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Trade Not Aid - why is it needed in Africa, and can it really work?

In Blog

Having recently moved from the UK to Kenya, I have been struck, as you might imagine, by many contrasts between life in the UK and life here in sub-saharan Africa. Living in the city of Nairobi where development is far greater than I had imagined and many of the comforts of home can be easily found, one could be forgiven for forgetting where you are at times. Yet, drive out to the rural areas and the infrastructure of the city all but disappears.

In the UK, we are blessed with beautiful countryside and quaint villages, many of them affluent and a desirable place for the well off retiree, or work-from-home professional to escape the relentless pace of city life. In sub-saharan Africa, whilst the landscape may exude its own characteristic beauty, life for most in the rural areas is far from beautiful. It is a daily struggle for survival, with no electricity (over 600 million people in sub-saharan Africa have no access to electricity) or water in their homes (the United Nations estimates that 40 billion hours are spent per year collecting water in sub-saharan Africa). And this is not the fate of the few. 62% of the population in sub-saharan Africa lives in a rural area, compared to 17% in the UK. Whilst in Uganda where we source our delicious Asante Mama cacao beans, this figure rises to a whopping 84% of the population (World Bank staff estimates based on the United Nations Population Divisions World Urbanization Prospects: 2014 Revision).

But whilst living without electricity and running water might seem unfathomable to your or I, it is the absence of decent roads in these areas that perpetuates the isolation of the rural communities and excludes them from the economy. Poor or non-existent roads are the norm, and so transportation of goods is too great a challenge for most potential buyers. This means millions of Africans are consigned to survival through subsistence farming - they eat what they grow and earn very little income. This video shows the road into one of the Asante Mama farms in rural Uganda where Storimarket sources its Organic Cacao Beans from. This is one of the more accessible farms, with some only accessible by motorbike or even on foot. In rainy season, flooding can mean the farms become completely inaccessible for weeks at a time.   

So what do these people need to turn their lives around? At Storimarket we believe they need trade, not aid. They need people to be willing to overcome the infrastructure challenges and begin trading with them. In 2007, successful agricultural economist and wife of an Italian diplomat, Pamela Anyoti Peronaci did just that. Having herself grown up in poverty in rural Uganda, she embarked on a project that aimed to transform the lives of her fellow Ugandans through a business based on trade, not aid. She reached out to farmers in the remotest parts of Uganda and began providing training, seedlings and a guaranteed market for their produce.

And does this trade not aid approach really work? Well, here are some facts and you can decide for yourself.

  • From a small start working with 15 widowed farmers in 2007, Asante Mama now works with over 10,000 farmers across Uganda - that’s over 10,000 people who have moved from subsistence farming to earning an income.
  • In 2015, Asante Mama began producing its own retail products, including herbal teas and the cacao beans that we sell at Storimarket - producing their own end product cuts out the middlemen and has further increased income for the farmers.
  • The success of the project has caught the attention of the government, and already in Mpigi district where there are a number of Asante Mama farms the local government has begun upgrading the main road into the area. Pamela and the communities are also in talks with the government to encourage them to provide water and electricity in the main areas in the countryside where they work.

And as for what difference Asante Mama makes to the people involved, we’ll let Pamela tell you herself (see the video below). At Storimarket, transforming lives through trade, not aid is our passion. It is our mission to scour Africa for the Pamelas of this world and bring products lovingly grown by these hard working, resilient farmers to consumers in the UK who share our passion for transforming lives through trade, not aid. We hope you will join us on our mission.    

With thanks to Asante Mama and Shoot4Change for the use of this video clip

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