Today I had my first radio broadcast. One of my sitemates, Jess, had been pushing me to start doing a radio show. So after pushing it off for seemingly as long as I could I went with Jess to the radio station with my homologue El-Haji last week and we were told that Peace Corps had a slot available every Friday from 10 am to 11 am so we had our first show this morning. I wrote out a script with my language tutor Abass yesterday and picked out some songs with Jess this morning. We got there a bit early but when we sat down they told us they wouldn’t be able to use my iPod to play songs so all the songs we had lined up were useless. Frantically we looked through the cassettes they had there and ended up playing old Madonna songs for half an hour. Luckily I found a decent mixtape with some decent songs from a few years back so we were able to put that on for a little bit. It probably wasn’t the most solid start but all things considered I think it went pretty well. Neither of us really freaked out about talking in Bambara and we were able to play some decent American music (although it wasn’t the songs we really wanted to play).
Something I’ve been thinking about is yet another solution for poverty which I heard about on NPR’s Planet Money podcast. Glenn Hubbard, author of The Aid Trap, suggests a plan which is similar to The Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Europe. In his plan money would be redirected from aid funds being spent now and instead used to support mid-level companies by giving them cheap credit, or “free money.” It’s an interesting plan that seeks to break away from the aid strategy that is being used now because just simply throwing money at the poverty issue hasn’t proved successful. By promoting the growth of specific industries in these impoverished nations you hope for a trickle-down effect which provides jobs to people through industry growth. It’s an interesting solution but it really makes me wonder why Mali is so poor.
I think perhaps the single greatest reason for Mali’s poverty is the lack of emphasis on education. I forget where I read it somewhere but how much a country values education is directly correlated with the amount of development in that country. Take for example India. Over the last 10-20 years India has emerged as a global economic superpower with many skilled laborers. India right now is perhaps one of the largest sources of outsourcing of American jobs. On the other hand if you look at Mali’s track record education is not very important to many Malians. Most Malians speak several different languages (but not very well). It’s hard to focus on education when survival is the main concern.
Another factor to consider for Mali’s poverty is the seasonality of income. Mali is still very much an agricultural economy and therefore live and die by the fruits of their labors. The seasons in Mali include dry season and rainy season (hot season and cold season are both during dry season). During dry season families typically are harvesting fruits and vegetables and are able to afford decent food for the family. During rainy season (also called hungry season) people are typically in the fields all day long and so there is not very much food to go around. Oftentimes the head of a household can’t support his family with just farming and resorts to selling goods or taking on other side jobs to supplement his income. Irregular income forces families to live solely for the short-term by enjoying the food when times are good and scraping by when times are bad. I am hoping through some of my projects I’m able to help the people get organized, have more regular income (through both rainy and dry season), and learn to plan for the future. I see two years as a short time to be here so my emphasis is on short-term projects with an emphasis on knowledge transfer and requiring very little startup capital. Perhaps the most ambitious of my projects is to start a dairy cooperative which will collect milk from surrounding villages and sell it in town. Basically you can buy 1 liter of milk in the villages for 150 CFA while 1 liter of milk in town costs 400-500 CFA. By buying out all the milk from local villages not only do you make a profit (~200 CFA per liter) but you give farmers a better price for their milk than they would normally get. In addition you provide people in town with an invaluable service (last time I tried getting milk we bought the lady out of all her milk at noon) by selling milk all day long. Someday soon I hope to be able to walk into town, pick up some milk at any time of day, and then bring it back to make some delicious pizza. One can dream……