As 2008 comes to a close, we at Dominion Farms look back with a better understanding of human nature and a realization of what it takes to do business in Kenya.
The year 2007 ended with a presidential election and high hopes by the people of Kenya for meaningful change. Previous terms had been marked by unfulfilled promises, political strife, corruption and lost hope, but the Kenyan people labored on in their poverty with the hope of change from this election. New political parties were energized by the fast-paced nomination process and emotions ran high. Voter turnout was tremendous with much fanfare and expectation on all sides. Millions lined up to mark their paper ballots on the 27th day of December – the majority confident that their opposition candidate would soon be their new president.
The count was slow and tedious for a couple of days and international poll observers were present. Suddenly the Election Commission ordered the observers to leave. The incumbent President was declared the winner and was sworn into office within an hour of the announcement. Irregularities appeared everywhere and the opposition cried foul, with almost universal support from around the world. That the election had been stolen was obvious to everyone.
All hell broke loose. Gangs of youth were encouraged by political operatives on both sides to loot and burn the properties of members of the other party. Then the violence escalated from political activism to ancient tribalism. Tribalism has remained a festering problem in Kenya with tribal rivalries going back for centuries. Upon independence from Britain in 1963 the method of warfare turned to politics and old emotions had been repressed for 45 years. But the political process had failed the majority of voters and those old animosities surfaced again. People were hacked to death simply because of their tribal affiliation – often by their neighbors. Refugee camps sprang up for those fleeing their homes and swelled to over 500,000.
For weeks the country was shut down. The worst atrocities were in the Kisumu area south of Dominion Farms. The city was on fire and nobody seemed to really care. Where was reason? Where was compassion? Where was the heart of God in his people? How could a people destroy their own workplaces and homes? The cry was for justice but few were listening. As video of the destruction flashed across the TV screens of the world, attention began to build and mediators began to arrive. Weeks of negotiation would take place with dignitaries such as Kofi Annan and Secretary Rice, but progress was slow. The killing and burning continued. In some places ethnic minorities fled to churches to be burned alive inside by rival tribal members. Scores long unsettled were brought to the forefront and justice was dispensed on the spot. Traffic to the western part of the country was cut off by gangs of thugs on the roads. No food or support could get through. The railway lines were torn up and the airports were closed.
In the midst of this our farm still had to operate. We were just beginning to recover from the flood of 2007, with most of our dikes back in operation and our irrigation systems repaired. Now this tragedy. Our farm shut down on Dec. 20th for the elections and for Christmas, with senior staff scheduled to return on Jan. 3rd. That became impossible. Our Managing Director was in South Africa; our rice manager was in the US along with our director of maintenance. The rice mill operator and the field manager were both Kikuyu men and would have been killed if they returned. Only a skeleton crew of mechanics remained near the farm. Crops needed attending with nobody to do the work and none of the skilled people there to help. We were precariously low on fuel and were out of fertilizer and herbicides.
Emergency plans were made to stretch everything as far as possible and use the staff we had. Over the phone from 8,000 miles away the American managers and I had to explain how to operate the combines, how to run the mill, and how to plant a crop. We allocated fuel to the milling operation as priority #1 so food would be available for the local people and we opened an outlet for them to buy it directly. This was a life saver for many near the farm. Food prices had tripled but we sold for less than the supermarkets had charged prior to the election. These are our neighbors and they needed our help. The weather was good and dry but we had no fuel to develop new fields or even replant those harvested, so hundreds of acres sat idle.
Finally the airports opened back up for incoming flights and I was on the first plane going into Nairobi. Steve got back and most others filtered in, but not the Kikuyu employees. Most departments had no leadership and only a handful of workers in each, but work had to get done. When I arrived in Nairobi I met with the US Embassy but they were still trying to figure out what to do. The business community had big meetings to find a solution but nothing seemed viable and dire predictions abounded. Finally I made it to Kisumu and then on to the farm during a lull in the fighting. It was good to be back but a strange mood persisted. The strain was visible on every face and there was a feeling of hopelessness and anger - with no solution in sight.
I met with the church leadership of Nyanza Province who were just wringing their hands as their towns went up in smoke. They sang of how great it was to be in the Army of the Lord, and how they would rather die in the Army of the Lord than anything else. They spoke of the scripture which states, “Who can defy the army of the living God” and I challenged them with “who can find the army of the Living God.” They had told all of their people to remain hunkered down in their houses while children were destroying their cities. In Kisumu a group of churches representing over 100,000 members was held hostage by as few as 100 unruly youths. Very sad. The churches of the world today (not just in Africa) have lost much of their power and authority and have become wimps in the eyes of many. They say they will not let it happen again?
