Tag Archives: VSLA

Dealing With Drought in Haiti


Fonds Verrettes Watershed

This week flooding and storms were again in the news as Fiji was struck by a devastating cyclone, destroying crops and communities and spurring calls for emergency humanitarian relief.

While emergency relief is important and needed, slower-moving disasters often pass unnoticed. This is most apparent in Haiti, where more than a year of persistent drought has lead to failing harvests and amounting hunger. The UN recently reported that more that 60 percent of Haiti’s spring harvest will fail this year, and that more than four million people will lack access to affordable and nutritious food.

For some areas of the country, the drought has been even worse, spanning over five years and resulting in the most severe food insecurity in the last thirty years. These highly impacted areas include virtually all of the communities in which Plant With Purpose works. As a result of the El Nino weather pattern the drought conditions are predicted to continue through 2016.


Cistern Construction in Fonds Verrettes, Haiti

How is Plant With Purpose responding? As difficult as the current conditions are, they are yet another confirmation of Plant With Purpose’s strategy of helping farmers diversify their crops and sources of income, so that they are less vulnerable to droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. The cash savings that farmers accumulate in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) serve as a vitally important safety net, enabling farmers accumulate the savings needed to buy food when they need to.

These savings groups also teach farmers skills that will help them maintain adequate food in low-water conditions, including raising rabbits, planting more drought-resistant crops, composting, and soil conservation. Tree planting is another important component in this strategy, as healthy watersheds are needed to avoid flooding and help capture water in the ground where it can feed the wells and rivers which people depend on. These strategies are paying off in Haiti, where farmers reported a 26 percent reduction in the time spent walking to get water for their families.


Finally, Plant With Purpose has made some program adjustments this year that will help farmers cope with future droughts, including increasing the number of family cisterns being built to provide water through times of drought. While we can’t control the weather we can anticipate times of drought and collaborate with farmers to help them prepare. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside hard-working farmers, even as we pray for the drought to end.



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Video highlighting IED-VITAL’s Savings Groups in Colombia

Plant With Purpose has partnered with IED-VITAL to train our Haitian and Dominican staff to run savings groups following the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model. They are celebrating 8 years of work in Colombia! This video is beautifully shot and captures the spirit of VSLA groups really well. If, like me, you don’t know much about Colombia, you may also notice the remarkable beauty and ethnic diversity of its coastal communities. This is in Spanish, but well worth watching even if you don’t understand the words.

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Burundi: The role of Savings Groups in the Midst of Crisis

Despite all the upheaval in Burundi, Plant With Purpose’s programs there continue to function much as before, with the exception of those closest to the capital, where the violence has been the worst. One thing that we are quite interested in understanding better is how the work we are doing in communities is helping people weather the current upheaval, helping them to continue to farm their land and to maintain trust in their communities. One statistic that we track very closely is the average weekly savings rate across the program. We currently have 6,500 families in 268 groups. The savings rate over the last six quarters is shown here:

Burundi Crisis Savings

What does the increase in savings rate mean? While it might reflect a measure of fearfulness and lack of opportuntity to invest money on things like crop inputs, hopefully it also reflects the deep level of trust amongst that VSLA groups help to foster. One would also hope that the trust fostered by these groups could also help prevent a deepening cycle of violence in Burundi.

A Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) meetings in southern Burundi

A Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) meetings in southern Burundi

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A celebration of hope in Tanzania

I had the opportunity to visit Plant With Purpose’s program the Pare mountsins of Tanzania a few months ago to participate the third annual Village Savings and Loan (VSLA) Competition Celebration. The event was the culmination of a year long competition, where 125 VSLA groups competed in tree planting, adoption of organic farming methods such as composting and pest management.

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Groups arriving for the celebration

We’re in the process of putting together a video of the celebration, but I thought I’d post a few pictures. It was a joyful and inspiring day, especially encouraging to hear farmers talk about how they were learning from each other, the impact on their farms, and their hopes to do even more in the coming year. (Photo credit to Shaun Boyte.)

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Plant With Purpose’s team of agronomists, with prizes for the winners

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Sharing knowledge and vegetables

PWP_Tanzania Day_2-174Victory!

