Poverty is a shroud enveloping much of the global South that clings stubbornly despite efforts to throw it off. My examples are from my experience in West Africa, but I have little doubt that the paradigm applies widely.
In the last 20 years, I've seen international development organizations from all over working in the Atacora region of Northwestern Benin. They always have nice work stations, houses and vehicles, and pay trained locals to "animate" rural villages about their "development" agenda. They furnish materials, build and undertake "projects"...and this has been going on a long time. Indeed, there are some results...some schools, health centers and the like, some environmental projects as well. There have been some other results as well; results that may hinder more than help poverty abatement.
From local mayors' offices to health centers to village chiefs, the habituation to external aid as the primary engine of development is remarkable. This dependency is not sustainable, and insidiously robs people of the dignity of owning their futures. People see a foreign face and all too often immediately claim to be suffering and practically beg for help.
RESOURCES AND POVERTY
The Atacora region (and many others) have some incredibly valuable and sustainable natural resources, as well as extremely capable and willing people who definitely want a better life and future for their offspring. Yet despite these abundant resources, poverty has clung tightly. Rural isolation, weak markets and free market exploitation engender substandard health care, nutrition and education, as well as degradation of the very natural resources that could help to improve conditions; furthering the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. Notably, the disenfranchisement of women (a powerful force) from economic life restrains progress...Inequality breeds more Inequality.
I believe great strides can be made in this fight, starting at the local level, by introducing and enacting a new paradigm which I will coin Fair Partnership. The principles of Fair Trade are at the root of this paradigm, yet it goes further by actively promoting stakeholder ownership of their future well-being. here are a few principles of this emerging, non-static paradigm:
Fair Trade standards
Enhancing local marketability and encouraging local ownership of these activities
Accessing global markets for enhanced profitability while focusing on sustainability and local benefit
Engaging with stakeholders in community driven development initiatives
BEING AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE COMMUNITY
Fair Partnership in Action
I will focus on some wild-harvested, sustainable resources from the Atacora region: Baobab and Neem. These trees are dominant features of the landscape in the landscape of the Atacora, and provide valuable products which can be viable in markets both local and global. Baobab Fruit Pulp is a highly nutritious superfruit valued locally and catching on in markets in 'developed' countries. Baobab Seed Oil is very nourishing for the skin and is gaining universal appreciation. Neem Seed Oil is a near magical healing oil for the skin, with insect and disease repellent properties for garden use which is rather well known in global markets and is rapidly gaining appreciation locally in Africa.
Revaluing these sustainable resources by creating and providing market access can promote community development in the Atacora and improve health and wellness in African and other global localities by:
Direct, Fair Trade purchases of raw materials from local producers
Providing employment for women in Fair Trade transformation co-ops
Encouraging stakeholders to prioritize health, environment and education with these earned funds
Creating allocated funds for community driven development projects
Encouraging stewardship of previously undervalued natural and human resources
Here is a brief introduction to Fair Partnership, a new development paradigm that I'm proud to be a part of creating!