The farm operations returned to as normal as possible and we prayed for fuel and fertilizer, but supplies were short and far away. Fuel on the black market climbed to as high as US$20.00 per gallon and our own employees schemed how to steal it from us. Some were caught but how much got away is anyone’s guess. Character is tested in times of opportunity where greed can easily overtake one’s judgment.
Crude roadblocks were regularly encountered at bridges and along roads, with money demanded for passage and threats made along the way. I was always able to get through by talking to the people and made a few friends in the process. We were not there to take their freedom from them but only to be a source of food in a trying and hungry time.
During this time I received a request to meet with a member of the County Council with which we have a lease for our land. He came in demanding a bribe for the new council of around $30,000 and this was summarily rejected. The stupid thing was he did so in writing, and saying that if we did not pay there would be trouble for us. I had seen this sort of thing before so many times but never had taken them seriously.
Violence erupted again after two opposition Members of Parliament were killed. The first murder rekindled the rioting and all hell broke out again. The wife of our Managing Director tried to make it to the airport to send her children off to South Africa but got caught between two violent road blocks and had to spend the day at a police post there. They made a run for the farm that night with two police officers along as escorts. After laying as low as they could while the police fired their weapons out the windows, they made it back without injury.
Upon the death of the second MP from the opposition party, I knew it was time to get out of Kenya, but the sixty miles of roadblocks and rioting between the farm and the Kisumu airport would have been too dangerous for one vehicle. We arranged with the police department in Siaya for five officers armed with automatic weapons, three security guards and two 5 ton trucks for the trip to the airport. We had space for a few Kikuyu refugees who were fleeing their homes in predominately Luo western Kenya. The Dominion Farms van filled with the officers and refugees led the way, I was next with a senior officer and the two trucks brought up the rear. We were traveling as fast as we could go until we hit roadblocks, whereupon the officers bounded from the van to secure the areas, while the drivers and others proceeded to clear the area for passage of the vehicles. We stopped seven times before reaching Luanda. Once the police got out of the van the crowds scattered, and we would resume our journey. In Luanda there was a major traffic problem involving fuel trucks bound for Uganda. The main roads were blocked so a convoy was being formed to try to get through on the back roads. The President of Uganda had been a supporter of President Kibaki, and according to some a co-conspirator in the election rigging, so the opposition was determined to prevent anything from reaching Uganda.
Further down the road at Maseno it was the same scene except there were fires burning on the road, telephone poles pulled down and general mayhem. The greatest challenge became apparent as we approached Kisumu. Shipping containers and burned-out cars and trucks littered the road. Signs, rocks, poles and burning tires blocked the lanes and at one point it did not look like we would make it. Then a remarkable thing happened. The rebels who were stopping everyone saw the Dominion sign on the front of the van and began to clear the way and to lead us through the smoke to the other side. Cheers went up as we passed by and God had surely solved the problem. The police could hardly believe their eyes.
Shortly we were at the airport where two executives from Total Fuel met us to accept a very large check for fuel but admitted to us they did not know when they could deliver it. I got off at the airport and thanked the officers, shook their hands and then they and our driver left to take the Kikuyu to safety. I flew back to Nairobi with a plane loaded with bodies from the war. In all about 1,500 people were killed in the crisis, hundreds of thousands left homeless and 6,000 businesses destroyed. Eventually a peace accord was reached for a coalition government and peace returned. March, April, May, and June were filled with rain and rice could not be planted until July, which pushed our first real production of the year to October. It was a very long period with little revenue. The disturbance cost Dominion around 1 million dollars in destroyed or lost crops in unplanted fields, setting us back once again.
