Sowing Seeds of Growth
01 June 2004

Rebuilding after war - and rebuilding relationships - are keys to sustainable development says agriculturalist, Paul CraigThe ink was hardly dry on the Dayton peace treaty that brought the Bosnian war to an end when agriculturalist Paul Craig made his first visit to the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in 1995. 'Seventy per cent of Bosnia's livestock had been killed, eaten or stolen during the war,' leaving small farmers destitute, he says.

Craig was among the first international agricultural experts into Bosnia after the war. Agrisystems, the small British agricultural development company where he works, had been asked to advise the International Fund for Agricultural Development on how to spend $6 million in Bosnia.

'I came in over Mount Egmont and was escorted at night by a convoy of French troops across the airport, which was closed, into Sarajevo in the snow. There was no electricity and only three other guests in the Hilton Hotel. We had to use the inner staircase. If you used the outer one you were in danger of being shot by snipers sitting up in the mountains, even though there was a ceasefire.'

Agrisystems trucked in some 3,000 in calf heifers from Austria and Germany and Craig went in with one of the first distributions. 'We unloaded the cattle on a tennis court where the farmers collected them. They really had nothing. At least they would now have milk for their children, possibly a surplus to sell, or cheese to make, and in time they would get a calf.'

Craig and his wife, Marguerite, told me this story in their home in Hertfordshire, north of London , which has a delightful view over rolling English farmland. It is an idyll remote from the war-torn trouble spots where together they have been involved in agricultural development and post-war reconstruction for over 30 years.

When we met, in January 2004, they were packing up to leave for the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. It was a wrench for Marguerite, having put down local roots after years of travel. 'It's harder to leave this time,' she said. 'Before, when we went to Zambia , Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, our children were with us and our parents were younger.'

In 2003 the European Union awarded Agrisystems a three-year contract in the Solomons as part of a massive 80 million euro aid package. The islands have been plagued by ethnic violence and a breakdown in law and order, following a coup in 2000 which forced the government to call in Australia and New Zealand to restore law and order and recapture control of the government's finances.

These objectives have been achieved and Agrisystems team has since been tackling rural development, education and inter-island transport, which had largely collapsed. Part of the task has been to set up a trust fund of 25 million euros to manage and provide shipping, aviation and road maintenance.

'Securing the peace and financial stability is a start,' Craig says. 'But the underlying causes of the ethnic tensions are in people's hearts and actions. Rebuilding roads, wharves, schools and classrooms with equipment is pointless unless people change.'

He was drawn to the Solomon Islands whilst on an assignment for Agrisystems, working on the national economic recovery plan. He met two Islanders 'who recognised that changing the country starts with a change of heart, attitudes and actions in individuals'. They initiated a 'Winds of Change' conference in June 2004 which has since led to a growing network of people in the Islands who want to 'be the change you want to see'. 'This,' says Craig, 'is where my hope lies, not in new infrastructure alone.'

Marguerite, meanwhile, has put to use her experience as a primary school teacher, setting up a special-needs department at the school where she has been teaching. She is helping the many children who have English as a second language. The islands' 800 or so primary schools have had no new teaching materials for three years. The EU and NZAid scheme funds text books for every child and provides training for some 1,100 teachers.

Paul Craig graduated in Agriculture from Edinburgh University in 1970. A formative, if unlikely, influence came from a travelling theatre group from India , brought to Edinburgh by a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. One of their stories was of three Indian farmers who had increased their village crop yields after settling personal jealousies and finding reconciliation. 'In the following vacation I went to India and met the reconciled brothers. A divided and starving village had been transformed. They had adopted new seeds and technology and now had a surplus. That taught me a fundamental lesson, that people's attitudes and relationships are as important as any technology when seeking to improve a situation. It also led me into international development.'

The story of Craig's own rapprochement with his father, a Glasgow businessman, is captured in a re-enacted documentary video, What are you living for?, made by FLTfilms. It shows how a frank conversation 'lifted an iron curtain' between them and restored their friendship.

Craig gained his Masters at the University College of North Wales and spent a year in Saudi Arabia doing agricultural research, sent there by the UK's then Overseas Development Administration. From there he went to Zambia as an animal husbandry officer, a job which tested his conviction about relationships. In front of a senior official, he blamed a local livestock specialist, Mtonga, for a faulty roof. 'I immediately knew I was wrong to humiliate Mtonga in front of our boss. But it took me three days to sum up the courage to apologise to him.' Craig says his apology helped to build the trust between them. When Craig's contract ended in 1979, the Zambian graduate who took over his post told him: 'We have grown together technically but we have also grown together spiritually.'

After Zambia, Craig faced a second formative moment in his career when he and his wife had to choose between two job offers at short notice, one with the World Bank in Nigeria and other with the UK's Department for International Development in Nepal . They were much more attracted to Nepal , but they realised that they had to 'get rid of our personal preferences and be free of them' in order to find 'God's plan', as Craig puts it. Nepal would have meant half a day's treck, a risk they couldn't take with young children if they ever became ill. It quickly became clear that they should go to Nigeria , a decision they never regretted.

