By Donna Rosa, Volunteer for the Farmer-to-Farmer (FTF) Program
The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is well known for providing technical assistance to small farms in developing countries, but did you know that the program also contributes much-needed business support to agribusinesses and small food enterprises? After all, farms are businesses.
I recently returned from a volunteer assignment in Kenya where I helped a women’s community group with a complete business evaluation, business plan, financial tracking, business development, and business advisory services. I was sent by CRS under USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program. This program sends U.S. volunteers to developing countries to assist small farms, agribusinesses, cooperatives, and food processors. Volunteers are selected for specific skills, and they work hands-on in the field for 2-4 weeks. Expenses are covered by the program. Group training is often involved, but work with individual businesses is also typical.
While much of the Farmer-to-Farmer work involves horticulture support, there are assignments that call for small business support and training. My experience in Kenya is an example. It illustrates how one person can make a difference. I feel strongly that there is not enough individualized business support for small enterprises in developing countries, particularly at the base of the pyramid.
I worked with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi. This remarkable group of 30 women (and one man!) understands that if they want to improve their lives, they must take action to help themselves. They formed a community group after seeking and receiving local training in crop irrigation. In addition to providing ongoing social services for the community, they also took advantage of training in basic commercial food preparation and processing. Importantly, they came to understand the concept of adding value.
Along the way they entered and won a contest by collecting the detergent packages. But instead of splitting the 250,000 Kenyan Shillings (about 3,000 USD) winnings among the group, they used it to purchase milling equipment in order to generate ongoing income. Pretty smart and a flicker of business acumen.
Huruma began by offering milling services to individuals and schools in the community, and later opened a small retail store where they sell flours, flour blends, crafts, dried fruits and vegetables, and snacks. The group members are poor, illiterate and lacking in business skills (especially record keeping). They required help with their day-today business, but also needed a business plan to provide a roadmap.
That’s where I came in.
What was the experience like? The area was rural and very poor. I stayed in a local guest house where the accommodations were basic, but the staff couldn’t have been nicer. Internet access was manageable but spotty and slow, and there were several power and water outages.
I met with the group several times under a towering fig tree, with occasional visits from cows, goats, chickens, and baboons. Only one member, Rahema Madega, spoke English. I also met with the group’s stakeholders, including local government officials, USAID, customers, suppliers, and other women’s groups. I used afternoons, evenings, and weekends to work on the business plan, financial templates, analysis, final report and presentation for CRS in Nairobi.
I asked a lot of questions, but the poor record keeping made it difficult to get an accurate picture of the financial status. They did not have a handle on either income or expenses. Still, I was able to make recommendations. For example, Rahema was managing the entire enterprise herself, and this is not sustainable. We outlined a management team structure in order to split the work, but there will be challenges to find people with the requisite skills.
The milling operation was losing money due to constant equipment breakdowns, but they had taken steps to purchase new equipment and locate better manufacturing and retail facilities from the county government so they might eventually become a certified food processing plant. Huruma also had a solar drying facility donated by USAID that was completely underutilized, so we explored other fruits and vegetables that they could dry and sell at low manufacturing cost but good profit margins. In addition we identified marketing tools, promotion ideas, and new value-added products that they could add longer term. They now have a plan to use as a guide for growth and importantly, to obtain financing.
This type of volunteer work is ideal if you enjoy hands-on international development experience and learning about a culture by living it. It is also great for building experience for a career or job change, if you can block the time to do it. Each assignment is unique, and the challenge is exceedingly gratifying.
For more information on the Farmer-to-Farmer Program click here.
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