Learning from the Farmers

We spent the morning of our third day meeting a group of smallholder coffee farmers. We met at the farm of one of them, Basilio Minas. These were farmers who had been through the standard two-year-long training program offered by TechnoServe. For the program to be effective, the farmers need to see the methods employed for that long in a demonstration plot. By the end of two years, it has become clear that production and quality are really up, and most of the trainees buy in. Shorter periods are less effective, even though the technical material can be covered in a shorter time.

Eduardo introduced us to one another, and then turned us over to the farmers to get an education. :)

They started by showing us a couple of problems. First, Guatemalan coffee farms have been heavily affected by leaf rust.

In the past, many coffee farmers here were basically picking coffee from largely untended coffee plants. Those don’t produce much, and are especially susceptible to leaf rust, as well. Trash is also a problem in Guatemala in general, and is often another factor in poor coffee productivity.

AFter thus showing us how not to do it, our farmers let us play a bit in Basilio’s well-tended farm. First, they divided us into three groups, and ran a coffee-picking competition among the groups. Here are Jeanne and Tammy outfitted for picking coffee cherries.

This contest was fun, and gave us a chance to get to know the coffee plants much more intimately than on any other visits I’ve made to coffee farms. I now have a greater appreciation for the effort involved, but also a little insight into proper technique. Our three groups produced rather different results. One group (yellow basket) picked the most coffee, but a different group (aqua basket) had higher average quality. You can actually see the difference by comparing the colors in this photo. (I’d rather not say which of the three baskets my group picked.) The farmers correctly predicted who would do the best. It seems that women are consistently better at this task than men. :)

Next, the farmers taught us a bit about pruning coffee trees. There are several different kinds of pruning, and we learned “stumping”, in which only the stump of the tree is left. This encourages formation of new branches and can revive productivity (after a delay of two years).

Here’s Hans Rueedi showing how it’s done.

Here’s the whole crew. We enjoyed meeting them, and appreciated the hands-on experience they provided for us.

(More coming. I’m a bit slow.)

Posted 2 years, 11 months ago at 3:25 am.

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Edible Gardens and Drinkable Beans

Our first full day began with a breakfast talk by Eduardo Rusty, TechnoServe’s country director in Guatemala. He gave us an overview of TechnoServe’s history in the country, and of the sorts of projects they undertake here. The two main areas are agriculture and entrepreneurship. We would see multiple examples of each during our visit here.

TechnoServe does a lot of work with coffee here, partly because this is a way of improving the lot of a large number of smallholder farmers.

Meanwhile, the “Impulsa tu Impresa” program focusses on helping entrepreneurs develop their Small Growing Businesses.

Eduardo then introduced us to the first TechnoServe client whose work we would see, Giuliana Gobbato. Giuliana is the founder of a rather special landscaping company called Green Gardens. Born in Guatemala, she earned a degree with a double major in biology and sustainable agronomy from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She returned to Guatemala with a goal. The goal is not gardening, though that’s how she spends her time and it’s probably what most of her clients think they’re buying. Her real goal, though, is to help people have a more positive impact on the environment.

To show us what she means, she gave us a tour of the gardens she has designed and developed at a client’s beautiful country estate.

The decorative gardens were all quite beautiful, too.

But the edible gardens were definitely the main course.

She showed us a number of features here that benefit from an in-depth knowledge of garden ecology. Here, for example, she has taken advantage of different growth patterns of plants to do a sort of “double layering”, in which plants whose growth is primarily below ground occupy the same space as other plants that grow primarily above ground.

Here’s an example in which rows of edible plants are interleaved with rows of plants deliberately placed here to enrich the soil.

And here’s an example in which plants are placed together to help one another. The Alyssum actually repels aphids that otherwise feed on the roses.

Giuliana is clearly very good at what she does, but she began her business with a lot of content-area knowledge and very little understanding of how to run a business, from keeping the books to marketing, to accessing needed inputs. She says she has benefitted greatly from TechnoServe’s educational process and consulting. She’s also benefitted greatly from the community of entrepreneurship clients that TechnoServe has assembled. They form a mutual-help network that generates ideas, cooperative projects, and good friendships.

