“Give a man a fish…”

By Alan Harman

The expression “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, feed him for life” is one of the many well-worn axioms of development that seems a little ridiculous in the Andean communities where we work. When we have determined that nutrition is a factor limiting children’s abilities to learn and discuss a nutrition based education program with a given community, they inevitably know how “to fish”. In fact a critical success factor is tapping into local knowledge, practices and expertise some of which have been carried down through generations. And if new technologies or methods that are foreign to the indigenous way of thinking are implemented, they often end in failure. I so often see abandoned greenhouses, empty fish farms; all symbols of good intentions but poor understanding of incumbent social structures and knowledge within a community. We try to identify true community leaders (not necessarily those with titles of “mayor” or “school principal”) and organizations like APAFAs (parents, usually women’s, groups) and tap into those power structures.

In our Guinea pig, chicken micro-loan program we are not teaching the community anything other than the value of nutrition. We pay for the construction of cages and gardens and we support and facilitate the animal husbandry but they have been breeding guinea pigs since the time of the Incas so no need to “teach a man how to fish”.