On my next trip back to Kenya the county council made their bribery threat more persuasive. On my first day at the farm one council member attempted to incite the local people to take over our farm. I could not understand his logic, as I had worked hard to entice a major investor to come and invest in the community. He was coming in a few days to check out the opportunities and I was trying to get things ready for him. The crowd grew and the shouting became louder and I was getting mad. It dawned on me that the councilman’s threat was real. The pieces finally fit together in my mind. We had paid an annual ground lease payment of 600,000 Kenya shillings (US$95,000.00) and it had been diverted to a private bank account in Kisumu and was secretly distributed to members of the council. They subsequently realized that the county’s largest source of revenue would be missed and that Dominion had the records to prove it was paid. Because their initial attempt to extort a second payment was rebuffed and because they had issued us a written receipt for the lease payment, they were compelled to finish off Dominion for good, as we had the records to prove their misdeeds. Where was that extortion letter? Soon I was on the television and radio with the evidence and the noise abated. Although we were assured that the councilmen would be prosecuted, nine months later no arrests or charges have been made. While typical, this behavior is a shame as many investors in the world are waiting to see the rule of law routinely and universally applied before considering investment in Africa.
The rural people of Sub-Saharan Africa still live in poverty and despite all of the promises made by world leaders for change, little has improved. Corruption runs so deep and poverty is so widespread that it seems overwhelming, but we have hope that our programs of pooling small acreages for large scale out-grower production will find wide-spread acceptance and success. But while Dominion can show the way, we cannot do it all.
The last few months at the farm have been uneventful as we’ve concentrated on improving our production, advancing our community out-grower program with local smallholders and building the youth camp. The farm is again a peaceful place full of optimism. Our missions to build a sustainable business, to help bring food security to Kenya and to introduce the next generation to a better way of life are unchanged. We continue to avoid the trap of enabling rural people to live in poverty in favor of helping them understand and implement those activities that will lead them out of poverty.
The report of December trip is attached below.
Kenya Trip No. 62
November 28 through Dec. 11, 2008
This trip began the day after Thanksgiving and my flight from Oklahoma City to Chicago was spent sitting beside Larry Jones of Feed the Children. Larry and I have become friends over the past few months and I admire all he is doing across the world. In Kenya Feed the Children feeds 120,000 children every day. He continues to undertake this and so many other good causes in the world, with so many lives depending on the organization in emergencies, disasters, and for feeding the most impoverished people.
In Chicago we met up with Barbara Waterston and after a few minutes of chatting we parted for our flights. I did not sleep very much so arrived in London tired, which made for a great sleep on the next flight to Nairobi. It is always good to be back but it does not take long to remember we are in Africa. Approaching the city center we were met with a pile of scattered rocks in the road trying to make oncoming traffic keep out of one lane. As we passed a man’s crushed body lay in the street as people sailed on by. There was enough concern for someone to scatter some rocks but no action to help the person or remove the body. Our driver was not concerned and explained that eventually the police would have the body collected.
Sunday morning we were met by Ronald Boone and his father. Ronald is our land leveler and our temporary rice crop manager. His father, a retired rice farmer came to visit and was returning home to the US. We said good bye, and the three of us headed for the plane to Kisumu. Ben met us at the airport and we headed for the Disciples of Mercy campus, a project which Ben and Jenny Ochieng built which now includes a school for around 600 kids from the slums, a medical clinic, a church, vocational school, and outreach to the community. This was a special day for the church as their pastor of 12 years was leaving the Church and it was a going away party. The message was great and he and his wife spoke telling his story of recent years. They were both certified teachers and have worked their way up through the various positions of administration, education, planning, and Senior Pastor. As I sat there and listened to them speak I could not help but think about what a good Camp Director team they would be. So experienced in so many aspects of our program; Barbara was squirming all over her seat just feeling that these people would be so good for us. The night before we had prayed that we would find the right people to help us and that Ben and Jenny would be involved; our prayers seamed to be right in front of us. A husband and wife team perhaps made for us.
Lunch was at Ben’s house where we asked questions about the pastor. He had given his resignation only knowing that it was time for them to move on. He did not want to pastor another church, but felt he was to move on to training others and was waiting on God to lead him to the next assignment. Ben and Jenny said they would be perfect for us, and wanted to know if we would like them to approach the pastor about his interest. Obviously we did, and we would wait to see the reply.
The farm looked beautiful as we came over the hill. It had been dry for the past week and new land was being cleared. Ronald is performing the double duty of leveling new fields and managing rice fields as we search for a permanent replacement for our rice crops manager. Due to a brief period without technical talent, we lost a few fields to disease and weeds but salvaged others and the crops generally look good. Thankfully Ronald has picked up the slack, and the new fields are coming on strong. The spray plane is back in action after a bad accident with a large crane (bird) and is working good. Land leveling is about to begin in earnest as the ground dries out from the short rainy season.
