Monday, June 9, 2008

Trip Number 59

This trip began on Saturday May 10th in Oklahoma with a flight to Dallas and then 9 hours to London. I slept a little but was tired by the time I got to Europe. 1 ½ hours on the ground and we were off to Nairobi for 8 more hours of flight. This time I slept for about half the time which was good. I met a man from Canada that was working on medical intervention for the people of East Africa and wants to talk further about working together. My entire luggage arrived and I was at the hotel by 11:00 pm, and in bed by 12:00 but sleep was short. Up at 6:00 am it was time to get some work done for the meetings of the day.

The day began with a meeting between Steve, our managing director, and me to discuss the issues at hand. Next we were off to the cardboard box company to work on packaging materials for the fish shipment, and other products we sell. They will make up samples and come up with prices over the next few weeks. It looks like, for the fresh fish, their product will have problems. This will require other vendors or us to make a workable product. Lunch was with the Managing Director of the Lake Basin Development Authority. They would like to team up with us in our programs, to bring agricultural development to the impoverished land owners around our farm. We will provide the market for the product, the processing plants, training and expertise, while they provide the extension agents, the legislative support, and the funding for their part. We meet tomorrow to go to the next level of approval with the Minister and Permanent Secretary of Regional Development, to outline and start the process to implement the programs envisioned. This partnership should make for better government support of the programs and the passing of laws to make the programs work more efficiently. The main emphasis for now will be on cotton and Jatropha Curcus (oil-bearing tree).

Next we were off to meet with the Railway executives and try to negotiate better rates and schedules. The railway is now a private entity and the manager is a friend of Steve’s. This was a very good visit and for the materials coming for the camp, will result in a large saving. If we can keep our containers down to a maximum of 48,400 pounds (22 tons) each, they will load two on a single railway car.. A deal was worked out to utilize empty back haul trains to send our products to Mombasa. At around 60% of normal rates, when we get to where we have need of this service, it will be especially valuable to transport excess fuels for export.

Two hours of e-mail catch-up and we were off to a 2 hour meeting with the irrigation specialist. The best meeting of the day! We were there at the right time as some programs are about to end and others are to begin. It appears that we will qualify for grants on some large irrigation projects, and we fit the model very well. There is a new program coming, which will allow us to have our community farms programs partially underwritten if we purchase the products and build the processing plants. I will be spending a lot more time on this. I will need favor on all of this and ask for God’s help here as it could really break things loose, much of it requiring minimum payments. Time to get some sleep!

Tuesday, began with a little extra waiting to get some meetings set up and then we were off to the Tata truck and bus dealer. We need a couple of new vehicles to replace some old and fuel thirsty ones, and our Tata vehicles have held up well. While there, I was able to check out a new super cheap truck which looks very intriguing. The Ace is a 2 cylinder diesel and can carry ¾ of a ton at slow speeds. It can not go over 65 kph (40mph) which is fast enough for the farm. It gets 18 km/liter or around 42 mpg on diesel. The busses look great as well but take up to 6 months for delivery.

Next in line was a long meeting with the Minister of Regional Development, the Permanent Secretary of Development, and the Managing Director of Lake Basin Development Authority. The new government is trying to put their best foot forward and offering to smooth our path in obtaining approvals such as the enterprise processing zone for our fish farm. They wanted to hear all about our proposals for the Jatropha and cotton out grower program. They want to be a team member and do their part. Much enthusiasm was there and proposal papers will be made soon, for a way forward. When I explained the community farm program to them, they loved it but doubted we could ever find people willing to join the program. I explained we had numerous locations ready to go and they encouraged us to begin the program, as this would be the thing that changes Kenya from poverty to prosperity. It was a very good meeting. I am hopeful.

Next was a meeting with a research company that was involved with studying the effects of the removal of trees in the watersheds and the effect on the rivers of the area. There was particular emphasis on the Mara River. The representative was very knowledgeable and will put us in contact with others involved and provide much information. He is now working on projects in Somalia. We were off to the airport and on to Kisumu, then a drive to the farm, arriving at around 9:20 pm. A couple more hours of catching up on e-mail and I slept till dawn.

