Dec 29, 2020

Swinga Women's Group: Responsive Innovation

Betty distributing new farm tools to the Group
Betty distributing new farm tools to the Group

Hi Folks, 

This report comes from Preserve International, our partner in Uganda who is working with Swinga Women’s Group and the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement. Preserve International aims to develop garden-based nutrition, increase income, and provide access to technical vegetable production knowledge within the communities they serve. These aims help to establish food security, an increasingly important goal as we continue into the ninth month of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Thus far, Preserve International has been pivotal in addressing some of the community’s immediate needs resulting from the pandemic, namely food shortages.

Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement houses over 280,000 refugees, primarily from South Sudan. Many of these refugees are receiving the majority of their food from the World Food Program and UNHCR affiliated organizations. Last month a 30% reduction in rations was announced with rumors of a further reduction to 50% in the next several weeks. This has put many families and communities in crisis. 

Preserve International supplies the quarantine center with food for people in mandated quarantine in addition to several locally run and managed orphanages, and individuals in the community living with mental and physical disabilities. Many are homeless, and the community donates extra food when they can. However, folks find it difficult to spare food in an already strained environment, which amplifies the risk for those who have additional challenges to accessing food and nutrition.

It is absolutely vital that farmers are able to plant now so that they have a strong harvest in a few months. Further, efficient preservation and distribution can help ensure that nothing goes to waste in the event that the food shortages continue. Unfortunately, because of the total lockdown, many farmers have been unable to access the necessary tools and seeds they need due to the closure of agro-shops.  

Preserve International has engaged with Swinga Women’s Group, refugees primarily from Bari speaking tribes in the southern region of Central Equatoria State in South Sudan. Most of these women fled South Sudan during the reignition of conflict and fall of Kajo Keji in 2016. Bari peoples are traditionally agrarian and the Swinga Women’s Group is particularly eager to begin work on increased vegetable production and food preservation processes. The group quickly became the primary caretakers of the demonstration farm. Seeds and farm tools were distributed. With supporting funds, two large Sparky Dryers — food dehydrators which run on solar power and organic waste to dry fruits and vegetables quickly — were purchased for the farm so the harvest can be preserved for months instead of days. 

 

“...the women were feeling hopeless and helpless to improve the situation for themselves and their families. Since we have begun working with them they now go with dignity because they have value in their homes and communities. Hiring the women to work the demonstration farm has had a double impact. Not only is it providing hands-on training, but it is also a means of income for women in an extraordinarily difficult time. 

This is especially impactful for some of the younger, school-aged women who have not been able to attend classes since spring. We are seeing a huge trend of very young women and girls marrying early or getting pregnant because they do not feel they have any other options. The young women that are working on the demonstration farm are learning about agriculture, food preservation, and food-based businesses as well as earning an income. They feel more hopeful about their futures and their ability to survive and thrive without marriage or pregnancy so young. 

For us, this is a huge win! Perhaps not the goal we originally set out for, but a wonderful result from the programs that we hadn’t thought about.

- Betty, Operations Manager with Preserve International

 

This year has been challenging, but in many ways it has still been a great success for Preserve International and SPI. The initial goals of helping that community to become completely self-sufficient through sustainable agriculture and food preservation in 2020 have been pushed back due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, our partnership has had a positive impact in the community — not only through the provision of high-quality seeds, farm tools, and food preservation training, but also through additional economic and educational opportunities provided by the demonstration farm.

From Seed Programs International and Persevere International, thank you. As you can see, our work together is more important than ever going into 2021.

— The SPI Team

The Swinga Women's Group with their new farm tools
The Swinga Women's Group with their new farm tools
Betty performing a demonstration with Sparky Dryer
Betty performing a demonstration with Sparky Dryer
Preparing the produce to be preserved
Preparing the produce to be preserved
Loading the Sparky Dryer
Loading the Sparky Dryer
Dried and packaged produce
Dried and packaged produce
Dec 17, 2020

School Support is Community Support

Junel, Director of the Pere Coatalem de Dufresney
Junel, Director of the Pere Coatalem de Dufresney

Hi Folks, 

 

This update comes from our partners Feed the Children, who are working with private and public schools in Haiti and Guatemala to implement school gardens. These gardens will be cultivated areas around the school premises and will be cared for by students, parents, and school personnel. School gardens in Haiti are particularly important for supplementing healthy student meals that are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Healthy meals enable students to grow, develop, and focus on their learning during the school day. This program will focus on four schools in Guatemala and three in Haiti.

However, the project has been widely affected by COVID-19 with schools shutting down in both countries. So while the students have been absent, Feed the Children has been moving forward and preparing different aspects of the project so everything will be set up by the time the students return. 

For example, in Haiti the primary source of water for the school gardens will be the potable water systems on site at each school. During the rainy season, very little irrigation is typically necessary. However, due to significant changes in weather patterns of late, dry periods during the rainy season make it necessary to have irrigation year-round. Since water is scarce for many of the schools, having the capacity to capture and store rainwater is important for day to day school activities. To assure water access, Feed the Children will implement a conduit and capture system to collect rainwater off the school roof during the rainy season to be stored throughout the dry months.

Junel, Director of the Père Coatalem de Dufresney school in Haiti had this to say about the upcoming projects and their impact on the community:

I would like to thank Feed the Children and Seed Programs International for all the support provided in our community, particularly the school support. I want to especially highlight the school garden project, which has become more important than the initial objectives, namely, to diversify and strengthen the food that is given to children in the canteen.