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Tanzania Program Update- Great News from East Africa

So it’s been more than a little while since I’ve updated the blog, but I thought you might be interested some recent Plant With Purpose developments, especially in Tanzania. The program has seen some fantastic growth in the last several years, in terms of the program’s activities, and also the measurable impact on people’s lives and the environment. First of all, take a  look at this amazing graph:

Tanzania program growth graph

This graph illustrates three key things: the number of families we’re working with, the number of trees planted, and the number of Village Savings and Loan (VSL) groups that we are leading. The years across the bottom of the chart give you some idea of how rapid the growth has been. This is a real credit to the leadership of the local staff in Tanzania, who are doing a great job of figuring out how to work very efficiently, so as to be able to do more with relatively modest increases in budget. (Just to give you an idea of the scale, Plant With Purpose has planted 12 million trees over the past 30 years, but 1.4 million of those were planted just in Tanzania in the last year- they are really leading the way in scaling up.)

But what about the impact of all those trees on people? In our very recently completed impact evaluation, we saw a 50% increase in girls enrollment in secondary school. Based on the size of our program, that equates to over 550 girls enrolled in school, who otherwise would not be. As families are increasing their incomes, they are prioritizing paying for their girls’ education. What a wonderful and hopeful sign for the future, for those girls, for their families, and for the country as a whole.

Trees TanzaniaThese girls are in school, thanks to the good work of our local program partners- and thanks to all of you who have supported our program and made our work possible! (And with a special shout out to our friends at Wings of Kilimanjaro, who gave so much to support our Tanzania program last year, and who at this moment are camped out of the summit waiting for good weather to fly down.)

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Wings of Kilimanjaro: Six Months Later- Good News from Tanzania

Six months ago the Wings of Kilimanjaro expedition put 95 climbers on the summit of Kilimanjaro and in the process raised over $550,000 for environmental restoration, clean water and education in Tanzania. Plant With Purpose received just over $165,000 as a result of this effort. (Fundraising efforts are continuing and you can learn more or make a donation here.) It was an amazing adventure that continues to have a lasting impact on people’s lives. Below are a few of the highlights of how Plant With Purpose has used these funds:

1. Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) – We have started 24 new VSLA groups with a total of 473 new VSLA members. 73% of these members are women. These groups provide a platform for farmers to save money and make it available for loans to start small businesses. As a result of being in a group, families are able to save money to pay for school fees, pay for emergencies and in general live with a much greater level of security.


Village Community Banking

 2. Farmer Field Schools: 43 schools involving 1,075 farmers.  Farmer Field Schools are literally outdoor classrooms and laboratories, where farmers can learn about and test new crops, organic methods of pest control, fertilizers and water conservation techniques. By actively being involved in learning, farmers are much more likely to implement these new techniques on their own farms: “I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.”


In Farmer Field Schools, farmers lean by doing

3. Trees Planted: 784,095 – Trees provide income for families in the form of fruit and wood products. Trees also conserve soil and water, which raises crop yields while at the same time restoring the environment.


4. Stoves Built: 130 – Each stove reduces wood use by 60%, reducing deforestation and smoke inhalation, dramatically improving the health of women and children involved in cooking.

5. Number of Group Members with Vegetable Gardens – 546. Vegetable gardens are incredibly important for improving the health and nutrition of children and their families. According to the latest stats released by the World Food Program, 38.8% of Tanzanians are malnourished. In children, this malnourishment causes irreversible loss of brain function and reduced ability to learn and other chronic health problems. It doesn’t have to be this way!


Tanzania has plenty of land to grow food and farmers are anxious to work hard. Thanks to the support provided by Wings of Kilimanjaro, this child and thousands like him will have hope for a better future.


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New Savings and Loan (VSLA) Groups in Haiti

Almost three years ago Plant With Purpose’s international meeting in Tanzania focused on the village savings and loan program,or VSLA, which I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog. Since then, the program has spread the other five countries where Plant With Purpose works. The pattern of pooling savings that are then made available for loans is the same in every country, though groups also have freedom to decide things like how much interest they will charge for loans and so on. Another consistent pattern has been skepticism as to whether “it will work here,” followed in a few months by a growing sense of excitement about how effective the groups are in empowering members and the community to work together to improve their lives.

So one of the highlights of my recent trip to Haiti was seeing two new groups, one in Tewouj in Grand Colline and another one in Tefwad. It was especially exciting to be at the Tefwad group, as this was the very first time that they were meeting to begin saving. The plan is for 50 groups like these across the Haiti program in the next year. Here’s a (not very good) picture:


Notice that the leadership of the group is shared by four people who are elected by the group, and that all transactions (savings deposits, loans and loan repayments are handled up front for maximum transparency.

For me this has been a super encouraging and inspiring trip to Haiti and I will have a few more posts, along with better pictures, soon.

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