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    Untitled-5Women dressed in vibrant African fabric are sprinkled across fields of tea, coffee and banana trees. This is Tanzania, and these women are the caretakers of the land – and of their families. And yet, for women like Isabella Mwile, hard work in the field and raising children doesn’t necessarily make her a partner at home. Traditionally in Tanzania, men are the decision makers. However, in Isabella’s village of Mbaka, in Rungwe district, these traditions are changing.

    In January 2015, leaders of Mbaka village acknowledged Isabella’s leadership qualities and selected her to attend an Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) training-of-trainers course on women’s’ and girls’ leadership in agriculture. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, the IGE program facilitated this session with the goal of  improving community members’ knowledge and understanding of issues that are critical for women’s empowerment in Tanzania.

    During the three-day training, Isabella learned about the benefits of expanding a women’s role inside and outside of the home. Like how two heads are better than one when it comes to decision making on raising children or household finances. And how important it is to raise boys and girls equally. She also
    learned about how much value a woman can bring to a community organization or government position.
    I was most surprised by the fact that I could be independent from my husband. I realized that I could contribute to our household income by starting my own business of selling cereals, rice and beans,” says Isabella. She went home to share what she learned with her husband. He was supportive. In fact, he was proud of her new found confidence and relieved to have a second opinion, and a second income.

    Since 2012, IGE has trained 443 people like Isabella to become trainers of women’s empowerment and gender equality in their communities. And, over 3,900 women and 1500 men have joined groups to learn about the important role women can play in their homes and communities.

    After her training, Isabella formed the Upendo group to share what she learned. For the last two years, they have been meeting every Thursday to discuss how they are incorporating the lessons of gender equity into their lives.

    One woman joined the school board and plans to run for district office next year. A few women share about the benefits of joint household decision making. One woman speaks about how her son and daughter now have equal access to education – and are doing the same household chores. Several women have been empowered to start their own business. And one woman, a widow, is now confident to fix up the house, taking charge of repair projects that her husband used to see to. The stories
    vary, but each has a common theme. As Isabella puts it, “Our confidence is growing. We are helping each other improve and take care of ourselves. We no longer depend only on our spouses.”

    Since the first meeting in 2015, Isabella’s group has grown from 20 to 50 members – including both women and men. “Neighboring communities are taking notice, they admire us and want to join. Our women members are known for our matching skirts! We have applications for 10 more members,” she says. Attendance is 5,000 Tanzanian shillings (2.50 USD) a week – and the money goes to a group loan system. Members can take out loans to buy supplies for their farm, or to provide temporary support to support one another during family emergencies.

    As their weekly meeting ends, the women and men of Upendo joyfully sing a hope for their future in Kiswahili, “Waking mama tusonge mbele, tusirudi nyumbo…” In English, this means, “Mothers let us move forward, we should not go back…” Thanks to people like Isabella, Mbaka is making progress.

    “I was most surprised by the fact that I could be independent from my husband. I realized that I could contribute to our household income by starting my own business of selling cereals, rice and beans.”

    By Nawa Mutumweno

    Zambia is among 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa expected to benefit from the newly launched Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project that will develop improved maize varieties with resistance and tolerance to drought and diseases affecting maize production.

    The varieties have been launched to help the region boost food security.

    The STMA project introduced by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will help increase maize productivity by about 30 to 50 percent and provide 5.5 million smallholder farmers with improved maize varieties.

    According to the ProAgri latest report, other beneficiary countries are Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

    STMA project leader, Tsedeke Abate, said the four-year project will improve maize production for over five million smallholder farmer households by the end of 2019 in the targeted beneficiary countries.
    ‘‘STMA will use modern breeding technologies that will confer the desired resistance to pest and diseases, and tolerant climate stresses like drought and heat to benefit farmers within their socio-economic capabilities, that often dictate their access to important farm inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed,’’ he said.