I’ll include one more photo of Giuliana’s work, but this one is just here because I really like it. :)

That brought us around to lunch time. We always eat well. :)

In the afternoon, we visited the Bella Vista Coffee Farm. This is actually both a farm, where coffee is grown, and a coffee processing plant, where coffee from the farm itself, but also from smallholder farmers in the area, is wet-processed. I’m a serious coffee hobbyist (home roaster, certified barista), and so I’ve seen a number of coffee farms, big and small, as well as both wet and dry processing plants. I have to say, though, that I enjoyed this tour more than any I’ve had in the past.

Our tour guide was Luis Marroquin, who has worked at Bella Vista for many years. He was a manual laborer here until age began to limit his ability to carry around 150lb bags of coffee and other things (more of this later), and now he serves as a very able tour guide. He started by showing us coffee cherries (the fruit) that contains the beans (seeds) and their structure.

Next, he showed us coffee plants, and described how they graft higher-quality arabica plants onto lower-quality but hardier robusta plants. This not only results in higher-quality coffee that is more resistant to insects and other insults, but it also results in plants whose height can be controlled by the farmers. That makes picking easier. Here’s a somewhat unruly example, also illustrating a wide range of ripening that’s typical of the end of the growing season. Those coffee cherries at the very top are at the perfect stage for picking.

Luis showed us around the entire coffee processing facility, explaining how the coffee moves around and all the machines and processing steps involved. I’m going to just show a few photos, with little explanation, as my purpose here is to convey to you the kind of touring we do, and not to give the tour.

Here’s the final stage. This coffee is in batches by source, drying after processing, and available for tasting and sale.

There are a lot of heavy bags around, often weighing in at more than 150 pounds. Fortunately TechnoServe’s Andrea Stepanski was available to help with the work (she makes it look easy). ;) In fairness, though, we saw factory workers carrying them two at a time, and theirs were definitely at the heavy end of the scale.

Not everyone in our party was so energetic. ;) Here are Carla Lopez, of TechnoServe Guatemala, and John Keightly, TechnoServe Vice President who manages the Global Advisory Council and these trips.

At the end of our visit to Bella Vista, we were treated to a coffee cupping. Cupping is a standard, simple procedure whereby coffee tasters prepare and taste coffee samples in order to evaluate and perhaps compare them. This cuppiing was managed by Bella Vista’s professional cupper, Dulce (“sweet”) Barrera. She set up a cupping that allowed us to compare 9 different batches currently available for sale. I’m pleased to report that, though I’m no supertaster, I picked the same first and second-best coffees that she did. :)

Here I am with Dulce.

(As soon as I can, I’ll prepare a post about our second full day.)

Posted 2 years, 11 months ago at 3:01 am.

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TechnoServe GAC Trip to Guatemala

Alice and I (Rudy) are members of the Global Advisory Council (GAC) of TechnoServe. TechnoServe is one of the international NGOs on our “Strategic List”, and their GAC consists of a group of their especially involved donors. Each year, the members of this group have an opportunity to travel together to one of the countries in which TechnoServe works, and to view the work first-hand. We’ve previously traveled with this group to Chile and Mozambique, and in March, 2017 the group visited Guatemala.

Because Alice was still recovering from knee-replacement surgery, she didn’t go on this trip, and I took her sister, Jeanne Haster, who lived in Guatemala for four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was her first visit to Guatemala since that time. Jeanne is Executive Director of JVC Northwest.

Sunday, 3/12/2017

When we arrived in Guatemala City, we were met by a TechnoServe driver who took us to Antigua, where the group was gathering for the tour. On the way there, we learned that all the entrances to Antigua were closed because of a Holy Week procession and other festivities in the streets. That seemed like bad news, as we were imagining sitting in the car for four hours waiting for the procession to end. But our driver turned that into good news, as we parked the car and walked into Antigua, luggage and all. In the process, we walked right past the procession and through the gathered crowds. What a delightful experience!

Here are Jeanne and our driver, Luis Fernando Munoz, walking through the procession crowd to our hotel. I tried repeatedly to wrest our luggage away from Fernando, but he wouldn’t give it up. :)

A dominant feature of the celebration were alfombras, beautiful carpets made of brightly-colored sawdust.

Here’s how the alfombras are made.

The other special feature of these processions are andas which are like parade floats, but they contain appropriate religious statuary, and they’re carried aloft by large numbers of people. A really big anda might be borne by hundreds of people. If you look carefully through the crowd here, you can see the folks — all dressed in purple — who are carrying this anda.

