The day Canadian missionary Don Kantel released 400 chicks into a poultry enclosure in Mieze, a village of 20,000 in northern Mozambique, all the village's children gathered to watch, wondering what would happen next. Before the shipment of day-old chicks arrived, Kantel had methodically prepared the enclosure and explained to villagers the process of feeding and watering the chickens and regularly cleaning their space. The Mozambicans didn't understand why anyone would do all this work for a few scrawny chickens. Chickens run loose in Africa, eating whatever they find, mostly insects and garbage. Nobody cared for them at all.
Kantel and his wife, Elizabeth, an expert in community-based health care, were determined to create a holistic model for transforming life among Africa's poorest families through job creation and evangelistic outreach. Through Iris Ministries, a mission to orphans and vulnerable children, the Kantels helped launch the model in Mieze. The project brings together farming, animal husbandry, long-term orphan care, education, and a newly planted church, all in a sustainable way with indigenous leaders.
For much of his life, Kantel has been, in his own words, "something of an elitist," an academic who founded St. Stephen's, a small Christian university in New Brunswick, Canada. He had shown little interest in the fate of the rural poor. When he did think about poverty, he reasoned that the poor were likely the authors of their misfortune. He never envisioned himself as "Papa Don"—a retired administrator getting his hands dirty fighting poverty.
Kantel smiled watching the chicks run around. All was going according to plan. But before the day was out, Don and Elizabeth faced a defining crisis. Winds began to pick up, storm clouds formed, and torrential rains started. A potentially deadly cyclone moved in off the Indian Ocean. Storms like this come with 100 mile-per-hour winds and can trigger lethal flash floods.
Cold rain lashed the chicks as they huddled together. Their open-air shelter offered little protection. Kantel feared the storm would kill the project. He ran into the enclosure and gathered up a few chicks. As he left the project that night, he was sure the remaining chick population, along with Mieze's chicken farming prospects, would be wiped out by morning.
Aid for Trade
As Kantel waited out the storm in his and Elizabeth's home near the village, his mind retraced the stunning progress the children of Mieze had made during the past 14 months. In 2007, at the start of the project, about 40 children moved into new houses. They had been just like many other Mozambican children, abandoned due to the recent civil war, HIV/Aids, or extreme poverty. They had no possessions other than the tattered rags they wore.
Most were completely bewildered by their new environment. They had never slept in a bed, eaten three meals in a single day, flipped on a light switch, or seen their own face in a mirror.
"Some of the kids were very withdrawn. Some were very aggressive," Kantel says. "All came from situations of unimaginable deprivation, and some were victims of abuse, as well." A few months after moving into the compound, the children were well-dressed, well-fed, sociable, healthy, and happy.
When Kantel wakes up in the morning, he intentionally asks God what it will take that day to help the children become leaders in their generation—which is where his vision for chicken farming began.
For Mieze's community to grow and thrive, its members needed to learn how to create quality goods to sell. Trade, the exchange of goods and services across borders, is one way to address chronic poverty. The bigger the market you can sell to, the more jobs you can create.
Mozambique usually ranks among the world's ten poorest nations. The nation gained independence from Portugal in 1975 after nearly 500 years of colonial rule, which brought widespread slavery and discrimination. A civil war ensued, and the country fell into the hands of a Marxist faction that nationalized the economy and traded with Soviet Russia. After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Mozambican reformers privatized many industries. But the country's economy remains very weak. Unemployment is high, and the majority of its 21 million people survive by subsistence farming. Most of the poor have no access to land and no money for seed to grow food.
While global charities step in with food aid and emergency assistance for Mozambique (as they did after Cyclone Elaine in February 2000), relief organizations aren't usually equipped to create sustainable businesses that provide long-term employment.
The World Trade Organization, seeing the limits of traditional aid programs, started its Aid for Trade initiative in 2005. It aims to help poor countries "strengthen their economies by developing their productive capacity to allow them to export more." Increased trade and exports show great potential to pull people out of poverty.
But trade is no panacea, bringing problems that traditional direct aid does not. For instance, some otherwise destitute nations, such as Sudan and Kenya, have strong exports (oil, coffee). But the trade system is often stacked against local workers in favor of powerful government agencies and multinational corporations. Sudan's government uses 70 percent of its oil profits to build up its military.
Also, village-level trade programs are difficult to sustain because many uncontrollable factors (war, drought, and political corruption) often interrupt progress. But if trade inequities are minimized and such programs take root, they create lasting jobs.
Sierra Leone, with its ginger exports, is among the African countries recently benefiting from aid-enhanced trade. Ginger is used as a beverage flavor locally, as a spice in Europe, and as oil in India. With a $100,000 initial grant and three years of effort, Sierra Leone in 2006 exported its first ginger supply in 22 years.
Kantel, after looking at what Mieze villagers could do, determined that chickens and chicken eggs were a good place to start. Rich and poor alike the world over consume more than 60 million tons of chicken eggs each year. But Africa is the second lowest egg-producing continent. There is much room for growth. South Africa, a neighbor to Mozambique, has the richest economy in Africa and recently set a goal to double its consumption and production of chicken eggs.
The Next Generation
After a mostly sleepless night worrying about the baby chicks in the cyclone, Kantel returned to the Mieze project early the next morning.
