Tag Archives: Sustainable Agriculture

A Presidential Goal for Tanzania

Guest Post! A reflection on the work of Plant With Purpose in light of President Obama’s remarks during a press conference while in Tanzania last week, by development department intern Maddy Swoy.

During President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Tanzania, he was greeted with warmth and gratitude. President Jakaya Kilkwete of Tanzania thanked President Obama and the United States for their effort to assuage Tanzania’s “food security” problem, which has led to “nutrition security” and is “building Tanzania’s capacity for self-sufficiency and food supply.” President Obama said, “Tanzania has the potential to unlock new economic growth not only in this country, but all across East Africa.” He continued, “President Kilkwete and I agree to keep tackling the hurdles of greater economic growth, starting with the sector where the vast majority of Tanzanians work, and that’s the agricultural sector.” The United States is taking action through the Feed for Future campaign, which works with 14,000 farmers, and has helped to increase yields by 50 percent.


This type of work is aligns closely to that of Plant With Purpose as farmers are trained to engage with sustainable and practical farming techniques that serve as long-term solutions to food scarcity, water shortage, malnutrition, and community development.

As President Obama said, “Ultimately the goal here is for Africa to build Africa for Africans and our job is to be a partner in that process.” Plant With Purpose is doing just that in empowering farming families and helping them help themselves by inspiring farmers to take pride in their work and affording them the ability to provide for their families with dignity. Plant With Purpose is empowering communities to go together, creating self-sustainable, dignified results.

Through Plant With Purpose’s trainings on family gardens, small-scale farming, and tree seedling production, change is certainly underway due to diversity of diet and having excess produce and seedlings to be sold for income. Each of these projects supports President Obama’s effort for “higher incomes and a ladder for families and communities to greater prosperity.” Plant With Purpose is adding rungs to this ladder by approaching the issue holistically—by helping to restore the environment, providing outlets for economic opportunity, and inspiring hope.

President Obama said, “We (the United States and Tanzania) are looking at a new model that’s based not just on aid and assistance, but on trade and partnership… I am inspired because I’m absolutely convinced that with the right approach, Africa and its people can unleash a new era of prosperity.” Plant With Purpose is working to do just that. With an increase in income and improved nutrition, children are able to attend school, overall family and community health improves, families generate a buffer of savings for crisis, and transformation spreads across generations, among communities, and within regions.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Published in State of the World, 2013: Promoting Sustainable Agriculture through Village Banking

I had a short piece published in the annual State of the World, from World Watch Institute, which was a real honor. Below is my article, including a few pictures that I added in:

Since Mohammed Yunis launched Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976, microcredit has become a celebrated tool to help relieve poverty and foster entrepreneurship among the poor. Initially conceived as a purely charitable tool for alleviating poverty by providing small loans, microcredit has expanded to include a variety of financial services for the poor. Under the larger umbrella of microfinance, these services expanded to include loans, insurance and savings products.

As demand for microfinance services expanded, many providers aimed to make microfinance a commercially profitable endeavor, allowing it to attract investor capital and thus achieve greater scale. The microfinance industry has since exploded to include over 1,000 institutions serving an estimated 875 million clients.

After some initial years of relatively uncritical enthusiasm, there is now a growing debate about the effectiveness of microfinance, especially commercially driven credit, as a tool for ending poverty. This is especially where the focus on scalability has often caused lending institutions to neglect impoverished rural populations. Those farmers who are able to take out loans sometimes borrow for costly agricultural inputs and then become trapped in a vicious cycle of crop failure and debt.

ImageVillage Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) meeting in the Dominican Republic

But there is another way to help poor farmers access financial services: village savings and Loan associations (VSLAs), which were pioneered by the NGO CARE in West Africa. VSLA groups typically consist of 20 to 30 members who meet weekly to pool their savings and thereby create a loan fund. With the help and training of a facilitator, the members draft their own bylaws and elect their own leaders.