Wednesday morning began with an early trip around the farm to see the work on the spillway and then to review the recently repaired dykes. It had rained during the night and all was muddy. The dam looks great and the new gates will perform well as soon as the hydraulic unit is able to be hooked up. The materials just arrived in the last container. The spillway is being filled up and compacted but it is not yet finished due to the rains. Another 1-2 weeks and it will be done. After reviewing the work I decided to relocate the emergency spillway to another area which will be in a current rock formation so no concrete work will be required; a substantial savings in both money and time. At the dyke repair area we have began the process of digging a drainage ditch across the swamp. This was the first test of our marsh buggy, and what a machine it is. At 38 feet long, 15 feet wide, and sitting about 20 ft. high, it floats on water, runs thru deep mud and digs like mad. To move it to the other side of the swamp to start the canal, they just went straight across. The whole community on the other side was there to see what kind of a machine could travel across this mess. In four days time they had dug about ½ mile of canal. I believe it will take about 3 passes to complete the excavation and build up a reasonable dyke. I walked thru the swamp to the work area on mushy but drained land, something that perhaps nobody has ever been able to do before we got there. What a place, with papyrus over 20 feet tall and rotten vegetation everywhere. An interesting fact recently discovered about swamps is that they emit enormous amounts of methane gas from the rotting and decaying vegetation. Methane is 21 times stronger than CO2 in damaging the atmosphere and contributing to global warming, so our work not only creates producing land in a country lacking food, but it helps the atmosphere as well. Soon it will dry once and for all, and be prepared as farm land. After I got back out of there, I was told of a worker that lay in a hospital bed recovering from a snake bite. He had been working in the area where I had walked. This is another life, among several, which has been spared with the anti-venom we keep on hand at all times. I also now realize that the swamp has something in common with Oklahoma; no-see-ums, or some kind of similar bug.

Soon we were in a meeting with Austin, a very astute retired gentleman that works for us on a consulting basis. He has been our representative to the community regarding our out grower program and the community farms. We worked thru the model and assumptions to be made in order to present the Jatropha proposal to the locals and the youth, as well as financial partners. Obviously there will be opposition as we once again come against the powers of poverty which so often rules over these people, but the outcome will be worth all the effort. Millions of schillings will be put into the hands of the people and thousands will be employed, changing life for generations to come. The Kenya Youth Camp will be an integral part of the changing of the mindset of many, to allow them to move from poverty into prosperity. A bit of lunch and then I was off to a video interview with a young American graduate student doing a documentary on the business climate in Kenya. People are always amazed at what it takes to do business in Kenya.

A couple more meetings and a good meal, followed by a few hours of answering e-mails and it is late again. Goodnight.

Thursday morning! Well, it was not a good night for sleeping. Our new cook was not there on Thursday because she was very ill; her HIV had progressed to AIDS and she was going downhill fast. The house boy did the cooking and left the doors open while doing so. The house was full of mosquitoes and I had to go on a killing spree. I got about 20 of them but more were there. At 2:00 am I was killing them with insecticide INSIDE my netting. In about 10 days I will find out who won; if I get malaria, they got the upper hand. The cook is beginning a regiment of drugs and we all hope she makes it, but as I left the camp she had slipped into a coma. She is a 45 year old woman infected just like so many others.

The morning began with a comprehensive review of our farm production. The war prevented us from finishing so many fields and planting them before the rains came, and then there was the bad fertilizer problem which has held down our yields, but the latest harvest is coming back closer to normal. Next I was off to Siaya for a meeting requested by the youth leaders of the area. About 60 of them were there, and it was arranged by them. Politicians and older people were not there. These young people were great, but their plight is so desperate, and they need so much help.