Apparently, brightly colored sawdust has additional uses, as we discovered in our hotel, the Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua.

The rooms in this hotel were remarkable, and I was especially lucky.

Our dinner was excellent, as well. The foam on top of mine was made of mushrooms.

And finally, we were welcomed by our after-dinner speaker, Lionel Lopez. He is currently Vice Minister of Finance for Guatemala, and he’s also a former TechnoServe Country Director. He gave us a very interesting overview of the challenges faced by the relatively new government. In particular, he summarized Guatemala’s economic situation and the plans and general approach being taken by his department. He’s a very engaging speaker, and he gave us a good deal of context that was useful in our visits to TechnoServe clients over the next few days.

(to be continued)

Posted 3 years ago at 1:22 am.

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Home, Thankfully!

We made it home five days ago, and I thought I would write one last message about our trip to Zambia.

There are lots of things that I might mean when I give this little post the title, “Home, Thankfully”. One thing I don’t mean is that I’m somehow relieved to be out of Zambia and back home. We really liked Zambia and its people, and I certainly wasn’t tired of being there. And if there’s a lot of work to do to find and apply good methods for combatting poverty long-term, Zambia feels like a good place to do a significant piece of it. But that’s a subject for another essay. :) In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re there again someday.

One thing I absolutely do mean is that I’m thankful to be an American. If I hadn’t already had a good handle on the incredible advantages and opportunities we enjoy here, a trip like this would certainly have made it clear.

And, of course, we were thankful to finally reach home after the 39-hour ordeal of getting here from Mfuwe. We drove to Mfuwe, waited for our flight, flew to Lusaka, waited for our flight, flew to Johannesburg, waited, flew to New York JFK, took a limo to Newark, waited, and flew back to Denver. All in a very good cause, of course, but definitely tedious. And I’m thankful that this is the worst problem I’ve had this week. We saw a whole lot of folks in Zambia who would be very happy to exchange problems with us.

And we’re thankful to a bunch of very special folks who helped us plan and execute our trip, or who showed us things worth seeing while we were there. Thanks go to Heidi Cuppari, Stephanie Cox, Michaela Hennig, Al Doerksen, and Andrew Romanoff, all of iDE HQ, who variously planted and cultivated the idea of a Zambia visit, and then suggested that we take our grandson along. Thanks to Duncan Rhind and Sam Harvey, of iDE Zambia, who helped immeasurably in our trip planning and preparations, as well as showing us around iDE’s activities while we were there. Thanks also to Mike Amoroso, of Habitat for Humanity Denver and Sepo Farm Zambia, for help with trip preparation. Thanks to Veronica, Morrison, and Clement, farmers, and to McCoy and Willard, iDE Field Team Managers, for helping us understand firsthand how iDE works in Zambia and how the Farm Business Advisor and agro-tech dealer programs operate. Thanks also to the entire iDE FBA training team, and to their test class of FBA trainees, for allowing us to watch a pilot training session. And thanks especially to Festus, for so clearly outlining the economics of FBAing, and how they need to be presented to motivate a sustainable FBA system here.

Thanks, too, to Linda Sharon Mafonko, Victor, Foster, and Givern, all of Habitat for Humanity Zambia, for teaching us how Habitat operates here, and for taking us on our site visits. Thanks especially to Elizabeth and Eugenia and their families for their generosity of spirit in meeting with us and showing us a little about their lives. Thanks to Grace Lungu and Lazarus for showing us how Grassroots Soccer works, and to Jill Rhind, for showing us Chikumboso. And to Sam Harvey, once again, this time for accompanying me to the Lusaka Agriculture Show.

Thanks to Amy Alderman, of The Bushcamp Company, for lots of help in preparing, not only for our safari, but for coming to Zambia in general. And thanks to the terrific crew at Chendeni Bushcamp, including Peter, the world’s best safari guide, and James, Thomas, and Mike.

Finally, thanks to our traveling companions for being good at it. Steve and Ana were not only fun to be with for the first six days of our trip, but they also freely shared their far wider travel experience to enhance our enjoyment. And our grandson, Carlos, far exceeded our expectations as a pleasant and uncomplaining traveler, even during the trying or boring parts of our voyage.

No man is an island, saith the poet. :)

See also:

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 12:27 am.

