Home Woman in Agribusiness

Article by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications, Land O’Lakes International Development

Having insufficient money to feed and clothe her children tormented Teresa Alberto João Danasio for years. “It used to tear me up inside when my children would come back from playing, staring at me, and for me as their mother to have no food for them,” Teresa, 28, recalled. “We have a saying in Mozambique that happiness comes from the stomach. So, if the kids are hungry, it means that they are sad. As a mother, this really affected me.”

At the time, the entire family relied exclusively on the US $50 monthly income Teresa’s husband Jemute Manuel Chaona, 32, earned as a social service assistant. There were nine mouths to feed in all, including their three children and several relatives. Teresa recalled, “We experienced a lot of challenges because of insufficient income, but we had no options. It was all we could rely on. There were days when we had no food, and no ways to fill other needs.”

But despite their difficulties, and the stress he felt being the family’s sole provider, Jemute wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of acquiring a dairy cow when Teresa told him about the USDA-funded Food for Progress Program implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development. The program is linking 4,050 smallholder farmers to a commercial dairy value chain in Maputo, Sofala, and Manica provinces, and training 16,000 Animal traction farmers in new and improved agricultural techniques and management practices.

More broadly, the program is working to build an effective dairy value chain, reduce imports, rebuild the dairy herd and promote private sector investment – in the aftermath of the 16-year civil war that decimated the country’s dairy herd and infrastructure.

Overcoming Fear and Moving Forward

“I told her, how are you going to manage such a demanding animal? And how are you going to provide it with feed?” Jemute recalled asking. He had also heard about the program, and knew that free-grazing was discouraged; considering feed is the most onerous cost of caring for dairy cattle, this was a legitimate concern.

Beyond the fear of whether they could manage taking care of a dairy cow, their biggest concern was what it would mean for Teresa’s education. Teresa was busily trying to complete 10th grade and was loathe to drop out, especially considering her children, ages 8, 10 and 12 weren’t far behind her in their studies.

But Teresa insisted and convinced Jemute to give it a try with her and see what might happen. And so it was that the two began tag-teaming as partners in everything to make this new opportunity work.

“When I made the decision, it was really a challenge for me, but I continued studying. My husband would wake up early morning and go to his work, while I went off to school. Then, around 9am, we’d both escape from work and school to attend our dairy trainings, and then we’d head back to work and school when we could.”

They both laughed as she relayed the story of how they managed to make things work during the 2-week training. “We were acting like fugitives, constantly sneaking out to make ends meet,” Teresa said. Jemute joked, “If I was really a fugitive, I wouldn’t have come back!”

Since successfully completing Land O’Lakes’ training and passing the course was a prerequisite to actually receiving a pure-breed in-calf Jersey heifer, Teresa was skeptical her efforts would come to fruition. “Initially, I doubted myself. I wondered, would I really be eligible to receive a dairy cow? And is this program all talk?” But within a few weeks of passing her course, she received her cow and life began to change.

Teresa Alberto João Danasio affectionately holds her new “cash cow,” Teresinha.

Teresa Alberto João Danasio affectionately holds her new “cash cow,” Teresinha.

The Arrival of Jemute’s ‘Second Wife’ Teresinha

When the cow arrived in July 2014, Teresa says her family exploded with emotion, and the cow quickly became a critical part of their lives. “The cow and program came at the right time. We smelled the cash as soon as we saw her!” Fittingly, their cow was given the name of Teresinha – small Teresa – and her children regularly call out if they observe that Teresina needs more food or water.  Jemute added, “I now consider Teresinha my second wife!”

After calving, Teresinha started providing the family with between 12 and 13 liters a day. After keeping about 2 liters for enriching the nourishment of the family, they sell the remainder for between US $0.40 -0.46 per liter either to Copoleite, a cooperative based in Beira, Sofala provincial capital that operates a processing plant, or to a local microprocessor. Ultimately, Teresinha’s milk provides them with about US $100 a month – almost double her husband Jemute’s salary, which triples the overall household income.

Teresa shows off the new home she’s busily constructing with her new income from dairy.

Teresa shows off the new home she’s busily constructing with her new income from dairy.

“I’m happy that Teresa is bringing in this income, and I’m not threatened that she’s now earning more than me. It means our financial burden is alleviated, and I’m not threatened by the fact that the family isn’t entirely relying on my income anymore,” Jemute explained. “In fact, it means I actually have a little more time to breathe, and to be a real father to my children.”

When Teresinha calved, her first born was a bull. She will soon pass this on to another program client. . Shortly after the bull was born, the family accessed artificial insemination services through the program to get Teresinha pregnant again, and this time she produced a female calf, who is now 5 months old. Afterwards, they used a bull stud service to impregnate her again, and she’s currently in-calf.

Looking Forward to the Future

While they cannot say the income from Teresinha’s milk covers all their needs, the couple notes that it minimizes their burden significantly. “Although we still find we need more money than we have, rarely do our kids go to bed hungry anymore.”

What’s more, Teresa is not only dreaming of building a large house to fit her entire family, but she’s nearly realized her vision. Construction is ongoing, and is nearly complete, and they are easily able to pay for their children’s school uniforms, and school lunches, so that they can concentrate better while studying. They are also setting a portion of their earnings aside to pay for the feed that Teresinha needs to remain healthy and productive.

She imagines things will only get better. “Where I once doubted myself, I can now envision a future where my female calf grows up and starts milking. That means in a year or two, I will have two cows, and then three. This will really put me in a great situation.”

For Teresa, the impact of the USDA-funded Mozambique Food for Progress program has truly been profound. “I was a person who had no hope, and I wasn’t even aware that this could be my life. But now, I really feel like a new Teresa, as a proud mother able to meet my household needs.

The drive is six hours from Kampala to African Rural University, Uganda’s first all-women’s university. As in many African cities, Kampala’s congested city center gives way to surrounding slums inhabited, in large part, by previously rural residents who have left their villages for the city in hopes of finding work. Often, they’ve moved only to find their hopes of prosperity starkly juxtaposed with the realities of urban slum existence. The road must be traversed by Land Cruiser. The University’s founder, Dr. Musheshe, our wonderful driver, Edward, and I left in the early afternoon, driving at maximum speed, and arrived at around eight in the evening in the pouring rain.

Kigadi is located in one of Uganda’s poorest districts, evident in the deeply rutted roads long forgotten by the local authorities. Here is the home of newly minted African Rural University, officially awarded its higher education licensure in 2011. It is a part of the Ugandan Rural Development Training Centre (URDT), which started in 1987 as a nonprofit working with local communities on agricultural training and extension services and later expanded to include URDT girl’s school in 2000, which began with thirty students. It has expanded to an institution of more than three hundred. The University will be graduating its second ARU class this year. All University graduates receive certification to become Rural Transformation Specialists, immediately to be employed by ARU as Epicenter Managers. As Epicenter Managers they will live full-time in assigned communities, serving as rural development field officers facilitating strategic planning and community development emphasizing agriculture.

Safira (right) and her mother (left) with their car

Safira (right) and her mother (left) with their car

When you pull off Hoima Road, which is strewn with trash and brimming with honking cars, motorbikes, bicycles, you find a campus with the same feel as a UK or US university. The campus roads are dirt but the hedges are neatly trimmed. The small roundabout in front of the main building has manicured hedges that spell out URDT from above. Smartly dressed students carry their books with purpose and attention.

URDT’s motto is “to awaken the sleeping genius in each of us,” rooted in the idea that each of us has the capacity to envision and create the life we desire for ourselves, our families and communities, and our country.

I’ve worked in rural development for the past few years and have heard much of URDT’s success. In June, I interviewed Dr. Musheshe for Africa Agribusiness Magazine; he was in Boston receiving an award from Harvard University for his creation of URDT and ARU. “Come to see for yourself,” he said at the end of the interview. A month later, I found myself on the tarmac of Entebbe airport.

The Ugandan Rural Development Training Centre thrives remarkably in one of the world’s poorest countries. Important factors are: its visionary founder, Dr. Musheshe, the loyal community that works with him, and the employment of systems-thinking as an approach to human development.

The University is based on a simple, powerful way of thinking called the Visionary Approach. A series of questions provides a structure for achieving personal and community development. What do you want? What is your current reality in life? What are the action steps you need in skill level and education? What resources do you need to mobilize in order to move efficiently toward making your vision reality? Simple, not easy. This way of thinking has powerful effects. It moves people away from problem solving, getting rid of what you don’t want, toward creating what you do want. It is extremely empowering because implicitly it says to each of us, “You have the capacity, intelligence and creativity to make what you want a reality. Not only can you create the life you desire, but you are the active agent in your own development and future.” Each student has this mentality engrained in her everyday thinking.

