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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.

 

 

A Powerful Role: How Business Fights Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is one of the biggest travesties in our world today. Countless nonprofits, law enforcement units, and governments are taking a stand to address this global humanitarian crisis. Yet, where does business fit into the bigger picture? If you are a business person with a heart to do something to fight human trafficking, you can actually play a much bigger role than you may think.

Not For Sale: “Business Can Change the Tide Against Modern Slavery”

You might have heard of Not For Sale as a frontrunner nonprofit in the fight against human trafficking. What you probably don’t know is that in recent years, cofounder and president, David Batstone, has shifted their focus primarily towards business initiatives and job creation, rather than on humanitarian aid and rehabilitation. Not for Sale sees their contribution in the fight against human trafficking as preventing exploitation before it even happens, and believes business is a powerful tool in that process. Not for Sale partners with businesses to bring trafficking prevention to a whole new level. Their conviction:

“The responsibility to end modern slavery requires us to use our heads, as well as our hearts. We must use our courage to ask a new question, ‘How do you stop this before it happens in the first place?’…We believe business can change the tide against modern slavery because we’ve proven it with our own sweat, tears, and capital. We test our ideas, and help others do what works.”  Read more

Finding the Right Business Model or Being the Right Business Leader?

AND THE AWARD GOES TO...

Our goal is to provide the BAM Community with the best content and resources available. As we head into summer we are highlighting various articles and resources which have stood out in the past 6 months. Below is the “Staff Pick” for January to July 2017.

Please enjoy and thanks for following!

by Dave Kahle

“Is there one business model that you would recommend to a budding entrepreneur?”

That was the question a young man asked me recently. I reflected for a moment over the past 25 years, and answered this way:

“No. I’ve worked with over 500 businesses, and in that pack there were lots of different business models. What I’ve seen is that the model is less important than the implementation on the part of the company’s leadership.”

Let me explain. It is, of course, possible to have a flawed business model. But, honestly, I have only seen one or two of those, where, no matter what the leadership does, the business is not going to survive. It’s just a bad idea.

These are usually the result of people who are passionate about a product or idea. Unfortunately, that passion displaces common sense, and they ride that idea until it has siphoned their resources and depleted their energy.

The world is not full of bad business models. On the other hand, it is crammed with models that can and do succeed, providing the leadership is effective.

The path toward success is rarely formed by the business model. Far more important are the skills and character of the leadership. Drop a highly skilled, high-character entrepreneur into any model, in any market, and watch as he/she leads that company to growth, prosperity and market leadership.

The ultimate path for business success is far more about improving yourself than it is about finding the right product, market or model. Read more

We’re Only Human After All: Growing Through Failure

We take our humanity to work everyday. One day, we might fail to meet a deadline or misunderstand a client. Another day, failure might bring unrecoverable loss, the closing of a department, losing your largest account, or even filing for bankruptcy.

As failure looks us straight in the eye, we have a choice to make about how we respond. In these moments of hardship we can choose denial, blame, resentment, unforgiveness… Or we can chose to bravely take responsibility for our decisions and the impact on those around us. We can allow God to deepen our character through the roughest of circumstances.

Character Growth Spurts

No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I hope I fail today” – rather we hope not to! Yet failure, whether big or small, is part of our human existence. Indeed, it is through times of failure that our characters get a growth spurt. Hopefully, we get enough of these growth spurts early in life before the stakes get too high!

If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts. – Tim Keller

God is passionate about our sanctification. He uses work spaces to cultivate people to be more like Himself. The workplace can be a place of character development if we allow our hearts to receive the instruction. Failure, more than just about anything else, can grow hardy, rock-solid character and deeper trust in God – if we allow it to.  Read more

5 Risk Factors Guaranteed to Doom a BAM Business

by Larry Sharp

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Stories from the Frontline

Last year I was leading a seminar in a conference in Arizona, when a local business owner asked the question, “Are there no failed BAM businesses?” While I readily agreed there were, I began to think about the question in a more profound way. What is the “good, the bad and the ugly” of real life BAM business experiences – those that demonstrate that there are BAM failures along with the successes?

Over the past 10 years, I have observed risk factors for BAM enterprises which should stimulate every stakeholder in the BAM community towards better recruitment, better preparation, better deployment and better accountability. Many a sports leader, military hero, or young entrepreneur has demonstrated the oft-quoted statement of Benjamin Franklin, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” And that is true in the Kingdom business endeavors of today.

So what are these factors and where are the stories which help us understand basic principles for launching and landing well in a cross-cultural business? How do we best start companies designed to work out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? How can we improve so that there will be fewer failures and a greater chance of successful transformational businesses in the areas of the world that need them the most? If these five risk factors don’t actually doom your BAM company, not paying attention to them will seriously endanger it… at the very least!  Read more

How Not to Do It: Two Failure Stories and What They Teach Us

Seasoned business leaders are typically no strangers to failure, it is not only the greenest of green BAMers who experience failure. For each superstar company in the world, there are burial grounds of companies that just didn’t work or that limped along without profit for far too long.

However, there are some common denominators among companies that succeed or fail – and their experiences can teach us something: often it is how not to do it!

Lucy’s Story

Lucy lived in a city where she had connections with many non-profits. She wanted to branch out and do business as mission but didn’t quite know how to get going. A non-profit presented a business opportunity, one that, as it turned out, was too good to be true. Under researched, unadvised, and unsustainable, Lucy fell headlong into a bad deal.