    The project will apply conventional breeding techniques to develop maize varieties and hybrids capable of resisting environmental shocks, including drought, low soil fertility, heat, pests and disease.

    ‘’The project also seeks to increase commercialisation of improved multiple stress-tolerant maize varities with gender-preferred traits,’’ he elaborated.

    STMA will also link up national and regional initiatives to develop strategies that bridge the yield gap and dramatically increase maize production at smallholder farm level.

    Continued collaboration with partners will enhance sustainable maize research and development systems in target countries through sustained variety release deployment and adoption which has been insufficient in many sub-Saharan countries, Mr. Abate added.

    STMA is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

    By Jennifer Hyman

    Communications Director, Land O’Lakes International Development

    Crushing poverty used to be so immense for Workitu Tola and her husband Chala Gemechu that they did the unthinkable: they arranged for three of their children to leave their home and become daily laborers on other people’s farms.

    “It was the most horrible decision we ever had to make, but we didn’t have enough food to regularly feed, let alone clothe them,” Workitu mournfully explained. “What little we earned went in full to pay for a place to stay. Outside our home, they’d at least be able to eat something, and we had a better chance of providing sustenance to our youngest.”

    In fact, for many years, the family had no real place to call home. As daily laborers, the entire family constantly migrated from place to place looking for whatever work they could find – typically the most grueling and menial labor. Any limited earnings they made went back to the employer for the privilege of having somewhere to sleep.

    Eventually, the desperate moment came when Workitu and Chala realized they could not continue to care for all six of their eight children who still lived at home, and they arranged for three of the eldest, who are now 11-year-old twins and an 18-year-old, to begin doing similar daily labor on properties that would guarantee them food and a place to sleep.

    But, as a result of the extraordinary nutrition and livelihoods improvements the family has experienced over the past several years as clients of the USAID-funded ENGINE program, they finally have a huge home of their own, and are in the process of reuniting the entire family.

    Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) is a five-year program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Feed the Future and led by Save the Children that is working to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality by improving the nutritional status of vulnerable women of childbearing age, and children in their first thousand days of life.

    Land O’Lakes International Development is leading ENGINE’s efforts to develop catalytic nutrition-sensitive livelihoods that can enrich access to nutritious foods for families like Workitu’s and lift them out of poverty, by providing resources and training to produce enough nutritious food to eat and sell for a sustainable livelihood on their own land.

    The program provided her with six basic farming implements and six types of nutritious seeds – carrots, kale, Swiss chard, head cabbage, beet root and an apple seedling – and trained her on how to plant, harvest and prepare them. A year later, she received three sheep and a ram – along with training on animal husbandry – and she began selling their offspring.

    After harvesting sufficient crops for the family, they sold the excess at market for 2,500 birr, (US $118) and got additional income from selling four of their lamb offspring. With that cash in hand, they bought a plot of land for 7,000 birr (US $331). In just one year, Chala built their spotless, expansive home, all by himself.

    “In all my life, I never thought I’d own sheep, goats or chickens – let alone a cow! We are now on our fourth year of eating a diversified diet, and selling the extra after we ensure our family eats properly,” Workitu exclaimed.

    The family is now eating at least 3 meals a day, every day, combining their injera bread with combinations of vegetables, meat and eggs. “My most recent pregnancy was different. I didn’t have a single headache, and I produced so much milk he couldn’t even finish it,” she noted, adding, “What’s more, his mental capacity is different than the others. He’s very active and bright, while the others look short for their age and are lower in energy.”

    Her husband Chala’s confidence has grown, too. “Now that I can provide my family with a home, I feel like a man.

     

    It broke Adegdigu Kassa’s heart when she had to pull her children out of class years back to help her with her arduous work as a daily laborer, but she simply couldn’t afford to pay for the clothes and books they’d need to attend school.

    “I was considered the poorest person in my community of 30 families,” she explained. “But I promised them that as soon as I got some money, they’d go back.” At the time, she had a young baby, who she’d tie to her back as she did her work, along with 7 and 11-year-olds, who helped her with her work as much as they could.

