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Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa

by Seed Programs International
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa
SSNK farmers at harvest.
SSNK farmers at harvest.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Daniel Wanjama, Seed Savers Network Kenya (SSNK) Founder and Director. SSNK is a grassroots NGO headquartered southeast of Nakuru in Gilgil who works with resource-poor farmers to promote sustainable rural livelihoods. SSNK has strong support for local community groups, providing access to agricultural training, good vegetable seed, tools, and other resources. We recently connected with Daniel who told us about some of the work he’s been doing with the village of Emkwen. 

Emkwen Village

Emkwen Village is a farming community located in the Loboi area of Baringo District in west central Kenya. Arid rocky terrain, acacia trees, and shrubs cover the majority of the District. The natural landscape makes this area prone to drought and food shortages.

Farmers in this region predominantly grow maize because they can easily access maize seed from a local seed company. After harvest, farmers sell back every seed they produce to the same company. This creates a monoculture farming structure, limiting the development and transmission of farming knowledge for non-maize crops. Since farmers are not growing nutritionally-diverse crops, they need to fill this gap by purchasing nutritious food at the market. Maize farming leaves farmers with some money, but not enough to purchase the nutritionally-diverse food needed throughout the year.

“We only do farming because we are at the farms, not because of the profit we get.” - SSNK Farmer

Last year, more than 200 farmers from over 50 farming groups from the Loboi and Sandai areas of Baringo District received seeds from SSNK for farming and to start seed saving. With your support, our partnership with SSNK was able to provide farmers with kale, spinach, tomato, cucumber, cassava, cowpea, sweet potato, pumpkin, sorghum, amaranth, and vegetable other seeds. In addition to providing seed, SSNK trained farmers on seed production and pest control to enhance future seed multiplication.

The Emkwen Farmers’ Group meets every Thursday to coordinate their collective finances and share farming ideas. As part of a strategy to diversify their crops and improve nutrition and income, they have taken to saving seeds. Tthe group participated in an SSNK seed saving training in April 2019 after meeting with an SSNK extension officer during a project launch in Kiborgoch. (Kiborgoch is a conservancy in their area where seed savers are invited to share knowledge and learn new skills.) By putting this training into practice, farmers are growing and consuming locally-produced vegetables, saving seed, and gaining extra income from selling their harvests and seeds.

Miriam

Miriam is one of the officers for the Emkwen Farmers’ Group. She is 76, and her homestead sits on one acre of land where she lives with her husband, six children, and three grandchildren. Miriam depends on this farm to feed her family. Through SSNK, she has learned how to raise vegetable seedlings and keep her garden healthy by managing pests and diseases and maintaining soil fertility.

Early on, Miriam volunteered a portion of her farm as a demonstration garden for tomato production. This investment yielded both tomatoes for her family and seeds that she can plant in future seasons or sell to nearby farmers. Miriam testifies that seed access and training have greatly impacted their family’s health and income. The sale of her tomatoes and seeds allows her to pay the school fees for her grandchildren, and she can purchase the food she needs that she does not grow herself. 

I hope to plant more and more vegetables that I have gotten through Seed Savers. I can now plant tomatoes anytime, because I have saved enough of my own seeds. Seeds are expensive, but now farming has been made easy through Seed Savers. Come next time, you will see the diversity in my farm. We are happy now, because we will be seed secure.  - Miriam 

Seed Is the Origin of Life

When families have better access to resources like training, food security, and nutrition, they tend to invest more in education, and the health of their family. This causes a ripple effect of benefits that strengthens the entire community.

As another farmer, Grace, shares:

“The program has really changed the lives of many farmers. If they were all allowed to share their stories, there would be too many to tell. Surely seed is the origin of life, and the program has allowed farmers to gain food security and improve their health through nutrition.”

We will continue to report on this community and others, partnering with SSNK as their farming projects continue to evolve. 