Monday began in Steve’s office reviewing the farm operations and the camp situation. The farm is finally coming out of the effects of the civil disturbance related to election violence earlier this year. After lunch we had a staff meeting with department heads and things are progressing well. The attitude is upbeat and they are planning for the future. Ronald, Steve and I then went for a tour of the land under development, and what a change has happened in the seven weeks since I was there! I believe we have now cleared an additional 800 to 1,000 acres of land and I drove and walked where few had dreamed possible. Water from the rainy season is pouring off the land and it is beginning to dry out. To clear the land the grass or papyrus is first cut or knocked down where it is allowed to dry for about a week, after which it is burned - followed by several passes with a disc. It sometimes takes weeks to dry out from the sun and wind before leveling can begin. As we move deeper into the swamp it is more level and will be easier to build fields in. We will hire locals to hand clear the wettest areas and hopefully by the end of January we will be up to perhaps1000 acres of cleared and drying new ground, on top of what we now have. We have allowed hundreds of local people to come into the recently cleared land ahead of us at their risk to plant crops. It has been well received by them and probably 1,000 acres are now in their crops. Their harvests are coordinated with the progress of our land leveling crews.
Jenny called to say that the pastor and wife team is really interested in our camp. They will be here on Wednesday for an interview. We are hopeful!
Tuesday morning began with a fish farming update with Enos and Steve. We are now in our fourth generation of breeding and we are very pleased with the results. Our current fish generation is yielding around 35% meat as opposed to 24% in the wild fish of the area. A yield of 1.0 grams of fish is now grown for every 1.50 grams of food consumed by the fish is fantastic and is a tribute to Enos and his wife’s hard work. It is now time to move from the research lab into commercial-scale operations. Now we just need to find the funds in these troubled financial times to get infrastructure underway. There is a demand for the supply of fingerlings to the locals for their small scale aquaculture operations. We sell some now to the commercial operators for bait to use in Lake Victoria. We may be able to start construction without any electrical power and I will work on the engineering of this system.
Steve and I then went for a tour of the farm and the recently-cleared lands. Ronald came along to show off his new work. What a difference has taken place. Deep into the land we found huge areas if grass fields which were being cut, burned, and plowed. One driver with the curious nickname of Squirrel supervises the work and knows every bit of the land. He knows where it is high ground, low ground, and what is in between. We recently constructed a major drainage ditch and associated dyke across the farm. It was overseen by Doug Conner (our head mechanic and infrastructure engineer) so is now known as “Doug’s Ditch”. This will stop any water from backing up on the developed land during rainy seasons. The area protected now totals around 4,800 acres of land, of which about 800 acres are now ready to be developed and leveled. Squirrel says it will take him 2 months to get the area protected by Doug’s Ditch cleared, but time will tell. Squirrel is a young man who raised himself after his parents died and nobody would have him after about age 12. He taught himself English and now is one of our best workers and drivers. He can not thank us enough for giving him a chance and we appreciate his good attitude. We will continue to press on and plant everything we can before the long rains come in April. The rice mill looks good and the installation of the second line is complete except for the electrical installations which will not be completed until we get all of the switch gear and wire from the containers in transit from the US.
Our hanger is finally being built and the roof should be on in a couple of weeks. At least the plane will be protected in the worst of storms. Chicken coops are about finished for the first 1000 chickens and the chicks are now 30 days old. Of the 1021 chicks purchased, we now have 1018 good looking birds. Egg production will begin in a month.
Finally we had a meeting with the Siaya county council. Same story, they are out of funds and looking for how Dominion can support them. They left empty handed but are always seeking new ways to get funds from us. Part of the process of change is to have the local government bodies understand how proper business relations exist within the bounds of contracts and agreements. Over time an understanding is being established within the framework of the documents, and that is good.
Thursday morning, all morning, was spent building and going over budgets for next year. In the afternoon, Chris and Florence arrived with Ben and Jenny for a long job interview. They are definitely interested in operating the Camp and have great qualifications, but this is a matter for much prayer and consideration. They can clearly do the job. The evening was spent at Steve’s home with the other managers for snacks, which ended up being enough for a meal. I was tired and left a little earlier than the rest for a good night’s sleep.