The latest statistics indicate the following:
· Currently 67% unemployment for ages 15-30 years
· 45% of the population below age 24
· 75% of the population below age 30
· 32% of the population between age 16 and 25
· 65% of population HIV positive between age 16 and 25 years
· Siaya district has a population of 500,000 of which 374,000 are considered to be the youth
· 69% of the youth have only a single parent

About ten of the leaders told of the needs of the community as they relate to the youth. These people are desperate. They have no marketable skills, no property, no money and no jobs. They want the youth camp so badly to train them for the future. They are tired of the traditions, the corruption, and the poverty. Simply put, they are depressed, idle, sick, and without hope. Many are now forced to be beggars and there is nobody left to beg from in the area. Yet they have ambition, and want to have goals and dreams just like the rest of the world. Because so many are not married, they cannot own land which means that they can’t even grow their own food unless they squat on other’s land. On the surface it looks hopeless but there is hope and we can help them find that hope. They have nobody else to turn to.

I spoke to them for 2 ½ hours and they hung on every word. As I explained the economic situation of the area, they understood what lay before them, and they know they must make things work. I spoke to them about their sex habits and the death that lay before so many; they said they would change. They asked for training in poultry, dairy, sewing, vegetable farming, cereal farming, horticulture, baking, and various other vocations. They begged to have us purchase products which they might grow. They want to learn, yet nobody will teach them; they know not which way to go, and every path leads to nowhere. They need loans to start businesses yet they have no land or goods for collateral, and no training to do the business. The politicians and elders they have put their trust in have failed them, and oppress them from moving forward, so all they can turn to is begging, theft, prostitution, and extortion. That is not the way they want to go, so they are crying out in desperation to Dominion for help. Please be our mentor was their cry; let us partner with you; you lead and we will follow, but please do not abandon us. It was heart wrenching, to see such passion and so much desperation at the same time.

I explained the community farms program, the Jatropha, the camp, the cotton program, and told of our limitations, and our priorities and assured them we would be there; I do not know how but we will be there, and we will be a solution they can count on. Only God knows how it will be done but we will be there, and there will be hope restored once again.

They have asked for another meeting on Saturday closer to the farm with more youth so I will be there. This will be a tougher group with less hope, more despair, more anger, and less understanding so I will need the wisdom of God to get thru to them, to try to bring hope, and build trust that they will follow to a new destiny free from traditions, and touching a new and better life.
Well it is almost midnight again so time for bed.

Friday was a planning day for the farm, with the department heads. It is time to start interjecting rotational crops, and rebuild some of our soil. We are looking at legumes like cow peas, and vetch, or red clover which are almost forgotten crops in a modern world of chemical fertilizers, but in the early part of last century were essential elements to good farming. These were never introduced too much of Africa as chemicals were available. As the price of chemicals soar, these will again be needed to fill the gap. We hope to teach the people how to use them as well.
Saturday we planned out the marketing strategy for the rice. Soon we will begin direct marketing to the communities thru the use of our own outlets, contracted to youthful leaders to operate. We have the first one ready to go in about 2 weeks and hope to have 10 by the end of the year. The supermarkets are very important in the cities but in the rural areas direct marketing is the way to go; we are simply copying the model of Coca-Cola. Our real problem is we just do not have enough rice to sell yet. With another year of production we hope to be up to 50 outlets.

The afternoon was a meeting with the local community to explain the Jatropha project and the cotton project. It was very hot. The meeting was well received but it was hard to understand if they really know what is being said, as the education levels are extremely low. As soon as the session was over the people from south of the farm requested a meeting for their area. It was to be on Monday. I took a long walk and watched the sunset, ate a good meal and then after a couple of hours of proposal writing for financial institutions I went to sleep.

On Sunday I was tired and was slow to get out of bed, but about 8:30 decided to drive towards Siaya, and ended up in Kisumu around 10:30, so I went to church with Bishop Zephaniah. This was a surprise to the church as I had spoken there before. I said a little but I needed to be sitting in the pew that day instead of being in the pulpit. I took the long way home, and then checked on the progress of the dyke building across the swamp. We were about 1/3 the way across or around a kilometer. Steve and I had a meal and I then I finished the report I needed for Monday. At midnight it was time to sleep.