For now, thank you from our partners, who have improved access to water, seed, and tools as a result of this project. And always, our thanks to everyone who has supported this project — we truly cannot do what we do without your support.

The SPI Team

SSNK farmers groups.
SSNK farmers groups.
Tomato harvesting.
Tomato harvesting.
Saved tomato seeds.
Saved tomato seeds.
Relaxing in the shade, holding the harvest.
Relaxing in the shade, holding the harvest.
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Fate (right) and Birhan Ladies Group members.
Fate (right) and Birhan Ladies Group members.

Hi folks,

One year ago, we started this project with gratitude. Gratitude for your support. Gratitude to GlobalGiving for their tremendous support of this Project. Gratitude to Grow East Africa for the truly amazing work they’re accomplishing in collaboration with local leaders in Ethiopia. And gratitude from Wato and Fate who are on the ground with Grow East Africa.

Over the past year, we’ve shared how Grow East Africa has cultivated a new communal garden, increased the expertise of their farmers, and supported women like Fate who have led the way in strengthening their cooperative. Today, we’re glad to share a recent update from Fate.

First, if you’re not familiar with Grow East Africa, they’re a cooperative near Moyale in Ethiopia that prioritizes women’s access to resources like land, training, and tools. Many of the women have been displaced from regions and tribes that have been historically targeted for displacement.

Fate joined Grow East Africa in 2016 and has become an integral part of the Grow East Africa collective and local community. In a recent interview, Fate described the start of her new life with Grow East Africa.

“My name is Mrs. Fate. I am 45 years old, a mother of seven children, member of Mega IDP [Internally Displaced Persons], the chairlady of Birhan Ladies group, and an active contributor to my community.

After our migration from Mega area of Borana Oromia region Ethiopia, we worked on construction sites as daily laborers. We fetched firewood to sell and worked on someone’s farms. Our children did not attend school. Every night, we were worried if we could get our next day’s bread for our families. Since we are farmers, with our free time we individually grew just cabbage next to our settlement site. The district officials, looking at our initiatives, gave us permission to use the space in the compound around their meeting hall to develop the vegetables. And it was the beginning of our new lives.

In 2016, Dr. Yohannes (Grow East Africa Founder) found us working in this compound. He interviewed us and organized us in group of 30s, and gave us the starting funds and different vegetable seeds like: quinoa, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, onions, and pepper to plant. ... When he revisited us in 2017, he again gave us additional funds to start cereals trading as an alternative means of income generation during the off season. The vegetable gardening and cereal trading activities helped some of the families to move from living at the camp in the tent to rental houses. Yes, we were getting enough food for our families and our children attended schools. Grow East Africa also legally registered our group as a small enterprise and we started our own business on vegetables and cereals trade.“

It can be easy to read Fate’s story without hearing the tremendous work it takes to start a new life after being displaced. This work includes establishing a new livelihood to provide for family, managing the psychosocial strain of displacement, acclimating to a new environment, and learning to live in a new community whose critical resources are already stretched thin.

Fate’s an inspiration — she has not only established her own livelihood, she has helped ensure that the other women in her own collective and neighboring collectives continue to grow. Here, Fate summarizes some results from her collective’s work throughout the years:

“The positive changes we experienced since the beginning of the interventions are:

  • We have started sending our children back to school and we too get mental satisfaction and growth in confidence for engaging ourselves on our own vegetables and cereals farming and businesses; 
  • Changes in our diets by feeding our children with different vegetables and highly nutritious grains like: quinoa, teff, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, onions and pepper;
  • We acquired different skills trainings on: marketing and financial management, group by-law and its management, vegetables development and management of its different disorders; 
  • Our social status and standings in the community changed from daily laborer who think of next day bread every night to vegetables and cereals producers and suppliers and now started to think of our future plans and projections on how to maximize our output and income; 
  • We arranged an opportunity of short-term access to credit for our group members to build their financial capabilities…;
  • We (our farm) become a learning center for the farmers and build the capacity...with drip irrigation system, solar technologies, and also learning...from our technician…”

Today, they’re looking into what it would take to scale their production using machinery and creating business networks that will allow them to supply local markets and institutions. Their collective has already become a model for other groups that have been started in the district.

