In one of my former lives, I worked for Canada’s largest food aid organization. I have been witness to. and participant in. free food aid distribution to very hungry deserving people many times. What always struck me was that the “beneficiaries “standing in those food lines were not only hungry, they had also been robbed of their dignity. It is a shame filled experience to have to stand in a food aid line. IDE has no beneficiaries. We give nothing away. We only have customers – poor, yes, but we still treat them as customers. When you treat people as customers, you allow them to determine whether your products and services have any value to them or not. To be successful in our work, we are forced to listen carefully to our farmer customers. Only if we understand their values, their desires, their aspiration and their household economies will we be successful in creating & offering products and services which they will acquire. It’s about respect.
Not long ago I was in Zambia with a tour group with representatives from IWMI, FAO, SEI, IFPRI and Gates Foundation. The farmer was enthusiastically explaining all he and his family had achieved with IDE drip systems – more food grown, better household nutrition, more food sold into the market, kids going to school. This was a man with pride in his achievements. Not an ounce of shame, and he was not a “beneficiary” of anything. He was a happy, successful customer. Our goal is to associate with a few hundred thousand more smallholder farmers (every year).