At the beginning of the investment cycle, each member deposits an agreed-upon amount in cash. Thereafter, the group meets every week, and individual members make further deposits as determined by the group’s bylaws. After 12 weeks, each member may take out a loan for up to three times the amount he or she has saved. Groups typically have many more savers than borrowers, which ensures that there are adequate funds for those who wish to borrow. The investment cycle is short, usually 12months.




Savings Group Meeting in Burundi

At the end,each member receives back their shares plus a portion of any accrued interest or capital gains from fines and fundraising. The group can then choose whether to initiate a second VSLA cycle and reinvest an agreed-upon amount per member. Transparency is a key element of the VSLA system. Thus every member is expected to attend every meeting and make weekly contributions to the savings fund.


The fund itself is typically stored in a heavy metal box with multiple locks. VSLAs groups have dramatically improved members’ lives and communities. Successful businesses create new jobs, and interest raised by the bank stays in the local community rather than being transferred to a bank far away. The groups also often establish their own charitable funds to assist members with various needs, such as education fees for their children, medical expenses, or other emergencies. However, the benefits of VSLAs go far beyond economics. Weekly meetings strengthen communities and provide opportunities for personal growth, education, and developing talents and business skills. Those who succeed in their businesses also reach out to help others, so that the entire community benefits.

In recent impact evaluations of Plant With Purpose’s Tanzania VSLA groups, it was found that each group member shared their agricultural training with an average of 20 other people. Plant With Purpose is using VSLAs as a vital part of an integrated strategy to address environmental and economic needs. The weekly meetings provide a platform to teach farmers skills that increase agricultural productivity, help access markets, promote crop diversification, reduce deforestation and help farmers adapt to the challenges of global climate change.

In Tanzania, for example, Plant With Purpose promoters teach seminars on integrated pest management, composting, intercropping, selective plant and animal breeding, water conservation, reforestation and use of wood-saving stoves. By offering training on such topics, VSLAs can provide an entirely new skill set of agroecological methods, empowering farmers to make a living in ways that also restore and protect the fragile environments where they live. These examples could be multiplied by the thousands, as farmer’s apply their ingenuity and resources to address their specific needs. The ability of VSLAs to facilitate local community problem solving is one important reason why these and similar groups are proliferating (currently there are an estimated 500 million microsavings accounts around the world).

As rural farmers continue to cope with the growing challenges caused by climate change, VSLAs are a valuable tool to help them meet today’s needs while preparing for an increasingly uncertain future.


Filed under Uncategorized

Haiti: Three Years and A Week After the Earthquake

I am in the midst of packing up for my trip to Burundi and Tanzania, but wrote this last week for our blog at Plant With Purpose. There were about a thousand “Haiti Three Years Later” columns last week, not to mention several carefully timed book promotions. But nevertheless here is mine, with some more specific thoughts on what the earthquake has meant for our work in Haiti:


Near the Hotel Oloffson

Three years ago, a deadly earthquake crumbled cities and villages across Haiti, striking a devastating blow to a nation already struggling.  Some 200,000+ people were killed, and a million more were left homeless.

Much has been written about Haiti’s struggles since the earthquake, including the shortcomings of the effort to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake -about money that was misspent by NGOs, or promised by foreign governments and not delivered, and about the cholera outbreak caused by Nepali troops from the United Nations.

In many respects this last year was even worse for Haiti than the year before: anti-government demonstrations, crime and kidnapping are on the rise and hurricanes Isaac and Sandy devastated the island. In the U.S. we didn’t hear much about Sandy and Isaac’s impact in Haiti, but it is estimated that in the southern part of Haiti, 70% of the agriculture was completely destroyed. As a result, food prices in Haiti have increased 40% in the last four months and food shortages are expected to affect up to 5 million people in Haiti in 2013.

What does all this mean for the 70+ communities where Plant With Purpose works? They, too, have been deeply affected by these many tragedies, especially the recent hurricanes, and we have been raising emergency funds to help farmers recover from the storms. In general, there is a lot of work to do, and in many ways life is harder in rural Haiti than ever before.

