This week should present a turning point in human history with the new Global Goals being launched amidst a very high-level audience addressing each other and the world. After the Secretary General delivered his opening speech, Pope Francis was given the floor in a unique going together of state and church in terms of the urgency of change required at the eve of a conference that is to adopt a new set of global goals. However, the Pope was pretty straightforward in mentioning the shortcomings of the institution that had welcomed him to their gathering. He also presented his Theory of Change and pointed to a basic minimum with regard to livelihood security: Lodging, Labour and Land (a place to stay, a skill to put to work and productive assets to do so) and education in tune with peoples value systems and local community. Find a transcript of his speech here.
While seeing the world leaders, including my own government, lining up for New York, I was privileged to attend a few gatherings in Kenya that brought together farmers, other entrepreneurs, business managers, importers and exporters, university staff and students and government representatives from several African countries. They exchanged products and services for a variety of agricultural commodities. My focus while traveling to Kenya was on the african dairy exhibition, this year held in Nairobi. I met quite a contingent of Dutch businesses active in dairy and dairy chain support in Africa. Preceding this exhibition I had the opportunity to attend a conference in connection to DairyTrain, an EP-Nuffic supported project implemented by Egerton University in Nakuru. By chance this same week an Agri-Business Fair was opened at the University of Eldoret. The Agricultural Attaché of the Dutch embassy together with Dutch entrepreneurs had organized a Holland Pavilion at the fair. A representative from the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched a potato chain platform called www.potatovaluechainafrica.com.
Unlike the high-level talks in New York about global goals the conversations at this fair in Eldoret were very practical, showing an eagerness and appreciation for new technologies that really revives hopes while offering good business opportunities for Dutch investors. It is the place where the aid and trade agenda's meet. Especially the combination of young energetic innovators with a desire to use creativity to solve common problems faced by a multitude of farmers and the no-nonsense evaluation of business opportunities by international experts and business people provided the right mix for exchange.
However, talking with Dutch entrepreneurs on the ground the number of contacts with formal educational institutions even in the recruitment of staff is minimal to non-existent. Two friends who just started a horticultural farm reflected on their recruitment processes and had to conclude that the turnover was very high. Quality staff is hard to come by and difficult to keep. There is a clear mission to make education more relevant to jobs, and available land for agricultural production. A direction where also Pope Francis would like education to evolve towards. Rather than meeting some universal standards in abstract thematic areas, basic nummeracy and literacy are still in short supply with workers. Also technical skills are limited and middle management is weak. Too many educated youngsters are overqualified and do not see themselves working the soil. With the agricultural sector presenting itself as a business this perception may gradually change. The very presence of big farmers who make big business out of farming is a case in point.
This week also revealed to us that Big Business cannot be trusted to take good care of standards, with Volkswagen showing the limited capacity of industry to live up to environmental standards, possibly signaling a much wider corruption problem. Despite all great ambitions, practice seems to be lagging behind. It is therefore high-time to unleash maximum creativity amongst the younger generation who are able to break through some of the barriers that some insitutions have put in place to protect the interest of the powerfull. This is the exact reason why institutions should not be set in stone but should evolve and reflect the common understanding of good behavior that will reward responsible business people and punish irresponsible acts. As one of the potato-experts entrusted me during the business fair: producers will Always listen to consumers. So change should come from consumers. It is here where education comes in to instill values in people that are rooted within local community and are in harmony with local conditions. Will this always provide the best business case? It depends how you define a successful businesscase. Responsible entrepreneurship and good citizenship go hand in hand and is hopefully also followed by good governance.
growth and transformation
Next week I will be in Ethiopia where I will hopefully get more details on the new Growth and Transformation Plans of the Ethiopian Government. From hear-say it seems that the focus will be on improved business development and industrialization, aiming at better processing adding value locally, focussing on product quality, a major driver being quality education. Small improvements in the chain, like good storage facilities allowing farmers to regulate their supply to the market a bit better will already make significant improvements to rural livelihoods. Proper soil management is another area where a lot can be gained. Entrepreneurs supporting both were present at the fair and farmers were clearly happy with solutions provided, especially those that catered for small and medium farmers. It is good to see that ambitious policy goals in the area of sustainable development can be linked to business cases that will provide the jobs required, feeding the population in the meantime. I sincerely hope that the outcomes realized bring hope to people through improved livelihoods in terms of lodging, labour and land. Education may well be used to put all labour and land to work and attract further investment to make it profitable.
Just returning from a two week visit to South-Africa and Ethiopia I cannot help but reflect on the recently published UN report on discrimination in The Netherlands. For the Dutch the report has already been ridiculed due to its connection to a folk tradition of having St. Nicolas and his many black Peters visiting the Netherlands with their boat from Spain handing out presents to children who have behaved that year. A great way to keep your children in check as punishment (up to being deported to Spain) is connected to bad behavior. All your deeds are listed in the Big Book. And when you have done well you might receive sweets and presents given to you by the always jolly Black Peters. For years this festival was treasured and the spell was only broken at an age your elder brother or sister no longer could keep the secret that everything is fake. Or possibly your faith in Saint Nicolas will be shipwrecked the moment you recognize your dad or another acquaintance to be wearing the Saints cloths and a long white beard attached. Or the moment you discover black peter having a voice that sounds as nice as your mother’s.
However, with the Caribbean being part of the Kingdom and few of its youth having been yelled at as Black Peters, once ‘mature’ their wrath is certain. Everybody will know that they were hurt. As a consequence this innocent children festival now has been jeopardized by adult interference on account of a UN convention against all forms of racial, religious and ethnic discrimination. Should the objections to the festival be taken that serious as they have now by those arguing against it? Does the festival cause people to look down on others or encourage children to discriminate? The few exceptions left alone I would argue the festival even is a celebration of diversity and makes children not to fear people who look different but possibly also expect good things of them. One thing is for sure the festival as much equalizes men and women as well as adults and children while celebrating the party together and making fun of each other through poems that go along with the presents. Often the mums and dads are not exempted from being challenged on their good and bad behavior by their grown-ups.
In analyzing this particular case I realized, nothing has changed with the festival, neither has discrimination increased as a result thereof. However, the context in which it is celebrated has changed dramatically. The world is overwhelmed by discrimination of all sorts and the rights of minority groups are trampled. The quest in the Netherlands to blame ‘Saint Nicolas and Black Peter’ is just a reflection of a global struggle where the voice of minorities is gradually silenced. Hence demonstrations of the right to be different (whether it is by taking part in a gay pride or not or by wearing religious symbols in public offices) are increasing as the pressure is mounting to conform to the majority and suppress individuality. A reduction in opportunities for human development as well as employment possibilities causes an increase in nationalism (own people first) and a drive to expel anything that is different or is not part of the familiar. I witnessed this in South-Africa where Ghanaian teachers no longer wish to serve at South-African schools as cases of xenophobia were amplified to start a national campaign against xenophobia while simultaneously many legal and illegal immigrants were harassed to prove their contribution to society. I witnessed this in Ethiopia where human development has fallen victim to political considerations. I witness this at home where refugees are framed by right-wing politicians as people who only aim at our resources, notwithstanding the fact that we have done the same for ages.
Boarding the plane going home I was happy to learn from Sundays newspaper that a Dutch women Daphne Schippers won the 200 m at Beijing’s World Championships Athletics. While contemplating her great achievement and feeling a proud Dutchman, watching her successful run over and over again, I just wondered myself if it equaled my concern about the Somali Olympic runner Samia Yusuf Omar who probably lost her life at the Mediterranean this same week.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.