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There’s a nothing like a bit of jargon-busting from time to time, especially when it concerns a word that is heavily used. A word like empowerment, for example – we talk about it a lot at Jolkona. But why? What is it about empowerment that is so fundamental to our vision as a non-profit? The answer to that question lies in the relationship between power and justice: one of the core functions of justice is granting power to those who need it. Take any situation of injustice, chronic or temporary, and at its root will be an imbalance or abuse of power.

In America there is an imbalance of power in the meat industry. Small scale farmers are marginalized due to agricultural pressures to yield high quantity (not quality) at minimum costs. In the world there is an imbalance in the allocation of wealth, and one of the many countries that suffer interminably because of this is Sudan. Here farmers lack sufficient resources and access to agricultural education. Imbalances of power in the farming industry are local and global. So that’s why we started the Eat Local, Give Global campaign.

What was it about?

The goal was two-fold: to raise awareness of America’s overlooked local farming industry, whilst raising funds to provide tools and agricultural education for women farmers in Sudan. To do this we partnered with the brilliant and munificent Bill the Butcher, a Seattle-based chain of neighborhood butcher shops that supports sustainable farming practices by selling grass fed, natural meats from local farmers and ranchers. The funds were raised in three ways:

1) You could donate online through Jolkona via the campaign page

2) Customers could donate in any one of the six shops around Seattle

3) Bill the Butcher generously donated 10% of its sales on Thursdays and Fridays to the campaign

To throw in a bit of competition, we devised the Great Meat Race. This was a competition to see which of the six shops could raise the most of amount of money via customer and online donations.

What was the impact?

Some – but not all – of the results are in. We do not yet know the winner of the Great Meat Race, neither do we know the final amount raised including the 10% donation from Bill the Butcher’s Thursdays and Fridays sales. However, we do have the results from the donations made online and in the shops by you the donors. Remember: $30 covers the cost for one Sudanese woman to attend 2 days of farming classes, providing her with essential knowledge and tools which she can share with her entire village.

Through donations made online and in the shops, over $1170 was raised, providing training for 39 women.

Returning, then, to complete my jargon-busting: the crux of empowerment is not exercising power on someone’s behalf; rather, it is the placing of power into their own hands. And in this campaign the power was education and tools, both of which the women farmers in Sudan can utilize to change their own lives, that of their families, and that of their entire community. This is empowerment. Sincerest thanks to all who donated.

Stay tuned to find out which shop wins the Great Meat Race, and also for the final total raised and impact made….

And don’t forget: you are what you meat.

 

 

 

 

Women’s Co-operative Program in Kenya

The first time Team Africa learned about the Women’s Co-operative Program was when we visited a small grocery store while out on a stroll with Joshua Machinga, the founder of the Common Ground Project (CPG), in the Kiminini marketplace in Kenya. The store had a few rows of wooden shelves, mostly empty except the first two, which carried bags of cassava flour and dried maize along with some fresh offerings such as bananas and tomatoes. Joshua introduced us to the women working in the store and noted that this was a co-op ran by the Women’s Co-operative Program.

Joshua’s goal for establishing a women’s co-op was to increase the marketing power of local women in hopes of increasing their income. The Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund was established to provide local women the small loans they needed to start their businesses. The program resembles other microfinancing programs except for one important distinction: no Microfinancing Institutions (MFI) are involved.

Instead, the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund receives money from donations, the co-op store, and most importantly, the women in the Women’s Co-operative Program. Women who want loans must first contribute some savings to the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund. They are then allowed to borrow up to three times the amount of their deposit. Additionally, similar to other micro-financing programs, a woman must have 5 guarantors before a loan is received to ensure that the amount can be repaid. The Women’s Co-operative Program also provides continuing support by setting up the co-op store as a community buyer to enhance the viability of the businesses. Women can choose to sell their products (usually food) to the co-op store and any revenue the store generates from selling in the market goes right back into the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund. Women in the co-op program can also invest in shares of the store and receive annual dividends based on the store’s profit.

This model of microfinancing can offer some significant advantages over the conventional route involving MFIs. With the middleman out of the equation, more revenue is recycled back into the program and the community. The penalties for defaulting are less severe than those imposed by a lot of MFIs, yet the incentive to succeed remains strong, enforced by both the guarantors and the community of women who have invested in the fund. Furthermore, this program affords an opportunity for the women to learn about investment and saving techniques. Every month, participants congregate to settle debts, borrow money, and make new investments. The monthly meeting serves as a platform for the women to socialize, bond, learn, and share their ideas.

