Gorta and Self Help Africa join forces to fight poverty

Two of the country’s longest serving overseas development agencies have joined forces to fight hunger in Africa under a merger that will make them the biggest organisation of their kind in Ireland or Britain.

Gorta and Self Help Africa join forces to fight poverty

Gorta, which will be 50 next year, and Self Help Africa, which is 30 years old this year, will from today work as one agency, called Gorta Self Help Africa.

Members of both organisations ratified the merger at two EGMs over the weekend, and their tens of thousands of supporters and donors will be formally notified of the new arrangement by post this week.

The unified agency will continue the work of both organisations, which specialise in long-term projects helping small rural farmers in 10 countries in sub-Saharan and east Africa.

Their focus is on improving farmers’ technical skills, developing drought resistant crops, boosting output, establishing co-ops and assisting with the transport and marketing of goods.

Between them, the two organisations will invest around €19m in projects in Africa this year, of which around €5m is donated by the general public here.

Irish Aid, the British government’s Department for International Development, US Aid, the EU and the Canadian International Development Agency, are also major supporters. The merger will jointly save the organisations €600,000 a year in overheads and administration costs.

Ray Jordan, chief executive officer of Self Help Africa since 2007, who takes over as CEO of the merged agency, said it made perfect sense for the two agencies to combine, given their shared vision and the similarities between the way they operated on the ground.

“The reason the people founded these organisations and why people supported them is identical,” said the Limerick man, who has worked in overseas development for 20 years.

“They were driven by the mission and the vision to help rural farmers on the ground in Africa and it has remained to the credit of everyone in these organisations that they never lost focus.”

Mr Jordan said both organisations believed strong agriculture was the key to lifting people out of poverty. “If you’re a small farmer who can produce to sell, you can save a few pence every week and in two or three years, you can be sending your kids to school, putting a galvanised roof on your house.

“We’re both pro-profit, non-profit organisations. We believe in people making good profit from good agriculture and we use the cooperative model so that when the shocks do come — and they do come because there are enormous challenges, climate change not the least of them — they stand together.

Mr Jordan said there were now co-ops with in excess of 10,000 members in communities initially supported by Self Help Africa that no longer needed assistance. The story had similarities with Ireland’s agricultural development over the last 60 years.

“Ireland’s development from a rural, smallholder farmer economy to one where you have international companies like Glanbia follows the same path,” said Mr Jordan.

“Those big international PLCs are grounded in individual farmers who started with small co-ops and grew and strengthened. The same can happen for Africa.”

The merged agency has 40 employees in Ireland who will work from Self Help Africa’s existing headquarters in Parkgate St in Dublin.

Aid agencies

- Self Help Africa: Founded in 1984 after Irish priest Owen Lambert, who worked in Ethiopia, asked Irish farmers to send over seed potatoes to enable a famine-ravaged community plant for the next season’s harvest.

Its first major development project was started with a grant from Bob Geldof’s Band Aid Trust. The co-op, in Adami Tulu in Ethiopia, now has more than 20,000 members.

In 2008, Self Help Development International, as it was called, merged with British charity Harvest Help to form Self Help Africa, maintaining its headquarters in Ireland.

It is today the official charity of the Irish Farmers Association.

- Gorta: Set up in 1965 in response to the UN’s Freedom from Hunger campaign.

Its establishment was led by the Department of Agriculture, which pulled together 37 organisations from a cross-section of Irish society — including education, business, local government, sport, media, and Church — to create a governing council.

Its first project established a settlement and farmers’ training school for nomadic people in rural Tanzania.

It has also worked in Asia, but completed its final project there last year, opening a health clinic in India, and will from now on focus entirely on Africa.

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