Self-Help International

Self-Help International (SHI) devotes its efforts to alleviating world hunger and poverty by providing opportunities to rural citizens that ultimately lead to self-reliance. Since its inception, Self-Help has served as a vessel; training, education, and opportunities are provided to rural citizens and whole communities in developing countries so that they can have better lives. MISSION STATEMENT: To alleviate hunger by helping people help themselves. SELF-HELP'S INITIATIVE Educate: We educate the people of the United States to understand the problems of life in developing countries particularly the awareness of the perpetual struggle by millions to produce and distribute food to batt...
Jun 1, 2016

10 Farmers to Plant QPM Seed Corn this Season

Isidro & sons stand amidst their treated seed corn
Isidro & sons stand amidst their treated seed corn

As we shared in the last update in March, our Nicaragua Quality Protein Maize (QPM) team has been working hard to re-introduce QPM and QPM seed corn production back into the country. After passing inspection by the Institute for the Protection of Animal and Plant Health (locally know as IPSA) and harvesting, we obtained sufficient Basic seed to plant fields at three sites in Nicaragua (SHI-Quinta Lidia, Alfredo’s farm at Melchorita, and Isidrio’s farm near Los Chiles) in order to produce Registered seed.  We also held back several hundred ears for use in maintain the supply of Basic seed.

As a result of this agricultural seed production, today Self-Help has 200 pounds (8 bags) of Basic seed and 900 pounds (36 bags) of Registered seed. Isidro and Alfredo also have 10,100 pounds of Certified seed available for planting or sale.  The seed is packaged into 25 pound bags and treated with fungicide; each bag is sufficient to plant 1 manazana of land (1.73 acres). 

The current plan is for 10 of our best farmers to plant 1 manazana each of Registered seed in this grow cycle (June – September) for the production of Certified seed; 6 manzanas in the Ochomogo area and 4 manzanas in the Los Chiles area. In Ochomogo, Javier, Mario, Teofilo, Joel, Domingo, and Vicente are prepared to plant multiply the seed under IPSA's supervision this season. In Los Chiles, Isidro, Ariel, Santana and Celestino have risen to the challenge.

We met with the ten farmers at the seed banks last month, and they are appropriately reluctant to plant more in this cycle because the crop will be harvested during the rainy season and is very difficult to dry to appropriate storage conditions so that the seed quality remains high.   More farmers will plant for the production of Certified seed during the next cycle (October-January) which is the best time to grow corn.  Naturally, storage of seed in the tropics from harvest to subsequent planting is always a problem and we are exploring methods to ensure that the Basic and Registered seed is grown and stored in sequences that ensure that the best Certified seed is available for commercial planting during the primary maize growing season (October – January). While in Los Chiles, we helped Isidro and his sons treat the seed corn so it could be bagged and marketed the following day. 

In early 2016, we tested the amino acid profile from the first increase of the seed we obtained from CIMMYT.  The results clearly indicated an elevated level of lysine and tryptophan consistent with QPM genetic profile.  It will be important to periodically repeat these test (e.g. every three growing cycles) to ensure that Basic seed genetic materials have not been exposed to contamination during subsequent increases.  As long as the Basic seed is increased in a disciplined fashion, the nature of the nutritionally improved food crop can be maintained.  This discipline was reinforced during this visit and as a result one field exposed to possible contamination was downgraded from Registered to Certified to ensure that there was no possibility that it would be further increased.

There is still significant need for soil testing and management of nutrients.  At the Self-Help training center, we utilize intense farming practices using all three growing cycles during the year including irrigation during the drier periods.  This rotation process and the nature of crops can place significant pressure on micronutrients.  And, the volcanic soils with high permeability can result in significant leaching of essential micronutrients from the root zone. As a result, we are seeking out a collaboration with a soils expert/volunteer in such a way that we can plan and develop an appropriate soil testing, remediation and crop rotation plan to ensure that the productivity of our resources can be optimized. In addition, some of the knowledge may transfer over to other commercial farmers.  

Thank you for your support which has provided the means to re-train Isidro, Ariel, Santana, Celestino, Javier, Mario, Teofilo, Joel, Domingo, and Vicente in seed production after so many seasons without Registered seed available. Now, they are prepared to re-establish the QPM supply in the country for the long term to improve nutrition for those who cannot afford animal-source protein on a daily basis.  

