THE ROAD IS WISER THAN THE ONE WALKING IT
Before marriage, my wife and I went to northwestern Greece, a magical mountainous region with picturesque villages, friendly people, excellent food, and a breathtaking landscape. I highly recommend it for travelers.
Vikos Gorge is within this region, listed as "the world's deepest relative to its width gorge" in the Guinness Book, and we aimed to travel part of it.
We arrived at the starting point, a small hotel in a tiny village in the mountains, in the afternoon of the day before the track.
The day after, we had a tasty breakfast; we put some food and water (with some extra) in the backpack and were ready for an easy 3-4 hours of hiking on a trail, which included climbing down to the bottom of the canyon, walk along the canyon, climbing up from the canyon and to a paved road that will take us back to the hotel.
Other than the beautiful scenery, we were expecting a day with little excitement.
Less than an hour into the hike, we reached the bottom of the gorge; as promised, the walk was easy on a reasonably good trail, and the scenery was exactly what a young couple before marriage was looking for.
The trail led us to the middle of the canyon, where the river runs in the winter, but now it was dry, with huge boulders and rocks blocking our way as we made our way down the canyon.
Looking back, I know that shortly after we began walking in the center of the canyon, just when we were sure we were where we should be, i.e., in the canyon, we missed seeing the trail at the center of the canyon itself and climb up100 to 200 m above the canyon floor, to the side of the mountain.
Unaware we were off route, we continued for a couple more hours, in which I convinced myself that this was the right way, and those boulders blocking our way were “normal” and expected in such a hike.
But, as time passes and I don't see other people, I don't see the road climbing out of the gorge; I understand we are not where we should have been.
I realize the trail must be on one of the slopes, which we can’t see due to the steepness of the canyon sides.
We understand that we must find the trail if we don’t want to spend the night in the gorge.
We stopped walking and then searched for the trail, which meant we started climbing on the steep sloops of the gorge.
This is challenging when you hike on a gorge that won the Guinness Record for being steep.
We climb on the east side of the gorge, but after ascending about 200m, we find nothing. We climbed down and began climbing the other side of the gorge.
The second time, we were lucky, and about 200m above the gorge floor, we found a wide, easy-to-walk trail. We were as happy as can be; we knew we wouldn’t spend the night in the gorge.
Once we were back on the trail, we were relieved, as the trail gave us certainty about where it was taking us; we were once again relaxed.
Being back on track immediately saved us the physical and mental labor used while climbing boulders, jumping between rocks, and other activities, such as looking around and enjoying the scenery, chatting, stopping more often to look at things, etc.
Later, we found out that while we struggled at the bottom of the gorge, we missed the place where the trail climbed out of the gorge, and the trail we found was a different one that took us a few extra kilometers before meeting the paved road, from where we hitchhike back to the hotel.
Imagine the Vikos Gorge hike is the journey of the agro sector in developing countries where the starting point is that of post-colonialism and the destination is the “prosperity plains.”
In this journey until not long ago, we were sure we were on the trail to success. We were confident that if we only climbed a few more boulders, i.e., technological challenges, we would reach our destination.
Imagine that in this journey, we have only recently realized that we took the wrong turn; we are not where we are supposed to be; we are off route.
We realized that more of the same, i.e., continuing forward in the gorge, would not take us to where we wanted other than to more boulders and challenges.
Imagine we stopped and looked to the sides of the gorge, looking for signs of the trail that would take us out of the gorge and to the main road that, in absolute certainty, would take us to our destination.
Shifting from poverty to prosperity is not a single act depending on a single achievement; it is a journey.
We hold the responsibility to lead 550 million smallholders out of the deepest gorge in the world, the poverty gorge, to the endless evergreen plains of prosperity.
We can’t escape the “poverty gorge”, and we will never reach “prosperity plains” without a trusted trail/road!
At this stage, where we already realized we are off route, our mission is not “prosperity plains” but finding the trail and road that will take us there.
Let this message sink in.
The aftermath of Vikos Gorge:
During the first and last part of the hike, we were on the trail, and we advanced according to plan with no particular difficulties.
Things got messy when unaware we got off the trail; our plan was on the setback, and the more we proceeded, the more our situation worsened. While
Things began improving when we realized we were off-route. Then we stopped, recalculated our situation, and changed our goal from “Reaching our destination” to “Finding the trail that would lead us to our destination”.
We knew things would be fine once we found the trail. We knew that even if we reached our destination later than we had wished, we would reach it; we were saved by ourselves.
ROADS PREDICTING FUTURES
When you get on a highway equipped with navigation tools, such as Waze or Google Maps, you can call your friend who is 100 km away and with high certainty tell him, “Hi David, I will see you at 10:20”.
Roads are a simple yet certain and trusted way of predicting the future.
For example, when I drive from home to work, I am sure about the places, the turns, traffic lights, fields, etc. I will pass by. By using Waze, I have a reasonable estimation of how long it will take me, and I have no clue what other cars will drive next to me, but that is something I don't care about.
Roads are windows to the future; they help us KNOW what is ahead and what to expect.
But not all roads are born the same; while some are superhighways, others are no more than a mirage of a road; they disappear when you most need them.