Our partnership with Grow East Africa is only possible because of your support. We would like to extend a special thank you to GlobalGiving for coordinating the Africa Drought and Famine Crisis Relief Fund and awarding Seed Programs International with a supplementary grant for this work. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Grow East Africa in 2020.

From Grow East Africa, and from our team, thank you for making this project possible.

— Team SPI

Fate harvesting carrots.
Fate harvesting carrots.
Birhan Ladies Group member fixing a dripline.
Birhan Ladies Group member fixing a dripline.
Fate (right) and group members with peppers.
Fate (right) and group members with peppers.
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A family garden plot in Rwanda.
A family garden plot in Rwanda.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Bob Kacvinsky, an agronomist and longtime SPI partner. It’s a rare treat for us to receive such a detailed report of seed distribution and training. We often say that our resources are not a handout. Gardening is hard work, and Bob’s report is a good illustration of the planning that goes into a good program. Bob’s lifelong work shows how a collaboration between local leaders and our partners can provide a community with a level of expertise that will sustain them for generations to come. Rather than summarizing Bob’s work, we’ll share a series of excerpts from his report:

In late March-early April of 2019, a group from Bethel Lutheran Church, Madison, WI traveled to Kigali Rwanda on a mission trip through PICO/Faith in Action International. The host for the trip was Pastor John Rutsindintwarane, Faith in Action coordinator in Rwanda, whose mission is to create networks for community development and improvements. PICO has been rebranded as Faith in Action International.

Rwanda is a small country in east central Africa about the size of Maryland. It is a mountainous geography with steep hills and an average elevation of 5500 feet, resulting in a temporal climate with lows in the 60’s and highs typically in the 80’s to low 90’s even though it is just south of the equator. The capital is Kigali (+1.5 million) and served as our home base.

In the rural communities the focus is on education, employment which involves cottage industries such as brick/clay roof tiles kilns, but for the most part food production. The steep hillsides are heavily terraced for production from tropical fruits (bananas, plantain, mangos, avocados, etc.) and vegetables. Some lowland river valleys support white rice production; the upper mountains in western sections had extensive black tea production of which 97% is exported. Common vegetables included root crops like potatoes (including a white sweet potato), taro, carrots along with peppers, tomatoes, legumes, and several types of leafy cabbage, spinach, and amaranthus species.

Much of the ground is either government owned or operated by community cooperatives that collectively work, grow, and market the produce. Village farmer markets flourish and the youthful general population nutrition seems to be quite good. Diets consist of some meat (goat with some beef), dairy, fruit, and vegetables. Vegetables were one of the focuses of the mission projects. 

Locally grown seed is best but is not always available, especially if access to local knowledge is limited. In 2007 I connected with Seed Programs International that reprocesses vegetable seeds for global mission support. Over the past 12 years I have distributed 5400 packets of vegetable seeds to Honduras, Tanzania, and now Rwanda. 

For the Rwanda trip [we worked with] 100 packets each of Cabbage, Carrot, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce, Yellow and White Onion, Bell Pepper, Hot Pepper, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, and white and orange marigold flowers for a beautification project along the new airport road. 

During the 2019 Rwanda mission trip, I was able to conduct four separate training projects. … The first seminar included basic nutrition training, diversity chart, brief example of the destruction from tuta absoluta to tomatoes, and examples of vegetable seed packets (SPI) that will be available to villagers. Normal planting timing cycles with the wet season that begins in early September. Pastor Alexis invited the local province administrators to the seminar.

