Seeds and Skills for Women to Grow Vegetables

by Seed Programs International Vetted since 2013 Top Ranked Effective Nonprofit Staff Favorite Project of the Month Site Visit Verified
Smiling with Pop Atz
Smiling with Pop Atz'iaq

Hi folks,

Naima Dido, our Program Director, is currently on the road with Nancee Neel in the mountains of Guatemala where they’re working to grow a deeper partnership with a relatively new partner, Pop Atz’iaq.

An SPI neighbor, Nancee Neel, had served as an advisor and friend of the organization before she introduced us to their work. Established in the 1990s, Pop Atz’iaq has focused on craft-based livelihood development with women and men in the region around San Cristobal, and they have a strong track record of success. Catarina, the organization’s Director, reports that establishing a garden-based livelihood program has been a longstanding goal of the organization and its members.

For context, craft-based livelihoods depend on international market outlets, and those can be fickle. Garden-based livelihoods are more reliable, and this program will help diversify their members’ options for income. Catarina reports that social and economic conditions are deteriorating this decade, due in large part to the lack of rural development support from the government. Child malnutrition rates have risen to 80% in most of the communities served.

Naima and Nancee have been visiting the different Pop Atz’iaq communities for the past few days. Earlier this week, they had the honor of attending a stakeholder meeting where members continued to coordinate the garden-based livelihood project. They’ll continue to travel alongside Catarina through next week. Naima writes:

“The mountains are breathtaking. We even saw an active volcano on our way to San Cristobal.

We’re staying at a hotel near Pop Atz’iaq. We’re surrounded by small gardens of corn and beans. The only gardens growing vegetables are those associated with PA.

San Cristobal is beautiful and green. The area is culture-rich. Most of the women wear traditional clothes while all the men are dressed very western.

The Mayan culture is very strong and alive, but the Spanish influences are everywhere. The place seemed so familiar since I arrived. I realized the similarities between the coast of Kenya and Guatemala come from the Arab influence in the architecture.

The other very obvious thing is the difference between poor Mayan villagers in the rural agricultural communities and the urbanized and relatively wealthy mestizos population in city.

I am amazed at how the Mayan people here still proudly maintain their culture and traditions. Still, the Spanish language and non-Mayan people have control over resources and access. For many, Spanish is a second language and it’s the official language mandated in schools and government.

The staple foods are eggs, chicken, rice, maize, beans, and cheese. The style of cooking is very simple. Squash is also very common. Chili peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions are also popular, but trucked in from other regions. The vegetables grown here are exported throughout Central America.

Life for most people I’ve met involves hard physical work. People are very poor, but much like other communities I’ve met in my travels around the world, being poor doesn’t mean their lives are unhappy or unsatisfied.

Women I spoke to at the stakeholder meeting said their days are spent working in their homes, cooking, raising the children, tending gardens, weaving cloth for their own clothes and for the market.”

We’ll share more about Pop Atz’iaq in a future report. In the meantime, thank you for your support of these communities, and for your support of Seed Programs International. We truly cannot do what we do without you!

Nancee Neel exchanges SPI seeds with Pop Atz
Nancee Neel exchanges SPI seeds with Pop Atz'iaq
Pop Atz
Pop Atz'iaq stakeholder meeting
A gardener talks about issues with her harvest
A gardener talks about issues with her harvest

Hi folks,

Late in 2016, we told you about a pilot program with SPI partner GrowEastAfrica (then DBCO) to establish community vegetable gardens in Billa village and Soyama town in Ethiopia’s Burji region. (You can read the full story here.) GrowEastAfrica works to support folks who belong to marginalized communities and has embraced groups that include large numbers of internally displaced people (IDP), many of whom fled their hometown of Mega to escape conflict.

“The issues that IDPs face in this region is well known to the locals, but little assistance has been offered...and there’s very little international focus on this area.” — Wato Seif, GrowEastAfrica Officer

Despite challenges in the region including scarce access to water and land resources, the pilot groups have been successful and GrowEastAfrica (GEA) has been, well, growing over the past year and a half. GEA now supports 25 women’s groups who come together to share the wealth of knowledge from their Burji traditions and support one another in establishing new livelihoods. By adapting and applying their knowledge to their new environment, these gardeners hope to grow enough food to both feed their families and sell at market. The regional drought has made their work difficult, but they are planning innovative ways to succeed and thrive.