Please support our micro-project, Help 5 Farmers in Nicaragua Produce 20,000 Meals, to ensure that we can finance the inputs for all ten of the farmers who will plant the QPM seed corn this season. 

Pouring seed corn into barrel to be treated
Pouring seed corn into barrel to be treated
Isidro
Isidro's son spreads out the treated seed to dry
Multiplying the seed corn at the training center
Multiplying the seed corn at the training center

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Jun 1, 2016

Osei's Story: Saving the Environment while Earning a Living

Osei: the adaptive entrepreneur
Osei: the adaptive entrepreneur

For fifteen years, Osei worked as a timber merchant. He would go to the forest to cut down trees, send them to his factory, and cut them into smaller sizes both for local use and also for export. But due to deforestation, there are fewer trees to cut and the timber business is no longer lucrative. Besides, for the past five years, Ghana has suffered a major power crisis which has led to the collapse of many industries that rely on a regular source of electricity including Osei’s timber factory.

Osei and his wife have four children; two boys and two girls, ages 30, 27, 22 and 10 years old. Though he is now 53 years old, he has no plans to retire since his children are still schooling. With the collapse of his factory, finding an alternative source of livelihood is a must.

On February 26, 2015, Osei enrolled at the Fran Mueller and Virginia Lageschulte Training Centre (FMVLTC) and learned how to produce mushrooms using sawdust.  He was greatly relieved to discover that the stockpile of sawdust at the factory site could be used to produce mushroom to generate revenue. In the past, he would set the sawdust on fire to dispose of it, which caused considerable environmental pollution and lung infections. Neighbours complained each time he burnt sawdust. Now this practice is no more.

Now, a year later, Osei has three employees including his wife and two local men, and together they produce 1,500 bags every month. It costs three cedis ($0.75) to produce one bag of mushrooms, which is then sold for 8 - 10 cedis ($2 - $2.50). Demand for his produce is high: he is currently working to fulfil an order to supply 10,000 bags of spawned compost.

Osei also learned how to rear snails at the FMVLTC and this second business is also picking up gradually. The spread of knowledge goes beyond Osei: his friends who were also in the timber business are now leaning from him how to produce mushroom and rear snails as well.

As present production rates, Osei will utilize approximately 17 tons of sawdust annually which otherwise would have been burnt to pollute the atmosphere. With his friends following his lead and turning their sawdust into mushroom production as well, indiscriminate burning of sawdust and the associated atmospheric pollution will be reduced, and lung-related diseases among children living in timber mill communities will be reduced as well.

Saving the environment while earning a living constitutes sustainable development, but  still we know our work is not done: with our forest almost depleted, an alternative growth medium must be found. After the initial successes Solomon experienced in producing mushrooms in rice straw, the FVTC is currently supporting a student from Kwadaso College of Agriculture to study the performance of rice straw as a growth medium for mushroom production.  The results of the study will be shared widely to ensure all practicing mushroom producers can put this new knowledge into action. 

**JUNE 15TH IS GLOBALGIVING BONUS DAY!  All donations to this project from $10 - $1,000 are eligible for a 50% match on June 15th only, starting at 9AM Eastern / 8AM Central, while funds last!!  Set a calendar reminder now to multiply the impact of your gift & empower the next farmer like Osei!**

Osei employs two men to help produce mushrooms
Osei employs two men to help produce mushrooms
Preparing the mushroom bags for sterilization
Preparing the mushroom bags for sterilization
Osei with his snail beds
Osei with his snail beds
Osei
Osei's 10 year old daughter, home from school

Links:

May 25, 2016

Healthy Competition Improves Quality of Education, Feeding Program in Bedabour

Students line up for porridge at Bedabour D/A
Students line up for porridge at Bedabour D/A

Bedaabour is a rural village of about 1,000 people within the Atwima Mponua District in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. There are two schools in the community, both of which benefit from the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) feeding program: Bedabour District Assembly (D/A) Basic School and Bedabour Islamic School. 

