers who wander village to village buying cattle and talking them to Mongu in bulk. The problem here is that through predatory pricing they will pay only half of what the cow is actually worth.

Animal Health: In these parts, there are no vets, no medicines, and essentially no health care or treatment for the animals. This results in extremely high calf mortality rates, worm infested bellies, stunted growth, oozing eyes and typically tough and unfit-to-eat meat; in other words, a complete nightmare to export or sell. The government of Zambia does a few "mass vaccinations" each year, but they are one-off programs that target only epidemics that pose an immediate threat to the national heard. When Mr. Namasiku finds a sick animal, he springs into action, meaning he walks two days, to visit the nearest government vet who most likely has an empty drug cabinet and certainly no transportation. By the time he returns home, perhaps empty handed, it's quite likely that 4 or 5 of his cattle have already died.

Prestige: To compound all of this, our old friend prestige adds a final blow. In absence of extremely large 4x4 trucks as in used in Alberta to denote status, holding a big heard of animals gives you tremendous respect and power in the community - hence adding another restraint to selling.


Through EWB, I was placed with PROFIT, a four year, $USD 400,000 private sector development program. We're working in the livestock, agricultural input supply, export crops, tourism and forestry sectors.

Our goal in the livestock sector is to address the problems above. To improve the competitiveness of the cattle industry in Zambia. This is of course just an intermediary goal to increasing wealth and security to small scale cattle farmers for families like Mable's.

Our assumption is that poor animal health is the most foundational of the problems discussed above. If addressed and if market access is also improved (as we plan to do next year) the prestige issues should solve itself rather organically.

Our strategy is to use a private sector development approach to create an affordable preventative health care system for small-scale cattle farmers.

We are doing so by working with a private vet, who prepares a HHP (heard health plan) which he sells to farmers 12 months in advance. This plan includes all important vaccinations, treatments, mineral supplements, routine procedures, and even emergency visits to ensure healthy animals.

Then, once this health plan is ready to be marketed, we work with communities to gently introduce it to them as it is quite a foreign concept. Together we also explore options for payment to make it possible. This usually means selling 1 animal to ensure the health of 20 to which there is immediate resistance. But, when you start calculating that last year alone 30 animals in the village died from prevatable illnesses, and that had they sold those 30 they could have guaranteed the health of 600, some community leaders, or "early adopters" start championing the idea and organizing groups of farmers to buy into the heard health plan.


The good news for Mable is that her father is one of these enlightened community champions - far from a monster! He has gathered five of his friends with a total of 160 animals to put on the plan and hopes to stabilize his livelihood so Mable can get back to school.

We've got a lot of work ahead of us to help mediate the contract negotiations and then to oversee the service delivery. Finally we'll take on the challenge of measuring the true benefits to the community and compare those to our projections.

It is complicated but I believe things are looking on the up-and-up for Mable and her friends and there chances for finishing school!

I'll keep you posted on how things go. I have yet to set a plan that hasn't changed, or formed an opinion that hasn't been reformed since I've arrived in Zambia! If you have any questions or ideas, please post them. I've simplified the situation and our project, so if you want more info let's talk!

I hope you have a fantastic Christmas! I'll be missing home a bunch (really) but I'm sure my first Christmas in Africa will interesting!

Take Care,

- Chad

P.S. I also want to direct you to five cool websites:
My good friend Davin has gone BIG with his new online movie.
The Otesha Project is looking for it's 2007 bike tour team members.
Kofi Annan has said goodbye to the United Nations, read his final speech.
Think outta the box and buy someone a cool gift this year.
All the pictures from this entry can be watched in a fancy slide show.


Kropla said...

Hey Chad,
Well Ive gotta say im impressed. This is my first post but ive been following along each time you send a new update out. Its awesome to see that you are really making a difference, its more than most people can say. Anyway keep going forward and good luck with everything out there, and we will see you when you get back to Saskatoon!
- Kropla

pat a said...

Hi Chad,
Your mom just sent me your blog. I read it from the start to your last post. What a fall you have had! The project sounds really practical and interesting. I am sending your blog on to others so they can follow your work. Have a Merry Christmas Chad. There sure is alot of work to do in the world and you are doing your part.

Mallory said...

Chad, it was very interesting and enlightening to read about Mr. Namasidu & Mable and the situation they face. At least because of your work, there is some hope that things might improve for them and they may be able to sustain a future solution. Keep up the good work. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Africa! We miss you.
Love Mom and Dad

Jennifer said...

Hi Chad!!
Once again i have enjoyed your update! You truly are amazing! Have a very Merry Zambian Christmas, we will miss you this year. Keep up the good work!!

Love Jenny

Anonymous said...

Chad mon ami:

Interesting, challenging and exciting all at once. You're a great writer and the project with PROFIT seems like good development (I'd be interested in more of your thoughts on that). I hope your Christmas in Africa is okay. I'm sure your energy this season will be missed by your family and friends.

Keep making miracles happen,

Kelsey said...

Hi Chad,

I'll share a couple quotes from a book I just finished reading called "Field Notes on the Compassionate Life" written by Marc Ian Barasch:

“It’s true our human task is made harder by the institutionalization of hurt and harm, by an accumulated investment in the ruin of our own prospects. But we are, collectively, wiser than our leaders, kinder than our institutions, more open hearted than all our dogmas.”

"We also know there’s already enough to feed, clothe, house, heal, and educate everyone, without exception. It’s less a shortage of resources than a short-changing of imagination: compassion being an ability to imagine – to see – the connection between everyone and everything, everywhere.”

Take care and safe journeys.

All my relations,

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
carlos said...

Interesting information is very useful for many people the truth seems to me important to read an articles of this kind, thanks for sharing with us and I want to read an article about Dinero Online because I want to start a business