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Mfuwe Lodge and Chindeni Bushcamp

On Monday, we took a commuter flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe, for a few days in a safari camp in South Luangwa National Park. This is said to be the best place in Zambia for seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, and it certainly lived up to its billing.

We were to stay four nights in two different safari locations run in the park by The Bushcamp Company. For the first and last nights, we would be at Mfuwe Lodge, 45 minutes from Mfuwe Airport, but for the second and third nights, we would be in the much more remote Chendeni Bushcamp.

On our arrival at Mfuwe Lodge, it was instantly clear that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, as they say. Our hut was very nice…


…and it had a nice, comfy deck, as Alice demonstrates here…


… but the view from that deck was a bit unusual, at least by our Colorado standards.


These hippos not only provide a little local color, they also provide interesting sound effects (all night long ;) ). They didn’t appear to bother Carlos, however.


Twice each day, whether we were at Mfuwe Lodge or Chendeni Bushcamp, we were taken out for a driving safari by a team that included a driver and a spotter. Our first impression was certainly the large number of antelopes that occupied the plains here. The majority were impala (we saw hundreds). Here are two male impala engaging in mock fighting (and, of course, preparing for their place in the evolutionary battle).


Also common were Puku.


Other animals we saw early were Warthogs…




… and lots of interesting birds, such as this Saddle-Bill Stork.


One of my favorite photos was taken during our drive out to Chendeni Bushcamp, which doubled as our morning game drive. This is a male Kudu, and is said to be a rare photo, as it’s unusual to get close enough to a male kudu for a photograph.


All my photos, by the way, we’re taken with my little Nikon V1 Compact System Camera.

In spite of being in the middle of nowhere, so to speak, Chendeni Bushcamp had the better accommodations, and provided outstanding food. Here’s a barely adequate photo of the inside of our hut.


Chendeni also provided us with an absolutely outstanding guide and driver, Peter Milanzi.


We saw lots more animals, and learned a lot. I’ll post a few more photos that I like. Here’s a Waterbuck, yet another of the antelopes here.


Here’s a Cape Buffalo.


We saw a lot of interesting birds, though understandably, their photos are a bit more elusive. I was really happy to get a shot of this Lavender-Breasted Roller, which is an amazingly colorful bird.


We saw lots of Elephants, of course.


We saw elephant bones, as well. The elephant, we’re told, is the only animal that dies of old age here. These bones are about a month old. We didn’t actually see many bones, as they’re all eaten by predators, such as hyenas.


We also saw lots of Zebras.


And lots of Giraffes.


Here’s an African Fish Eagle. This is Zambia’s national bird, and it’s on all their currency.


We managed to stay in reasonably good health on our trip, though I was somewhat deaf for the whole trip because of a sinus infection. And Carlos had a brief bout of traveler’s diarrhea, which caused him to miss the walking safari we did on Wednesday morning. That walk provided an interesting close-up look at plants, insects, and tracks, but didn’t get us very close to any animals, as they’re much more wary of humans on foot than of humans in a game-viewer vehicle. Carlos was better by the evening, though, and was able to join us for the night drive on our last night at Chendeni.

That was a good thing, as this was by far our most exciting outing. Mike, our spotter, who was manning a spotlight, got a reflection from the eye of an animal in a tree. Peter initially thought it might be a genet. We had seen a few of these mongoose-like animals, though never up close. But as we watched with binoculars, the animal started down from the tree, and we could see it was a leopard. With amazing skill, Peter quickly came back around through the bush to the exactly correct spot, and we found our leopard. We could also hear a great deal of noise coming from our left, including loud snaps and dog-like growls and yips. It quickly became apparent that the leopard had killed an impala, but a pack of hyenas had taken it away from her. We followed for awhile as the leopard walked a considerable distance away — a perfect picture of dejection if I may risk projecting my own sentiments onto her behavior. Here’s our leopard.


We went back and watched the hyenas for a while, and I got some reasonably good video, given the conditions. It gave us a clear picture of the spotted hyena as scavenger/predators. I’d just as soon keep my distance from these guys.

After a bit, the leopard came back, probably to see if she could find some scraps. Peter said she would never fight the hyenas for food, as an injury would likely render her unable to hunt, and she would starve. So when the hyenas demonstrated their aggressiveness, she went back to the safety of a tree.


