Archive for the ‘Malawi’ Category


Five Microcredit Programs That are Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

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By Isaac Hopkins

One of the best ways to encourage economic growth in poor areas is to provide affordable small loans to farmers and small-business owners. Called microcredit or microloans, these programs can inject capital into communities that lack the collateral required by conventional banks.

Ecova Mali’s first microgrant went to Fatoumata Dembele, to buy vegetable seeds for her village. (Photo credit: Ecova Mali)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five innovative microcredit programs that are encouraging economic growth in poor communities.

1. Farmer-to-Farmer Programs: Microcredit programs tend to be most sustainable when they promote cooperation between residents of a community. Encouraging farmer-to-farmer support can be an effective technique because it allows participants to be less reliant on outside financing and guidance.

Farmer-to-Farmer Programs in Action:  When Africa’s Sustainable Development Council (ASUDEC) connects farmers with microcredit loans, the recipients have several expectations placed upon them. ASUDEC requires farmers to not only pay back the loans, but also to offer equally affordable loans to their neighbors. This policy generates a ripple effect, helping communities increase their incomes and fund their own progress, rather than relying on ASUDEC. As the trust and cooperation between farmers builds, it “helps the poor transition from subsistence to entrepreneurship,” says ASUDEC’S Director, Dr. Salibo Some.



USAID to Use Permaculture to Assist Orphaned and Vulnerable Children

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By Stephanie Buglione

Nearly one quarter of children in the developing world are underweight, and one third are experiencing stunted growth, according to a UNICEF report. In addition, many of these children have a family member, or are themselves, afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Jacob, a student in Malawi, explaining permaculture to other boys. (Photo credit:

According to the Joint U.N Programme on HIV/AIDS, worldwide, 16.6 million children aged 0 to 17 have lost parents due to HIV. Families afflicted with HIV have less help harvesting and planting crops or selling them at the market. Additionally, when a parent dies prematurely, their children are denied their generational agricultural knowledge and skills. But this missing information, and other lessons on ethics, patience, and responsibility, can be taught in schools through the use of permaculture.

A new USAID project, Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, is focused on providing long-term food security solutions to orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) that are coping with the challenges of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Permaculture is their means to achieving this food security.

Kristof Nordin is one of the co-authors of this initiative. He and his wife, Stacia, a registered dietician and previous School Health and Nutrition Advisor for the Malawi Ministry of Education, live in a home outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. On their land, they have been demonstrating permaculture practices for several years to help educate the community about indigenous vegetables and to reduce the cultural fixation on monocropping.



FAO and EC’s Promotion of “Climate-Smart” Agriculture

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By Marissa Dwyer

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Commission have announced a €5.3 million (approximately US$7 million) three-year project to promote “climate-smart” approaches to agriculture. FAO says that “climate-smart” agriculture “sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), [and] reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) while enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals.”

FAO reports that crop agriculture is responsible for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

FAO reports that crop agriculture is responsible for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts, therefore, will need to be aimed at both improving livelihoods of farmers and improving food access, as well as reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

The announcement of this project is timely. A recent report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change finds that climate change will likely lead to a reduction in crop yields. This issue is magnified by the fact that changes will vary by region, so some countries’ agricultural outputs may suffer disproportionately from climate change effects.

The project will focus on three countries: Malawi, Vietnam, and Zambia. The European Commission will contribute €3.3 million (US$4.4 million) and the FAO will provide the remaining €2 million (US$2.6 million) and will take the lead on the implementation of the project. All three countries are expected to be significantly affected by climate change. Although the unique conditions of each location must be taken into account in developing plans, all three countries can learn from the progress of one another in pursuing strategies that are more “climate-smart.”

In Malawi, George Matiya, the Dean of Environmental Sciences at the Bunda College of Agriculture, said that the country will likely be more affected by negative implications of climate change because of its narrow economic base, where a large part of the population are farmers. Matiya pointed out that the southern region of Malawi will be especially vulnerable to more extreme weather such as floods, high temperatures, and drought. Innovations and investments to develop and make available different crops, such as ones that are more drought resistant or that can mature earlier, he states, will be crucial.



