In Ethiopia, Learning From Past Mistakes

Danielle and Bernard with Joe Welsh, ACDI/VOCA

Danielle and Bernard with Joe Welsh, ACDI/VOCA

Joe Welsh warmly welcomed us into his office at ACDI/VOCA in downtown Addis —even though we were running four hours late! (I’ve had a little trouble keeping our schedule straight since we got back from Aksum). Joe, a Missouri native (just like me) has been working in economic development for the last 30 years and arrived in Ethiopia last year to become Chief of Party of the Addis office. He gave us a run-down of the organization’s work in the country, including improving smallholder coffee production, organizing livestock markets, and improving livestock feed.

Joe was pretty frank with us, describing how ACDI/VOCA is learning from its past mistakes. He said that in 2005 ACDI/VOCA, with funding from USAID, responded to a request from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to establish additional livestock markets in the country. They built 25 markets all over the country, but, says Joe, “it wasn’t done like how Starbucks or McDonald’s decides to put up coffee shops or restaurants.” In other words, many of the markets weren’t built where they were needed or where there was consumer demand.

To make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, and to give communities something they can really use, some of the markets have been converted into holding areas for live animals for export. Ethiopia exports livestock to other parts of Africa, including Cairo, and the Middle East.

Joe also gave us some good advice regarding the projects we’ll be visiting over the next few months. “Sustainability is one thing,” he said, “viability is another.” If projects don’t both meet a community’s needs and offer economic incentives, they won’t work, he noted. And projects work best if they come from the bottom up. It’s something to keep in mind as we travel to see other projects this week in Nairobi, Kenya, including those funded by the controversial Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Urban Harvest, and others.

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