On the following Sunday morning after joining the village of Nyamata for church service, the village broke into two groups. The first group joined me for a demonstration of planting a small family garden. Garden preparation including digging out a foot of soil, fracturing the second foot for easier root penetration, then mixed compost/cow manure into the top foot of soil and replaced it. The purpose was to create a slightly raised bed, compost as fertilizer, and create an area wide enough to reach for planting, weeding, and harvest without any physical traffic. By eliminating traffic there is limited compaction so the garden bed can be used for continued cycles without heavy tillage. The young lady was the caretaker of the garden although all the surrounding people participated in the training. We planted 4 different vegetables on that day to use as education on diversity and spreading out crop risks. 

[A] photo was sent to me of the garden we planted. Note the thin crop and sticks lined the sides. Apparently they had a goat issue and lost much of the first planting to their goats until they erected a stick fence. A learning experience that will help for the September planting season.

The...photo includes the village planting ornamental plants along with the marigold flower seeds from SPI as a beautification project along the new airport highway. The project was part of their beautification project along the new highway. The project was approved by the Provincial Administration. This networking process is by design to get “everyone’s buy in” and sets up a contract /commitment to follow through.

The third nutrition/gardening training was held at Nyange Village in Ngororero Province. The village is located high up along a ridge between two beautiful valleys of terraced potato, vegetable, and fruit production. The valley vegetable production is coordinated by the village leaders and worked collectively. The group gathered on a grassy hill under the shade of tall cypress trees providing a perfect backdrop for a mountain top experience. 

The village community had built a clay firing kiln for the production of clay bricks and roof tiles. The kiln was 6’ wide by 30’ long and almost 20’ deep. The clay used to make the pottery was located at the bottom of one of the valleys about 500’ in elevation below a very steep pathway. 

The vegetable training included nutrition background from diversifying vegetables around both nutrition and spreading out risks. We provided samples of the seed packets from SPI to the leaders and the rest of the seed would be distributed closer to the planting season in late August. This concept was new to the group but they were very receptive. After the training we had several conversations and gathered for a group photo with the community leaders. The President of the group had been circulating within the group and presented to me the hand written contract that they committed to implementing the training into their vegetable production practices along with the SPI seeds. This is a common practice within their culture as a thank you and compliment to the visiting teacher. Today that photo and contract is prominently displayed on my office wall.

The final training program was held at a school in Rwanagana in east central Rwanda province. The students were 11-12th grade college prep group focused on Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The students participated by becoming soil nutrients and they formed H2O, CO2, Glucose, and simple amino acids as building blocks of life using sunlight as the source of energy to fuel the process. Most of these students will be going onto college and 2 of them were applying to the Un of Nebraska under a special exchange program.

Only a few packets of seeds were distributed as examples and training materials. During the following months till September Pastor John will be distributing the remaining seed packets as he uses the laminated training materials provided to continue and reinforce the process. I have received a photo from the garden planted in Nyamata with several vegetable plants growing. The plants were thinned due to local goats having a lunch break before a makeshift fence was constructed. Mission work is a process, not an end all.

Bob’s final sentence says it all — this work is a process, not an end. The commitment required to establish or grow a community’s expertise is great, and it cannot be made by our partners alone. As Bob shows, collaborating with local leaders and eliciting a community’s buy-in is critical. We hope his report has given you a good picture of what a local context looks like.


We’re grateful to Bob for his work, and we are grateful to you for your support of Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa. From all of us, and for Bob and all those who gained access to training and seeds because of this project, thank you.

— The SPI Team

Demonstration of planting a small family garden.
Demonstration of planting a small family garden.
Bob conducting a student training in Rwanagana.
Bob conducting a student training in Rwanagana.
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GEA cooperative farmers at harvest.
GEA cooperative farmers at harvest.

Hi folks,

Today’s report comes from GrowEastAfrica in Ethiopia via Yohannes Chonde, GrowEastAfrica Co-Founder. One of our deeper partnerships, we try to understand what’s working for them, what’s not working, and how we can support their cooperative's growth and goals. This means not only learning how vegetables fit into their work, but also learning about how the other parts of their program fit into their broader aims.