Thursday morning Austin was at the farm to discuss the-out grower program and our progress with the community. He has many people ready to get on board with the program and we need expand our search no further. We will concentrate on around 2500 acres of jatropha and amaranth grain. The cotton program we earlier proposed is dead as the Government decreed the price of raw cotton to be 30ksh per Kg, which would result in a loss on each Kg purchased, as the world price of cotton has fallen around 40% in the past few weeks.
Our fish food growing area will include the planting of banana trees to shade the duckweed from excessive sunlight. This will ultimately result in about 1000 acres of bananas when we are complete, yielding up to 100,000 bananas each day. I hope the campers like bananas and there is a great market for them in Kisumu since most are imported from Uganda.
The afternoon began with discussions about the Kenya Youth Camp. Much has changed here. The foundation that has funded most of the camp’s Phase I construction costs has elected to concentrate on its existing camp projects in the US. Dominion Farms is grateful for the extraordinary contribution the Eagle Sky Foundation has made to the project and the company is committed to pay for the necessary costs for its completion and operation. Phase I will contain 1000 beds, requiring some redesign of the project, now underway. This training camp will have tremendous impact on thousands of young lives. It will train the next generation to become self sufficient, responsible people. It will be operated by Dominion Children’s Foundation (a 501C3 not-for-profit US corporation) with help from contributions of money and in-kind work from those who will help transform the lives of the next generation. We plan to be in full operation by January of 2010 and run at least ten 3-week sessions annually, touching the lives of ten thousand young Kenyans each year. The camp will emphasize body, mind, and spirit and will include the following vocational training venues:
1. Dairy operations (for which Feed the Children has graciously donated the seed capitol to make this happen)
2. Poultry operations (we already have 1000 chickens and will expand to 15,000 chickens).
3. Gardening and farming which will include up to 150 acres in a variety of crops. Farm training will include courses in rice, amaranth grain, sorghum, sugar cane, vegetables and other crops.
4. Fish Farming and fish food crops and feed production.
5. Fish processing for which a local processing plant has agreed to assist.
6. Baking which a local bakery has agreed to assist.
7. Sewing operations where we need donations of equipment and expertise
8. Hair dressing and make-up application to help build self-esteem and develop job skills
9. Cooking and food preparation which will be taught in the camp kitchen.
10. Equipment maintenance for both camp and farm equipment.
11. Carpentry for making of furniture, cabinets, and construction purposes.
12. Paper, mattress, and craft making for camp purposes and for sale to the local markets.
13. Building maintenance with emphasis on preventive procedures.
14. Building construction of new buildings, roads, and infrastructure.
15. Bio-digester construction and operation for sanitary disposal of waste products and energy production from same.
16. Soap making from bio-diesel waste products.
17. Landscape installation and maintenance for farm and camp facilities
18. Bio diesel crops and production from jatropha, castor, fish oil and various other products including the transesterfication of these products.
19. Computer and communications skills for the modern world.
20. Water and waste water treatment programs utilizing the camp facilities as training facilities.
These programs will be supported by Oklahoma State University and Oral Roberts University from their schools of Agriculture, Veterinary, Business, Communications, and various other disciplines. Both schools hope to have international degrees for which credit will be given for time spent on our farm and working in the camp and community settings. Many training venues will be integrated into the farm operations and be as self-supporting as possible. To reduce the net cost of operations as much as possible, most courses will produce items for sale to the public through retail distribution centers now being established by Dominion Farms. The sales proceeds from this practical vocational training will offset costs to the camp, making it possible to operate with less dependence on donations
The camp will emphasize training in health-related issues including HIV/Aids education and prevention, much needed in an area of 30% infection rates for the general population. For many of those attending this will be their first experience with using a toilet or a shower, or even turning on a light switch. Treated running water will be a new experience for most. The HIV/AIDS problem will be tackled head-on with a no holds barred approach to the problem. Abstinence will be the emphasis for the program along with other prevention methods. A Godly emphasis will be placed on the sanctity of life and international organizations will be involved in the support and delivery of this program.
The spiritual portion of the camp will be done in conjunction with the local churches, including all denominations. Hopefully each of the youth attending will leave with a firm foundation in their relationship to God and a strong moral base with which to move forward in life.
Dominion Children’s Foundation will be looking for more outside partners to assist us in the planning, development and operation of this project and will appreciate any help offered.