The Clinton Foundation: Helping Rural Farmers in Rwanda and Malawi

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By Dana Drugmand

Former President Bill Clinton established the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2001, and the organization has been working to fight childhood obesity, mitigate climate change, provide access to healthcare and treat HIV/AIDS, strengthen rural economies and alleviate hunger and poverty. The Clinton Foundation’s work in Africa focuses on bolstering income for smallholder farmers, increasing agricultural productivity, and alleviating poverty

With help from the Clinton Foundation, Rwandan farmers are seeing measurable increases in crop yields. Pictured above: Elephant grass in Rwanda. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The Foundation operates programs under the Clinton Development Initiative in both Rwanda and Malawi. In Malawi, smallholder, rain-fed farming supports almost 90 percent of the population. The national poverty rate is 52 percent, and most of the 12.3 million people live in rural areas with little access to health and educational services. Similarly, in Rwanda, nearly 90 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, and the majority of people here live below the poverty line.

The Clinton Foundation has worked with and helped nearly 19,000 farmers in Rwanda and Malawi to improve soil quality to increase yields. Through the Foundation’s programs, farmers have been supplied with affordable fertilizer and better-quality seed, and have gained profit from high-yield fruit trees and establishment of a coffee collective.



What Works: Microcredit

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By Matt Styslinger

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Microcredit is the lending of small loans to the very poor to allow them to start or expand small entrepreneurial projects. In order to bring financing appropriate for the poor to impoverished communities, micro-lending organizations make small loans to women with little or no collateral by doing rural outreach—unlike traditional banks. Poor farmers can use loans to purchase seeds or farming tools and other inputs they need. With the extra profit from bigger harvests, the farmers can pay back the small loans and increase their incomes.

BRAC women’s microfinance meeting in the Korail slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo credit: Matt Styslinger)

But several micro-financing organizations have been criticized for charging high interest rates and making huge profits that outweigh the benefits seen by the poor families who take their loans. Sam Daley-Harris—founder of the micro-lending group Microcredit Summit Campaign—says he hopes that the future of microcredit will be guided by “redemption” instead of profit. In a July 2010 TEDx talk, Daley-Harris tells the story of an ex-gang leader in Kenya who was approached by a grassroots microfinance organization in Kenya to rebuild a market that his gang had destroyed during the post-election violence in 2007. The organization paid the gang members to build the market during the day and to guard the building materials at night. And once the market was complete the organization provided the gang leader and approximately one-third of the gang members with a loan to create a small business producing small metal cases for children’s school supplies.



Home Grown and Healthy Food

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By Supriya Kumar

According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), around 70 million school-age children live and attend school in hunger-stricken areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Working in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the WFP is hoping to address this problem using home grown school feeding (HGSF) programs.

WFP is providing nutritious food to school age children through its HGSF programs (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

HGSF is a school feeding program that provides locally produced food to schools in countries, including Brazil, Chile, India and Thailand. Like other school feeding programs, the focus is on alleviating hunger, while supporting education, nutrition and community development. The goal is to ensure a continuous supply of good quality and highly nutritious food that satisfy local preferences while protecting crop diversity. Unlike other school feeding programs, HGSF follows core principles that not only improve children’s food nutrition, but also increase the incomes of small scale farmers by creating an ongoing – and stable – market for their crops.

One important part of HGSF programs is that they are built on existing plans, not designed from scratch. Typically, a school feeding plan is developed by a country with the support of partners, such as WFP, and it may or may not utilize food that is locally produced. HGSF then develops the program by linking it with local agricultural production. In Kenya, for example, HGSF has helped develop links between existing programs and the government. HGSF provides grants and training to community-driven food security projects while the government provides grants to schools that can then purchase food produced by small-scale farmers participating in the community-driven food security projects.

By developing existing food programs, WFP ensures that programs are country-specific and are catered to the country’s needs. Although the underlying goal of the project is the same, local food preferences and the local agricultural situation are factors that might differ from region to region. For example, even though WFP prefers direct links between the small-scale farmers and the schools, to avoid expensive middlemen, exceptions were made in India’s “Midday Meals” (MDM) scheme. It was found that purchasing rice directly from farmers was not feasible because food for MDM had to be channeled through the public distribution system. WFP acknowledges that there is no single design that can fit all countries and adaptations are ne