8One evening, as I sat on my stoop watching some girls play volleyball, a group of girls asked me how I was liking Uganda and URDT. We chatted for a few minutes about the universal questions: “Do you have a boyfriend? Is he handsome? Can we see a picture?” Laughing, I say, “Yes, yes, and yes.” “Why aren’t you married yet? You ARE 26!” The questions continue unrelentingly, but I’m happy to fire a few back: “What is URDT like?”

One young woman speaks up, “URDT has taught me to be honest about what I want, not what I think I can have. I want to build houses and be an engineer, so I take math, and physics.”

Another girls said, “URDT is about envisioning not just what you want, but what you want for your family. We are just about to finish up our permanent house which will be made of bricks, not mud. I created a plan with them on how we would achieve this. We’re close.”

A few days later I arrange a session with six school girls of different ages to learn more about how URDT is affecting their lives. They echo one another. “URDT is teaching us to envision what we want, have confidence that we can achieve it, and be clear about the skills we need to achieve these goals.”

ImageMost girls I asked will say they are working with their families to expand agricultural businesses, build permanent houses, send their siblings to school or start more businesses within the family. Students at URDT can articulate the purpose of their education and its direct relationship to their lives outside of school.

Sitting in the morning assembly, after listening to the lilting voices of the national anthem, I realized that the second song that they sang was the African Rural University Anthem, sung by the entire community, every day. It goes like this…..

African Rural University
The Cradle of learning
African Rural University
The centre for transforming

You educate a woman
Uganda to be prosperous
You educate a woman
Africa to be at peace

You educate a woman
The world to be free
You educate a woman
Humanity to be happy

You have a vision
That is inspiring
You have a mission
That is empowering

They come from the East
They come from the South
They come from the West
They come from the North
To drink on the well of wisdom

twoEvery day this Anthem reminds everyone how important women’s education is to the future: to the future of Kigadi, to the future of Uganda.

A report by Ugandan Human Services and international agencies shows that that over half of women in Uganda experience domestic violence, compared to the global average of 30%. In Uganda, like many African countries girls are pulled out of school to get married and/or because scarce family resources are used for boys to be educated. URDT girls school starts at primary five (around age nine) specifically to target girls who would likely otherwise leave school at this age.

Signs adorning the roadside say, “Beating my wife destroyed my marriage. Don’t do what I did.” and “Domestic violence is a criminal offense.” While “stay in school” plaques decorate high school lawns. But when I spoke with Michael Newbill, the Economic and Political Chief at the US embassy he noted, “Yes, these signs are important. Remember, though many are funded by international donors.” I wondered, if these are not locally inspired are these messages really taking root in Ugandan society? Patriarchy is a way of life here and women’s rights will not be achieved in any real way without a prolonged struggle. Needless to say supporting women’s education is hardly a top priority for many.

In the shade of a eucalyptus tree, Charlotte, an Epicenter Manager, sets up her “power point” presentation, a dowel wrapped in fabric with the facilitation “slides” she uses in villages. Charlotte was assigned to work in Kasambya subcounty after graduation. Earlier, in her third year at the University, she lived for a month in the village, working to understand the local challenges. She took this knowledge back to ARU to develop her research and skills before moving to the village after graduation. Each slide is drawn as well as written because of both the high illiteracy rate and the large number of local languages. Below are a few of the nineteen slides in her presentation.

URDT Rural Development Curriculum

URDT Rural Development Curriculum

“Know what you want: When you know what you want you gain great power”

“Foundation Choice: the three foundations for a happy life are freedom, health and being true to one’s self”

“The first act of creation is to imagine what you truly want”

“Remember your inner power will work like a sharp spear to get what you want. But you must direct it very clearly and firmly (focus).”

“In times of difficulty, tell yourself the truth of how things are and what you truly want”

“Reflect upon the water project as if it were accomplished”

“Anything which is truly important to you in your life is worthy of your life energy”

“Creating momentum. Nothing happens until you take action. There is often a delay between the time you do something new and you see results.”

“Point of most power. You create tomorrow today. Right now is the key to your future.”

I’m touched by the simple genius of the curriculum, which is like a condensed version of every self-help book, motivational course, and strategic planning workshop I had ever taken – no small number. Over thirty years, these slides have been honed by Dr. Musheshe, alongside Peter Senge, a top systems thinker at MIT, and Robert Fritz, an award-winning artist, author and leading professional in corporate change management. These are no ordinary “slides.”

To see the outcomes of this approach, we drive two hours to Safira’s house. We turn off the main road, a narrow track with high elephant grass squeezing the Land Cruiser, onto a shaded driveway that passes through a large grove of matoke, Ugandan bananas. This matoke is now part of the thirty acres Safira’s family owns. Before she entered URDT, her family of eight lived on a quarter-acre.

oneSafira is the first in her family to attend school. Her father beams with pride as he tells me, “Now all five children are in school.” When I ask Safira’s mother how URDT affected the family, she turns to the interpreter, “I never had an education. I dropped out in primary four, but when I attended parent visitor days I realized I wanted to go back to school. Now I have my high school degree just like my daughters.” She beams at me, and I wish I spoke the local dialect to tell her much I admire her and her family, but Charles, our excellent interpreter and radio manager, does the job.

I ask them, “How did you go from a quarter-acre to thirty acres? That’s a big farm!” Safira, now 24, says, “Well, all students at URDT have to do what we call a Back Home Project. We learn in school and then we have a project we implement at home. It is part of our education to work on a vision with our family. We have family meetings and develop a vision together, then we decide what each member will do to make this vision a reality. We kept our vision on a piece of paper near the kitchen table. Our vision was to have a permanent house and have everybody go to high school. With the agricultural and management skills I learned at URDT we were able to grow a variety of crops to sell at the market. Now we have expanded into other business such as mechanics and are working to open a pharmacy. Now all the children are in school, we have a large farm and a car, and are looking to buy more land. The Safira story epitomizes the Back Home Projects at work, radically changing family life and opportunities for the next generation.

I think to myself, “I wish my family could have such a clear vision!”

Similar to Safira’s story is that of Charles Kisembo Goodyear, a student at URDT Institute, the only area of the organization that enrolls boys. Charles’s neat house resembles the URDT campus. Meticulously maintained hedges ring the house, and the dirt yard is swept clean. Charles is a savvy entrepreneur and equally skilled farmer. On the tour of his farm, he explains in minute detail the intricacies of biodynamic farming, the expansion of his passion fruit crop, and his steadily growing swine business. With direct enthusiasm, he says, “I have started farmer’s cooperatives and groups in this area to teach others the best practices I learned at URDT.” He, like Safira, is spreading the word through his commitment to his business and family, and also through his strong “pay it forward mentality.” To list his bustling farm’s activities would require a lengthy case study; in short, he is adding value to sugarcane using machinery he designed and built in his URDT metalworking classes. Additionally, he has extensive mango groves, and even transports his produce to Juba, South Sudan, to fetch premium prices. No grass grows under his or his lively wife’s feet. His manner and speech resemble that of a TEDster delivering the classic eighteen-minute talk in Monterrey California.

Dr. Musheshe is a leader with awesome vision and crystal clear purpose who embodies the values he instills in his students. URDT and ARU are products of his vision and his committed team of educators, who put their hearts and souls into maintaining and growing these schools. “I’ve always been an activist at heart,” he says. He was tortured as a political prisoner under Idi Amin for being a leader of student protests while at Makerere University. Later, an attempt was made on his life by a grenade thrown into his house. He says, “I might not have started the URDT if that hadn’t happened. It had the opposite effect they wanted. It made me determined to stay in my country and help my people forever. Uganda has come so far. Back then it was a very violent place.” He has received prestigious awards across the globe for his achievements, as well as the Golden Jubilee Medal from the President of Uganda for the creation of African Rural University.