Early the next morning, it started raining, and continued raining for most of the day. This was entirely unexpected, and very rare. The last rainfall in Zambia in August occurred in 1996. We heard that this same storm brought snowfall in every province of South Africa, for the first time in recorded history. We got lucky, as the rain stopped long enough for the three-hour game drive that took us back to Mfuwe Lodge. The Land Rover game-viewers have roofs, but open sides, and we could easily have been quite miserable instead of just cold. We did forgo a night drive in the rain on Thursday, though, which brought us to the end of our visit to this amazing park.

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 10:16 pm.

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Grassroots Soccer and the Lukasa Agriculture Show

Grassroots Soccer and the Lukasa Agriculture Show
Sunday, 8/5/2012

Today was our free day, in the sense that we had no particular time commitment. Because we (and especially Carlos) have an interest in soccer, I looked for the possibility of a soccer-related activity. We were put in touch with a program called Grassroots Soccer (GS), and Grace Lungu, of that organization, was kind enough to accompany us to a GS event and explain the program to us, with the help of Lazarus, one of the coaches.


Grassroots Soccer runs a youth soccer program, but their principal goal is HIV/AIDS education. The teams are typically existing soccer teams. By participating in the program, they acquire a league in which to compete, and transport, if needed, to reach the sites. In exchange, they play a series of special games before their soccer games.


These games are designed to instill a basic understanding of HIV topics, such as how the odds of contracting HIV are affected by abstinence, sex with one partner, and sex with many partners. Many of the youth soccer coaches are also involved in this program as instructors of these games, and the feeling is that this significantly increases the exposure of these young boys and girls to the information they need to make informed decisions. Discussions of such topics is a taboo in traditional Zambian society, so this sort of education is generally not available in the home or in the schools. In a country in which 20% of the population has HIV, and virtually a whole generation has been wiped out by AIDS due to this ignorance, it’s important to find other avenues for education.


You can imagine soccer-like games in which running unimpeded to the goal corresponds to abstinence, carrying the ball past one opponent and scoring a goal corresponds to a single sexual partner, etc. We watched a game in which the players on two teams passed a stone behind their backs, so that the other team could not see who wound up with the stone, and had to guess. This was related to the fact that you can’t tell by looking who has the HIV virus and who doesn’t. Misconceptions about this sometimes cause Zambians to feel comfortable when they shouldn’t, and, conversely, result in unfair stereotyping of certain aspects of appearance that are not actually related to HIV/AIDS.

We had an opportunity to watch some of these games and an actual, 40-minute soccer game between two boys’ teams somewhere in the 12-15 age range. The level of soccer was pretty good. I have some video that I’ll post when I’m back home to illustrate. This particular game was tied at 0-0 after 40 minutes, and went to a penalty-kick tie-breaker. Here’s a photo I took of one of the goals.


We also learned on this trip about another NGO called Alive and Kicking, which employs disadvantaged people to make high-quality soccer balls in Zambia (they also run similar programs in several other countries). It’s possible to make donations to them, and they’ll use the funds to make and donate soccer balls where you wish. Grassroots Soccer Lusaka would be a good choice. :)

In the afternoon, I went to the Lusaka Agriculture Show, accompanied by Sam Harvey of iDE and a driver I had hired for the day. We’d been warned that this is a very crowded venue, and it lived up to its billing.


It was really more of a general fair than an agriculture show, though we did find one building devoted to government, foundation, and university programs dealing with agriculture. These were interesting, but we found little that was clearly — in my opinion — of benefit to smallholder farmers. Even a government program on irrigation methods that advertised benefits for smallholder farmers seemed to have the old mindset. Irrigation systems offered for smallholder farmers were restricted to furrow irrigation, with drip irrigation systems available only to medium-scale farmers. And it was clearly articulated that smallholder farmers were expected to try to add more and more land, becoming farmers at a larger scale, rather then becoming more and more successful at managing their small plots.

We got to watch marching bands and motorcycle races and demonstrations.


And we stopped at the coffee pavillion, where I bought a pound of M.. Coffee, and had a cappuccino that was up to the best standards I’ve encountered anywhere in the world.

All-in-all, this was a very enjoyable day. Time to pack for the flight to South Luangwa National Park and the safari bushcamps. :)

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 4:32 pm.