    There was rarely enough to eat. Nearly every meal would be a simple meal of the sticky Ethiopian bread known as injera, plus a dollop of shiro wat – a paste made from ground beans; animal protein and vegetables were a luxury she simply couldn’t fathom. “My children’s health wasn’t ideal, and I myself struggled to do the hard tasks required of me as a laborer. I was constantly exhausted and had no energy.”

    Everything changed when she was selected to be a client of ENGINE, a USAID-funded program led by Save the Children that is working in 100 districts in four regions in Ethiopia to improve the nutritional status of impoverished women like her of childbearing age, who were lactating or had children under two.

    One of ENGINE’s key levers of change was initiating nutrition-sensitive livelihoods efforts led by Land O’Lakes International Development. Through the provision of seeds for nutritious crops, simple tools, and livestock, Adegdigu and others like her have learned how to grow, prepare and eat nutritious meals, growing enough to sell the excess for cash at local markets.

    “ENGINE was like a light – it showed me the way to have a better life for myself,” Adegdigu explained with pride. With training, she established a permagarden – a small-scale, high-yield organic family garden – and began growing crops including Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, potatoes and carrots. She also learned to compost, address water management, and make fertilizer by mixing eggshells with charcoal, ash and dry compost.

    Two months after getting her first seeds, she harvested some Swiss chard and kale. After ensuring the family had enough to eat, she sold the excess at the market, and immediately reenrolled her children back in school.

    In the second year of the program, ENGINE provided her with 3 female goats and a ram. She learned how to care for them at one of the Ethiopian government’s Farmer Training Centers, which partnered with ENGINE to demonstrate improved farming techniques, and she learned how to milk her livestock. “Drinking goat milk isn’t common here, but I took the lead on being the first person in my group to begin drinking it and feeding it to my children.”

    As more vegetables in her permagarden matured, she not only continued to diversify the family diet, but also started turning farming into a viable business. When her carrots matured, she sold the excess for 1,300 birr (US $62), and used the proceeds to buy some grain and a donkey that would help her with transporting her crops to market.

    She continued to expand her garden with potatoes and other crops, and began buying her own seed. At the next harvest, thanks to her new knowledge about crop seasonality and selling when prices were high, she was able to earn a whopping 10,000 birr ($478) from selling her carrots. With that money in hand, and thanks to a loan provided by her Village Savings and Loan – community banking groups that Land O’Lakes established throughout ENGINE project areas – she was able to finally move out of the family’s rented shack and construct her own home.

    Meanwhile, her new goats began reproducing. Although she kept her original goat stock, she sold 5 kids to provide the 50 percent cost-share that ENGINE required so that she could upgrade to having a cow. “I wanted to continue diversifying my livelihoods, and I wanted to get the extra milk for my family a cow would provide.”

    Today, Adegdigu is no longer a domestic laborer, with her farming efforts provide enough food to feed her family nutritious meals regularly and to continue improving her life. “ENGINE forced me to change my mindset, because I always felt that farming was for other people, not for me,” she explained. “But with a beautiful farm like this, I now feel like I should have people working for me, not the other way around!”

    She had another baby after becoming an ENGINE client, and she says the extra nutrition has also done wonders for her young baby, noting that she is much healthier than her other children ever were. “She looks 3-4 years old even though she’s only an infant. This makes me proud.”

    Not content to rest on her laurels, Adegdigu’s next plan is to invest in getting oxen, so that she can also plant grain. “I no longer want to have to depend on anyone else for the food my family consumes.”

    No longer tied to working outside the home as a daily laborer, she says she has room to breathe. “I now have time to pass on my knowledge to my neighbors, and they’re starting to buy seed and start their own gardens, too.”

    Adegdigu says she often has trouble believing just how much her life has changed since the ENGINE program started, and how much hope she has for the future. “I used to be truly destitute, but now I’m moving to the middle. I’m not poor anymore, and having the access, training and capacity I received gives me confidence that I will become even stronger in the years to come.”

