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How Agriculture Ends Poverty: 
3 Discoveries About What Works

by Roxanne Addink DeGraaf

Growing up in Iowa, the agricultural heartland of the United States, I was surrounded by farms. I remember childhood summers milking cows and “walking beans” (walking between rows of soybeans to pick weeds) on my grandparent’s farm. I saw how the farm put food on the table, as I always enjoyed a cold glass of milk from the dairy after chores.

After college, I began to understand agriculture from the perspective of small-scale farmers in Kenya. I worked for two years alongside women who spent long days in their fields to not only put food on the table, but also to earn an income for their families. Everything from buying school uniforms to medical services relied on their farm’s output.

And this is not unique to Kenya. Traveling the globe with Partners Worldwide, I’ve continued to witness the centrality of agriculture in many countries and communities where we work, from subsistence farmers to thriving cooperatives.

Agriculture: A Primary Occupation of the Poor

While employment in agriculture is declining overall, agriculture is still the primary occupation for one in three people in the world (FAO). For people living in poverty, 70% live in rural areas and the majority are involved in agriculture (World Bank/Gates Foundation).

At Partners Worldwide, these facts are shaping how we work towards our vision to end poverty through business so that all may have abundant life.

We recently launched a pilot initiative focused on supporting and leveraging the resources of our partners in Africa who were already serving the agricultural sector. This pilot has been our learning lab. We’ve had some failed experiments, while other interventions have led to powerfully positive outcomes. Overall, the results affirm the vital role that agriculture plays in ending poverty.

Here are three stories, that illustrate three discoveries we made about what works in investing in agriculture to end poverty:
1. It’s Business
Liberian farmers rise amidst the Ebola crisis

During the Ebola crisis, Liberia’s borders were closed, cutting off the country’s access to vital resources like rice—the staple of the Liberian diet. In response, LEAD, a faith-based Liberian business training and lending institution, invested in thousands of small-scale farmers across the country. Specifically, they bolstered their investment in the rice sector by making sure rice farmers had the inputs and support they needed to increase yields.

The investment paid off, with a significant harvest that helped feed the nation during this tumultuous time. The harvest brought good prices to the farmers (in part, thanks to the World Food Program’s purchases during the crisis), resulting in a 100% repayment rate by the farmers on their loans from LEAD. Since the Ebola crisis, these farmers have continued to grow their farms and outputs—lifting their families out of poverty and feeding their communities.

Business is a powerful tool to meet basic human needs and impact communities. Even in the midst of a crises, agribusiness solutions can alleviate poverty when they are linked with viable and profitable markets.

2. It Takes Persistence
Productive oxen, failed soybeans, and thriving sunflowers in post-war Uganda

Talanta Finance was founded by entrepreneur Timothy Jokkene, who had faith in the talents God had given the people in his community of Gulu, in Northern Uganda.

Gulu was caught in the center of Northern Uganda’s devastating 20-year civil war. People were displaced, lives were lost, and families were separated. Farmers, too, were forced to leave their land. In the aftermath of the war, many farmers longed to return and continue farming.

By offering a unique loan product of two oxen and a plow, Talanta equipped hundreds of farmers and their families to make a living off their land again.

The results? A decade after the war ended, nearly 100% of the displaced farmers participating in the oxen loan program reported being food secure and able to send all of their school-age children to school. But one of my favorite pieces of feedback was from a young farmer who remarked, after a high yield that season, “Now I finally have enough money for a dowry for my wife!”

On the momentum of this success, Talanta Finance launched a program with 100 farmers to help them grow and market soybeans, a product in high demand. However, poor rainfall and the challenges of new market relationships led to a very poor harvest and little profit. The Talanta Finance team reflected on the results to learn from their mistakes, and tweaked the program accordingly.

This time around, they added sunflowers to the mix, another high-demand product. This past season, the soybean production rose and the profits from both the soybeans and the sunflowers amazed even the farmers—with some farmers moving from lean subsistence to ten-fold profits in one season.

Ending poverty is not a quick process. Ending poverty through agriculture isn’t a quick fix, either.

Success often comes from patient investments in people and businesses, with room to fail and learn. Impact comes when leaders have persistent faith in the creativity of their neighbors and hold God’s long-term vision of a world restored.