It was one of Craig's largest assignments at that time in monetary terms: a livestock development project of $40 million, employing expatriates from the UK, the USA and Australia . The task was threefold: to develop a credit scheme for smallholders, to help them to fatten a million head of cattle as they moved south each year from the parched northern states; to develop one hundred square mile grazing reserves for the nomadic Fulani people; and to develop large scale cattle ranches, including fencing and infrastructure, which also involved importing 2,000 tetse-resistant cattle from the Gambia. The credit scheme was so successful that Craig turned a previous default rate of 30 per cent on the loans to less than half of one per cent.

As in Zambia , human relationships were again the key in Papua New Guinea where Craig was seconded by Booker Tate Ltd in 1990 to get a loss-making poultry and crocodile farm back into profit. The farm, which employed 400 people, had a million chickens and 5,000 crocodiles. Bad management had led to the receiver being called in and relations between the management and the farm workers' union were 'diabolical'.

At first, the head of the farmworkers' union didn't trust Craig, and the head of the national Trade Union Congress was hostile. Their first encounter was at a restaurant where the TUC leader was 'seriously drunk', Craig recalls. The man later apologised and respect grew between them. Craig wanted to introduce fair working practices and a wage agreement. 'The employees had been treated pretty badly, particularly the unmarried men who were living in terrible conditions. We were able to improve their showers and rooms.' It took nine months, several strikes and continual trust building to implement the wage agreement but, to Craig's great satisfaction, it was the first ever such agreement in PNG to be endorsed by both the TUC, the Ministry of Labour and the Employers' Federation.

In 1992 Craig was one of the first agricultural experts to go to Albania, after the collapse of Enver Hodja's Marxist regime. His then employer, the Dublin-based Rural Development International, sent him as the project manager of a 25 million euros European Union reconstruction scheme. 'When I went into the Ministry of Agriculture, there was no paper, no heating, one typewriter, and they had no experience of running anything but a centrally planned system - and that was collapsing. The state farms had no funding to continue and overnight had to be split up, creating over 300,000 new farmers with 1.5 hectares each. The government had no experience of how to handle that.'

Craig's team brought in mechanisation, fertilizers and agrichemicals, and trained advisers in supporting smallholders. Now, he says, 'Albania is beginning to have a decent agricultural economy and is exporting goods to Italy and elsewhere. But the fragmented landholdings continue to mean subsistence living for many.'

Craig employed Agrisystems in Albania to advise him on mechanisation, and they invited him to join the company in 1994. He became its Managing Director in 2002, but stepped down in 2003 to go to the Solomon Islands*1. The company, with a turn-over of £5 million, is dedicated to 'challenging the causes of poverty'. Craig saw its role as 'working ourselves out of a job' by handing over to local experts.

Agrisystems, contracted by the UK's Department for International Development, took Craig to Ukraine which is facing similar issues to Albania in moving from a Soviet centrally-planned system to a market economy. Ukraine was historically the breadbasket of central Europe , and has 45 per cent of the world's best soils - though only an agriculturalist could describe them as 'mouth-watering', as Craig puts it.

The £3 million, three-year project was to set up agricultural and rural development advisory centres in an oblast or province of 5.5 million people. They have now been handed over to Ukrainians. The countrys small farmers are now able to pay towards the advice they receive, and this makes the centres, which the government cannot afford to fund, sustainable.

Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone Agrisystems has trained ex-combatants from both the rebel forces and the Sierra Leone army following the civil war there in rural development schemes. These include brick-and road-making, building police stations and health clinics, and training in agricultural skills. 'We insisted that half of each training course should include people who had stayed at home in the community,' Craig says. He likens integrating the rebels back in this way to the father's welcome to the prodigal son in the Biblical parable. The approach seems to be working. Clare Short, who was the UK's minister for international development, visited the project twice and was 'very excited by it,' Craig says.

Craig describes himself as a 'free marketeer', and at a public meeting in London in 2003 he didn't mince his words about the need for the European Union and the USA to end their agricultural protectionism. 'The protectionist lobbies are self-serving,' he said. 'Europe is two-faced: the major donor of development aid but also the originator of the most restrictive tariff barriers.

Craig reflects that 'if you embark on a life of faith and purpose you fall often. It is important to have a partner who loves you and helps you get back on track.' He clearly has this in Marguerite. She has had a passion for teaching in primary schools for over 20 years in Africa, the UK , Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands . 'As well as learning language and maths skills, children need to learn how to care for others, to share and take turns and to stand up for what they believe to be right,' she says. Each generation, comments Paul Craig, has to learn these basic lessons afresh. 'In terms of human relationships we've all got to learn them again and again.'

After 11 years as a director and shareholder of Agrisystems, Craig and his fellow shareholders sold the company in 2005 to a larger global development company, enabling the younger staff to take greater responsibility and releasing the older cadre, Craig says, to pursue wider agendas.

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