    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.

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

    While the members of Tsonzo MCC struggled along with the rest of Zimbabwe during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, their history of poor governance and financial mismanagement was among their most difficult legacies when they first tried to restart though the USAID-funded Zimbabwe Dairy and Livestock Program.

    But, as they proudly take turns posing for pictures with their recently-awarded prize of Most Improved MCC, which was given to them by Land O’Lakes and the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) at the East and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA) conference in Harare, the MCC’s new volunteer leadership believes they’ve finally turned a corner and have created a viable, sustainable business.

    Having initially started in 1986 with over 100 members, their 350 indigenous cows were producing about 2,000 liters a day, which they delivered to Dairibord. As a result of the hyperinflation crisis in 2008, farmers struggled to find food for their animals, and many of their cows died from malnourishment. They had no money to cover operating expenses, and the MCC was running at a loss. A few of the farmers continued to sell milk from local breeds at their farm gate, but membership dropped to 64 members.

    “It was a very tough time, and the members who lost everything had no sources of livelihoods left. Some turned to growing staple crops like maize, or were looking for something they could sell,” remembered Justice Maluzika, secretary of Tsonzo MCC. Some of their farmers were able to access stock feed, revolving funds and an in-calf dairy cow though the EU-funded Stabex program administered by ZADF, and the program also helped them clear their debt and establish a processing room. But, despite the Stabex support, their membership continued to erode.

    DSC_0741

    Tsonzo members proudly stand in front of their cooperative while their daily milk is being collected.

    When Land O’Lakes came to Tsonzo MCC in August 2010, the MCC was on the verge of collapse, collecting 20 liters of milk a day. Member Augustin Marenji explained, “There had been poor management of revolving funds from the old committee, and many farmers feared they might be treated unfairly again.”

    Land O’Lakes encouraged the group to start accounting, and trained administrators on how to handle financial statements and recordkeeping, along with three Community Livestock Workers in animal health. They held new elections to elect the leadership, who are all volunteering their time out of dedication.

    The association is still small, and only includes 28 members, 19 of whom are delivering milk. However, they recently added 4 new members who were attracted by Tsonzo’s transparent posting of finances, and promise of a regular market. They are currently producing between 200-300 liters every other day, which the processor Dairibord picks up directly from the MCC.

    “Some farmers were used to donors giving cows away, and so didn’t look after their animals well, because they always considered it the donor’s animal. But knowing it was theirs through a loan made them care more about their investment,” explained Justice, adding, “Only those who learned to farm as a business understood the significance of it all. Especially compared to previous assistance, where there was no real agreement for farmers to pay for their cattle.”

    Among the most important things the members of Tsonzo learned was about fodder management; ensuring they had a budget for silage and haymaking; and preparing silage before the rains.

    “In the past, we only did maize silage. But we learned about sugar graze, sun hemp, velvet beans and cowpeas from Land O’Lakes, which really helped us to improve our production,” explained 27-year-old Washington Sagonda, Tsonzo’s Vice Chair. “And this really worked to improve production. The farmers who ensiled saw great results, getting about 15 liters per day per cow even during the dry season, almost doubling their typical yields for that time of year.”

    One thing they’re very proud of is the fact that they’re producing Grade A milk, which translates to 46 cents per farmer. Dairibord pays 56 cents, but the rest is deduced for the cooperative’s operating expenses, and ZADF also charges $25 a month for its services. Members like Augustin Marenji say they appreciate how transparent the finances are now.

    “The quality bonuses are motivating us and morale is high. We are so proud to have been named the most improved center!” beamed Augustin, who says his monthly dairy income has risen from $100 to $400 a month, by milking 3 cows that produce a total of 30 liters a day. “My family is really enjoying the extra money, because we’re easily paying for school fees, I have more food for the family, and more money for maintaining my herd. But I also want to invest in building better shelters for my cows and saving money for a milking machine.”