URDT’s programs and activities range from a burgeoning TV station and exchange students from the US, to a long-standing and award-winning community radio station. The radio station, broadcast to over three million listeners in Western Uganda and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is particularly impressive. One evening over a Nile Special, the local Ugandan sorghum beer, Dr. Musheshe told me its story.

four“I attended the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil in 1987, the first global summit on climate change. When I returned to Uganda I wanted to start a radio station along with four other countries. We called it Eco News Africa. The idea was to combat desertification in Uganda. When I told this to a UN Development professional the man laughed uproariously, “We don’t have desertification in Uganda. Are you kidding me?” I said, “Yes, that’s the point. We don’t have desertification YET, but if we don’t provide education on deforestation and environmental protection measures we will in twenty years.” Now twenty years later, western Uganda, where URDT is located, sees few issues with desertification. The same cannot be said of Northern Uganda.

The radio station is wildly popular in the community. After a breakfast of matoke and coffee deliciously prepared by Kadija, the cook and mother of everybody at URDT, we bundled into the land cruiser to visit a “farmers’ listener group” that convenes weekly to listen to the agricultural program broadcasting up-to-date research, technologies, and market data, all of which help them to improve their farms. For half an hour, farmers introduced themselves to me through Charles, the radio manager and my translator. Their testimonies tell not only many challenges, but a deep sense of appreciation for the radio station that provides them with information that they could not be accessed otherwise.

I asked the farmers how they communicate to the station the topics they need the program to cover. They point to Catherine, Kyanaisoke subcounty’s Epicenter Manager who is standing quietly to the side of the group. “She comes to our meetings, plus she is around. We tell her and she lets the station know. Sometimes people from the station come to us.” The feedback system works: there is currently a mango blight, and next week’s program is on prevention methods.

threeAfter a week at URDT I accompanied an economics Lecturer, Emmanuel Sunday, on a recruiting trip for the University. We were recruiting at high schools in Kibale district, near the border of Rwanda, a nine hour drive south through Queen Elizabeth Park. We went to three high schools, where each headmaster kindly rallied the students to hear Professor Sunday explain ARU’s mission of developing women leaders who will focus on rural transformation in Uganda. Each time Professor Sunday noted the University is for women, and women only, there was a considerable stir in the room followed by a young man asking, “Why is this place only for women?” The answer: “Women are essential to changing society because they effect the family. Unfortunately girls are often taken out of school early, before boys, and therefore do not gain the knowledge and skills to positively affect their families and communities. Women interact with the family more than anybody else. When you teach them about nutrition, health, and economics, they are a good investment for uplifting the family. When you educate a woman, you educate her family.”

In each school, the teachers and headmasters knew of URDT, and particularly they knew of Musheshe. Their eyes showed deep respect. One headmaster put it so succinctly that I scrambled for a pen and a piece of crumpled paper: “If we had a hundred URDT’s, Uganda would be just fine.”

As the African Rural University Anthem says, people come from the North, South, East and West of Uganda to URDT to “drink on the well of wisdom.” This is a bright light in a country whose 32 million people are hampered by high HIV, unemployment, a particularly violent history, and low development levels. URDT is a rock causing ripples that spread further and further each year. These ripples make their way into every valley and every mud hut, to families who dream of having a brick home with neat hedges. URDT is changing Uganda one mind at a time through the dedication of Dr. Musheshe’s vision.

Story by Ray Mwareya

When Stella Nzuma – 42 – was kicked off from her receptionist job of eight years, she obtained no pensions. Two years into her new job as a bee honey farmer, incomes have recovered, and her children can finish their education.

“I’ve a new saviour,” Stella smiles, “my bees work for me. They fill 1000 bottles of honey every year. My profits climb to $2500.”

Stella is part of 200 female honey bees farmers in eastern Zimbabwe who were trained by the International Red Cross in raw honey farming skills.

And honey sales are shooting, and the market is healthy. In 2015 alone there is an enviable a 1,9 ton global demand for honey. Stella and her colleagues are joyful but cautious. “Every beehive of mine produces 20kg of honey. I sell a 500 grams bottle for $3.”

Rural Zimbabwean farmers like Stella receive training in what is commonly known as the “The Kenyan Top Bar” beehive.

“The Top Bar hive is unique beehive because it follows the natural shape of the honeycombs with horizontal bars laid across the top of the hive. These can be carefully logged out, one by one, without disturbing bees,” explains Miles Banda, a technician for the UK charity Practical Action that canvasses and purchases beehives for low income Zimbabwean families.

“The Top Bar hive increases amounts of clean honey,” says Stella. “For a bottle of 100% pure honey our price increase to $4.”

In the past, honey farming in Zimbabwe, was an enterprise shunned. Bees were feared in the urban settlements, and where they flourished, the honey was housed in unmarked bottles and the business was dominated by male farmers.

That changed in 2010 when the state-run Standards Association of Zimbabwe agency began to to test farmers honey according to proper health and safety regulations.

Ben Rimi – 36 – is one bee keeper who has gained from having his honey held up to safety measurements. “I lost my driver job in November 2014. Our textile factory sent home 700 workers. In February 2015 I joined a community owned honey processing centre in my village. I’ve never looked back. Authorities say the quality of our honey is superb and may be offered to local drugs companies.”

Ben says the financial opportunities from his bees business are expanding. “For example wax, an unwanted waste product from our honey boxes is snapped up by companies that manufacture soaps and floor polishes.”

Priscilla Dembetembe, the International Rescue Committee economic recovery coordinator for Zimbabwe agrees. “This is the best time to become honey bee farmer in Zimbabwe vs the country’s relentless jobs. Farmer’s honey is needed by supermarkets, hospitals kitchens, hotels and factories.”

“Bee keeping is a life changing trade ,” explains Reggis Woyo an economist for the Zimbabwe Convention of Social Trade Unions, which provides free marketing and bookkeeping skills to honey farmers.

He adds, “for just $90 a student bee honey grower can purchase a hive smoker to dull bees, protective overalls, sturdy boots and bee brush. Bees stockpile honey after three months. This is remarkable; the average farmers harvests 600 honey bottles a year.”

Bee honey farming is a gift to Zimbabwe – a country grappling with vanishing forests. The regulatory Environment Agency of Zimbabwe credits bee farming with a 2% success in its forests replanting efforts. Severe climates, factory pollutions, and greedy tobacco processors are all blamed for the dramatic decline of honey bees species in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on earth.

“Clever farmers leave some honey in the hive for bees to make more production. That’s what we insist on,” says Pious Godo, an ecologist at the Agriculture and Rural Development Agency in the country’s capital Harare. “Bees keep forests unspoiled.”

Problems still persist. Zimbabwe, surprisingly, still imports 60% of its domestic honey needs. The industry is still overwhelmed by male farmers, shutting out women. An astonishing attack on Zimbabwe’s forests by tobacco farmers means some bees species are not thriving in the country.

But farmers still press forward in earnest. “This is a priceless sector of farming. Honey buys medicine for my kids and feeds then when my crops wilt in drought,” concludes Stella the female farmer.

(The writer Ray Mwareya is the Africa news correspondent for the Global South Development Magazine)

Interview with Mary Shelman, Director of Agribusiness Program, Harvard Business School

By Skye Lawrence, Africa Agribusiness Magazine

I spoke with Mary Shelman, the Director of the Agribusiness Program at Harvard Business School. She discusses with me a unique project called the African Agribusiness Consortium which consists of six African business schools in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya that are developing agribusiness management courses. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the Consortium’s goals of building capacity in the agricultural sector using action learning and case studies specifically tailored to the African context.

Skye: Good morning Mary. Tell me a bit about the African Agribusiness Consortium and
how the curriculum is designed.

Shelman: I’ve had the pleasure of being involved for three years with the Africa Agribusiness Consortium, a group of business schools that are beginning to offer agribusiness management short courses for managers. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and strong support from AABS (the Association of African Business Schools), they developed a standard curriculum that can be delivered on a local basis. Many existing business schools do not really understand agribusiness so the AAC is addressing this problem with basic training and agribusiness master classes.

The question is, how do you raise the skill level for those professionals who are already working in these countries? How do you make the courses practical and relevant? It is not just about learning theory from books. It’s about sharing concepts and information that will be relevant and useful to their everyday work.

The curriculum needs to be effective and accessible, but the case studies we use here at Harvard Business School are not accessible to small entrepreneurs. They need local cases on African agribusiness. Today there are only a few of these cases but more are being written all the time, some specifically for this program. Along with case discussions, the courses include learning projects that allow participants to go beyond the classroom and test taking. They also go out and physically look at operating plants, storage facilities and markets. Continual curriculum refinement is key to creating dynamic, accessible courses.

Skye: How are the courses structured?

Shelman: The program is designed as three one-week modules, spread across three months. In between the sessions the participants work on a project that’s very specifically related to their own business. The course is very practical. These are managers that are already working in the field so they can talk about their experience and learning it with their peers. In the process they start to form a network that they can tap into later on.