The children and project staff greeted him enthusiastically. They had stayed up all night in the open-air shelter, drying, warming, and protecting the chicks. Nearly all had survived.
In the process, the children had taken ownership of the project. From that day on, the children—with further instruction—have run the chicken farm themselves. Every day they sit inside the enclosure, waiting expectantly. When an egg is laid, they jump up and immediately put it in a refrigerator to sell at the local market.
The chicken farm is now in its third successful year of operation. In early 2008, the first production cycle was celebrated with a chicken feast for 500 church members, guests, and Mieze villagers.
The farm also expanded its egg production and partnered with Technoserve, a business development charity, to cut costs for its broiler chickens. This summer, project staff will devote more land to the chicken farm and increase their goat herd from 50 to 300. Yet Kantel's eyes are fixed on the horizon. He said Mieze children will need jobs and a functioning, growing economy when they turn 18.
David Bronkema, director of development programs at the School of Leadership and Development at Eastern University near Philadelphia, said he likes the Mieze project because "it's looking to provide opportunities for future jobs, which is a fundamental way to alleviate poverty."
The project includes developing potable water, a food assistance program for other vulnerable children in the village, a church, a community health care and school access program, and a farm that the community can use to grow and sell food.
Joao Juma, a gifted Mozambican church planter, embodies the Mieze project's Christian character. Six years ago, Juma started a new church on the outskirts of the village. Since then, the church has grown 300 percent, and a new sanctuary with seating for more than 1,000 was just dedicated. Much of the growth is due to evangelistic outreach to non-Christian children during Saturday morning worship and Bible teaching.
Pastor Juma works closely with the Kantels to integrate Christian instruction into job training. Together they foresee a time when older youth might operate their own chicken farms or goat ranches for milk, cheese, and meat.
For villagers, working in agriculture and animal husbandry provides some protection from the dark side of globalization, because their products may be consumed as well as sold on the open market. That's not the case with cotton, gold, and other commodities that are subject to wide price swings.
Justice, Jobs, and Tourism
Christian development experts believe unjust or outmoded trade practices often work against the goals of direct charitable aid.
Experts note the following examples:
&149; International trade is worth $10 million a minute, but poor countries today account for only 0.4 percent of world trade. The United Nations estimates that unfair trade rules deny poor nations $700 billion a year.
&149; Trade talks often favor rich nations and large corporations. After one recent preliminary trade negotiation, experts estimated that rich countries would gain $141.8 billion per year, while Africa as a whole would lose $2.6 billion per year.
&149; Agricultural subsidies in developed nations encourage overproduction of certain food commodities such as rice and wheat. The surplus is typically dumped on world markets, driving down prices.
Bronkema said that when he talks with evangelicals, he asks them, "What do you think poverty is due to?" Very few mention businesses or income generation. "Most don't realize there are no jobs."
Kantel believes chronic poverty in places like Mozambique will not be defeated unless the poor are given better access to resources and markets. Agricultural trade is crucial. Trade in livestock products grew from $55 billion in 2000 to $93 billion in 2006. Developing countries account for only 20 percent of the world's animal product exports. Countries like Mozambique have room to grow their share.
After looking at the possibilities for trade beyond eggs, chickens, goat meat, mangos, and limes, Kantel and Iris Ministries decided to explore tourism, the fastest-growing sector of Mozambique's economy; tourism income in 2005 grew 37 percent over one year. They are forming plans for small businesses and lodges that cater to the tourist and service industries. This will address their desire to raise awareness and expand trade into new areas.
With thousands of miles of unspoiled coastline and exotic wildlife, the prospects for tourism growth are huge. Tourism brings consumers and foreign exchange into a developing country's economy. Through vocational training programs, Iris Ministries is preparing orphaned youth for employment in these sectors. With strong laws and employment safeguards, many more people can successfully join the 32,000 who currently work in tourism.
Christians could support these goals by choosing to vacation in developing countries. Worldwide, faith-based tourism, including short-term missions, is a $10 billion per year industry. Programs offering a mission trip plus tourism have already sprung up in Kenya and the Dominican Republic.
In these programs, Christian visitors typically have a well-defined opportunity to volunteer with a vacation add-on, where they might find fresh eggs from a village like Mieze on the breakfast menu.
Kantel cannot forecast a time when aid for trade will erase the need for direct aid programs, but the two can complement each other. He says, "Judiciously balanced aid, which meets immediate and recurrent needs and also targets long-term growth and development, is actually an essential component in positioning a nation to be a player in international markets."
Cassandra Soars is a writer based in Mozambique. International reporting in Christianity Today is supported by a grant from John Stott Ministries.
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Previous Christianity Today coverage of poverty includes:
More Than Profit | A business plan with a divine edge has an angle on fighting poverty. (September 18, 2009)
Centering on Poverty | A coalition of the Right and Left launches a new project to reduce poverty. (February 17, 2009)
How We Fight Poverty | U.N. Millennium Development Goals are good—as far as they go. (December 5, 2007)
Previous articles on Mozambique include:
Surprised by Friendship | Discovering where hope begins in a village in Mozambique (January 11, 2007)
Prison Ministry in Mozambique | Missionary says women suffer grave injustices. (August 7, 2000)
Now You Must Forgive Mozambique its Debts Methodist Bishop Tells West | Economic situation 'has gone from precarious to catastrophic' after flooding. (March 1, 2000)
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