    Now that MCC is linked to Dairibord, Tsonzo’s members say they are pleased to have a reliable market for their milk, which they are confident will last beyond the ZDL program. They are also working to build their relationship with the processor independently, and are in discussions with them to provide inputs on credit after the program ends.

    Justice concluded, “For those of us who embraced the idea of being a business partner, this program has made a world of difference in how we see ourselves and our futures. Things were really rough before, but we feel we’re well equipped to go on independently at this point.”

     

    AgBusiness Lab Farm VisitBy Deborah B. Hamilton
    Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation

    Most companies want to “do well by doing good,” and Jose Jaar, president and founder of DelCampo Soluciones Agricolas, proves this is possible. Over the past two decades he has built an agribusiness that earns nearly $2 million per year selling drip irrigation supplies to smallholder farmers in Central America.

    Jaar recently attended Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation’s AgBusiness Lab in Tanzania to discuss his business model with African drip distributors. The Lab was an interactive event featuring system design simulations, expert-led discussions, site visits, and farmer interviews all aimed at identifying profit-driven opportunities for African drip distributors to engage a largely untapped smallholder market potentially worth billions of dollars.

    So, how did Jose Jaar build a profitable business in a smallholder market?

    Business success depends on knowing the target market, creating products that fit the customers’ needs, providing excellent customer service, and pricing products to sell. Over the years, Jaar and his team of agronomist salesmen have cultivated customer relationships built on trust. They started by visiting the farms, listening to smallholders’ needs, and then providing training, advice, and support along with equipment sales. Today more than 60 percent of DelCampo’s sales are repeat business, and its sales representatives earn nearly 80 percent of their competitive salaries from commission.

    In 2009, to build momentum, Jaar used funds from the Millennium Challenge Account-Honduras to offer credit to farmers to finance their purchases, which allowed many to access irrigation equipment for the first time. Today, DelCampo provides $250 in revolving credit to its regular customers, which they repay after the growing season.\

    Approximately 40 percent of the world’s food producers are smallholder farmers, and estimates of potentially irrigable land in the developing world top 110 million hectares. So why do only 3 percent of the world’s one billion smallholder farmers have access to drip irrigation? Because, as Jaar notes, most irrigation systems are too large and too expensive for smallholder farmers.

    Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is a USAID program that helps to commercialize agricultural technologies and promote sustainable partnerships that benefit smallholders. Its sponsorship of the AgBusiness Lab included providing participating drip distributors with extension advice, and system design and cash flow tools, in addition to highlighting the Del Campo model as one that successfully adjusted in products to meet smallholder size and budget requirements – and made a good profit doing it.

    Partnering for Innovation recognizes that drip irrigation is a critical piece in solving the food security puzzle, and projects that increased access will double yields and incomes for millions of African farmers. The program has additionally invested almost 20 percent of its total grant portfolio in companies that are scaling drip technologies to meet smallholder needs.

     

    Farmers drying maize outside a cooperative in Rwanda.

    Sell More For More™: A Clear Path For Helping Farmers Access Better Markets and Earn More Income

    By January most farmers across Rwanda have just passed through the country’s lean season and are welcoming the harvest. But getting through the months of scarcity can mean disassembling important household investments—choosing between school fees or fertilizer, food today or food tomorrow.

    Helping farmers achieve volume production and reach new markets would allow them to protect gains—even through the lean season. Achieving those ends, succeeding in the ever-challenging “how-to” of reaching smallholder farmers with services, technology and training, is complex and difficult; but one such initiative has had measurably positive results in Rwanda—Sell More For More™ (SMFM).

    Sell More For More™ is a system of innovations designed to engage impoverished farmers, develop their farming skills and help them access profitable markets. Sell More For More™ was crafted by ACDI/VOCA, a U.S. development organization that specializes in broad-based economic growth. The name itself articulates how the program works: helping farmers sell more (in quality and quantity of product) for more (increased revenue), ultimately empowering them to produce top quality product without sustained assistance.

