I've been meaning to post this video for ages. Alexander Petroff looks a little uncomfortable in a suit. That's because I interviewed him outside a lecture theatre in Central London where he'd just been talking to students. Go to their website, workingvillages.org and you discover that Alexander has spent most of his time in the last few years realising a dream in Eastern Africa.
The Ruzizi Project is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika, and across the border from Rwanda and Burundi. Home to some of the most fertile land in the world, the Ruzizi Valley was known as, "the rice bowl of Congo" before 8 years of war from 1996 to 2004 destroyed its farms and infrastructure. There is a map here: workingvillages.org/ruzizi-project.html
Alexander founded an organisation which has helped a local team in Ruzizi build a 10 acre farm that's well on its way to becoming self-sufficient. He points out that the single plot of land never provides enough, but the mega-farms full of machinery don't do much to help the locals. A one-acre plot that is farmed by hand will produce, at the very best, $1-2,000 per year for the farmer. The average African labourer on a mega-farm can expect to make about $1 per day. A farmer working 10 acres, on the other hand, can generate $10-20,000 per year.
Whereas others are just talking about sustainable organic farming, Working Villages just gets on with the job. Alexander is a man with a vision and an economic plan riding on the shoulders of giants, and I wish others in the development community would follow his example.
The area of Eastern Congo is of interest to me personally because it seems to be recovering without the intervention of community radio. Their community doesn't need to broadcast a message outside the area - indeed the hills on many sides would probably get in the way. This serves as a reminder to listen to how a community communicates with itself, before deciding whether a radio station would help or hinder.