We’re honored to be working with GrowEastAfrica and, by extension, the women who are establishing livelihoods in this challenging environment. GEA works closely with gardeners to ensure that their programs and our partnership are a reflection of these women’s highest priorities.

  • GEA and SPI’s partnership prioritizes self-sufficiency and safety.
  • Training session are offered at times when women can attend.
  • Agricultural projects are tailored to be run near the women’s homes.
  • Programs aim to broaden and develop skills necessary to build and sustain whole livelihoods.

In addition to gardening, GEA coordinates financial training workshops for basic financial literacy. As part of this training, the women’s groups participate in chamas, which are group savings plans that build capital so the group can seed future businesses for women in the group. These women are not only building their own economic power; they are creating more opportunities for themselves, and helping the whole community to grow and prosper.

What’s next for GrowEastAfrica? Securing land and water resources.

“At present we are primarily focused on one main site vegetable garden project which is in Soyama. The current plot size is very small and we are trying to expand to accommodate for the size of the families and to ensure a sustainable source of water. We plan to keep the current plots and add more to them. At present we are focused on one group called Biher. This is the Mega ladies we are currently working with.” — Yohannes Chondes, GrowEastAfrica Co-Founder

Women need a safe place to live where they can support their children. Like many women in other parts of the world, the life of a Burji woman in these communities is hard. They have to juggle domestic duties and agricultural work — sowing, weeding, and harvesting crops, all while making food for their families and collecting firewood and water. This is unpaid, and often unrecognized, labor. With access to skills and resources, these women are establishing livelihoods that will create a foundation for self-sufficiency for themselves and generations to come.

Our thanks to you for supporting this project, and a special thanks to the folks at GrowEastAfrica — we cannot do what we do without the financial support of our donors or the expertise of our partners.

Discussing issues with the land
Discussing issues with the land
Eggplant harvest
Eggplant harvest

Nathan Rwabulemba, Executive director of our Uganda partner organization TAPA says the possibility of creating a prosperous community with improved standards of living is his inspiration. Below is a recent report summary shared by Nathan.

“TAPA has supported individual women and women’s groups in economic strengthening since the inception of the organisation.  We reach women through mobilization and organising group formation of Village saving and Loaning associations (VS&LA), supporting women with domestic animals for income generation, supporting backyard gardens and small farms run by women. Our main goal is to improve the nutrition of children and other family members,  women empowerments on their rights to reduce gender-based violence. Most of these women are caretakers of HIV/AIDS orphans that have been denied and ostracised by their communities. These women are all recipients of SPI seeds. The seeds and the Training provided by TAPA Agronomists has improved many lives and livelihoods.

We are aiming to support the orphans and other vulnerable children and their families through approaches that address their livelihood, mainly vegetable gardening. We also provide Agricultural training alongside other training topics, like child protection and rights, and the rights of their caregivers; plus sensitisation and mobilisation activities to improve incomes in the households that these marginalised and vulnerable people live in. In addition, TAPA is providing psychosocial support and hope to some sections of the community where it operates, which are hard-hit by the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic through comprehensive social and health care in Kyegegwa District.

TAPA is also implementing an education improvement project guided by integrated community-based strategies; by putting up structures for teaching and learning to take place; amidst realistic and motivating socio-community environments. Some school structures have been set up, although the buildings are not enough to meet the desired targets.

TAPA is currently working in Kyegegwa district with 9 sub-counties, 42 parishes, 551 villages. The increase in SPI seeds for us will allow us to reach more people than we have in the past years. Thank you for your support and caring about the people of Kyegegwa.”

It is because of your support that we are able to reach this marginalized community of people in Uganda. Thank you.

Open air classroom, meeting women where they are.
Open air classroom, meeting women where they are.
Open air classroom, meeting women where they are.
Open air classroom, meeting women where they are.
Field visit
Field visit
Women Working in the School Garden
Women Working in the School Garden

A typical woman in Liberia has a lot of work on her plate in addition to the work of managing her household. And to be clear, this is work, often unpaid and unacknowledged — gathering firewood, fetching water, cooking, hand washing clothes, and taking care of family members. Household work can be a huge burden that limits a woman’s ability to take on paid employment or broaden her skills through training and education.

In Liberia, much like many other developing countries around the world, large gender gaps impair women's ability to provide for themselves and their families. Even though the number of hungry people has declined worldwide in the last decade, it remains unacceptably high in places like Liberia. REAP is working hard to change the narrative for Bentol City.