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Habitat for Humanity Zambia

Saturday, 8/4/2012.

We spent the day touring with four people from Habitat for Humanity Zambia (HfHZ). Two of the six houses we’ve funded here are in Chazanga Township, on the northern edge of Lusaka, and we started with visits to see those houses and meet the families who own them.

All of our houses have been part of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children project, so the families typically consist of a grandmother living with her grandchildren, whose parents have died — often of HIV/AIDS, which afflicts 20% of the population here. Sometimes, they’re even child-headed families. The Habitat folks told us about one child-headed family that was very successful once they had adequate, safe housing. These children have been able, with a combination of aid and earned money, to remain in school and pay their mortgage. The oldest of them, who presumably is the head of the household, is now in college. When you see the conditions under which these folks have to live, it’s clear what a tremendous accomplishment that is.

We were (pleasantly) surprised to learn that the standard Habitat model is applied even to these families. They must contribute resources, according to their means, to assist in the construction of their houses. Their “sweat equity” includes the blocks used to construct the house, which are made by the family. And they take out a Habitat mortgage, which they are required to repay. This makes them heavily invested in the house while reducing the cost of its construction. It also increases the sustainably of the whole program, as mortgage repayments help finance the next generation of houses.

Our first stop was at the home of Elizabeth Mwale. She is a widow who has lived in Chazanga Compound for more than 20 years. When one of her daughters, Judy Mwanza, and Judy’s husband died, Elizabeth was left to care for the six orphaned grandchildren. She had saved enough money to buy a plot of land here, but could never afford a decent house. Her original house has been destroyed now, but the Habitat folks showed us a similar mud-block house nearby.


Because of the poor building materials, the house had many leaks, and the roof leaked during the rainy season. Overcrowding also contributed to the chorionic infections and other diseases suffered by the children when they lived there. Those problems are gone now that they’ve been living in their new, three-room house built in 2010. Here’s Elizabeth inside the house.


The family is doing better in other respects, as well, partly because their reduced medical costs have freed money for food and other needs. Elizabeth earns her once selling tomatoes and vegetables to Chazanga residents, as well as groundnuts that she buys from farmers in her own village in Eastern Province. The children are all in school, with some financial support from another NGO, Project Concern.

Here we are with the family and a fairly good view of their new house. Shown, left-to-right, are Rudy, Elizabeth, Masauso (13), Nathan (14), Carlos, Imelda (11), Maria (Miriam) (12), and Judy (14) and Alice.


We were all instantly taken with Eugenia Sakala, our second homeowner, who is good-natured, energetic, and friendly. Her story is essentially identical to the one above. When her daughter and son-in-law died, Eugenia was left with four grandchildren to raise. Left-to-right here, they are Biko, Patricia, Francis, and Sheila, who is holding Patricia’s baby.


Here are Biko, Sheila, and Eugenia in front of their old house, which had exactly the problems described in the previous story.


Here’s the new house, also a standard HfHZ three-room house.


Eugenia earns a living gathering stones and concrete fragments around Chazanga, and crushing them into aggregate for sale to builders. Her “hammer” is an old automobile half-shaft.

These children, too, are all in school, except for Patricia who hopes to go back to school when her baby is a little older. We really enjoyed meeting these two families, and are pleased to see that what was a relatively small amount of money to us has made such a difference in their lives.

More recently than 2010, when these two houses were built, HfHZ started adding an extra room to their houses, with a separate entrance. This room can be rented out, providing the family with an ongoing source of extra income.

We also visited Tiyende Padmodzi, an entire community built by Habitat. This is an impressive place, a spacious planned community, with houses, streets, a community center, a large field for sports, and other amenities very well laid out. There are 93 mortgage houses here, typically with three bedrooms and substantially more space than those we saw above.

We visited the home of George Gondwe, a Paralympic athlete and now sports official who lives in a row of homes devoted to disabled persons. These houses all have electricity, and the TV was on here. They’re also all equipped to connect to running water, if funding is ever obtained to lay the pipe through the community.


We also visited Christine Kumwenda, shown here with equipment she put together to enable her to make Freezits (essentially Popsicles, but without the stick), which she sells in the community. She also makes and sells small dolls.


Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 2:47 pm.

