Gone Bananas

Kirehe, Rwanda

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the term “field visit.” Many U.S. based NGOs refer to their project site offices as their “field sites,” even if the office is in an urban area in a capital city. Even within project site offices, I’ve heard employees refer to nearly any type of meeting that occurs outside of the office as a “field visit.” This nomenclature bothers me because, as Alanna Shaikh writes on her popular foreign aid blog Blood and Milk (hyperlink: http://bloodandmilk.org/2011/01/31/the-field/), “if you’re a local partner in a development project, how do you feel when your own home is referred to as ‘the field?’ What does that say about the true nature of your partnership? … It is alienating in the word’s truest sense to hear your own territory referred to as the intimidating unknown.”

This week, however, I can say with a clean conscious that Juliet and I did a field visit. We traveled to a banana plantation! In an effort to better understand the supply chain of banana fibers, Juliet and I hopped on a bus to Kirehe (about two hours outside of Kigali) to learn more about Kamara, the largest banana coop in Rwanda. On our ride to Kirehe, President Kagame and his delegation zoomed passed us in their armed vehicles. Juliet and I interpreted our encounter as a good omen: this was going to be a fruitful meeting. And indeed it was! Literally, our field visit was fruitful because we spent the day surrounded by (and eating) bananas. Figuratively, the visit was fruitful because we learned A LOT about the banana supply chain. The coop president was really excited about the potential of expanding the productive capacity of his farmers. Ordinarily the Kamara farmers chop down their banana stalks and do nothing with the fiber inside the stalks. Once SHE enters the market, however, the Kamara coop farmers could potentially increase their revenue by turning trash into treasure. We also learned some details about the ways in which SHE might, in the future, fit the Kamara coop into our supply chain. It was a fruitful field visit to say the least!

Check out our video to see what banana fibers look like:


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