This foundation has been offered a long term leasehold interest in 800 acres of land near Guthrie, Oklahoma to construct and operate a training center for Americans who will be deployed to mission and community development assignments in emerging countries. It will be leased by Jones International Ministries (Feed the Children) to Dominion Children’s Foundation for the purpose of preparing people to function efficiently in the developing world. It will be operated by the foundation in conjunction with Oklahoma State University and ORU. The program will prepare graduates to meet the challenges facing them in isolated rural villages that lack the conveniences and support common to Americans. The center will feature housing with no electricity, running water, indoor toilets, and modern communications, allowing students to gain confidence in their ability to be self-reliant in primitive settings. Many of the same courses to be developed for the Kenya Youth Camp will be included in the program. Dairy, gardening, poultry, bio-fuel, bio-digesters, cooking, equipment maintenance, and construction will all be part of the daily life at the facility. To equip this facility we will need used equipment including tractors, disc, trucks, trailers, etc. as well as animal handling equipment. Here it will actually be beneficial for items of equipment to break down – so we can train students how to deal with such contingencies and to rely on the resources at hand. If the students do well here, they will thrive in the developing world. More about this will be announced in the near future.
On both Friday and Saturday, Barbara was on the road checking on many of the schoolchildren that are supported by Dominion Children’s Foundation in the Siaya and Bondo areas. She visited as many of their homes as possible to ascertain living conditions and visited with teachers about their performance in school. All but one is orphaned- unable to provide for their school fees and physical needs. Living in mud huts with relatives or friends, these kids simply need a helping hand to get them through a tough period of their lives, and Dominion provides tuition scholarships, supplies and uniforms to as many as we can. Much more is needed, however, as young parents continue to die from the ravages of HIV/AIDS and malaria. As a former teacher, Barbara is a natural at getting to the core issues with each child and evaluating their needs and aspirations.
On Friday morning bright and early, Steve and I were off to Nairobi for several meetings. First was with a foundation interested in supporting our efforts to develop our fish farm quicker than otherwise possible. They want to put emphasis on the outreach of their supported programs to the local communities which we will be doing by creating out-grower programs whereby local farmers will supply materials for making fish feed and we will in turn supply budding fish farmers with fingerlings and aquaculture technology. We will be doing this through both the camp and specialized training for the community farmers. We do not know if the grant will be approved but are hopeful.
Next we met with Teresa, a young lady from near our farm who is an aspiring model. She would like to represent Dominion as the face of our Prime Harvest brand rice. Teresa is around 6 ft 4 inches tall and has a commanding presence about her. Soon the conversation came around to the camp and she volunteered to get involved with our hair dressing and make-up programs for the girls. It just seems that everyone has a heart to help the impoverished kids of Kenya.
The final meeting was with the largest engineering firm in Kenya to explain the structural steel system and roofing systems we have imported into the country. I believe the entire engineering staff was present as I explained the benefit of the systems we are now able to manufacturer. I am hopeful this can work out as a great system and provide continued support for the camp. There was great interest. By 9:00 we were back at the farm.
Saturday morning we finalized our 2009 farm budget – the first year in which revenue will exceed expenses (assuming that the rains don’t come to hard and that there will be no civil disruptions or other events that could occur only in Africa). Saturday afternoon was time to meet with the community of Bar Olengo located about 6 KM (4 miles) from our office. They had been calling several times a day for a week. When I got there a group of elders had gathered and wanted to make sure I had not forgotten them. They have gathered over 2000 acres together to be part of our jatropha bio-fuel project. I assured them the program was on the way, with the best of hybrid seeds coming next year from the top research university in India. These new varieties yield fruit in just 8 months as compared to 3 years from the old varieties, so they are well worth waiting for. Their major concern now was for snake bites when they cleared the land. I assured them we always have anti-venom on hand, and it is administered free of charge to anyone who needs it. At $150.00 per dose this stuff is not cheap but we have saved around 15 lives in the past two years. Cobras, black mambas’, green mambas’, puff adders, and pythons make for tough neighbors, but somehow these people have learned to live among them with. The community wants to build the chairs and tables for the camp and will provide samples of their product when I return in a few weeks. This contract will provide work for many. I would rather pay for primitive but sturdy wooden chairs and tables ($10,000.00 +-) than plastic ones made in China. I really hope this works out and helps build an industry. This meeting gave me a chance to just sit and talk one-on-one with the men of the area who really loosened up to speak about their situations and relationships with their wives and children. I hope I had an influence.