Skye: Is the private sector involved in these trainings?

Shelman: They’re getting more involved because they are seeing the importance. I’ve heard time and again that talent is the biggest challenge for companies operating in Africa. The trainings are very much case study based with project work involved. The private sector has been training people and seeing that this can have a significant impact. I think there are more partnerships that are evolving. There is a change in the delivery and funding model of these courses going on right now.

Skye: Tell me about the African business case studies you and your colleagues are working on?

Shelman: Sure, myself and two other co-editors—one from industry and the other from TechnoServe–compiled a special set of case studies on African agribusiness success stories. This volume was published in conjunction with the global forum of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) that was held in Cape Town this past June. You can find them on the IFAMA website.

What was fun about these case studies was hearing and learning the things that we don’t normally encounter. The common threads in all of the cases were the need be creative to overcome problems and the challenge of scaling up. Everything goes okay so long as you are a small business, but getting the operation to scale has many hurdles. This is where the management courses can play a critical role.

Women have a particular challenge with getting financing to scale up because financing is tied to land titling. Even though women might be doing all of the farming, they typically don’t hold the title to their land- a key piece of collateral to get a loan. Even in many cases where there is clear land title is respected it is not in the women’s hands therefore the decision making power doesn’t necessary move over to the woman involved in the business. There is a serious disconnection between women farmers and access to the resources they need for scaling up production or expanding into value-creating activities, such as processing.

One particularly creative and telling case example is about Lovin Kobusingye, woman entrepreneur in Uganda, who worked with local producers to grow more fish. It turned out they produced more fish, but there was not a market for them, so she goes out and she develops a new product, the fish sausage. This is such a fantastic story because it shows how much the value chain needs to be connected by local people that know the local market. She built a market for a new product as well as creating the product.

This story illustrates the need for the total value chain approach. If you work with the local farmers to produce something you don’t have a market for, you’re in no better shape than where you started, maybe even in worse shape. You need to connect that entire chain.

Skye: What can foreign businesswomen do to work with local African women?

Shelman: I think a woman-to-woman mentoring opportunity to do social investing could work well, something that would be more personal, maybe a program that would match up experienced business women who could provide advice and act as a sounding board to other women entrepreneurs. It is the personal connection that is really effective in building long-term success. It also means that small business owners can get their specific questions addressed.

The challenge becomes, how could you make this mentoring system scalable without losing the effectiveness of one-on-one mentorship? A train-the-trainer model could be the answer. This is what we are trying to do with the alumni network from the recent IFAMA training.

Skye: If there was an African Women in Agribusiness conference what do you think would be some of the panel topics that would be? It sounds like financing would be one.

Shelman: Yes, it is access to capital and financing, access to markets and there would definitely be a panel on how you build a sustainable business. The big question is, how do you cross that gap from getting a very small, basically household-level business to something that’s a viable business.

The biggest challenge I see with the smaller companies and entrepreneurs is not being able to operate to the high quality standard required by processors and supermarkets on a consistent basis, day-in and day-out. If you lose business due to the inability to meet these standards you don’t get it back. Our trainings address this challenge.

Skye: Are these courses going run on a regular basis throughout Africa or in South Africa?

Shelman: Yes. They will run in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana, among others. The goal is that they would be offered regularly in different countries and that more countries will be involved and more locations will come online. We are now setting up shorter master courses that may be three days or so. They deal with very specific issues. That’s much more like what we do here at Harvard.

We are still trying to figure out the funding model and delivery strategy. Every delivery module requires faculty members who have a good understanding of agribusiness in order to add the right type of value. You can’t just reach into a business school and pluck a marketing professor out of a business school. They need to have a good understanding of marketing specifically in the agribusiness food chain, for example.

Skye: If a company wanted their employees to be trained in one of these courses what would they need to do?

Shelman: Companies can send their people to attend trainings at various universities across Africa (see African Agribusiness Consortium) where the attendees’ network can start growing. This is how the model works at our Agribusiness Seminar at Harvard Business School. Every year, this four-day executive education course attracts more than 200 participants from all over the world and all parts of the supply chain. By discussing cases with peers from outside your own company, you learn more because they all share their diverse perspectives.

Skye: For our readers who read about the Consortium and say, “This is such a great opportunity. We want to get involved.” Who can they contact for more information?”

Shelman: They would need to contact Dinah Hanson, the Project Director at the Association of African Business Schools. She has really been the driver and chief organizer behind the courses. All are welcome to attend the courses. Usually participants are from NGO’s, managers in companies, or local entrepreneurs. We do a lot of work to arrange a class mix so that participants will get as much out of the experience as possible.

Skye: This is exciting work. It will be interesting to hear more about these courses as they develop. Thank you for your time today.

Mary: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

By Alex Hitzemann

At a Conference on Friday, agribusiness experts and government officials gathered to make plans for the coming years. It was suggested that accelerated policy reforms and further investments in transport and storage infrastructure would be a major priority for Ghana in the coming years. The other major theme of Friday’s forum was empowering women to exit poverty by participating in agricultural activities.

Taluma Irene Banda, a gender specialist at Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), believes comprehensive reforms in the policy and legal environment of Ghana were crucial to promote female led agribusiness.

“Many women across Sub-Saharan Africa are keen to venture into agribusiness, but huge barriers have stifled their aspirations. We cannot lift our economies from stagnation if women remain subsistence farmers,” Banda explained.

“African women contribute 70 percent of food production, yet they are stuck in poverty due to lack of access to markets. Other limitations, such as, lack of land tenure and inadequate capital  are to blame for limited female participation in agribusiness,” another expert remarked.

African governments need to empower women in agribusiness through training, exposure to global supply chains, and provision of subsidized inputs like seeds and fertilizer.

Jemima Njuki, a Senior Program Officer at the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC), noted that distorted value chains and lack of access to credit discouraged women from taking up agribusiness.“The entire agriculture value chain from production, transport, storage and markets should be reformed to incorporate female needs and aspirations,” Njuki said.

“Evidence-based research indicates that African women who benefited from capacity building and credit pioneered successful agribusinesses,” said concluded.

 

 

Story written by Skye Lawrence

The drive is six hours from Kampala to African Rural University, Uganda’s first all-women’s university. As in many African cities, Kampala’s congested city center gives way to surrounding slums inhabited, in large part, by previously rural residents who have left their villages for the city in hopes of finding work. Often, they’ve moved only to find their hopes of prosperity starkly juxtaposed with the realities of urban slum existence. The road must be traversed by Land Cruiser. The University’s co-founder, Dr. Musheshe, our wonderful driver, Edward, and I left in the early afternoon, driving at maximum speed, and arrived at around eight in the evening in the pouring rain.

oneKigadi is located in one of Uganda’s poorest districts, evident in the deeply rutted roads long forgotten by the local authorities. Here is the home of newly minted African Rural University, awarded its provisional higher education licensure in 2011. It is a part of the Ugandan Rural Development Training Centre (URDT), which started in 1987 as a nonprofit working with local communities on agricultural training and extension services and later expanded to include URDT girl’s school in 2000, which began with thirty students. It has expanded to an institution of more than three hundred. For twenty-eight years it has grown with the partnership and support of its North American partner the African Food and Peace Foundation. The University will be graduating its second ARU class this year. All University graduates receive certification to become Rural Transformation Specialists, immediately to be employed by ARU as Epicenter Managers. As Epicenter Managers they will live full-time in assigned communities, serving as rural development field officers facilitating strategic planning and community development emphasizing agriculture.

When you pull off Hoima Road, which is strewn with trash and brimming with honking cars, motorbikes, bicycles, you find a campus with the same feel as a UK or US university. The campus roads are dirt but the hedges are neatly trimmed. The small roundabout in front of the main building has manicured hedges that spell out URDT from above. Smartly dressed students carry their books with purpose and attention.

twoURDT’s motto is “to awaken the sleeping genius in each of us,” rooted in the idea that each of us has the capacity to envision and create the life we desire for ourselves, our families and communities, and our country.

I’ve worked in rural development for the past few years and have heard much of URDT’s success. In April, I interviewed Dr. Musheshe for Africa Agribusiness Magazine; he was a panelist at the Harvard African Development Conference in Boston. “Come to see for yourself,” he said at the end of the interview. A month later, I found myself on the tarmac of Entebbe airport.