3. Locally Rooted
Uplifting Swaziland’s vulnerable through poultry and honey, a locally-rooted initiative led by innovative, compassionate leaders

Tinashe Chitambira is the strategic mind behind a successful poultry value-chain model that links some of the most vulnerable women in Southern Africa to viable, profitable markets.

When we first met, Tinashe was working in Mozambique and told me, “It has taken us five years of trial and error to get this model right, but now it is having the impact we desire.” Women who had been scraping together a living farming dry land with little rainfall now have successful poultry production businesses. Living in areas with some of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the world, where children are often orphaned, these women now earn enough income to support their children, grandchildren, and at times, orphans and other children in need. Additionally, they used their profits to upgrade from mud-stick to brick houses.

Their success allows the women to look to the future; as one participant shared, “I am now dreaming of buying and driving a car.”

Tinashe, then working for AfricaWorks, a partner organization of Partners Worldwide, launched this successful poultry model next in Swaziland. There the application of the model again had ups and downs, with challenges on the marketing end. So, the AfricaWorks team recently introduced another product for the vulnerable women they serve: beehives.Through beehives, the women were incorporated into a honey value-chain, linking them to an established honey retailer in Swaziland. Resilient impact requires innovation!

Local business leaders and faith-based institutions, like Tinashe and AfricaWorks, bring an essential perspective. They are uniquely equipped to lead and find viable, creative solutions that uplift the rural poor in their own communities.

 

At the heart of every of story I’ve shared are people answering God’s call to be faithful and innovative actors in His unfolding story of redemption. They have chosen agriculture as their path, and are using it to end poverty for themselves and their communities.

I’ve surprisingly found myself back on this agricultural path, walking between the rows of beans with farmers from around the globe. What strikes me is that even these small-scale farmers share the vision to utilize agriculture to end poverty—starting with their own families.

Globally, there is a growing community of leaders who see the potential, and the urgent need, to focus on agriculture in order to help end poverty. Ending poverty for good may seem unattainable. But, If we remain open to learn from our failure as well as our success, share our insights and discoveries with one another, and work in faithful partnership together—the impossible becomes possible.

Roxanne Addink de Graaf photo small copyRoxanne Addink de Graaf is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Partners Worldwide, following a calling to catalyze business for a world without poverty.  Roxanne also occasionally steps in as an adjunct professor at Eastern University’s MBA program and served as an editor for the BAM Think Tank paper on “BAM at the Base of the Pyramid.” On the home front, she is blessed with a creative, fun-filled life with her husband and four daughters in Grand Rapids, MI.

Find our more about the work of Partners Worldwide.

 

Read more about how agriculture and business as mission intersect in our Agriculture Industry series.

 

 

How Enterprise Can Fight Slavery: The Freedom Business Alliance

We talked to Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag about the Freedom Business Alliance initiative and the upcoming Freedom Business Forum.

We are hearing the term Freedom Business being used more and more, what is a ‘Freedom Business’? 

It’s a business that exists to fight human trafficking. There are several types of business that fit into this category:  businesses that create jobs for survivors of exploitation would be the most familiar, but we would also include businesses that hire vulnerable people in order to prevent exploitation, as well as the aggregators who take products from these first two to new markets. A fourth category would be businesses that provide services specifically to and for other freedom businesses (ie., communications, logistics support, etc). Finally, there are businesses who have devoted the profit from their companies to fight trafficking. These are also part of the freedom business ecosystem.

We sometimes call freedom business the ‘backwards business’. In a normal business paradigm, an entrepreneur sees an opportunity to create a product or service that meets a need in the market. By gathering a qualified staff, he sets himself up to make a profit. 

In contrast, a freedom business starts with the group of people it intends to employ. In businesses working to prevent human trafficking and exploitation, those people have been made vulnerable by poverty, lack of education, or other challenging variables. For those in business for restoration, the difficulties are greater.  Their employees have already been victimised, and the resulting trauma creates levels of complexity in life and employment. Read more

Three Reasons Why Employment Beats Charity

by Peter Greer and Phil Smith

Do you remember how you felt when you received your first paycheck? In middle school, I mowed elderly Mrs. Johnson’s lawn. She would inspect my work and acknowledge that I had cut close enough to her barn and not missed any sections under her apple trees. Then she would invite me into her house, offer me a cold Tang mixed with her special spices, and pay me for my work. I enjoyed a strong sense of satisfaction as she thanked me for a job well done.

