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My Journey of Helping with Nigel Horsley

Nigel Horsley

The number crunchers estimate Africa can create a $6 Trillion economic boost by fully empowering female workers and helping get over 600 million Africans access to reliable supplies of electricity.

By and large the vastly huge rural populations provide most of the food, mostly from smallholdings with little or no access to electricity. Up to half the food spoils before it can get into the food chain and earn money because there is barely any commercial cold storage.

Zimbabwe, a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa shares borders with Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and the Republic of South Africa. It’s blessed with abundant sunshine, fertile lands, and hardworking people. Unfortunately, after that the bad news over arches its blessings.

Climate change is being blamed for reducing hydro-electricity output by half from lake waters severely reduced by drought. There is not enough hard currency to pay for more from neighboring countries, resulting in power outages across Zimbabwe lasting up to 18 hours. These outages shut down factories, the internet, related financial transactions, and limit most everyone’s normal activities.

Zimbabwe has been a multi-currency country but intends on limiting itself to it’s own brand new currency coming out later this year. As one highly placed observer commented, “If you don’t fix the economy, changing the name of the money won’t make any difference.”

So, where do I fit into all this?

Well, back at the beginning of April this year, a colleague suggested Castagra should get into socially responsible activities. I remembered our CEO, Peter Roosen, had shown outstanding leadership with the Canadian contingent of volunteers sent into the US to help with the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005.

As we’re in the business of veggie-plastic made from castor oil, I Googled ‘castor oil, initiatives in Africa’ and quickly came across one being led by Mrs. Mandas Marikanda, who is the CEO of Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank in the capital city of Harare.

Mrs. Mandas Marikanda

She runs a project that microfinances up to 200,000 female smallholders to grow castor and guar beans. She is passionate about upping their average daily income of $1 to $10, which would have a major impact on the well-being of their families whose staple diet is based on corn (maize).

Vice President Kembo wants to create a value chain that will stimulate agriculture in general and exports to gain hard currencies.

But for me, it was an immediate impact relating to the smallholders. I am genetically predisposed to agriculture and love it. I did not inherit a farm, but have had a smallholding and raised pigs, sheep, ducks, chickens, geese, turkeys, quail, pheasants and guinea fowl.

Mrs. Marikanda’s project is key to liberating the unlimited energy and opportunity for not just the 200,000 female smallholder farmers, but also the country as a whole, creating a chain reaction that could lead to unlimited societal and financial benefits for her country as a whole, and for so little investment dollars per capita.

That’s what’s making me sad, happy, frustrated but determined all at the same time. It’s as if a light has come on in my soul. I so badly want her to be successful which is taking me down tortuous avenues as I seek support.

I have an internet fiber optic connection of 250 mbs. If I wanted to I could have 1 gig. It allows me to do searches in minutes, even seconds. Those same searches would take the average Zimbabwean hours, days, or even weeks, assuming they even had access to the internet and it was not down because of the power cuts.

At about the same time of embarking on what I liken to a journey with Mrs. Marikanda’s project, I quickly came across yet another natural ‘disaster’ – the Fall Armyworm (FAW). Spodoptera frugiperda is normally resident in the sub-tropical and tropical areas of the Americas.

But, it was first discovered to have hopped the vast oceans and turned up in Nigeria in 2016. Within three years the moth had infested most of sub-Saharan African, including Zimbabwe, taking an enormous toll on corn crops, even wiping out 40% in some cases. Last year it reached India, and this year China.

The moth can fly up to 100 kms a day, but a strong tailwind can extend its travel up to 300 kms. It’s very much controllable, by Western standards, with hard-hitting chemicals, bacterial and fungal sprays, and genetically modified corn types. Toxic chemicals are certainly not what’s wanted at the smallholder level for obvious reasons of safety and wider impact on beneficial insects.

As it happens, there are number of key natural predators such as parasitoid wasps, one of which followed the moth, Telenomus remus (Nixon) into Zimbabwe, and there are other wasps commercially being raised in the US and Brazil for just such a task.

Whilst I am not a scientist, I have a passion for insects and I even have a pet Black Widow spider to prove it, although I find mantids more engaging. That being said, I used the power of the internet to trawl up the latest papers on integrated pest management and I regularly pass them on to a leading pest management researcher in Harare to help along his work fighting FAW.

But, back to the core project! I am seeking major out-of-country help for Mrs. Marikanda. To that end I have active communications with a number of key organizations, including Overseas Private Investment Corporation OPIC, which just announced its 2X Africa Women’s Initiative with a $350 million backing. There is also SNV of The Netherlands, Africa Development Bank, Africa Export Import Bank, UN Global Compact, IFAD and two major off-grid solar companies.

It’s a moving feast of opportunities, but the hard part is getting participants right to the table to actively work with, and in some cases to make big loans. There are national political agendas, there are currency concerns all hovering like dark clouds with the swirling dust of pests and climate variations whether temporary or permanent trends.

China and the USA see the vast opportunities by investing in Africa. China has a $1 trillion ‘Belt and Road’ program for investing particularly in Africa and across Asia, and have also targeted education heavily too. They outspend the US roughly by double.

It will happen somehow. I just don’t know how yet. Certainly, as a Canadian and a so-called ‘private actor’ I have kept the Canadian Government informed of my activities, but I do know it must happen, and out there is a visionary billionaire who could make it happen with a laptop tap.

You can’t take anything with you at the end of the day, but in the closing moments, you can have the enormous satisfaction of having made a contribution to human kind.