If you’re not familiar with GrowEastAfrica, they’re a cooperative near Moyale in Ethiopia that prioritizes women’s access to resources like land, training, and tools. Many of the women are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) from tribes and regions that have been historically targeted for displacement.

Vegetables: Cabbage, Peppers, and Tomatoes

If you have been following GrowEastAfrica (GEA) through our reports, you’ll know the tremendous work that has gone into preparing and learning about their fields. Thanks to their planning and preparation, including negotiating cooperation with the surrounding community, their plots are irrigated and doing great. The cabbage doesn’t have any disease or pest issues, and the soil is perfect for the crop. The peppers are also growing well, though some of the plants appear weak.

“Things are growing wonderfully; it helps people to have fun. The cabbage harvest was not large enough to sell, but does provide food for the family. Our plan after the season is to expand land for peppers and [cabbages].” — Yohannes

Mentioned in our last report, a local commercial farm donated the tomato seedlings for this season’s crop. A photo of the staked seedlings being stringed for support is attached to this report. Unfortunately, almost half the crop was lost to a fungus. Farmers in the group have been trained on the effective use of fertilizer and disease prevention, but they work the crops two days each week and day labor the other five days. This is not enough time to manage their farms, and they are seeking additional labor and better equipment.

Re-establishing viable farming livelihoods in a new area isn’t easy. In addition to learning the nuances of their new farmland and climate, the women of GEA’s farmer group have to manage the psychosocial effects of displacement and setbacks from natural and human causes. They continue forward together, a testament to their collective ingenuity and resilience.

Teff & Quinoa

Teff is an important traditional grain crop for this region. Injera, a flatbread typically made from teff flour, is the national dish of Ethiopia. The plants are labor-intensive due to the work involved in removing weeds and collecting the grain. Because machines are not available in this area, the harvested plants have to be threshed by hand. A photo of their recent harvest, double the size of the prior season’s harvest, is attached to this report. As a traditional crop, teff is more easily sold at market. Money from this crop will be reinvested back into the cooperative.

One of GEA’s aims has been to add new crops that complement and fill out the nutrition available from a traditional diet. Vegetables play a large role in providing new sources of nutrition, and quinoa has been introduced as a grain alternative to teff. Market crops are important for economic growth, and having an alternative relieves the tension of deciding whether to eat or sell a crop.

GEA farmers are experimenting with both white and red quinoa, both of which can be used for injera or boiled as a grain. They’ve already learned that quinoa cannot be planted the same way that teff is planted (walking animals over the seed) because the seed is pushed too deep into the soil and will not germinate. Having learned from this, they will adjust their training.

Higher in protein, quinoa has been growing well in this environment. Red quinoa also has a larger, edible leaf and a larger seed head (the head produces the grain), but the plant takes up more space. They’ll continue growing both varieties and expanding the crop size as land and labor allow. A photo of farmers standing in red quinoa are attached to this report.

Further, the cooperative is trying to bring a more drought-tolerant quinoa into the country by working with universities. They’ve planned to provide farmers outside the cooperative with quinoa samples to show its benefit and possibly spread the crop (and its benefits) in the region. 

What’s Next?

The next planting season is October through December, which leads into the dry season. Because farmers will rely on irrigation to water their crops, they are working with a local extension officer (an expert agricultural consultant) to learn about new drought-resistant crops that might do well during this season. We’re looking forward to learning what they decide for the next season, and we will report on their work in a future report.

For now, thank you for your support of this project and GrowEastAfrica. Gardens and farms really can provide a foundation for hope.

— The SPI Team

Stringing staked tomato plants for support.
Stringing staked tomato plants for support.
Teff harvest, twice the size of last season's.
Teff harvest, twice the size of last season's.
GEA cooperative farmers showing red quinoa.
GEA cooperative farmers showing red quinoa.
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Transplanting seedlings at Burji
Transplanting seedlings at Burji

Hi folks,

Since our last report, Yohannes and GrowEastAfrica have been laying out the next steps to meet their communities’ greatest needs. Water access understandably continues to be a top priority. Water is scarce in Ethiopia, and water access is critical for everyone — not just farmers. Community leaders are working with GrowEastAfrica toward an exit strategy, toward a time when each community will be self-sustaining and able to weather new challenges.