Relying on charity might provide enough for a bare existence, but it will never be enough to help someone off their knees.

Charity will never allow an individual to flourish in the way God created humankind to be—productive in caring for the earth and using the strength and skills He gave. And besides, charity isn’t what those living in poverty want.

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.” These well-worn words contain an important truth: Who would settle for an occasional fish dropped off on their doorstep if they had the opportunity to start their own fishing business? Read more

6 Ways BAM Can and Should Make a Difference to Refugees and Migrants

by Jo Plummer

One of the goals of our global BAM network is to be part of the solution to the world’s most pressing issues. Undoubtedly the issue of migration, and in particular the rapid increase in refugees, presents one of the most pressing challenges of our day.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR estimates that there are an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world who have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

We live a world where nearly 34,000 people a day are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. Many more choose to migrate because of poverty, unemployment and the ‘pull’ of better economic prospects elsewhere. The UN estimates that in total there are 244 million migrants globally.

How do BAMers engage? Why should they engage? Read more

Business Fights Poverty: Moving Beyond Charity to Job Creation

by Peter Greer

Excerpts from eBook ‘Stop Helping Us!’ reproduced with kind permission from the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics and Peter Greer. Buy eBook.

Book: Stop Helping Us CoverStop Helping Us! introduces a new paradigm for an evangelical response to poverty alleviation. Being effective means recognizing that there is a difference between short-term aid, which is important and necessary, and the long-term elimination of poverty, which is the best defense against receding back into material poverty and the most effective method of elevating the dignity of all God’s children. We will see the stories of those who were transformed by effective, long-term aid that focused on the individuals rather than just numbers. Included are surveys of the poor and what they desire, showing that their goals have little to do with money and everything to do with using their skills, caring for their families, and embracing their God-given dignity.

The Story of Fadzai

Every time an employer discovered Fadzai Nhamo, a woman from Zimbabwe, was HIV positive, the door shut. “Life was difficult for me when I came to Harare,” Fadzai later remarked. When Fadzai speaks, she covers her mouth to hide her missing front teeth, a daily reminder of the brutal way she contracted HIV. “I left my hometown after someone had beaten and raped me,” she said. Following the assault, a friend took her to a clinic at the capital, Harare. There she discovered she was HIV positive. “When my husband found out I was sick [with HIV], he disappeared,” Fadzai commented later. “I did not have a place to live.” After her husband’s abandonment, Fadzai was left a single mom, a stranger in a new city. With no place to call home, she moved from place to place with her children.

It is possible to debate many points of theology, but our faith clearly calls us to care for Fadzai, an individual who has been exploited and abused. She is the widow and foreigner so frequently mentioned throughout Scripture. When we hear the story of Fadzai’s mistreatment and understand the message of grace in Scripture, we are compelled to respond. Read more

Slavery in Global Supply Chains: The Role of BAM in Finding Solutions

by James McHaffie

Modern slavery has been a major and growing issue for some time. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 21m people globally are victims of forced labour, generating $150 billion in illegal profits annually. Of this, there are 10.7 million victims of labour exploitation in private enterprise, reaching US$43.4 billion in illegal profits per year.

Modern slavery is a broad term that encompasses slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. These are all issues which need no introduction to most BAM companies – many of which are businesses employing workers who have been victims of, or who are at risk of modern slavery.

Growing public awareness of the issues and new legislation in a number of countries has pushed this on the agenda for companies. For example, in 2015 the UK Modern Slavery Act became a legal requirement for at least 17,000 companies in the UK and, consequently, around the world. Companies with an annual turnover of £36m or more, with operations in the UK, have to produce an annual statement outlining steps they have taken to address the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains and within their own business. 

Recent research from Hult International Business School and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) exploring emerging corporate approaches to addressing modern slavery in supply chains, found that 71 percent of companies believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some point within their supply chains – particularly in high-risk countries or sectors and at the lower stages of the chain.