But we have also been deeply encouraged by impact our program is having in rural Haiti. In the months after the earthquake, Plant With Purpose’s local Haiti staff was able to dramatically scale up the scope of their work with funds raised through earthquake relief.  This included planting 450,000 additional trees and building 360 linear miles of rock walls to conserve soil on steep hillside farms.


2,500 people found short-term employment through the Cash for Work program

These projects not only provided jobs for Haitians after the quake, they also saved many lives by preventing flooding and landslides after hurricane Sandy. You can read the summary of our earthquake relief work here. After the earthquake and in the three years since, Plant With Purpose local all-Haitian staff has performed with great professionalism and skill as they empower local farmers to improve their lives.


Soil conservation walls saved farms and lives during the most recent hurricane season

We received more good news this last year, when we completed our triennial impact evaluation. The evaluations revealed in our program areas that water-borne illness was reduced by over 50% and cholera by over 60%.  While the news focuses on the failures of governments, the UN and so on, its good to be reminded that there are many organizations there doing good work that focuses on empowering Haitians to transform their own communities. These include the schools and orphanages run by Haiti Partners and medical work of Partners in Health. In the coming year we are looking forward to dramatically increasing the scope of the village savings and loan program, which is provides a safe and secure mechanism for Haitians to save money and access small business loans.

For those of you who have supported Plant With Purpose’s work in Haiti in recent years, please know how grateful we are for your partnership with us. Yes, there is a long way to go. But it is also true that, with God’s help, Plant with Purpose’s work is making a difference in the lives of thousands of Haitians struggling against long odds to improve their communities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Burundi Bound


In the past I’ve written a little bit about Burundi and Plant With Purpose’s work there, and now I’m super excited to be visiting in about a week.  In a short period of time, the program there has made really dramatic progress in improving people’s lives and I’m looking forward to seeing things and to getting to know Burundi. But first, some of the bad news: 

  • Burundi has one of world’s shortest life expectancies: 50.4 years (Source: United Nation’s Development Program-UNDP)
  • Burundi has suffered from ethnic conflict/civil war on and off for 30 years, which killed roughly 300,000 people and displaced many thousands more
  • Burundi ranked 185th out of 187 countries on the 2011 UNDP’s human development index, and 80% of its 8.5 million people live below the poverty line
  • Burundi’s economy is dependent on agriculture, which accounts for about 90% of employment, but the average plot size is only 1 acre (Sources: World Bank, IFAD)
  • 57% of children under five suffer from malnutrition (CIA World Fact Book: Burundi)


Much of the farming in Burundi is done by women

These grim stats are the reason Plant With Purpose chose to work in Burundi; the needs are great. But in the five years we have been there we have seen some fantastic results and the program is expanding rapidly. The outstanding leadership of our local Burundian team has been the key. Here’s some of the good news. According to our most recent impact evaluation, farmers working in partnership with our local program:

  • Are more than twice as likely to eat dairy and fruit products each week
  • Are able to save 25% more money than non-participants
  • Are currently harvesting an average of 31 different kinds of crops, compared to only 20 among non-participants

The result of these activities has been improved family health, reduced stunting among children, and a greater sense of hope an unity in the local community. These are just a few highlights of the progress farmers in Burundi are making – I am really looking forward to learning more when I visit.

If you’d like to learn more about Burundi’s history and current challenges through the voice of Burundians themselves, I highly recommend Peter Uvin’s Life After Violence; this short book has been an invaluable resource for me as I prepare to visit Burundi. And if you’d like to support Plant With Purpose’s work in Burundi by sponsoring a village where we work, go here.

On this trip I will also be travelling to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with our amazing friends at Wings of Kilimanjaro, but thought I’d post on Burundi first. More to follow!


Filed under Uncategorized

Wings of Kilimanjaro Pilot’s Visit: Video Preview

Welcome WOK pilots who will be visiting Plant With Purpose’s work in Tanzania after the climb. I thought you’d like to see this short video, which gives you a sense of what we do and what you’ll experience. It’s about 4 minutes long.

1 Comment

January 5, 2013 · 3:43 pm