Cultural Oopsie – Kenya



A British fertilizer company from Manchester, England, decided to venture into the potentially lucrative markets of the Sub-Saharan Africa. After conducting research on locally appropriate fertilizers, the company developed a marketing plan that involved giving, free of charge, hundred pound bags of fertilizer to selected farmers in certain areas of Kenya. It was believed that those using the fertilizer would be so impressed with the dramatic increase in crop output that they would spread the word to their friends, and neighbors.Teams of marketers went from hut to hut offering each male head of household a bag of free fertilizer along with an explanation on how to use it. Though very polite, every farmer contacted turned down the offer for free fertilizer.

The marketing staff concluded that these Kenyan farmers were either not interested in growing more crops or too stupid to understand the benefits of the new product. Neither was true. Both these conclusions failed to take into account the cultural realities of the small-scale farmer in Kenya. So it could be said the marketing staff was too stupid to consider crucial culturally significant obstacles to make their risky business endeavor stand a chance to work.

First, company officials tried to convince the village men to accept an agricultural innovation when, in fact, it was the women who were responsible for the farming. Failure to understand this basic ethnographic fact did little for their overall credibility and they were immediately not trusted, viewed with suspicion, and/or in some cases not taken seriously. Second, many East Africans have two important beliefs that should have been considered. (1) The theory of limited good, which assumes there is an infinite amount of good in the world, such as fertility. (2) Witchcraft, the notion that evil forces embodied in people can be harmful. Give these two beliefs, the typical East African farmer would never participate in a scheme that promises to produce more crops than any of his/her neighbors. Not only would this upset the natural balance of nature, but it would open you up to a charges of having bewitched the fertility out of the peoples soil.

In short, to continue to grow the same amount of crops as one had in the past is the preferable alternative to being burned for witchcraft.


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