Helping NGOs do more with their money

Case study - 2002 Kenya


1 Introduction

This short example shows how NGOs can help poor people to influence factors that have a major influence on their livelihoods – in this case, by using political pressure to change the mechanism which sets the price of sugar in Kenya.

It also shows the limitations of an NGO’s activities. It is not yet clear whether the coalitions that were set up are sustainable, and whether the political gains that have been achieved will be defended.

2 Background

In 2001, approximately five million people in Kenya depended on small-holder sugar production. But the industry was in crisis: small-holder farmers had not been paid for their crop from 1998 – 2001 and the International Monetary Fund had concluded that small-holder sugar farming was not economically viable in Kenya.

Power in the industry lay with six sugar factories, which were seen to be vehicles for political patronage. A Sugar Bill was being considered by the Kenyan parliament, which would have institutionalised existing arrangements.

3 What happened

A coalition of Kenyan NGOs (including the Centre for Governance and Development and ActionAid Kenya) played a leading role in organising and supporting “Sucam: The Sugar Campaign for Change”. Sucam’s mission is “to promote the development of a viable and efficient sugar industry that will ensure that sugarcane farmers in Kenya enjoy a life that is just, fair and free of poverty”.

Sucam undertook a wide range of lobbying activities. From 2001 – 2002, it achieved impressive results, including:

Sucam has learnt major lessons and faced serious difficulties. While expectations for change have been high, it has taken time for farmers to see the benefits of structural changes. However, back payments for previous years’ crops are now being paid. Sucam is continuing its work, focusing on 10 priority areas.

4 Lessons learnt

Sucam started the process of unlocking a major structural constraint for millions of poor Kenyan farmers and their families. This may not be enough to solve poverty. But it did changed the balance of power so that small-holder farmers can fight for their right to a fair reward for their labour and against oppressive institutions which deepen their impoverishment.

However, farmers will have to continue to fight to defend their interests. At the same time, they have to handle the spectre of internal political division within Sucam. This is a major risk, particularly because Sucam’s development and initial activities was driven by NGOs, rather than by local farmers. If local farmers do not feel a strong enough sense of ownership in Sucam, then the organisation may break down, and the political gains may be reversed.