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Observing a Farm Business Advisor Training Class

Friday, 8/3/2012

Friday was entirely devoted to driving north to Kabwe and observing a training session for new iDE Farm Business Advisors. This was of special interest to us, as the project we and RLG are funding is about assessing FBA training needs, developing training materials, and applying them to develop a corps of 220 FBAs whose performance will be followed and assessed for several years. What we witnessed were two classroom sessions in an early trial training program. We didn’t have time to also witness the field training session in which pumps and drip irrigation systems were to be actually set up, as we needed to return to Lusaka before dark. As far as I can tell, no one voluntarily drives on Zambian roads at night. :)

The first area we saw addressed in the training was irrigation and micro irrigation systems. I have the impression that this session went slower and accomplished a bit less than expected. I think this was partly the effect of having five of us visitors, along with Duncan, the iDE Country Director, observing the class. By the second session, folks had become accustomed to our presence, and both instructors and students were performing better. Another factor was a very small class, with only three students present in the beginning. A fourth student joined the class late in the first session, and he was much better prepared and more interactive, which helped the class go better.

The second session was largely about what it means to be an FBA, and on the economics of being an FBA. This material was covered by Festus, an irrigation engineer who is an absolutely first-rate teacher and motivator.


Festus ran through the multiple income streams available to an FBA, an important topic in this market-based approach. Services that can be provided or mediated by an FBA include drilling wells, sale and servicing of pumps, sale and layout of pipe, sale and setup of storage tanks, and sale and installation of drip irrigation gear. (They can also become more general agri-dealers like Veronica, selling seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals.) It’s important for the FBAs to be aware of the full range of income-producing opportunities available to them, both because it will help motivate them in their FBA efforts in general and because the overall program will have greater impact and sustainability if the FBAs are able to provide a broader range of the services needed by smallholder farmers.


It’s my impression that a good deal was learned from this training session, both by the FBAs and by those doing the teaching. It was clear from watching that there are definite challenges associated with training some of the FBA candidates, and that attention to the development of good training materials will be well worth the effort.

We were glad we had an opportunity to watch the current trial training sessions in action. We also enjoyed seeing Carlos awarded the first formal FBA hat and certificate in the program, though his was Honorary. :)


This was the end of our iDE activities for this trip. Tomorrow, we visit Habitat for Humanity Zambia.

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 7:04 pm.

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An Easy Day with iDE

Thursday, 8/2/2012.

We had a light day today. We went to iDE Zambia headquarters for a meeting with Duncan Rhind, iDE Country Director for Zambia. Duncan was very helpful in making or suggesting arrangements for our trip, and in getting us properly prepared to come.


Today, we spent about two hours receiving and discussing a presentation by Duncan about conditions in Zambia, iDE’s work here, and about the Farm Business Advisor program in particular. There isn’t room or time here to try to convey a lot of the information we covered, but for those who might be learning about iDE for the first time in this blog, I’ll mention just a few items.

IDE has about 25 employees in Zambia at present, with about half at HQ and half in the field. In their 15 years’ work here, they’ve spent $125 million, impacted 310,000 farmers who have increased their income by about $1000 on average, for a total return of $3.8 billion. That’s a return of 30:1 on the investment, ignoring future income gains not yet measured. This is definitely the most effective approach we’ve seen toward addressing worldwide poverty, and its associated problems of hunger, lack of access to health care and education, etc.

Duncan says the Farm Business Adviser is “part of our exit strategy”. He doesn’t mean they’re leaving, of course, but that the program is aimed at the major goal of sustainability — the ability of the program to continue on its own, without ongoing support from iDE and its donors.

And iDE is clearly focussing its energies where the problem is. Seventy-five percent of Zambia’s poor are in rural areas, yet only 4% of aid currently goes into agriculture. And that’s a shame on every scale. Aside from the question of poverty in Zambia, there’s a large opportunity cost here at the national, continental, and even global levels. Zambia has a large portion of the arable land in all of Africa, and only a tiny percentage of it is under cultivation. Zambia could be the breadbasket of Africa if smallholder farmers were making productive use of this land.

In the afternoon, we took a break, as Duncan’s wife, Jill, was kind enough to take us to see Chikumboso, an interesting and innovative place. They started out as a shelter for abused women. They’ve gradually grown to include a school, a library, and various other facilities. The most visible part of their effort, though, is a crafts industry that they’ve built to employ women and vulnerable children. This started out with amazingly durable, and very pretty, bags made out of trash-bag material cut into strips and crocheted. Here is a group of women and children processing and crocheting trash bags.


