Nicholas Daniels is an Government relations strategy adviser. He is based in Nairobi.
Ten years ago, I left the UK to begin a career in international development. Driven by an urge to do something meaningful in my twenties and thirties, I got a master’s degree in anthropology and headed off to Kenya, where I’ve been living ever since.
But following the 2017 snap election and the rise of Corbynism, I’ve realised that it may soon be time to return home and do what I can to stop this madness. After a decade spent serving some of the poorest people on the planet, I can no longer ignore the threat of a Labour government doing the sort of damage to the UK that certain African dictators did to the countries I’ve worked in.
Crippling recessions brought about by profligate spending and a fixation on crushing wealth creators would destroy the UK, no matter how many times Jeremy Corbyn exclaims to be for the many, not the few. I often get rude remarks directed at me when I explain to bemused expats in Nairobi’s leady suburbs why I’m a Conservative. There’s something about international development work that appeals to the paternalistic instincts of people on the Left.
Personally, I was drawn to Africa by the values which I believe can help a struggling economy become more productive: autonomy, hard work, and enterprise. These values exist in abundance on this continent; they just need the right level of support.
For the last seven years, I’ve worked for an organisation that implements a targeted intervention for smallholder farmers in eastern and southern Africa. By offering clients a simple package of seed, fertiliser and education on credit, I’ve seen first-hand how private enterprise can quite literally lift a family out of poverty and hunger, and put them on a path to greater – albeit modest – prosperity.
Giving free handouts to smallholder farmers doesn’t always work. They remove the sense of ownership over the investment which may end up not being optimally utilised. Providing affordable inputs and training as part of a loan can however give yield increases of over 50 per cent, resulting in £150 of increased revenue, on just one acre, in one rainy season.
One farmer I’ve got to know quite well over the years always reminds me that her motivation to work hard tilling her shamba is to see her five children complete school and university. Carolyn leased additional land to expand her farm from two to four acres. She diversified her crops from corn to include legumes, fruits, and vegetables, purchased a dairy cow, and even constructed rental houses. This was all made possible by taking a loan package that increased her revenue.
Support to Africa’s farmers should be prioritised by the departments for International Development and International Trade post-Brexit. The UK has an opportunity to implement tariff free imports on all raw and processed agricultural products from Africa which meet our standards, driving output of our favourite tea, coffee, vegetables, and cut flowers in a way that reduces prices for UK consumers and increases incomes for some of the world’s poorest.
Where the EU has so far failed to secure free trade agreements with countries like Kenya, the UK should combine trade and development objectives to drive economic growth within the Commonwealth. Above all, removing EU tariffs on commodities like cocoa and coffee under a new UK-led era of zero tariffs will do more for developing countries than billions spent in aid.
The main thing I’ve learnt from my ten years in development is that the solutions for escaping poverty lie with Africa’s people, no matter how generous foreign governments’ aid budgets are. Zero tariff international trade ultimately gives the smallholder farmers I’ve worked with the best hope for more prosperous economic growth through autonomy, hard work, and enterprise.
After a decade of putting this message into action with smallholder farmers in Africa, I feel that the time has come to deliver it back home.