Monday started with a trip to the local medical clinic. This is very close to our facilities and recently we extended the electrical service to them. We wired the facility and provided water to them some time back, as well as constructing a lab. We utilize their services regularly for malaria testing, taking care of injuries, utilizing the snake anti-venom and checking out the workers. With our help and funds they have greatly upgraded over the past couple of years and now have 24 hour medical coverage. There are 4 nurses and one clinical officer, one lab tech, and one public health person on duty now. Anti-retrovirals are available, malaria testing, birthing and a host of other things going on. They were very thankful for the help we have given. They have much empty space and need a few more items of medical equipment to qualify as a full hospital, and be assigned doctors. I enquired as to their abilities to help with sick kids at the camp and they were eager to do so with minimal costs. Filling more beds would give them more capabilities, and a better quality of service. We will look into this. Next was a work planning session for the next 3 months utilizing our construction equipment. Much of the heavy lifting is now done and we will need to sell a couple of pieces and replace them with more farm friendly equipment. The second line of the rice mill is currently being installed.

A late afternoon meeting was held with the leaders from the Bondo side of the farm. They are very anxious to find a way out of the poverty cycle they are now in. Most people in the area are now down to one meal a day, as food and money are in short supply. I explained the jatropha and cotton programs to them and then the community farm program. The loved the jatropha and cotton and were at first skeptical about the community farm plan, but after detailed explanations most are seriously considering the plan. They trust Dominion here more than perhaps the other side and there is no opposition, only people trying to figure out what to do. The average income for an owner of 2 acres of land according to them is 3000 KSH ($50.00) annually, which would increase 6-10 folds for getting with it on our programs. The meeting lasted for about 2 ½ hours and was extremely good. They are now anxious to get to the next stage of the process, and presented a couple of petitions to seek our help and give their support.

Back to the farm and we worked on the sales operation plans for opening our own outlets and the site license application for site no. 1 is now sent in.

Tuesday morning I was up at dawn and a drove to Kisumu to catch the plane to Nairobi, where we met with financiers regarding partnership with them to accomplish our goals with the local people. So many hoops to go thru and so much delay but who knows, it might be possible to make it happen.

Next we were in a meeting with the Minister of Water, and explained our program to her. She was really supportive and very excited and will start the ball rolling to get her and the cabinet up to speed to assist us to move things along. She called the Prime Minister, and he as well was not aware of the program. She will be working with Steve during the next few weeks and promoting our program to qualify

By 4:00 pm we were in the airport and getting ready to go to India. The trip to Bombay was uneventful and we both got a lot of work done, arriving at around 2:30 am. We made it to the hotel within the hour and were quickly off to sleep. At 9:00 am we had a meeting with the steel supplier for the Youth Camp. They seem to be good to work with but we needed to straighten out a few things about the freight to Kenya, so we can economize on the shipping. We were able to do some checking on TATA trucks and busses here and it might save some money to purchase here and ship to Kenya rather than buying there. At 12:30 pm the plane left for Coimbatore and it was a good flight. A hot curry mutton lunch and about 30 minutes sleep, and we arrived at our destination. A quick ride to the hotel and here I am now, a bit tired but somewhat excited about spending time tomorrow with the research institute.

I have not been to India for several years now and it has really improved, even in rural areas. The slums still remain and many simply sleep on the streets but things are getting better. The younger generation is aggressive, the education level is much improved, and the dress has changed, especially with the younger women, many of whom dress in western styles. As I listen to the news I hear that the price of oil has just passed $130.00 per barrel.

Thursday we met Sagun Saxena and after a brief breakfast headed to the Tamil Nadu University to meet Dr. Paramathma, perhaps the world’s best expert on breeding oil bearing trees like jatropha. The day was spent learning the latest on these plants. This state of the art research program has moved along fast over the past few years. So much has happened to develop better trees with better yields and faster crops; it is imperative that the right seeds are planted. The hybrids look very promising and eventually clones will take over as the preferred plants. Yields of 1500 liters per acre are just a few years around the corner, but for now the select breeds will have to do, and under irrigated conditions around 1000 liters are possible, still not bad. Unfortunately, with no irrigation the yields can be as low as 1/3 that amount. Some trees are yielding fruit within 9 months of transplanting.