    Results have been striking. In Rwanda, Sell More For More™ trained nearly 60,000 farmers in post-harvest handling and storage, and 93 percent of them went on to earn more income. The program recently won a Best Practice and Innovation award from InterAction, a large alliance of U.S.-based NGOs, and in a speech, Bill Gates singled out Odetta, a SMFM-trained farmer, saying: “In one year, her income quadrupled. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Odetta had more money than she needed.”

    William Sparks, ACDI/VOCA’s vice president for program services details the Sell More For More™ program at InterAction’s Best Practices and Innovations award ceremony.

    Strengthening the Value Chain

    The program began as a collaboration between the World Food Program (WFP) and USAID in Rwanda in 2010 to address constraints in post-harvest handling of beans and maize. WFP is a large-scale buyer and one with an important mission. Its local purchase program, Purchase for Progress (P4P), provides a lucrative opportunity for smallholders. It also acts as a bellwether: once cooperatives meet strict WFP standards, the broader market realizes that the same co-ops, and perhaps others like them, can reliably provide buyers with high-quality product at scale. Moreover, helping local farmers sell to the WFP provides more efficient food aid procurement, with quicker turnaround and less loss.

    ACDI/VOCA is known for its work in value chain development: strengthening the proficiencies of, and the ties among, actors that influence the movement of a product through various stages of production and distribution until it arrives in the hands of the final customer. SMFM trainings aim to improve these proficiencies, as well as reduce constraints in these connections for lasting improvements in farmers’ incomes.

    For a smallholder cultivating a few hectares in Rwanda, selling maize to a demanding big-scale buyer, say, the World Food Program or the Rwanda Grain and Cereals Corporation, is a quantum leap in business activity, and the prospect can be daunting. Instead of focusing on individual farmers, SMFM organizes and works with producer groups to efficiently inculcate the necessary skills, disseminate information and build confidence. These groups can also exercise market clout, increasing farmers’ access to bulk input providers, cultivation services, crop aggregation and storage capabilities. However, their member farmers typically lack the skills to take full advantage of these efficiencies. Shedding light on these farming and business processes and upgrading the requisite skills is where SMFM has been successful.

    ACDI/VOCA Vice President for Program Services William Sparks accepts the InterAction award.

    Training to Improve Post-Harvest Handling and Storage; Building Capacity in Business and Marketing

    Post-harvest losses in Rwanda are substantial. Improper threshing techniques, poor transportation and storage facilities and a lack of oversight frequently result in losses exceeding 20 percent of the maize harvest. In addition to physical loss of product, prices paid to the farmers may be reduced due to discoloration, insect infestation, damaged kernels and aflatoxin build-up. Sell More For MoreTM trains farmers on ten specific post-harvest skills in areas from shelling to cleaning to storage, significantly reducing losses.

    At the same time, SMFM works to build the capacity of cooperatives and farmer associations in business and marketing. For example Sell More For More™ helped the COAMV cooperative, which aggregates maize and processes it into flour in northwest Rwanda, secure a grant to improve its storage facilities. With better storage and a new training component designed to decrease post-harvest losses, the cooperative improved its position enough to access credit, enabling farmers to pay for children’s school fees and medical insurance. Through SMFM business plan development, COAMV is learning how to increase working capital, which should propel growth. The co-op was recently awarded a certificate from the Rwanda Bureau of Standards confirming its compliance with new health and hygiene standards, which again will help increase its market share.

    The combined trainings have helped farmers reach new markets. Eighty percent of the farmer organizations trained in SMFM met the Grade 1 standards required to sell to the World Food Program, a large jump from the 47 percent pass rate of those not participating in the program.

    “The impact of the Sell More for More™ trainings has been invaluable,” said Emmanuela Mashayo, World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) coordinator in Rwanda. “We have seen marked improvement in the quality of the maize being produced, as well as in the leadership capacity of the cooperatives’ management. We are now able to purchase with confidence from those cooperatives who have undergone this training.”

