Helping Poor Farmers Cultivate Markets, Income

Dear Friend,

A few years ago, we were looking for ways to help farmers in Tanzania and our staff come up with a project to combine microfinance savings groups with agricultural promotion. With private donations from the Ryan Memorial Foundation, they started the Chickpea Market Promotion project. It had a modest goal of forming 10 groups that would each pool and collectively sell their chickpea harvests as a marketable export crop.

To say the least, the project has exceeded expectations. To this point, 3,800 poor farmers have organized into 149 groups. This helped them to access microfinance support through their involvement in savings groups, as well as assistance in production and marketing of their crops. This resulted in a considerable rise in income for these farm families.

This is one example of a shift to a market-based approach to agriculture that we are embracing at Catholic Relief Services. For more than half a century, Catholic Relief Services has supported extremely poor people living in agricultural communities throughout the developing world.

In all of our programs around the world, whether we are serving people suffering from a disaster or emergency, or helping them to lift themselves out of grinding poverty and chronic hunger, our aim is to move people and communities from relief to development and self-sufficiency. In fostering the transition from relief to development, our focus was on increasing agricultural production, with the goal of restoring the ability of farm families to feed themselves.

This approach is still necessary and valid. But over time, we observed that helping poor farm families to increase the amount of food they grow is not sufficient to help them escape poverty. Farm families have needs that go beyond food. They need health care, education for their children, housing improvements and investment in their farming activities—things they can get only with sufficient cash income. We came to the conclusion that understanding markets and building the ability of poor farmers to engage in profitable enterprises had to become an integral part of our approach to agricultural development.

That is why CRS is launching a groundbreaking worldwide agricultural strategy that adopts a market-oriented approach to help lift millions of people out of poverty.

The strategy reflects the views of field staff, partners and the private sector from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, captured during meetings over the past year. The strategy addresses market reform, urbanization and technical innovations. It also considers the emerging challenges posed by more volatile social, economic and climatic conditions that come from an increasingly populated, globalized and urbanized world.

This market-oriented emphasis is already bearing fruit, as we are seeing results from several exciting projects launched over the past few years:
– In Tanzania, farmers have organized themselves into microfinance self-help groups, enabling them to obtain financing to pay for chickpea seed, fertilizer and postharvest marketing. This linkage between microfinance and agriculture has not only made the local farmers’ groups much stronger, but it has also significantly improved their profits.
– In Ethiopia, farmers have begun growing navy beans and have found a buyer in one of the top sellers of baked beans in England.
– Across West Africa, CRS is helping to increase rice production, which will help that region to feed its people and be less dependent on rice imports.
– In East Africa, we are working to integrate technology into crop disease prevention, using sturdy but inexpensive laptop computers to gather vital data in the field.

These projects are a small—but very promising—beginning. It is our hope that by working with a wide range of partners and food companies, both here in the United States and overseas, we will eventually be able to fuel entrepreneurial initiatives that will improve the lives of millions of people in the poorest parts of the world.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

Share on Twitter

Tags: ,

Leave a Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.