“Women frequently achieve lower productivity than male farmers because they do not have access to the same resources. From the beginning, our goal has been to identify locally available interventions that will improve and increase the productivity of all our program participants.” — REAP founder Christine Norman

A long-term SPI partner in Liberia, REAP (Restoration of Education Advancement Programs), understands the vital importance of the work women accomplish in their communities — both paid and unpaid. REAP’s Women’s Empowerment Program supports women who are taking charge of their own economic advancement through gardening and education, while also accomplishing their daily household work and familial responsibilities.

This program provides women and their children with a supportive space where they can learn, grow a livelihood, and improve the lives of their families. Specifically, the program strengthens the value chains for vegetables and other food these farmers grow in their gardens. Offering agricultural and business training, women farmers put theory into practice using vegetables they grow in the school’s garden. As of early summer, their focus was on potatoes, cassava, okra, and eggplant.

Not all the vegetables stay in the garden or with the families. Women apply business skills they learn, like processing, packaging, labeling, and pricing, by selling vegetables at the local outdoor market and roadside stalls, and by supplying local supermarkets. Besides topics offered by the school, REAP partners with the Ministry of Commerce to offer additional training on marketing, branding, labeling, and pricing. What a fantastic way to connect their hard work to the cash economy market!

REAP and Mayor Christine Norman have made significant progress in their efforts to keep women in the community engaged and involved as a way to eliminate hunger and disease. They’re always looking for new relationships and resources to enrich their programs, and we’re always excited to hear about their new connections.

Your support helps to make these programs possible. Thank you!

Working the Garden
Working the Garden
Rouse helps organize an Ixil community of women.
Rouse helps organize an Ixil community of women.

When we discuss SPI programs, we talk a lot about livelihoods. So, what is a livelihood? A livelihood encompasses the capabilities, assets, and strategies that people use to make a living. And a productive livelihood is an important part of our social, emotional, and economic well-being.

At their core, SPI programs provide access to resources so people can grow food and establish a productive livelihood. We join with women's gardening efforts in the most impoverished countries worldwide by providing top-quality vegetable seeds and locally-driven support through programs that provide them with a path to empowerment, income, and nutrition.

One such partnership is our new women’s empowerment initiative in Chajul, Guatemala. Tucked away in the highlands of western Guatemala, the small but vibrant Ixil community of Chajul was devastated by a 36-year civil war. Many indigenous Guatemalan women who survived the horrific violence are living with the trauma of losing family members, friends, and neighbors — just one legacy of the country’s civil war.

SPI’s gardening program in Chajul provides resources and training for women to create and maintain backyard gardens. Gardening provides opportunities for these women to participate in the restoration and strengthening of their local economy, and simultaneously provides fresh, nutritious vegetables for their families. Gardening also provides an ideal space for psychosocial recovery from the long-term trauma of war. In other words, this partnership program offers all the right components for a successful and productive livelihood.

“The biggest benefit from the garden is that families get to eat fresh vegetables at home that are full of nutrients.” — Rouse, Chajul Area Program Coordinator

Limited access to resources is not the only barrier to livelihoods. Illiteracy is a significant hurdle for most participants. It prevents them from advocating for themselves or gaining access to key resources, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Many of the women are the main source of livelihood for their families, but limited access to information and key resources hinders their efforts to fortify their livelihoods.

With the help of our in-country Program Coordinator, Rouse Ramirez, women in the Chajul area are organizing themselves to support each other and overcome these common barriers. Rouse visits with women in their homes to ensure they don’t fall behind or miss out on group activities due to family obligations. When a group member isn’t able to access a community resource, Rouse brings the access to her! This community is a compelling model of women empowering women, and themselves.

While women in this community don’t have easy access to literacy and other education, they are beginning to partner with other women’s groups to exchange for access to education and vocational training. Mothers in the group share the dream that their children will have the educational opportunities they did not, and together they are realizing that dream. This program is just starting, so we’ll share more as it develops.

Thank you for your continued support of these empowering programs!

Demonstration garden at partner sister site.
Demonstration garden at partner sister site.
Sister site potential future gardener and husband.
Sister site potential future gardener and husband.

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Organization Information

Seed Programs International

Location: Asheville, NC - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Peter Marks
Asheville, NC United States

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