The complexity and demands of supply chains, together with the often hidden nature of modern slavery, makes it difficult to identify and address. Understanding how to respond to modern slavery has become a pressing issue for senior business leaders and supply chain managers across the globe. So what is the role of BAM companies in supporting a response? Read more

13 BAMers Share: Why Engaging in Missional Business is Important for Southeast Asia

We ask BAM practitioners – both nationals and expats – all over Southeast Asia to share why they think missional business is vital for their nation, and why they are doing what they are doing. Here is what they told us:

 

Missional Business in Myanmar is very important because business opens so many doors where traditional missions doesn’t. I’ve shared my faith with non-believers more since doing business than when I was teaching youth ministry to local pastors. I think when you work in a country like Myanmar where there is no middle class there are huge opportunities for poverty alleviation through business and also engaging the rich in business as well. I’ve had amazing open opportunities to talk with the wealthy, government, and poor communities. Missional Business is so important for the gospel in a country like Myanmar.

Ryan – from the USA, doing business in Myanmar

 

Engaging in “Missional Businesses” in Myanmar is very needed for both aspects: mission and business. We have had social mission strategies before. But the fusion of business and mission is a new effective way to reach people in the workplace.

Sang Sang – from Myanmar, doing business in Myanmar Read more

Business as Mission from Australia and New Zealand

It is usually a mistake to lump Australia and New Zealand together! Each is quite different in characteristic from the other and each enjoys a bit of friendly joking about the other, as well as a fierce sporting rivalry. However, one thing they do have in common is that both Australians and New Zealanders have been among BAM pioneers, with a steady interest in business as mission growing in each country. We ask two BAM friends from each nation to share about their involvement:

 

Our journey in BAM started when I was fired from the position I was working in with a mission agency in Nepal. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. That was 2000. We started a software company, and slowly grew until we now have a staff of 12 in Nepal, 5 in New Zealand and 3 in other countries. We make software for managing pharmaceutical supply chains, which is now used in about 30 countries.

Right from the start we had a strong sense of rightness about starting down this path, and when it’s been tough we’ve hung on to that. It’s a good thing to have. Here are a few things we’ve reflected on along the way:

Things are fragile, especially at the start. A change of mind here, the stroke of a pen there, and we would have a very different story to tell. It’s good to remember this when we start to feel that we’re pretty good at what we do, and good to remember when others fail – it’s not always in our hands. Read more

Six BAM Views from the Continent of Africa

We asked people working on the front-lines of BAM in different parts of Africa to share some of their experiences and perspectives. They see business as a powerful means to share the message of the Gospel in the marketplace, deepen the impact of Jesus’ teachings on society, tackle evils such as poverty and corruption and mobilise the next generation of African Christians to transform their own nations. Here are six BAM views from Africa:

 

BAM is crucial in South Africa as a key to two major challenges: discipleship and economic empowerment. South Africa is said to have a high percentage of Christians, however, like many other parts of the world, sin is a key challenge. Corruption, sexual immorality, crime and other evils are on the rise, indicating that Christianity has not been making the kind of impact on society as it should. Business as mission could therefore provide an avenue for regular discipleship in the marketplace, as believers model Godly character and leadership.

South Africa also has a high percentage of poor people, although it is Africa’s most advanced economy. BAM – especially ‘BAM at the base of the pyramid’ – may be the key to large scale sustainable economic empowerment, particularly through the establishment of SME sized companies in rural areas.

Henry Gwani is originally from Nigeria, now working in BAM in South Africa Read more

In Business for Freedom: The Red Light District of Kolkata

The company ‘FBA’ is located in the largest, and most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India. For others poverty has left them without options. The cries of hungry children drive them to sell their bodies. FBA opened its doors in 2001 starting with twenty women who were desperate for an opportunity to be free. It was hard work teaching uneducated and unskilled women to sew jute bags at a quality acceptable for the export market. Some could barely use a pair of scissors and in those early days the average daily output per person was less than two bags. It was particularly frustrating when bags were sewn upside down and inside out and nobody noticed. Slowly these problems were overcome with much training and patience. Today, while many of the women are still not the fastest sewers, the business produces around 1000 bags a day made from jute and cotton material.

FBA entered a new market in 2009 by offering fair trade organic cotton tees (t-shirts). Girls showing ability in bag sewing were given the opportunity to train and learn new skills sewing t-shirts. Although smaller than the bags unit, FBA Tees is capable of producing 400 tees per day.

In the first few years all screen-printing was outsourced locally, however print quality and timely supply was out of our control. To overcome these problems and take advantage of the opportunity to create more jobs for freedom, FBA now has its own screen-printing unit supplying two customers, FBA Bags and FBA Tees.

Read more