“What is our long term? To stay with a given community for 3-5 years, then move to another community. We’ve been in Burji working with these IDP families for three years. Southern Ethiopia is a drought-sensitive area. Water is always a challenge, even now. On the land we have, we are lucky because there is a well. As we try to expand, that is the main limiting factor.” — Yohannes Chonde, GEA Co-founder

In addition to your support, we’ve received a generous grant from GlobalGiving to help address drought and famine in East Africa. As part of that grant, we’re taking Yohannes’ lead in how to best use those funds for water access. He’s outlined several possibilities, including digging new wells and piping water to different areas within each community. Currently, rainwater is being caught from roofs and stored, which works when there is rain to catch. However, relying on the weather can hinder crop expansion when the rainy season ends. While wells are a longer-term solution, they are cash-intensive. GrowEastAfrica is trying to balance access for multiple communities with affordability in an area where digging a well can be quite expensive.

We’re also consulting with GrowEastAfrica as advisors to select the most appropriate drought-resistant vegetables. Their programs provide access to resources and skills that alleviate hunger and build livelihoods, and education around nutrition is woven throughout their trainings. Nutrition from vegetables is important for a region whose primary sustenance often comes from grains. While grains can provide a daily meal, Yohannes continues to encourage the communities’ cooperative leaders to make space in their gardens for vegetables.

“In regards to what they are growing right now — whenever I call them and talk to their cooperative leaders — they need to have something to eat at the end of the day. Teff is important in Ethiopia, one of the widely-grown crops. I look at vegetables as an important complement. They need something to eat for survival, and they need to balance their nutrition.” — Yohannes

Applied knowledge is another resource necessary for proper growth and sustainable agriculture. Recently, Fate and the Soyama Women’s Association (who you may remember from our previous report) visited a commercial tomato farm to expand their own farming methods. The farmers toured the greenhouse and saw a demonstration about seedlings grown in trays that will be transplanted into an open garden. They discussed various growing components like soil health, protection against disease, and nutrient demands. Finally, they discussed the differences between conventional and hydroponic tomato growing methods.

Rather than growing all of their vegetables from seed, the cooperatives have begun collaborating with the Meki commercial farm to adopt planting seedlings grown in trays. This provides a more controlled environment and increases the likelihood that seeds will grow into healthy plants. Seeds are provided to the Meki farm, and seedlings are returned to the cooperatives in Burji. Attached to this report, you can see some of the seedlings being packaged for transport.

Farming is hard work that requires both manual labor and expertise — these resources are not a handout. GrowEastAfrica’s programs strive not only to provide access to resources, but also to educate and train farmers who can pass on their knowledge and training to other farmers. As a result, these IDP communities have produced healthy food for themselves and have also sold some of their harvests to provide meaningful income. Money can be saved for the lean season and also reinvested in the next planting. They’ve created a cycle of self-sufficiency that will provide a strong foundation for generations to come.

We appreciate your support of Seed Programs International and Garden’s Give Hope, Health, and Income in East Africa. Thank you from us, our partners, and the farmers whose lives have changed because of your generosity!

The SPI Team

Soyama Ladies Assoc. visiting Meki Commercial Farm
Soyama Ladies Assoc. visiting Meki Commercial Farm
Using oxen to prepare the field, Spring 2019
Using oxen to prepare the field, Spring 2019
Laying drip lines, planting seedlings, Spring 2019
Laying drip lines, planting seedlings, Spring 2019
Packaging seedlings for transport from Meki
Packaging seedlings for transport from Meki
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Seed Programs International

Location: Asheville, NC - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Greg Bonin
Asheville, NC United States
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