The Ugandan Rural Development Training Centre thrives remarkably in one of the world’s poorest countries. Important factors are: its visionary founder, Dr. Musheshe, the loyal community that works with him, and the employment of systems-thinking as an approach to human development.

The University is based on a simple, powerful way of thinking called the Visionary Approach. A series of questions provides a structure for achieving personal and community development. What do you want? What is your current reality in life? What are the action steps you need in skill level and education? What resources do you need to mobilize in order to move efficiently toward making your vision reality? Simple, not easy. This way of thinking has powerful effects. It moves people away from problem solving, getting rid of what you don’t want, toward creating what you do want. It is extremely empowering because implicitly it says to each of us, “You have the capacity, intelligence and creativity to make what you want a reality. Not only can you create the life you desire, but you are the active agent in your own development and future.” Each student has this mentality engrained in her everyday thinking.

One evening, as I sat on my stoop watching some girls play volleyball, a group of girls asked me how I was liking Uganda and URDT. We chatted for a few minutes about the universal questions: “Do you have a boyfriend? Is he handsome? Can we see a picture?” Laughing, I say, “Yes, yes, and yes.” “Why aren’t you married yet? You ARE 26!” The questions continue unrelentingly, but I’m happy to fire a few back: “What is URDT like?”

One young woman speaks up, “URDT has taught me to be honest about what I want, not what I think I can have. I want to build houses and be an engineer, so I take math, and physics.”

Another girls said, “URDT is about envisioning not just what you want, but what you want for your family. We are just about to finish up our permanent house which will be made of bricks, not mud. I created a plan with them on how we would achieve this. We’re close.”

A few days later I arrange a session with six school girls of different ages to learn more about how URDT is affecting their lives. They echo one another. “URDT is teaching us to envision what we want, have confidence that we can achieve it, and be clear about the skills we need to achieve these goals.”
Most girls I asked will say they are working with their families to expand agricultural businesses, build permanent houses, send their siblings to school or start more businesses within the family. Students at URDT can articulate the purpose of their education and its direct relationship to their lives outside of school.

Sitting in the morning assembly, after listening to the lilting voices of the national anthem, I realized that the second song that they sang was the African Rural University Anthem, sung by the entire community, every day. It goes like this…..

threeAfrican Rural University
The Cradle of learning
African Rural University
The centre for transforming

You educate a woman
Uganda to be prosperous
You educate a woman
Africa to be at peace

You educate a woman
The world to be free
You educate a woman
Humanity to be happy

You have a vision
That is inspiring
You have a mission
That is empowering

They come from the East
They come from the South
They come from the West
They come from the North
To drink on the well of wisdom

fourEvery day this Anthem reminds everyone how important women’s education is to the future: to the future of Kagadi, to the future of Uganda.

A report by Ugandan Human Services and international agencies shows that that over half of women in Uganda experience domestic violence, compared to the global average of 30%. In Uganda, like many African countries girls are pulled out of school to get married and/or because scarce family resources are used for boys to be educated. URDT girls school starts at primary five (around age nine) specifically to target girls who would likely otherwise leave school at this age.

Signs adorning the roadside say, “Beating my wife destroyed my marriage. Don’t do what I did.” and “Domestic violence is a criminal offense.” While “stay in school” plaques decorate high school lawns. But when I spoke with Michael Newbill, the Economic and Political Chief at the US embassy he noted, “Yes, these signs are important. Remember, though many are funded by international donors.” I wondered, if these are not locally inspired are these messages really taking root in Ugandan society? Patriarchy is a way of life here and women’s rights will not be achieved in any real way without a prolonged struggle. Needless to say supporting women’s education is hardly a top priority for many.

In the shade of a eucalyptus tree, Charlotte, an Epicenter Manager, sets up her “power point” presentation, a dowel wrapped in fabric with the facilitation “slides” she uses in villages. Charlotte was assigned to work in Kasambya subcounty after graduation. Earlier, in her third year at the University, she lived for a month in the village, working to understand the local challenges. She took this knowledge back to ARU to develop her research and skills before moving to the village after graduation. Each slide is drawn as well as written because of both the high illiteracy rate and the large number of local languages. Below are a few of the nineteen slides in her presentation.

Text BoxImage“What these meetings are about: when you work for the happiness of your village you help yourself, when you help yourself you work for the happiness of your village”

URDT Rural Development Curriculum

URDT Rural Development Curriculum

“Know what you want: When you know what you want you gain great power”

“Foundation Choice: the three foundations for a happy life are freedom, health and being true to one’s self”

“The first act of creation is to imagine what you truly want”

“Remember your inner power will work like a sharp spear to get what you want. But you must direct it very clearly and firmly (focus).”

“In times of difficulty, tell yourself the truth of how things are and what you truly want”

“Reflect upon the water project as if it were accomplished”

“Anything which is truly important to you in your life is worthy of your life energy”

“Creating momentum. Nothing happens until you take action. There is often a delay between the time you do something new and you see results.”

“Point of most power. You create tomorrow today. Right now is the key to your future.”
………

I’m touched by the simple genius of the curriculum, which is like a condensed version of every self-help book, motivational course, and strategic planning workshop I had ever taken – no small number. Over thirty years, these slides have been honed by Dr. Musheshe, alongside Peter Senge, a top systems thinker at MIT, and Robert Fritz, an award-winning artist, author and leading professional in corporate change management. These are no ordinary “slides.”

To see the outcomes of this approach, we drive two hours to Safira’s house. We turn off the main road, a narrow track with high elephant grass squeezing the Land Cruiser, onto a shaded driveway that passes through a large grove of matoke, Ugandan bananas. This matoke is now part of the thirty acres Safira’s family owns. Before she entered URDT, her family of eight lived on a quarter-acre.

Safira (right) and her mother (left) with their car

Safira (right) and her mother (left) with their car

Safira is the first in her family to attend school. Her father beams with pride as he tells me, “Now all five children are in school.” When I ask Safira’s mother how URDT affected the family, she turns to the interpreter, “I never had an education. I dropped out in primary four, but when I attended parent visitor days I realized I wanted to go back to school. Now I have my high school degree just like my daughters.” She beams at me, and I wish I spoke the local dialect to tell her much I admire her and her family, but Charles, our excellent interpreter and radio manager, does the job.

I ask them, “How did you go from a quarter-acre to thirty acres? That’s a big farm!” Safira, now 24, says, “Well, all students at URDT have to do what we call a Back Home Project. We learn in school and then we have a project we implement at home. It is part of our education to work on a vision with our family. We have family meetings and develop a vision together, then we decide what each member will do to make this vision a reality. We kept our vision on a piece of paper near the kitchen table. Our vision was to have a permanent house and have everybody go to high school. With the agricultural and management skills I learned at URDT we were able to grow a variety of crops to sell at the market. Now we have expanded into other business such as mechanics and are working to open a pharmacy. Now all the children are in school, we have a large farm and a car, and are looking to buy more land. The Safira story epitomizes the Back Home Projects at work, radically changing family life and opportunities for the next generation.

I think to myself, “I wish my family could have such a clear vision!”

Similar to Safira’s story is that of Charles Kisembo Goodyear, a student at URDT Institute, the only area of the organization that enrolls boys. Charles’s neat house resembles the URDT campus. Meticulously maintained hedges ring the house, and the dirt yard is swept clean. Charles is a savvy entrepreneur and equally skilled farmer. On the tour of his farm, he explains in minute detail the intricacies of biodynamic farming, the expansion of his passion fruit crop, and his steadily growing swine business. With direct enthusiasm, he says, “I have started farmer’s cooperatives and groups in this area to teach others the best practices I learned at URDT.” He, like Safira, is spreading the word through his commitment to his business and family, and also through his strong “pay it forward mentality.” To list his bustling farm’s activities would require a lengthy case study; in short, he is adding value to sugarcane using machinery he designed and built in his URDT metalworking classes. Additionally, he has extensive mango groves, and even transports his produce to Juba, South Sudan, to fetch premium prices. No grass grows under his or his lively wife’s feet. His manner and speech resemble that of a TEDster delivering the classic eighteen-minute talk in Monterrey California.

Dr. Musheshe is a leader with awesome vision and crystal clear purpose who embodies the values he instills in his students. URDT and ARU are products of his vision and his committed team of educators, who put their hearts and souls into maintaining and growing these schools. “I’ve always been an activist at heart,” he says. He was tortured as a political prisoner under Idi Amin for being a leader of student protests while at Makerere University. Later, an attempt was made on his life by a grenade thrown into his house. He says, “I might not have started the URDT if that hadn’t happened. It had the opposite effect they wanted. It made me determined to stay in my country and help my people forever. Uganda has come so far. Back then it was a very violent place.” He has received prestigious awards across the globe for his achievements, as well as the Golden Jubilee Medal from the President of Uganda for the creation of African Rural University.