    Over the years, many other initiatives have trained farmers, of course. Some have fallen short because the approach was not conducive to adult learning or the message did not reach the impoverished farmers who need it most. SMFM made significant inroads in these areas using three signature components:

    The presidents of two Rwandan cooperatives outside a newly-built storage facility to benefit both co-ops.

    “M3” –Money, Membership, Management: Assessing Cooperatives

    Farmer organizations begin with a participatory assessment known as M3.It addresses 26 topics relating to money management, membership development and overall management and governance. A simple, narrative survey helps organization leaders identify current priorities, and a participatory process teaches them how to self-assess their organization in the future. The results of this survey help members prepare for the training they will receive through the SMFM leadership kits.

    Leadership Kits: Effective Trainings for Cooperative Leaders  

    To improve management skills, Sell More For More™ relies on leadership kits. Each leadership kit has four modules and each module is a three-day workshop delivered to approximately 15 current and emerging cooperative leaders. Workshops are conducted with two cooperatives at a time to facilitate sharing of experiences and encourage future collaboration. For example, after completing training together, two neighboring co-ops decided to build a joint storage facility in the Kirehe region of Rwanda that neither could afford independently.

    Further, the trainings are participatory instead of passive, calling for farmers to help each other learn. Evariste Kaberuka, president of the Ibyizabiri Mbere Cooperative in Rwanda, commented that the lessons “fully engaged the entire cooperative,” creating an “immense amount of excitement.” To keep the trainings energetic, SMFM employs a 5/25 rule: for every 5 minutes of lecture time, 25 minutes is spent on a group activity designed to foster participant sharing of information.

    Displaying the STICKS tool

    Lastly: Helping Lead Farmers Teach Others Effectively

    SMFM uses a “cascade” train-the-trainer approach to create a multiplier effect. This helps SMFM reach the entire membership of a farmer organization. In Rwanda ACDI/VOCA worked with 95 cooperatives to train 1,770 lead farmers in best post-harvest handling practices. These lead farmers each trained approximately 25 more farmers. This led to 44,590 cooperative members trained in improved maize handling.

    The SMFM program provided lead farmers with a specialized tool called STICKS (Scalable Tracker for Imparting Certified Knowledge and Skills) to ensure that lead farmers taught new techniques consistently, that they were incentivized to follow through on conducting the trainings and do them well, and that they could track the newly-trained farmers. ACDI/VOCA designed the STICKS instrument to be a durable, double-sided poster that is a mainstay of the lead farmer training toolkit. It shows graphically the major post-harvest handling skills to be mastered. It also contains the lead farmer’s credentials and has signature lines on which each trainee puts his or her name. The poster can be rolled up and easily carried anywhere, for lessons in fields or classrooms. It is often proudly displayed in the lead farmer homes or farmer group headquarters.

    Other Factors Contributing to Success

    In addition to the comprehensive SMFM project design, additional factors contributed to success in Rwanda. Of instrumental importance, the government encourages cooperatives, supporting them at the highest levels.

    Rwanda also emphasizes gender equity. It has the highest percentage of women participating in a parliament in the world. Supporting women is a policy practiced across social, economic and political spheres. Since women perform a majority of the production and post-harvest work in developing countries, being able to increase technical skills of women quickly and easily is crucial.

    Two cooperative presidents inside their new, jointly-owned storage facility.

    Finally, there was effective donor collaboration. Support from USAID and its partner organization, WFP, allowed the project to become successful.

    SMFM marches on. It is currently being replicated in Ethiopia, Tanzania and by another organization in Rwanda.

    William Sparks, vice president of program services at ACDI/VOCA, said, “Sell More For More works through farmer organizations to transform the lives of smallholder farmers. With collaboration and enhanced skills, farmers in the most remote locations can now access profitable markets and provide for their families. That’s what this is all about.”