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David Rhody is the East African Director of the Canadian Hunger Foundation. A non-profit organization dedicated to helping poor rural communities in developing countries to attain sustainable livelihoods. The organization says it is motivated by a passion for change and a commitment to help people in communities take ownership over changing their world for the better. They focus on helping people attain sustainable livelihoods by involving the local community in designing innovative projects to make the world a better place from building peace in post-conflict areas and reconstructing the lives of those struck by disaster, to empowering women and protecting the environment. Capital’s Fitsum Abera sat down to talk with him. Excerpts;
Capital: Tell us about the Canadian Hunger Foundation
David Rhody: The Canadian Hunger Foundation is a little over fifty years old. It was created in 1961. It is actually one of the first NGOs in Canada. Over those 50 years we worked in nearly 100 countries and now we currently are conducting 12 different projects in 15 countries.
Capital: What kind of projects are they?
Rhody: In recent years we have been involved in sustainable livelihood standard programming. This involves many aspects in which our beneficiaries can improve their livelihoods overall. So that can include food security programming, better agriculture production, rehabilitation of water, irrigation and many other components. But food security has been the main thrust within this sustainable livelihood approach that we have been using. We are actually going through a new strategic planning process which will cover all of our offices in the different countries. The two new thrusts for our strategic planning framework are food security and nutrition and sustainable economic growth. The sustainable economic growth is very important because that is what will allow producers to access markets. So we are trying to link farmers who are producing more than enough for domestic consumption to markets so that they will have enough extra income to be able to satisfy other needs like health and education of their children.
Capital: You recently celebrated your 50th anniversary. Have you started working on any new projects to commemorate that?
Rhody: I lived here for three years from 2007 to 2010 as the country director and also as the program manager for a program in BatiWoreda in the Amhara region. That was the partnership for food security project. We worked on that project with the Organization for Relief and Development of Amhara (ORDA) based in Bahirdar. That project is the basis for some of the programming that we are now doing. We do 11 projects in Ethiopia. Again in the Amhara region we have 2 projects. One is a 15 month project in Bati on Climate Change Adaptation funded by the Canadian Government. That project is actually coming to an end in March. On February 25th and 26th we are having a national forum in Addis relating to this climate change adaptation. We are inviting government ministers and all of our partners to this meeting. The other one is a five year project that is related to markets specifically. It is in Oromia and based in Kemisse. It covers two woredas; Demi Chefa and ArtumaFusi. We are working on 12 Kebeles. That project is titled Market Improved Livelihoods Eastern Amhara Region (MILEAR) and we will work with ORDA. That project will improve the livelihoods of beneficiaries through access to markets.
Capital: So the Bati Adapts to Climate Project that is ending in March involves the use of drought resistant seeds.
Rhody: These are improved seeds that have been adapted to dry situations for more erratic weather situations. They are proven, certified seeds from the research institution in Ethiopia. One example will be Sorghum which has a fairly long growing season. There has been a variety that has been introduced which has grows much faster and has better quantity. The other one is Sesame. Sesame already grows in semi-arid areas and its production has been improved by these seeds.
Capital: You are the East African Director. What does that entail?
Rhody: The projects that we implement here are funded by a donor. Our main donor is Canada. We have direct relations with our Canadian counterparts in Ottawa. One of my duties is the management of our relations with our government counterparts. The other part is being aware of what is happening on the field and monitoring the progress so that the reporting can be properly done. I am on a monitoring mission right now. I went to Bati and I went to Kemisse. I saw both projects and some of our beneficiaries. That is what it entails basically. I spend some time on one project some time on another. My responsibility also covers south Sudan, which as you know is a challenge these days because of the Civil unrest that is going on. I will be going to South Sudan right after my visit here ends.
Capital: What challenges do you face working in Ethiopia?
Rhody: I don’t want to be too critical. We have been in Ethiopia for ten years. We know how to operate here. We have another project in Benishangul Gumuz which is actually very interesting. We work with government and partners in different ways. One of the components our success is that we work with local NGOs like ORDA and the local government as well. We have a very close partnership with local government in all of our projects. In Benishangul Gumuz that is the case because we don’t actually work with a local NGO partner. We work in trying to build the capacity of the government offices there. So one of the challenges is the weak capacity of the government in the woredas and regions especially Benishangul Gumuz. It is stronger in the Amhara and Oromo regions. The other challenge is the regulations monitoring the work of the NGOs. Some of them are very astringent. Onerule that we keep dealing with is determining administrative versus program costs and how to determine which is which. Program costs have to be 70% and administrative costs have to be 30%. How NGOs do program costs are actually different from how government offices do program costs. One example is capacity building. We consider that to be a program cost whereas that is not always the case with the government. Things like that are challenges that we have to work with.
Capital: What are your biggest triumphs in Ethiopia?
Rhody: I was here during the Ethiopian millennium celebration. I came to a project that had been ongoing for two years; The Partnership for Food Security Project in Bati. It was having some difficulty finding its place. Then the local government came on board and some of the work that we were going to be doing was then done by the government under the PSNP project. So we had to adapt our project so it would compliment very well with what the government was doing. There was a challenge right there. But after five years we ended the project on a very high note. The Bati beneficiaries we have been working with which are about 42,000 really had taken some new varieties of seeds and food production that allowed them to increase their earnings considerably. I feel that project was a triumph because I went back to Bati now and saw that Bati is really changing. When I go to a village or a community I see people going around with mobile phones. Part of the reason they can carry those phones is because this climate change project introduced solar lanterns to all of our beneficiaries there. So they can now charge their cell phones with a solar lantern. It is the women who administer that. When I saw that solar panel on a thatched roof, I realized that a woman can now generate some extra income from charging people’s phones. Here in Addis people don’t think of that capacity being unusual but there it is extraordinary. I saw that they have a very outward way of looking at the world now. I feel that our project is part of the basis for that overall in Batiworeda. Working with the ORDA who are very much involved in the development of the Amhara region and with the government through them has been a big triumph I believe. I have a lot to praise about the Bati project.
Capital: What makes the Canadian Hunger Foundation different from other NGOs?
Rhody: We are a smaller NGO. We are not a large NGO that tries to grab funding for many parts of multi-sectorial interventions. What we do is we really try to focus on sustainable livelihoods in the past and now more specifically on sustainable economic growth along with food security and nutrition. I believe that the fact that this is our focus gives us more expertise in those areas as opposed to other NGOs that might dabble here in water or dabble there in other sectors like health and education. We really are trying to focus so we can do well in what we do. I think more and more rural farmers in the developing world need to be linked in some way to the markets because everything is being globalized to such an extent that links to markets are going to be what allows them to be pulled up out of poverty.