And here’s the result.


They’ve added beaded bracelets and the like, and a line of clothing, iPad and laptop cases (I now have one) and other products made of the very colorful titengi cloth. They’ve recently expanded to include disadvantaged boys in the program.


This is a sort of cottage industry that can teach disadvantaged folks a trade while supporting a whole community. The crafters receive the bulk of the income from these items, part immediately, part in a savings account (some eventually buy houses) and some in a special emergency-only savings account which they can use in their own emergencies or to help others.

We’re taking a few of these items back home with us. :)


Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 3:41 pm.

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Livingstone to Lusaka, with iDE Farm Visits

Wednesday, 8/1/1012.

Today, we began seeing the iDE program in Zambia first hand. Two iDE vehicles transported us all from Livingstone to Lusaka, with stops at three farms, to see the farms and meet farmers and Farm Business Advisors (FBAs). This was a 12-hour affair, though the only unpleasant part was the long rush-hour drive in Lusaka itself. Alice, Carlos, and I were in one vehicle, driven by Willard Chitembo, a Field Team Manager in the FBA program, while Steve and Ana were in the other vehicle, driven by Yoram, and accompanied by Sam Harvey. Here’s a photo of Willard, Sam, and Yoram:


Our first stop was to meet Veronica, whose farm is near Livingstone.


Veronica is ebullient, a successful farmer, and a successful FBA. She runs her FBA business out of a small building built for the purpose under a grant from CARE.


There she sells treadle pumps, petrol pumps, and a variety of chemicals and seeds. She uses a simple treadle pump on her own farm, as her water source is a small pond.


We had an opportunity to talk with her at some length, and to see the variety of merchandise she sells, as well as her garden. During the monsoon season, she cultivates a larger area, but she has not enough water for the garden during the rest of the year.


As she has built her FBA business, Veronica has been competing in farm shows as a marketing method, and has won several shows this year.


Her biggest problem at present seems to be fatigue from traveling long distances on foot to her meetings with the farmers she supports. A bicycle (Zambike) would seem to be in her future, but that’s a business-investment decision for her (they cost $200), so it will likely have to wait until she has sufficient profit from her FBA business to afford it. She also hopes to have a good well drilled on her farm. That, too, will be a business-investment decision. Veronica is a very energetic, charismatic person, and it’s easy to imagine her accomplishing much more.

Our next stop was a visit to Morrison, a very successful farmer near Pemba.


Morrison has been a beneficiary of iDE technologies and information since 1997, and they have greatly improved his effectiveness as a farmer. He has a treadle pump that has been in continuous use for 11 years, as well as two petrol pumps and lots of drip irrigation equipment. He credits the labor-saving properties of these technologies for his family’s ability to cultivate a much larger area, and it’s clear from looking at the farm that it’s well managed. This plot supports Morrison, his two wives, and their ten children at a level that has allowed the children to stay in school through high school (Zambians must pay for school after the seventh grade).


Morrison is making a bit of a slow start as an FBA, and this is likely because he’s so good at, and involved in, his own farming. However, his wives and older children are gradually taking on more responsibility, and it’s possible that he will gradually move rather naturally into the expert-farmer-and-educator role that could make him a very successful FBA.

McCoy, the Regional Field Manager in this area for the FBA program, spoke quite frankly about this issue, and is working with Morrison to help him find the right mix of these roles.


Our final stop was near Kafue, where we met with Clement Phiri, who shares with three other farmers a much larger farm made possible by its proximity to the Kafue River.


He showed us large fields of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables irrigated with a petrol pump.


This farm is definitely at the upper end of what’s possible for smallholder farmers. One of Clement’s partners in this farm is the FBA for the area, and he has worked his way up to such investments as a hand tractor, which can plow and till at many times the rate possible with a hoe. This gives him not only greater effectiveness on his own farm, but also an asset he can rent out, perhaps in exchange for other farmers’ labor or for fuel.

All in all, the day gave us a much more concrete understanding of farming in Zambia, iDE’s role as a facilitator, and the FBA program as it exists today here. We also slept very well after this very full, 12-hour outing. :)

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 8:27 pm.

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