Joshua was nice enough to invite us to such a meeting and it gave us a chance to interact with the women of the program. Although the women were at first shy and curious of our presence, they warmed up quickly as we mingled and socialized with the crowd. Some were excited to share their experiences and their opinions of the program.

I personally spoke with a woman who had borrowed money to start a chicken farm. Even though she only attended school until she was 13, she spoke eloquently and analytically of her situation. She was widowed a few years ago and has two children of her own. The amazing part is that she has also been caring for eight other children who have either lost their parents, or have guardians who are unable to take care of them. She borrowed money from the Nasimiyu-Nekesa fund a year ago to start a chicken farm which she says is low maintenance and fairly profitable. The business is growing, and she is now in the process of taking out her third loan for a farm expansion. Having repaid her first two loans in full, she is able to borrow an even larger amount to invest in her business. When asked what improvements she would like to see in the program, her reply was simply that she wished more women would trust this program, invest their savings so they can take advantage of the loans, and be able to do what she did.

I asked her what enabled her to take a leap of faith and she told me it was because she trusted Joshua and felt safe to give money to this fund. “You have to trust someone right? Otherwise you are on your own,” she said.

Helen Li is a program manager at Microsoft during the day and volunteers with Jolkona doing business outreach. She also traveled with the Jolkona team who visited our partners in East Africa this past December.

Biointensive farming and double dug beds
Double dug beds

One of the things that really sparked my interest during our trip to East Africa was seeing the innovation happening in the agriculture sector. In America, most of us are so far removed from our food and the food source whereas in rural Africa, everyone is a farmer. While visiting our partner Village Volunteers in Kitale, Kenya, many of us realized how much we take the produce we purchase from the grocery store for granted—no matter what season it really is, it’s so easy to purchase our favorite fruit and vegetables year-round which is defiantly not the case in rural Africa. There, everything has a season and if a particular crop is out of season, it just does not exist in your diet at that time.  Living in rural Africa for a few weeks also made me realize how time consuming farming really is.  From the time you plant your crops to the time you harvest and have food to feed your family, several weeks or months have gone by so I found myself really appreciating and savoring the fresh ingredients prepared while I was in the villages.  However, what really excited me during this trip was learning about the techniques for sustainable agriculture, which given the current global food crisis is becoming more and more important in development work.

During this trip, I was introduced to an agricultural technique known as Biointensive Agriculture. Basically, it’s an organic agricultural system which focuses on maximum yield from the minimum area of land while simultaneously improving the soil. Sack farming is also a popular technique, where virtually anyone can grow crops out of potato sacks.

What is Biointensive Agriculture?

Biointensive farming sack garden
Joshua shows us a sack garden.

Biointensive Farming, also called Biointensive Agriculture, is a technique that was launched by one of Village Volunteers’ partner NGO called Common Ground. Here is the definition of Biointensive Farming from the training manual, which you can download by clicking this link:

Biointensive farming is a self-help food raising method based on building and maintaining soil fertility and using NO chemicals. It is simple to learn and use, based on sophisticated principles dating back 4000 years in China, 2000 years in Greece, and 300 years in Europe. It was synthesized and brought to the U.S. by the English master horticulturist, Alan Chadwick, then further developed and documented by Ecology Action.
Important aspects of the method include:

  • Double-dug, raised beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive planting
  • Carbon farming
  • Calorie farming
  • The use of open–pollinated seeds
  • The whole gardening method

Chemicals are generally promoted when the soil is degraded, or the plants, trees, or animals are unhealthy. The biointensive farming model aims at restoring soil health and designing an environment that creates healthy plants, trees and animals. Biointensive training provides specific ideas on reducing and eventually eliminating the use of chemicals fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and the like. It addresses the healing process of the soil’s fertility and structure to put nutrients back into the soil and the give the soil the ability manage different levels of water.

Right now, we work with Village Volunteers specifically to fund their water filter project. Part of our visit to Kitale was to learn how else Jolkona could partner with Village Volunteers in addition to the water filtration project, and Biointensive Farming may be a perfect fit. (Stay tuned!)

How can innovations in farming power a village?