Dr, Musheshe, Founder of URDT and African Rural University

Dr, Musheshe, C0-Founder of URDT and African Rural University

URDT’s programs and activities range from a burgeoning TV station and exchange students from the US, to a long-standing and award-winning community radio station. The radio station, broadcast to over three million listeners in Western Uganda and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is particularly impressive. One evening over a Nile Special, the local Ugandan sorghum beer, Dr. Musheshe told me its story.
“I attended the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil in 1987, the first global summit on climate change. When I returned to Uganda I wanted to start a radio station along with four other countries. We called it Eco News Africa. The idea was to combat desertification in Uganda. When I told this to a UN Development professional the man laughed uproariously, “We don’t have desertification in Uganda. Are you kidding me?” I said, “Yes, that’s the point. We don’t have desertification YET, but if we don’t provide education on deforestation and environmental protection measures we will in twenty years.” Now twenty years later, western Uganda, where URDT is located, sees few issues with desertification. The same cannot be said of Northern Uganda.

8The radio station is wildly popular in the community. After a breakfast of matoke and coffee deliciously prepared by Kadija, the cook and mother of everybody at URDT, we bundled into the land cruiser to visit a “farmers’ listener group” that convenes weekly to listen to the agricultural program broadcasting up-to-date research, technologies, and market data, all of which help them to improve their farms. For half an hour, farmers introduced themselves to me through Charles, the radio manager and my translator. Their testimonies tell not only many challenges, but a deep sense of appreciation for the radio station that provides them with information that they could not be accessed otherwise.

I asked the farmers how they communicate to the station the topics they need the program to cover. They point to Catherine, Kyanaisoke subcounty’s Epicenter Manager who is standing quietly to the side of the group. “She comes to our meetings, plus she is around. We tell her and she lets the station know. Sometimes people from the station come to us.” The feedback system works: there is currently a mango blight, and next week’s program is on prevention methods.

After a week at URDT I accompanied an economics Lecturer, Emmanuel Sunday, on a recruiting trip for the University. We were recruiting at high schools in Kibale district, near the border of Rwanda, a nine hour drive south through Queen Elizabeth Park. We went to three high schools, where each headmaster kindly rallied the students to hear Professor Sunday explain ARU’s mission of developing women leaders who will focus on rural transformation in Uganda. Each time Professor Sunday noted the University is for women, and women only, there was a considerable stir in the room followed by a young man asking, “Why is this place only for women?” The answer: “Women are essential to changing society because they effect the family. Unfortunately girls are often taken out of school early, before boys, and therefore do not gain the knowledge and skills to positively affect their families and communities. Women interact with the family more than anybody else. When you teach them about nutrition, health, and economics, they are a good investment for uplifting the family. When you educate a woman, you educate her family.”

In each school, the teachers and headmasters knew of URDT, and particularly they knew of Musheshe. Their eyes showed deep respect. One headmaster put it so succinctly that I scrambled for a pen and a piece of crumpled paper: “If we had a hundred URDT’s, Uganda would be just fine.”

As the African Rural University Anthem says, people come from the North, South, East and West of Uganda to URDT to “drink on the well of wisdom.” This is a bright light in a country whose 32 million people are hampered by high HIV, unemployment, a particularly violent history, and low development levels. URDT is a rock causing ripples that spread further and further each year. These ripples make their way into every valley and every mud hut, to families who dream of having a brick home with neat hedges. URDT is changing Uganda one mind at a time through the dedication of Dr. Musheshe’s vision.

For more information visit urdt.netaru.ac.ug, or afpfonline.org

 

By Deborah B. Hamilton, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation

Pearl millet, one of the most extensively cultivated cereals in the world and a key staple crop in the African Sahel, is particularly important to the food security of smallholder farmers in arid regions. With over 230,000 millet farmers in Senegal, over 3.9 million millet farmers in West Africa, and over 95 percent of these farmers using the ancient mortar and pestle to thresh millet, the demand and need for an improved technology are immense.

However, up to 10 to 20 percent of this critical crop is lost in postharvest as smallholders largely rely on rudimentary hand tools for threshing, winnowing, and milling pearl millet into edible flour. In addition, these tasks fall primarily to women who bear the brunt of this physically demanding and ultimately inefficient process.

With few effective tools available for smallholders to reduce the labor needed to process the grain, Compatible Technology International (CTI), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, developed Outils de Céréales, a mechanical, hand-operated tool package that processes pearl millet from seed heads into clean, unbroken grain in minutes. Outils de Céréales includes a manually operated stripper, thresher, winnower, and grinder. The thresher alone allows women to process one kilogram of grain in three minutes, less than half the time and twice the efficiency as threshing manually. It also captures more than 90 percent of the grain, significantly reducing food waste.

Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation invested almost $400,000 in a commercialization grant to help CTI make its product more accessible and affordable for Senegal’s smallholder farmers. With program support, CTI began working in partnership with SISMAR, a Senegalese manufacturer with a regional marketing presence that has a strong brand and reputation for quality, with the goal to reduce the sales price 35 percent by eliminating the shipping, customs, and logistics costs incurred by external manufacturing. The commercialization grant also allows CTI and SISMAR to test market the more affordable product; by end-activity, over 1,000 communities and cooperatives affecting 16,200 individuals will have purchased them, and provided feedback. The true transformative impact of the package will be post pilot phase, however, when SISMAR will have ramped up its manufacturing to meet exponentially increasing demand. As the market for this product increases, it has the potential to reach a majority of Senegal’s smallholders with even greater potential for expansion throughout West Africa.

For Mary Makkazi, growing maize is a profession that she grew up in. Her parents were smallholder maize farmers, and today, she grows maize and beans on a small farm outside Mityana, Uganda, to support her five children as a single parent. Until very recently, her approach to farming, known as subsistence farming (literally farming for one’s own food), had changed little.

She made enough money to keep her family fed, but there wasn’t much for anything else.  Her resources often run out when it’s time to pay her children’s school fees, forcing Makkazi to swallow her pride and beg school proprietors to let her kids stay in school until she can pay the tuition at next harvest.

But this year, she’s excited about new progress she’s making with her farm. About a year ago Makkazi and her neighbors heard about Opportunity International, which offers small loans, access to training, extension services, savings and insurance programs, and other essential financials never before available to rural, smallholder farmers in her area. Her neighbors organized into a loan group, and asked Opportunity to extend its services into their remote, rural area.

Customer Service Officer Clean Chendera with clients in Mchinji, Malawi.

Customer Service Officer Clean Chendera with clients in Mchinji, Malawi.

Group members each had individual goals for how they wanted to use Opportunity’s services. Makkazi received a loan for about $180 (500,000 Ugandan shillings), to purchase fertilizers, pesticides and higher quality seeds for her farm.

As part of Opportunity’s programs, Makkazi also took advantage of the organization’s connections to ensure that these inputs were legitimate. “This is an important asset, because it’s not unusual to be sold counterfeit seeds and fertilizers in this part of the world,” said John Magnay, head of agriculture at Opportunity International.

Makkazi said the program worked for her. Due to improved inputs she’s earning more and was able to build a home for herself and her five children—ranging in ages from 8 to 18—and also for her sister and her two children.

“I have just one loan, but I plan to get another loan soon,” Makkazi said.  “I have seen my life improve dramatically from my Opportunity loan and that’s why I’d like to get some more money.”

“I have been able to build my house with the money I made. The benefits of that loan you can see when you visit my home. I feel proud of myself for being able to support my family,” she said, grinning.

Makkazi is equally proud she was able to pay back her loan. With a second agricultural loan, she plans to expand the land that she is able to till. She also is hoping to receive education loans to help pay for her children’s tuition and other school fees. This is another popular financial product Opportunity has introduced to support families.

GPS plotting provides precise information about his land, including plot boundaries, altitude and access to water. From this survey, Asuman can accurately gauge seed, fertilizer and labor needs, as well as predict his sugarcane yield. GPS mapping helps farmers plan and manage their farms, increasing efficiency and income. Where farmland is often fragmented, knowing the exact acreage of their tillable land enables growers to utilize the latest agricultural practices for maximum productivity and environmental sustainability.

