This summer’s news from Africa has been sobering. So I want to share you some good news – but first a bit of background.
Since the founding of The BOMA Project in 2005, we have endured three severe droughts. Each resulted in devastating livestock mortality, and each was proclaimed “the worst drought in 50 years.” As an organization working on long-term solutions for communities in the arid and semi-arid lands of northern Kenya, we don’t know whether this drought is “the worst ever,” but we do know it’s not just about weather.
BOMA has tracked the prices of basic staples since 2009. In the past few months, food prices have soared. A kilo bag of ground corn (posho) is up 137% since January. Sugar is up 44% and tea is up 50%. Add to this the lack of infrastructure, an ongoing war in Somalia and an inequitable distribution of food aid, and a different picture starts to emerge.
BOMA tells a different story because we spend time asking the people we work with what they need to survive. That doesn’t happen often in this business. The tough, resilient entrepreneurs of northern Kenya want what you and I have: a job and source of income so they can care for their families. BOMA’s Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP) does just that. Just the other day, Vichevor Oveile of the Vamveisa Business Group in Kargi told us, “We are working for ourselves and providing for our families.”
We have launched 520 businesses that provide an income for 2,088 adults who support over 10,400 dependent children. The businesses generate savings that families can use in times of drought. Keeping those savings intact can be difficult at times like this, because businesses are pressured to loan money or provide credit to community members. With that in mind, BOMA launched a savings program that helps our business groups protect a committed amount of money. The savings are held by a savings and loan association that can then become a source of savings-led credit for business growth. Interest payments from the savings groups are distributed to members, providing another source of income.
BOMA has a rare track record of success in one of the most neglected places on the planet. We seek long-term solutions that empower, rather than simply aid, people who live in the arid and semi-arid lands of Africa. Proven, sustainable models of poverty alleviation and adaptation are in high demand these days. Our program demonstrates that even in the face of drought and rising food prices, our entrepreneurs can survive through overwhelming challenges.
This morning I spoke by satellite phone with Kura Omar, BOMA’s Operations Director. Kura is in the field with our team, monitoring how the drought has impacted REAP business groups. Yesterday he sat down with Mohamud Arvele, the Chief of Kargi village, one of the hardest-hit drought areas. The Chief told Kura, “Most of the women would come and ask for help and for food. Now they are working hard and even traveling to Marsabit to buy goods that can be sold in our village. These BOMA business people, they look shiny.” Shiny is good.
BOMA has a long-term commitment to the people of northern Kenya. We give them the tools they need to help themselves. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, they are putting those tools to remarkable use.
And that is the best news of all.