The whole community benefits from this project, in the sense that people discover other economic opportunities because of what we produce in the school gardens. The vegetables that the schools grow were not typical for the community. Initially, they did not think that the area could produce these vegetables or that there was a market for these vegetables. So, I'm talking about real economic opportunities that are opening to us in the community because its products are indeed in great demand.

It is important to emphasize that the school garden project goes beyond technical learning for the  students. Children who receive the training and knowledge become student advocates for garden  activities and are able to teach other students as well as their family members to encourage additional  school, community, and household gardens. As part of project implementation, community leaders and volunteers were also trained to monitor the garden and provide on-going support.

We look forward to updating you as this school garden project progresses. Projects like this are possible in part to donors like you, so from Feed the Children and Seed Programs International thank you for your support. 

-the SPI Team.

Preparing the garden
Preparing the garden
Planting seeds
Planting seeds
Creating rows
Creating rows
Nov 4, 2020

The Birhan Ladies: Planting Change in Ethiopia

Pepper harvest in the rain
Pepper harvest in the rain

Hey there, folks. 

As a supporter of this project, you are probably familiar with GrowEastAfrica and what they’ve accomplished over the past year. [link past report in underline] This month, we are excited to share their latest work using sustainable processes to help improve Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) families' livelihoods in the Burji District of Ethiopia.

Burji district is located in southern Ethiopia. The district has a slight majority of women: total popu79,241 compared to 76,439 men. Burji is also one of the poorest districts in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's (SNNP) region of Ethiopia. The district’s poverty is reflected in its infrastructure — Burji has no paved roads, no hospital, and only two high schools to serve twenty-six different villages.

GrowEastAfrica (GEA) and Seed Programs International (SPI) have partnered in Burji district to augment rural farmer families’ traditional knowledge about local farming and agriculture. By gaining access to high-quality vegetable seeds and learning new farming practices, families reduce their food vulnerability by growing nutritious vegetables and quinoa for self-sufficiency.

The GEA-SPI partnership focuses on the Birhan Ladies Group: a fifty-member women’s farming cooperative that was formed after 2,000 refugee families relocated near the town of Mega in southern Ethiopia. The refugee families—all traditionally-skilled farmers—fled their homes to escape inter-ethnic clashes between two Oromo tribes, the larger Borana tribe and smaller Burji tribe.

Leaving their farms and animals behind, families traveled 200 miles to take shelter in the Burji district, their ancestral home. Since then, about half of the refugee families have returned to their former homes, while others remained in the Burji district to start new lives — like the Birhan Ladies Group who are regaining power over their own lives through this project.

In the first phase of this project, the Birhan Ladies group introduced vegetables and quinoa as new crops alongside the traditional teff crop on 4.5 hectares of farmland. The farmers prepared the soil using new techniques learned from GEA training, sowed seeds accessed through the partnership, and tended the plants. Their skilled care led to a higher yield than the previous harvest seasons. The harvests were shared for consumption among the members, and a portion was sold at the local and surrounding markets. The increased yield correspondingly improved the livelihoods of over 300IDPs and increased access to nutritionally-diverse vegetables for many in the community. Their resounding success increased the surrounding community’s interest in home vegetable gardens and the nearby farmers' interest in growing quinoa on their farms.

Worldwide, climate change and responses to COVID-19 have posed significant challenges for folks working in locations already stressed from historical violence and exploitation. The Birhan Ladies are no exception. Unexpected and continuous heavy rain washed away seeds and waterlogged sapling plants, ultimately resulting in crop loss. COVID-19 restrictions further stressed the group and community, straining the group’s cooperative efforts. In response, the GrowEastAfrica team quickly implemented training that mitigated the environmental and social stressors, and they developed a strategy to minimize the impact of water stagnation and waterlogging on the farm. For instance, farmers dug new drainage ditches to divert excess water from the crops and implemented COVID safety standards on the farm to continue their work. 

The Birhan Ladies Group faces additional challenges because they are women.. Burji is a primarily male-dominated society. Burji women are not allowed to participate in or hold any meaningful decision-making roles, and there are very few women working in the district offices, especially at the management-level. As part of GEA’s program\, the Birhan Ladies Group is laying the groundwork to improve  gender equality through farming. As they become key contributors to the local economy through their vegetable production and local cereal market participation, they are establishing their presence in the supply chain. If men recognize the value of women's leadership development because it results in income generation, social attitudes — and the corresponding material benefits — could shift toward greater gender equality.

With GrowEastAfrica’s assistance and the perseverance of the Birhan Ladies, the success of their project remains steady. Crop yields are again projected to increase from previous years, and the community’s nutrition is improving. The Birhan Ladies’ confidence has been key to this success. GrowEastAfrica reports:

“This partnership has increased the amount of nutritious food available for families. As refugees, the Birhan Ladies received a few kilograms of grain, typically maize, for consumption. Today, they grow their own vegetables, teff, and quinoa. Not only do they have access to more food, but the food is nutritionally diverse, providing a more balanced diet for their family's—and the community’s—health and well-being.“

Our partnership with GrowEastAfrica is only possible because of your support. We look forward to sharing more about the Birhan Ladies Group in the coming months. From GrowEastAfrica, the Birhan Ladies Group, and from our team, thank you for making this project possible.

- The SPI Team

Pepper harvest
Pepper harvest
Tomato saplings
Tomato saplings
Cabbages
Cabbages
 
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