Sunday was spent at the farm reinforcing relationships with the farm managers outside of the work settings. I helped clear and burn off the land for the fish farm, and did some re-design work for the project to enable an earlier start. One of our local rice retailers came by to thank us for giving him a chance and trying to figure out how to be more involved. He is a fine young man who once protested our farm but now has a business selling our rice and providing support for his family and community.
Doug Connor and Dan Yenner (our crop duster pilot) had dinner with us that night and then we needed to get packed for a 6:00 AM departure on Monday morning. It was lots of fun, and good food.
Monday in Nairobi Steve and I met with the leaders of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) to describe the community farm program we have been expounding. A few weeks back in Washington, DC I met with Jacque Douff, Director General of FAO, and he loved the idea. He has been expounding a similar idea as the solution to poverty for the subcontinent for some time now but has been unable to get such a program underway. He stated that FAO would soundly support our program and this was the beginning of the process. It was a great meeting, with knowledgeable people and enthusiastic support. An hour later we were in the office of the Minister for Regional Development, Hon. Fred Gumo. For months now he has known of our community farm program and now believes we may actually be able to get it done. When we first described it to him, he responded that it would solve the problems of Africa if only it could be done, but thought it would be too tough to accomplish. He now is a great supporter, and we will get the prototypes underway soon. While Steve and I were in meetings Barbara spent the day a Nakumatt, a store comparable to a Super Wal-Mart in the US. There she obtained prices for about everything which will be needed at the camp, encompassing 15 pages of items. The final meeting was with a freelance writer from the US doing stories on the Church in Africa who wanted an interview from us. At 11:30 the plane left for London and I slept for the first 6 hours of the trip.
Arriving at 5:20 in the morning we were picked up by Vitalis Ndeda and his wife Tanya, and commenced a whirlwind of events over the next few days. The first part of the day was regarding truck parts and interviewing carbon credit firms, with the evening being a reception at KPMG regarding the Millennium Initiative of the Earth Institute and the United Nations. Leaders from all over Africa and the developed world were there and new acquaintances were made. We made it back to the hotel by midnight, after riding the tube, trains, and walking a series of places. It was cold and we really did not have the right clothes for the weather.
Wednesday was an all-day conference to encourage African investment, and 6 countries were represented. Some were hopeless in their quest to hide their problems and ignite a spark of interest. In the Kenya presentation there were 2 businesses represented, one being Dominion. When I told our story the mood of the audience seemed to change from one of despair to hope. Everyone appeared to admire the Dominion plan and from there forward everyone used Dominion as an example. Many requests for business cards and appointments and any officials of organizations like the UN and UNIDO wanted to know more. The Millennium brochures were full of pictures of our farm to show a success story in the area. When the questions came I addressed corruption for the blight that it is and the crowd applauded while some government officials cringed. One new direction of the Millennium organization will be to act as an intermediary between business and Governments where corruption is getting in the way. This could be a major breakthrough for investors.
After explaining the training centers in Kenya and in Oklahoma the leaders began to realize that Dominion’s integrated plan may be the most pragmatic, effective and achievable approach to poverty reduction that has yet been advanced. Some of our harshest critics were also present but after a few hours began the process of coming forward to make peace, explaining they really had no idea of what we were really doing in Kenya. Before the day was over the strongest of them had become a friend and had offered his help. A freelance writer for several papers asked for an interview and I agreed to do so on Thursday evening.
Thursday was a slow day and Barbara and I got in a little Christmas shopping and a lot of work on documents before going to the home of Vitalis and Tanya for dinner. After dinner the reporters came by for an interview. They were amazed with what has been accomplished and could not understand why we have stayed through such trying times of corruption, war, and difficulties. By 11:30 PM we were on the road towards Heathrow Airport and a few hours sleep before leaving for home. We left through Terminal 5, which is a new $1.5 billion facility. With all of the recent bailouts of the financial industry, it put that amount of money into perspective.
Kenya is improving and there is high hope for Africa, but it will take time. We have been at this for 8 years now and have had the land for over 5 years. We never thought it would be so hard or take so long. But this is Africa and it will still be Africa tomorrow, so patience is in order and perhaps always will be.
The past 12 months in Kenya have brought war, crop failures, torrential rain and local unrest to Dominion, but with the help of God we have overcome them all.
May God shed his light and his blessing on the people of Africa so they may learn to live and prosper, held securely in his hand.
The year 2009 is set to be a great year full of challenges and we cannot wait.
Dominion Farms Ltd.