We found innovation everywhere in this village. Joshua Machinga, the director of the program and founder of Common Ground, runs one of the best primary schools in the area that is almost fully self-sustaining. How does he do this? The school owns land that utilizes the techniques of Biointensive Farming. Crops feed all the children healthy meals, they also teach nearby villages and farmers about Biointensive Farming methods. Essentially, the technique taught teaches farmers to dig their crops deeper in order to maximize land use and to be able to plant twice as many crops compared to traditional farming techniques. Joshua also teaches Agroecology techniques where natural enemies are used instead of pesticides to ensure a sustainable ecosystem.  I was fascinated by this technique that I had never heard of until I returned and learned that many agricultural experts would argue this is one of the best solutions for fighting both the food crisis and climate change.

However, back to the program in Kitale, season after season, this program allows the school not only to increase their yields to feed all the students, but it even sustains a business model where the ability to profit from the surplus crop and invest funds back into the school. The land is also rich in brick soil they use the soil to make and sell bricks. Again, putting any profits made back into supporting the future of the school.  We need more social entrepreneurs in the world like Joshua’s who are looking for innovative solutions to create transformative and lasting change in their communities.

Stay tuned for more Jolkona projects to help support this program to spread biointensive and agroecology farming techniques throughout Kenya!

Joshua Machinga explains biointensive farming
Joshua Machinga, the director of the program and founder of Common Ground.

During our recent trip to Africa I found myself drawn to farming. I took a lot of interest in projects that were dealing with farming – everything from how to increase yield to helping farmers find markets for their crops. I took pages and pages of notes. I could not figure out why I was so fascinated with farming. I couldn’t figure out why farming would be so compelling to someone like me, a city-dweller from America who is an engineer by profession.

Then on our second day at the Serengeti, after we finished our hot air balloon ride and were on our way back to the visitor center, we came across a leopard. There were 20 to 30 other tour vehicles around the leopard all juggling for a good position to get a good picture of the leopard. We waited around for over 30 minutes trying to get the best angle to catch the spotted animal. That’s when I realized that I was drawn to farming because it was similar to photography.

Photography is all about getting the perfect shot. It is about tweaking all the various factors like lighting, exposure, film speed, etc., and combining them in a particular way to get the perfect picture. It takes many years of practice to understand how these various factors work with each other. The ultimate goal is not to only get one perfect picture, but to be able to replicate that quality over and over again for every picture you take.

Farming is not that different. Farmers spend years trying to understand how the various factors like rainfall, season, sunlight, amount of fertilizer, harvest time, etc., can be tweaked to give them the maximum yield. Their ultimate goal is also not just one great harvest, but to be able to take the learnings from one great harvest and replicate it for every season.

The trial and error aspect of farming along with the ultimate goal of perfection makes farming very appealing to me. If we can figure out how some of these lessons can be better shared across communities, then we can help accelerate this learning process. There is some great work being done already, especially in the mobile space (e.g. receiving weather updates on phones). And I imagine we will see a lot more innovations around sharing farming knowledge in the next 3 to 5 years.

This series of four photos is my attempt at trying to capture a perfect shot of the leopard.

All photos are by Adnan Mahmud.

 This guest post was written by Yifat, on behalf of Madre, a Jolkona Foundation partner.

Fatima Ahmed, the president of the Sudanese women’s organization Zenab for Women in Development, recently stopped by the MADRE office with exciting news.  The ground-breaking women farmers union led by her organization had harvested a successful crop-and the results are changing people’s lives.
Founded by Zenab in 2006 and supported by MADRE, this project has brought together women who make up the majority of farmers working on small-scale organic farms in Sudan.  Amplifying their voices, they have been able to demand access to seeds, better tools, and assistance in farming.

Women have been able to share knowledge on how to better prepare their land for cultivation and how to manage weeds that destroy the crops. Fatima was excited to share that these women have not only been successful in providing food for their own families but have also been able to provide crops for other regions in Sudan.

Fatima shared with us a story about one village where the women had been denied access to education. With her help and with the resources generated by their successful farming projects, they organized a much-needed adult education program. The women built a center where they could host their school and opened the space for community meetings.

Their improved farming has increased production and has enabled them to generate an income, in some areas even allowing them the chance to bring in electricity.  In yet another village, three women farmers were able to raise enough funds to send their daughters to university, a victory that would have been otherwise impossible.

Together, women farmers are creating new possibilities for themselves, their families and their communities.

GET INVOLVED!