GPS plotting provides precise information about his land,
including plot boundaries, altitude and access to water. From this survey, Asuman can accurately gauge seed, fertilizer and labor needs, as well as predict his sugarcane yield. GPS mapping helps farmers plan and manage their farms, increasing efficiency and income. Where farmland is often fragmented, knowing the exact acreage of their tillable land enables growers to utilize the latest agricultural practices for maximum productivity and environmental sustainability.

Opportunity International has been offering small loans, averaging about $150, to community entrepreneurs in the developing world since 1971. Until recently, the loans were only available to clients in urban areas who could visit brick-and-mortar banks.

“After years of successfully offering loans to struggling entrepreneurs who drove taxis, worked as craftsmen and ran food stalls at markets among other trades,” Magnay said, “we realized we needed to do more to address one of the most entrenched repositories of poverty and hunger—rural, smallholder farmers.”

In 2008, when Magnay began working with Opportunity, the organization was piloting agricultural finance programs in Malawi with little success.

“It was a true eureka moment,” Magnay said. “I realized that Opportunity International needed to look at smallholder farmer financing in a completely different way.”

Since it was introduced in 2008, Opportunity International’s agricultural finance program has transformed millions of lives.  In particular, the program is enabling access to financial services, savings programs, training, extension services and mobile banking in rural areas of seven African countries: Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. Alternative delivery channels—such as mobile banking (trucks that operate as bank branches) and cell phone banking—are some of the most important aspects of Opportunity’s financial services in rural areas.  For many of the world’s poorest people—often subsistence farmers in remote areas—the nearest brick-and-mortar bank location may be hours away, meaning that they would have to take a day off work to visit with a banker—something impossibly difficult for people barely surviving.

The majority of the world’s poor are farmers. Most of these farmers cultivate less than five acres of land. Africa is home to a quarter of the world’s farmland, but generates only 10 percent of all crops produced globally. According to Opportunity, most African farms are operating at just 40 percent of their capacity. Under Magnay, Opportunity International is working to develop additional capacity to dramatically reduce hunger in Africa.

After five years of offering agricultural finance to clients, the results are positive.  Smallholder farmers have increased their crop yields by up to 60 percent after becoming Opportunity clients.

Opportunity’s agricultural strategy has been supported by a number of leading companies, large foundations, institutions and individuals, such as The MasterCard Foundation, the Caterpillar Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and John Deere. The MasterCard Foundation initially supported Opportunity’s impactful interventions in rural communities more than five years ago. From 2009 to 2013, this strategic partnership equipped Opportunity to deploy 676 financial access points, disburse 141,000 agricultural loans and open 1.4 million savings accounts in Africa. To scale the innovative work, The MasterCard Foundation and Opportunity expanded their partnership in 2014 through a $22.7 million commitment by The MasterCard Foundation for expansion of agricultural finance and other critical programs through The Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative.

This initiative builds on Opportunity’s early successes by promoting a deeper dive into rural areas to offer more smallholder farmers access to loans, savings programs and other critical financial programs and services. Over the next five years Opportunity will provide financial services to impact the lives of more than 7 million people in eight countries, including the remote Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), where they are launching an aggressive branchless banking campaign using mobile money and rural-based loan officers. In this new program, all transactions will take place on cell phones, and cash is never part of the equation. In that way, clients never need to visit a bank branch.

Cell phones offer unprecedented access to rural farmers in Africa. In fact, 80 percent of Africans own a cell phone. This is impressive because buying a cell phone is often not an insubstantial expense for Africa’s poor.

“Cell phones have been quickly adopted across Africa. For example, in the country of Uganda, there are more cell phones than light bulbs,” explained Rosa Wang, Opportunity’s director of mobile money. “Our programs are limited only by the availability of cell signals in Africa, and that’s proven to be no limitation whatsoever.”

Magnay said that the traditional lack of access to any capital at all is a huge burden for the smallholder farmers. It means during the “hungry season”—the name given by these farmers to the months before harvest when money often runs short—many will turn to traditional moneylenders, known as “loan sharks” in the United States for their extremely high interest rates, or they will have to sell their crops to buyers months early, which can cut profits in half.

“For most of the new clients of our agricultural finance programs, this is the first time that they’ve ever had any contact with a traditional bank,” Magnay said. “If you look back just five years into the past, farmers did not have any access to financial services. If you want an African success story, it’s that bank programs are available in places where they never have been before.”

“The clients that we finance have never had a formal bank account before in their lives,” Magnay said. “Opportunity International, as it often has, serves as a pioneer in proving that these programs work—we’re helping people and creating a sustainable banking program where none existed before. While it’s true we have work ahead of us to expand and improve our agricultural finance programs, I think that’s truly a remarkable accomplishment.”

In addition to harnessing the popularity of cell phones on the continent to initiate its mobile money programs, Opportunity International is using new mobile technologies to identify potential client farmers, assess their households for financing and provide them with information on banking services. Loan officers are able to complete loan applications for farmers remotely using a tablet to collect information about the farmer and GPS technology to map the farm, which allows for exact information about the inputs needed for planting.

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The growth of Opportunity’s agricultural finance program is impressive, but not to Magnay. “To me it’s really still just a work in progress,” he said. “Whilst we do have a good strategy, it’s still an evolving strategy.”

For Magnay, one of the reasons that he was tempted to join the Opportunity team is that Opportunity’s model is sustainable. While most often Opportunity clients are not asked for collateral for their small loans, because they have no collateral to offer, loans are repaid at the rate of 98 percent, allowing for the Opportunity bank funds to continue to cycle through the community in perpetuity. As a bank, Opportunity leverages each donation so that every $1 donated will grow to $5 in five years.

Like Makkazi, most loan clients are a part of Trust Groups—a loan group and support group with weekly meetings that include training programs on business, finance, savings, budgeting, marketing and even life skills. During that meeting, the Trust Group members make their loan payments and talk about business. Makkazi said that she enjoys getting advice from her peers and her loan officer. If one Trust Group member is unable to make a loan payment one week, the other Trust Group members will help cover it.

The training that is provided during Trust Group meetings is not only about banking—like how to write a check—but also on budgeting, business, family life and preventative health. As a result of the successful Trust Group system, Opportunity banks have set up sustainable, life-changing programs.

“This isn’t project-based philanthropic development where a charitable organization launches an operation in an area with many smallholder famers and they spend millions of dollars to train farmers to meet a series of goals, and then, once those goals have been met, they pull the money out and say, ‘We’ve done it!’ They haven’t done it,” Magnay explained. “Farmers need continued services. Opportunity International is committed to building financial institutions in rural areas to deliver services and financial help. Those agricultural finance banks are sustainable, so they’ll continue to deliver help long after I retire.”

Opportunity is an international organization that establishes strategic partnerships with generous donors, corporations, foundations and institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland and Hong Kong. Funds provided by strategic partners—which can include a $50 donation from a school bake sale—are used to expand programs in developing countries around the world, including the DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Just as The MasterCard Foundation has been an essential partner to Opportunity, the Caterpillar Foundation has also played a critical role in supporting the delivery of impactful financial services to Africa’s smallholder farmers. The Caterpillar Foundation has partnered with Opportunity International for over 20 years, committing nearly $30 million in grants that will impact an estimated 18.3 million lives. John Deere has also developed a program to offer financial incentives to help deliver tractors into the areas of Africa where Opportunity International is helping smallholder farmers increase their production, acreage and skills. Earlier this year, Credit Suisse similarly invested in Opportunity’s programs.

Opportunity’s programs are also constantly being monitored to ensure that they work properly. In fact, the organization conducted a study in 2013 to understand the impact that its agricultural finance programs have on the lives of smallholder farmer clients in Uganda, Malawi and Ghana—farmers like Makkazi. The organization interviewed 1,200 clients growing 10 different crops, sampling randomly from bank branch areas where the greatest number of farmers worked.

The study’s findings were very positive, showing that the services were improving the lives of clients. The vast majority of farmers in the study experienced positive results in crop yields and productivity. For example, farmers who grew Ghanaian maize or Ugandan coffee saw crop yield increases of 38 and 67 percent respectively, compared to farmers who were not working with Opportunity banks. The inference drawn from these results is that the Opportunity clients were accessing improved agricultural inputs, following agricultural best practices taught by extension service providers, enjoying greater access to market channels, and selling their crops for a higher price.

The Opportunity International survey of clients showed that they were also better able to meet food expenses, build assets and invest in income-generating activities. Just like Makkazi, their lives, as a result of Opportunity International, were being transformed.

Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development

Working as a community health volunteer (CHV) in Madagascar since 1998, Jeannie Razafinadramanana never imagined that her passion and commitment to volunteerism would enable her to play an important role in transforming the dynamics within her hamlet of Tataho.

But after joining forces with the Strengthening and Accessing Livelihood Opportunities for Household Impact (SALOHI) program, she significantly bolstered her knowledge base beyond her traditional focus on maternal and child health. Not only did she learn how to provide more substantive health and nutritional support to a wider segment of the community, but she also became deeply engaged in the promotion of Village Savings and Loan (VSL) programs that sparked community cohesion and newfound trust.

Led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and implemented by a consortium of international partners including Land O’Lakes International Development, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and CARE, since 2009 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded SALOHI program has been tackling food insecurity in 100,000 households — for nearly 650,000 people — across 110 rural communes in eastern and southern Madagascar.

In collaboration with Malagasy community leaders, the 5-year SALOHI program addresses a range of development issues, including health, nutrition, agriculture, emergency preparedness and resource management. Through this multi-faceted approach, SALOHI has helped communities become more resilient to disasters and economic shocks, while improving food security and decreasing dependency on external assistance.

“Before the training, I did things like distribute medicine to women, administer vaccines and hand out mosquito nets,” Jeannie explained. “But most mothers gave birth traditionally. They never saw a doctor for pre- or post-natal care. They didn’t weigh their children to find out whether or not they were malnourished, nor did they pay much attention to what constituted a healthy diet.” Those who were sick were typically only provided with traditional natural compounds, she said, rather than any type of western medicine, and children were rarely vaccinated. Now, she says, 100 percent of the children in her hamlet are vaccinated for a variety of potentially detrimental illnesses, including Hepatitis A, B and C, Rubella and Polio.

Through SALOHI and the Land O’Lakes team working in her community of Tataho, Jeannie learned how to sensitize pregnant mothers to prepare healthy, nourishing foods. “In general, the dietary training I’ve provided has focused more on how to improve existing staples to make them more nutritious, rather than trying to switch residents’ diets altogether. For example, I’ve shown my clients how they can add meat, small fish or oil to cassava dishes, to make them more nutritious.”  She has also shared with others her newfound knowledge on the seasonality of crops, so that villagers have a better understanding of when it’s an appropriate time to plant peanuts, cassava or rice.

Traditionally, the women in her community exclusively breastfed their children for only 2 months, and then they would be transitioned to solid food. She now counsels women on the importance of exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and about how prolonging breastfeeding for an extended duration can even be an effective means of family planning.

“At first, the community didn’t fully embrace the new ideas I was trying to spread. But, later on, mothers were able to see for themselves the difference in their children’s health and mortality when they sought medical care for their families. This helped convince them of its importance,” Jeannie explained.

Promoting Village Savings and Loans

Even though Jeannie’s a CHV focused on health and nutritional support, she promotes the group banking model known as a Village Savings and Loan (VSL) through her regular household visits. The VSL operates with clear regulations that stipulate that the money can only be used for critical needs such as medical expenses and medicine, emergencies, and even investing in a business, but not for luxury items like clothing or luxury goods. When members borrow, they must pay back the principal, plus a 10 percent interest rate that goes back into the fund; meanwhile, at the end of the year, savers benefit from earning 10 percent interest on what they save.

“The VSL helped give birth to love in our community. People really started to like each other more, to care about each other more,” she said of the VSL’s impact. “During hard times, people don’t have to go far for help anymore. It not only changed our access to finance, but it changed how we related to one another.”

The people in Tataho not only had no concept of VSLs before, but also they rarely engaged in any sort of banking or savings. Jeannie explained that when people urgently needed financial support in the past, they had very few options. Those who would lend resources often charged astronomical interest rates at 100-200 percent. “Now, when there are happy events or sad events in the community – from birth to death – there is now an outpouring of broad community support. In the past, select individuals would help out a struggling close family member, but now the entire community is really devoted to the health and wellbeing of the entire population.”

As one of the 36 CHVs providing support to her hamlet, which has 3,000 households, although she hasn’t received a penny in earnings since she began her service in 1998, she is motivated by the advantages volunteering provided her in taking better care of her family and community. “Health has been my vocation for a long time, even if it’s not paid work. But, now I’m devoting energy more broadly on the health of the entire community, while providing more meaningful support to the women and children who are the greatest focus of my work.”

Another new focus for Jeannie as a result of SALOHI has been sensitizing the community to the importance of hygiene and basic sanitation. “I’m teaching people that they should only drink potable water, that they should wash their hands after using the bathroom and to use latrines when they need to relieve themselves. Honestly, these are things our community never regularly did before, but we’re changing our practices collectively.”

Importantly, Jeannie says that working as a CHV has made her and others like her feel empowered and gain an elevated status in the community. As most of the CHVs are women, their position gives them more clout and negotiating power within the family structure.

Her husband agreed, saying, “I’m very proud of her and seeing her take this kind of initiative in the community. Much of her work can be done from home or nearby, and things are going well. In fact, our dialogue as a couple and the ways we problem-solve have become much more effective, and we can really work things out together. I used to feel like the burden of family care was all on me, but now we treat each other as equal partners.” In total, the family has 19 family members, including three sons, six daughters, and numerous grandchildren.

Even though the SALOHI program is drawing to a close, Jeannie is emphatic that her CHV and VSL work will continue on. In fact, she and several other CHVs in her community are already planning for their next collective effort: literacy training for women. She says that 75 percent of the women in Tataho are illiterate, as they tend to start school as late as 10 or 15-years-old, and are often encouraged by parents who see them as a financial burden to drop out of school early and marry.

“I want to ensure that more women can read and have greater agency on their own futures, and also invest positively in the VSL. It would help empower them to get out of poverty.”

Story and pictures by Peter Saling, Director of Programs
Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)

In 2008, Jacqueline Dekoe started her business, Jacqueline’s Production, in Monrovia with five coconuts, a cup of sugar and the equivalent of US $1. Before going into business, Jacqueline had fled to Togo during the Liberian civil war.  There, while a refugee student, she noticed food sellers adding value to produce such as cassava, plantains and breadfruit, and selling their products at local markets. This sparked Jacqueline’s interest in food processing and inspired her to start her own business selling snack foods after returning to her homeland.

IMG_1785Jacqueline singlehandedly managed the production, marketing and delivery of her snacks. The members of her community quickly became hooked.  She could not meet the growing demand.  Jacqueline tried to get a bank loan to fund her expansion, but without a business plan for her company, the banks were unwilling to lend.

In stepped the Investing for Business Expansion (IBEX) Program.  IBEX is funded by USAID and assists business owners in accessing funds made available through banks that are supported by USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA).  The DCA frees local credit mechanisms by providing a partial guarantee to loans.  Since its founding in 1999 through 2013, the DCA has facilitated USD 3.1 billion of credit in 71 countries.  It has experienced a default rate of only 1.85%, thus costing relatively little to US taxpayers.

In Liberia, the four-year IBEX program is implemented by the non-profit International Executive Service Corps (IESC), through the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA).  The program has three components. First, it provides technical support and capacity building for small and medium (SME) sized businesses, such as Jacqueline’s, in the agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, construction, general merchandise, transportation and hospitality chain sectors.

Secondly, it provides technical support and capacity building for its partner banks, IB Bank and EcoBank-Liberia, to facilitate lending to SMEs and encourage lending to qualified small business using the DCA guarantee.  IBEX allows partner banks to become more comfortable lending to the SME sectors through training bank staff and through borrower preparedness exercises, e.g business plans, and screening.  Meanwhile the DCA guaranty helps lower their risk for lending to borrowers in relevant sectors through a 50% risk-share of any net loss on their loans.

Finally, IBEX works with the Government of Liberia and private business development services (BDS) providers, such as accountants, to develop public and private resources to provide these same services, linking businesses to banks, in order to ensure sustainability once IBEX ends.

In Jacqueline’s case, IBEX’s Enterprise Development Specialists helped her to prepare a business plan.  This led to her business receiving a USD 35,000 loan. She used the money to purchase a truck and several processing machines that helped her increase her output and lower her production costs.  Today, Jacqueline’s Production employs nine workers and is worth US $80,000. Jacqueline’s coconut and plantain chips are now found in local shops and supermarkets throughout the country. The business serves as an example for other Liberians interested in becoming entrepreneurs.