Bedabour D/A School is a public school supported by the District Assembly. The government initially provided meals for the pupils under the Ghana National School Feeding Program, but the program was cut due to limited state funding.  So in early 2013, Self-Help introduced the QPM school feeding program to fill the gap, and the community initially embraced it knowing its importance. As the program started, the chief of the community supported it by donating QPM and funds for milling so the maize could be turned into porridge. This went on for some time, but the support ceased when the chief became ill.  

The school feeding program follows a partnership model whereby the community is responsible for donating the maize, milling it, and preparing it into porridge daily, and Self-Help provides the additional inputs such as sugar, cups, spoons, training, and support with construction of a proper kitchen. The community members were used to the chief taking care of everything on behalf of the community, and for a long time, no one else stepped up to donate the maize or milling fees during his illness. Without the community’s support, the program began to falter. There was apathy and lack of commitment.

In 2014, the neighboring Bedaabour Islamic School joined the school feeding program. The school saw significant improvements in both enrollment figures and academic performance, which they attributed to the feeding program. Both parents and teachers were committed. The strong performance by the Islamic school caught the attention of the community, and many parents began transferring their children out of the public school and into the private school, regardless of the family’s religious affiliation. The D/A school was therefore losing many of their pupils in the lower grades in particular to the Bedaabour Islamic School.

The D/A school PTA realized something had to be done before the school collapsed, so in March 2015, the PTA chairman met with the school staff and Self-Help representatives to discuss the challenges the school was facing. They decided to call a full PTA meeting so that members could contribute to raising up the school’s image and getting the QPM feeding program back on track. All teachers and most parents attended the meeting to discuss the issues, and by the end of the meeting, solutions were found.

Realizing that the quality of their children’s education, and therefore their futures, were at stake, all present agreed to support the feeding program in one way or another:

  • The assistant headmaster volunteered to attend the training sessions organized by SHI on how to cultivate maize so that the school would be able to establish a small farm on a plot of land in the school grounds, with the harvest going to support the feeding program.
  • Since there was no maize in March and the program had halted for some time, the parents donated various quantities of maize to re-start the feeding program immediately until they were able to get the first harvest from the new school farm.
  • The wife of the PTA chairman volunteered to cook for the children each school day.
  • The chief and headmaster agreed upon a plot of land to be cultivated, and the parents contributed greatly in cultivating the QPM school farm to ensure regular supply of maize.

All of these actions were necessary to get the feeding program back on track, but the community didn't stop there:

  • In addition to the QPM plot, the junior high school students began cultivating crops including pineapple. Through their commitment, they achieved such high yeilds that the farm was named the Best School Farm in the Atwima Mponua District during the annual National Farmers’ Day celebration in December 2015!
  • All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. Realizing the revived spirit in the children now that they had daily breakfast again, the PTA decided the children should get something to play with, and raised funds to install a Merry-Go-Round, the school’s first ever piece of playground equipment!  All of these improvements have attracted a number of children and enrollment has improved.
  • The new volunteer cook realized that while the QPM porridge was good, adding groundnut would make it even more substantive and nutritious. The headmaster and PTA quickly met on this and they concluded that every child should contribute 50 peswas (13 cents) every week to maintain the constant supply of groundnut and also add millet occasionally to boost nutrient levels in the porridge and to bring variety to the daily breakfast. The PTA Chairman dreams of one day adding all of these nutrients each day to better meet the caloric needs of the students so they are healthier still.

The commitment and spirit of togetherness that the PTA is now demonstrating towards the feeding program has brought about a lot of improvements at the Bedabour D/A School. Enrollment has increased, malnutrition has decreased, and the children are healthier and good looking. Truancy is low since every child wants to come to school and eat QPM prepared breakfast.

Thank you for your support of the school feeding programs in Bedabour community.  This initiative is much more than a breakfast and source of nutrition: it is a catalyst for engaging parents in the nutritional and educational well-being of their children. With your continued financial support, we will be able to help the PTA chairman achieve his dream of regularly adding more nutrients to the porridge. 

QPM porridge with groundnuts for added nutrients
QPM porridge with groundnuts for added nutrients
A new merry-go-round brings joy to the children
A new merry-go-round brings joy to the children
Bedabour D/A students enjoying their porridge
Bedabour D/A students enjoying their porridge

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