food prices over the past year have forced an estimated 100 million more people
around the world into extreme poverty.
A women's organization in Washington is responding to this disaster with
a new anti-hunger project. Its goal is to train thousands of women in
developing countries to grow crops that not only will feed their families — but
also earn a profit. Mohamed Elshinnawi
long ago, international aid agencies combated hunger in developing countries by
shipping in thousands of tons of foreign food and distributing it to the
needy. But there were unintended
downsides of such direct aid including harm to local farm economies and the
deepening of rural poverty.
most aid groups have adopted more careful strategies to fight hunger. Women for Women International is one of
them. The Washington-based humanitarian
organization teaches poor women in Sudan and Rwanda how to manage a food
production system called "commercial integrated farming."
women involved in agribusiness, I think, is really important in terms of
poverty reduction in Rwanda," says Pat Morris, Women for Women's program
says that their analysis indicates women in Rwanda "have the potential to
more than triple their income."
And she expects very similar patterns of poverty reduction in the
group's projects with women farmers in Sudan and Afghanistan.
idea behind empowering women with agricultural skills came from the women
themselves. They already knew the
importance of being able to feed and clothe and provide health care for their
families. They knew it was vital to
support their local economies. What
they needed were the skills to produce and market food more efficiently,
profitably and sustainably, often under challenging conditions.
learn a variety of business and farming skills
for Women International responded to this need by launching the Commercial Integrated
Farming Initiative (CIFI) in Rwanda.
Pat Morris says training for women in Rwanda will help them develop a
budget for their agribusiness.
will also learn skills in agricultural production such as "how to do
organic fertilizer, the best time for harvest, how to increase their yield,
what kind of seed to use."
integrated farming, producers raise livestock and a variety of crops on one
piece of land. Animal manure provides
fertilizer, and some of the crops can be used as animal feed. With the group's training, the African women
have been able to grow staple crops like bananas and sorghum alongside
higher-value crops like passion fruit and pineapples.
A typical hectare of farmland in Rwanda used
to yield $420 per year. A family using
integrated farming techniques on the same piece of land can earn as much as
$3500 per year.
for Women International has worked with a variety of partners in designing and
implementing the Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative. Grace Fisiy is an agribusiness specialist
who is working in Rwanda and Sudan to help pull together all the varied pieces
of the farming project.
with other organizations
says the land for the program is acquired through the government or local
community. "We also work hand in
hand with the ministry of agriculture in each country and other related
government departments." Local
NGOs help with training and, like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and
the UN World Food Program, they provide material and financial assistance.
says the local news media in both Sudan and Rwanda have been playing a key
role, "in getting the word out about what we are doing and…also in
sensitizing the communities concerning the activities," She
says one of their partners in Sundan is a local radio station. "And the
results have been very encouraging."
specialist Grace Fisiy predicts that at least 3000 women in Sudan and Rwanda
will be trained in the farming techniques that will boost their harvests and
speed their families' exit from poverty.
She is also hopeful the Women for Women International initiative can be
a model for other countries now enduring critical food shortages and rising poverty
— especially Afghanistan, where U.N. data show 70 percent of the Afghan
population — mostly women and young children — are now experiencing chronic