Last week I visited Oxfam’s Philippines programme. Such trips follow a pretty standard format - our national staff and relevant partners with the moringa farmers whisk me through a series of site visits and conversations with farmers, civil society organizations, local government officials and anyone else who’ll talk to you. For a few days, I’m engrossed, wrestling on multiple levels, first to understand the intricacies of the projects, and then to try and get at the meta-questions: what are the strengths and weaknesses in our work? What could we be doing better? Is there a clear power analysis and theory of change? Discussions continue in vehicles to and from the visits, over dinner and (sometimes) in the bar, as everyone grapples with the incredibly difficult business of ‘doing development’. It’s intense and definitely the best bit of the job.
I went to Mindanao, one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden islands in the Philippines archipelago, and home to 23m of its 94m population. The focus was our livelihoods work (I hate the term, but can’t think of anything better to describe the complex ways poor people find to put food on the family table). Such work forms the backbone of many of Oxfam’s programmes. In Mindanao, we’re working with women farmers to introduce new crops or upgrade existing ones: