Foundations of New Agricultural Strategy

This morning, two CRS staffers laid out the foundation undergirding the new CRS agriculture strategy: First, the importance of Integral Human Development and second, teaching five essential skill sets to farmer groups.

David Leege, CRS deputy director for Program Quality and Development, stressed that the new CRS Agriculture strategy is rooted in Integral Human Development, a holistic approach that is based on the sacredness and dignity of the human person in Catholic Social Teaching. The IHD approach aims to promote the good of the whole person. This means that in helping people to achieve their full potential, we must address the physical, financial, political, social and spiritual dimensions of their lives. “All are equally important and all are interrelated,” Leege said.

It also involves identifying the assets that people possess, the systems and structures they encounter in their daily lives, and the risks and vulnerabilities that threaten their well being. This holistic approach also extends to process, as CRS integrates peace and justice into all of our programs. It is only through such a holistic approach that our programs can be successful and sustainable.

Geoff Heinrich, CRS senior technical advisor for agriculture and the environment, covered another key component of sustainability of agricultural development: providing farmers and farmer groups with the right skills they need to be successful.  “If farmers are going to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, they’ll need a special set of skills,” Heinrich said.

He said CRS found that the farmer groups it founded for agricultural development programs tended to disband after a project came to completion. Searching for ways to make these groups more sustainable, we turned to our colleagues in microfinance, who have had more success in keeping their self-help groups going over the long term. Through this investigation, we identified five skill sets that will help farmers to be successful:

1. Organization and management skills: Farmers groups should be small, between 20 and 25 members. Their governance should be democratic and transparent.

2. Savings and financial management skills: crucial skills for protecting farm families’ assets and moving out of poverty. For example, if someone in a farmer’s family becomes ill and requires medical treatment, that farmer has three options to pay for it: using savings; accessing credit; or selling off your assets, like livestock and tools you need to carry on your livelihood. The third option can be disastrous for a family’s income, pushing them further into poverty.

3. Basic business and marketing skills: the ability to identify marketing opportunities in a constantly shifting environment.

4. Technology and innovation skills: This will help increase productivity and enhance product quality.

5. Natural resource management: It is vital to protect soil and water quality.

Heinrich acknowledged that the list appears to be fairly self evident. “But what we didn’t know was that they all need to be done together,” Heinrich said. “When you don’t put them together, you get something development economists call coordination failure.” Also, the absence of any one skill set can cause the others to be much less effective.

– reported by John Rivera

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One Response to “Foundations of New Agricultural Strategy”

  1. Jean Sack Says:

    Dr. David Sack and I are hosting two Burundian friends from Help Channel in Burundi. Their reforestation projects in the hills does indeed apply David Leege’s five points so integral to human development in that conflicted countryside. When Cassien Ndikwiyo is visiting Baltimore on Sept 28 and 29th, I would hope that he could meet these key agricultural change-makers at CRS.

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