It was a long day of going through labs, fields, processing development experiments, and the like. We returned to the hotel, had a good but hot meal and then worked on e-mails until late that night.

Friday we were off about 6:30 am for a commercial jatropha operation about 100 km (60 miles) away. We left early and avoided the major traffic, as we drove through the countryside from village to village. There are people everywhere in India, but somehow they get along with each other. The roads were paved and constructed fairly well. When we first arrived we met with the Managing Director and then we were on a tour of the processing plant, the plantations, and the research farms. The yields were impressive for some of the materials and not so good for others. No pictures were to be taken for security purposes. This research is considered proprietary property with patents being sought for development work. We had a traditional hot Indian breakfast served on palm leaves, which was nice but you needed a fire hose to put out the fire. Next we went to the countryside to see two plantations. The people at the first were very happy with the crop but at the second, which was not irrigated, they were not sure yet and will make their decisions after the third year. They were all hard working common people, and were very nice to us. We left for a meeting in Coimbatore at 2:00 pm and were running late.

The driver took a different route back and it was driving in India again as I remembered it. The system does work but what a ride! The cars talk to each other, with hoots, honks, toots, beeps and sometimes a blast of desperation. The drivers are the orchestra leaders, as well as the players; they are so used to doing their job that even when nobody is near they still just keep up the act. Drive as fast as possible, up behind the trucks, and get on the horn as requested by the signs on the back of the trucks. Hooting and honking, then out into the traffic, just enough to get by, and back in most of the time. Lights flashing and horns blowing, the vehicles face each other at highway speeds and then someone must be the chicken and get to the dirt. Twice we about met but each time the other was the chicken. It is very nerve wracking and Steve just closed his eyes to try to ignore the situation and try for some sleep. About 2 ½ hours later we were back at the hotel. Next we were at a Chemical and Biological company which makes many natural substances for farm operation and some may work for us, but I am a skeptical about others.

The evening was spent working on e-mails and catching up on things back home. Skype is a wonderful tool to keep in touch with home when on the road. Even my granddaughters get in on things, looking into the camera and telling of their days activities. The pictures are not always the best but we are at least able to see each other live, and it is virtually free.

Saturday was the time for all to head back to their homes. Sagun and Steve have a 3:00 pm flight while mine is not until 8:00 pm tonight, so we reviewed and planned our way forward with this poverty alleviation project up until 1:00 pm when they had to leave for the airport. There are no quick answers to areas of the world where education is so low, superstitions so high, traditions so repressive and poverty so prevalent; but it must begin somehow, and it may as well be with us. Our plan will never make anyone rich or famous, but if it can keep people from being forever poor and desperate then it will be a success, at least in God’s eyes and those who we help.

As I sit here in my hotel I wonder again why God sent me to such an impoverished area of the world full of every problem imaginable. Was it to change that area or was it to begin to touch the world through business and a caring heart of Godly people. Who are those Godly people that will lay aside their ambitions and take up the cause of changing the world, seeing only thru the eyes of Christ at a hurting people? It is not just my little corner of Kenya that needs the help but so many areas; India, Liberia, Cameroon, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi, Botswana, Rwanda. These are all needing help and have asked Dominion to come. The challenge is there for the taking; I believe there is a way, but it will not be easy.

Africa is appropriately described as the land of drought, flood and pestilence, but God still hears the prayers of his people. It is not easy to do business as has been proven to me over the years, but the satisfaction is there when the lives are changed, and hope is restored. This year started off with a flawed election which resulted in a war, which was followed by now 10 weeks of rain, so moving forward in the development of the farm has been severely hampered, but it will go on, as the situations allow.

If the caring people of the world do not take action, not by sending another missionary to teach people how to die, but by giving of themselves and committing the resources God has given them to the lives of these people, they will only be remembered for their greed and self centered lives.

As I get ready to leave for a 28 hour trip home I wonder if history will remember so many of us for our power, our wealth, or for our hearts; the real question however is, what will God remember us for?

Please pray for Kenya, and Dominion Farms.


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