For example, think of a person who climbs a mountain, one he doesn’t know; the mountain is covered by snow, he can’t see a trail and has no map. Such journeys too often end up with a much longer and more difficult journey than expected or even death. I know what it feels like to be in such a situation, for this is how I found myself climbing a snowy 5,500 m high mountain in the Himalayas, not too far from Mount Everest. I was lucky to survive that journey.
Please don't do it; never go on a journey without roads or trails.
Roads and navigation tools are ways to predict the future.
Business people only get involved in a business after they ascertain what the future holds for the initiative.
Knowing the future is critical for our future and our chances of reaching success and prosperity.
For decades, the agro sector in developing economies has been out of route and out of course, wandering in the roadless savannas without proper maps or directions of how to reach its goals.
Without a good road, signs, and a map, sooner or later, you will surely lose your way, and surprises will pop up, as happened to me in the Vikos Gorge.
When you are unknowingly lost, the mightier you are, the more you will get yourself and those with you into trouble. If you are not sure of this statement, think of the AGRA program and what it did to the African agro sector.
TRIAL AND ERROR OR PAVED ROADS
The agro sector in developing economies is at a spot where it knows where it is (i.e., poverty, hunger, lack of technologies and value chains, etc.) and wishes to step forward and reach evergreen “prosperity plains” as global north farmers did.
We know the beginning and the destination of the agro sector in developing economies; we must have a road or a trail and, if possible, navigation tools to lead us there.
What developing countries need, much more than money, is the understanding that they are in an unchartered place with no roads or maps to take them where they wish to reach.
This is the time for getting the agro sector en route and providing it with a map to complete its journey to “prosperity planes”.
In the business world, the “Route” and “Maps” we use to complete a safe and easy journey are called Theories and Models.
Developing economies invest billions $ in technologies and advisors for their agro sector. How much did they invest in developing the roads and maps, i.e., Theories and Models for the agro sector?
Furthermore, as we know, not all roads are the same; some are not to be trusted and “disappear” when most needed, and some are freeways that effortlessly will take you in no time to wherever you wish. Oh, and some walk in the bush or snowy mountains where there are no roads.
CHOOSE YOUR ROAD
Not all business “roads” are the same; not all predict the future to the same degree of reliability.
Look again at the "roads" we use today to predict futures and consider which prediction method we use today and which we should.
• TRIAL AND ERROR – This is like walking in the bush, in an unfamiliar place, with no roads or a map. You count on pure luck, which, even if luckily accrues, can’t be trusted to repeat and can’t be copied.
• PATTERNS – Those seem like roads but are not. Attempting to copy-paste those are often fatal.
For example, think of someone who has worked in a big, tall, green building for 20 years. He is used to going there five days a week and at the end of each month getting paid. It works for 4,999 days, but on day 5,000, he gets laid from work. He then decides to use the same pattern that worked for him for 4,999 days, as he goes to a different, big, tall green building, expecting to be hired and get the same salary as he did in the other green building.
• THEORETICAL MODELS – Those offer trusted good roads and road maps. However, models are limited to specific terms and conditions.
For example, in psychology, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Psychoanalytic Theory; in biology, Darwin's Theory of Evolution; and in economics, Game Theory.
• THE UNIVERSAL LAWS OF NATURE – Those offer a comprehensive, comfortable, clear, and safe set of roads and roadmaps to those who use them. As their name suggests, they are universal and will work anywhere and anytime.
For example, The Laws of Thermodynamics, Newton's Law of Gravitation, and The Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy.
Unfortunately for humanity, and more specifically to hundreds of millions of smallholders and their families, most of the efforts in developing economies to escape poverty and reach the “prosperity plane” are based on the two poorest concepts of future prediction, i.e., Trial and error and Patterns.
The widespread poverty among smallholders in developing economies is silent proof of the effectiveness of those concepts, which are no more than a mirage of a road, a distant hope that never arrives.
THE MOST TRUSTED PREDICTION METHOD
In the previous column, I shared examples of using the most trusted prediction methods, The Universal Laws of Nature, to predict long-term actions.
There is a long way before we fully harness those universal laws to improve lives for all, but we already have more than a clue about how to use some of those.
The examples in the previous column were not meant to say that the Kibbutz is the only way to reach prosperity in the agro sector or that all politicians are crooks.
I know that smallholders in developing economies will need a somewhat different model and that most people are good even when they act wrongly.
Yet, the principles presented in the past two columns are unchanged and can be used to predict, plan, and execute more successful agro projects at various national scales.
Poverty, hunger, and the other outcomes of low income are not the result of lack of land, water, inputs, labor, etc., but that of trying to change the harsh reality of smallholders by using unfit tools.
Most importantly, without a road and a road map, developing countries will continue to struggle and suffer for ages as despair grows.
It is time to refocus, stop what you do, and find a trusted road to lead you to the evergreen prosperity plane that awaits you.
A SIGN YOU ARE EN ROUTE
I will provide you with one road sign for you to know that your country is en route to success –
If your country has a business-oriented, profitable, fresh agro-produce export industry based on a business model that can be copied across the sector.
Remember, talking about your goal will get you nowhere without a road and a roadmap. It is the road that will take you to your destination.