An NGO said they would produce soy milk, made possible through a grant, and give the fresh soy milk to Lucy’s new company to sell in the local community. Excited to begin her BAM dreams, Lucy jumped in and signed a three year contract with the NGO, secured a lease for an office space and hired three local staff to get the business started.  Read more

5 Mistakes I Made in My Business and What I Learned From Them

by Evan Keller

We entrepreneurs thrive on an inner fountain of optimism and courage. While these God-given virtues help us scale astounding heights, they also set us up for catastrophic falls. How so?

We simultaneously and unwittingly possess the ominous dark sides of these strengths we so prize. A healthy optimism can morph into a false sense of invincibility, and taking big risks can yield triumphs – or collapses equally as grand.

In my over-optimism about people (thus extending unwarranted trust), I took these five unwise risks early in my business career:

1) Bad choice of business partner

I took on a business partner I hardly knew who made me angry every single day as I did 95% of the work.

2) Compromise on the fine print

When the fine print of a contract with a national company made me uneasy, I went ahead and signed it after their local representative assuaged my concerns in writing. When he broke his promise, I was stuck in a contract that cost me thousands of dollars while providing no benefit to my company.  Read more

Finding the Right Business Model or Being the Right Business Leader?

By Dave Kahle

“Is there one business model that you would recommend to a budding entrepreneur?”

That was the question a young man asked me recently. I reflected for a moment over the past 25 years, and answered this way:

“No. I’ve worked with over 500 businesses, and in that pack there were lots of different business models. What I’ve seen is that the model is less important than the implementation on the part of the company’s leadership.”

Let me explain. It is, of course, possible to have a flawed business model. But, honestly, I have only seen one or two of those, where, no matter what the leadership does, the business is not going to survive. It’s just a bad idea.

These are usually the result of people who are passionate about a product or idea. Unfortunately, that passion displaces common sense, and they ride that idea until it has siphoned their resources and depleted their energy.

The world is not full of bad business models. On the other hand, it is crammed with models that can and do succeed, providing the leadership is effective.

The path toward success is rarely formed by the business model. Far more important are the skills and character of the leadership. Drop a highly skilled, high-character entrepreneur into any model, in any market, and watch as he/she leads that company to growth, prosperity and market leadership.

The ultimate path for business success is far more about improving yourself than it is about finding the right product, market or model. Read more

Poultry Farmer to BAM Mentor: Interview with an Agriculture Veteran

Dan Wiebe grew up in a farming family and started his own poultry business in 1970. With decades of experience behind him, he has more recently connected with the business as mission community and become a mentor to others. We asked him to share a little about his story and some of his advice for those doing BAM in the agriculture sector.

Dan, could you share a bit about your own experience in the agriculture sector, about your own background and how your family business grew?

I grew up in a family agri-business as the youngest of 7 children. My father, a second generation Canadian, had taken Teachers Training in the 1920s and by 1940 retired from teaching to manage his farm in the prairies of Manitoba, Canada. In 1949 he moved our family to western Canada to begin intensive farming with poultry.

By 1970 I was ready to begin my own poultry operation with one chicken house and 10,000 chickens. This was a time when poultry became the consumer’s more popular choice over beef.  Not only was the market expanding rapidly because chicken was a healthy alternative to red meat, but the cost of producing chicken dropped significantly as scientific improvements were introduced in nutrition and selective breeding to bring chickens to market much faster. The use of hormones in chicken production has never been legal in North America so chicken is still the safest and healthiest meat available to consumers.

I grew up observing in our own family business ways to involve all segments of a farming enterprise with the support industry in order to produce a better quality and more efficient end product. I used these lessons to integrate my own farming operation into the only fully vertically integrated chicken farm in Canada, from farm to plate.  Read more

A Journey into Freedom Business: One Woman’s Pre-BAM Story

While many of our readers are post-business plan, trying to figure how to fully implement what’s on that sacred document – making payroll, brokering deals, marketing to clients etc. – there are many other readers still in the ‘dreaming phase’. Perhaps seeds were planted years ago that left a deep imprint on their purpose and direction and since then these pre-BAMers keep taking notes, asking questions and scoping out the market for their product – praying and preparing for the day when the light turns green.

When I first met Rebekah at a BAM conference in 2013, her desire to network and learn from others was immediately obvious. Her gentle yet determined spirit and unyielding passion for vulnerable women keeps her pushing forward to this day. We met together again recently and she updated me on where her BAM journey is up to.

Sharing Rebekah’s story highlights what goes through heart and mind in the lead up to the birth of a BAM company. The hopes and fears, the longings and motivations, the voices of encouragement and discouragement, and the vision that keeps us moving.

When did the idea of you starting a BAM business first take root?

I was on a community development project for two years and saw the underlying problem of people needing jobs. The lack of employment or sub-standard pay in the region resulted in uneducated daughters being sent out to work. In the area I live and work in I did research on human-trafficking. I visited communities that were affected by the problem. I saw girls with little education being trafficked or lured into the big cities with the promise of jobs. I joined a team with the focus on after-care for little girls who came out of the trauma of trafficking. Now looking forward in time, I know that long-term these girls will become women who will still need good jobs. Read more

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