Newsletter November 2006

It may be the first anniversary of the Teach A Man To Fish newsletter, but we're still working hard to make it better each time.

In this issue there's news of a school in Benin, West Africa, that's growing entrepreneurs, plus a couple of guest articles - from the amazing Philippino fungus Trichoderma; to a dissection of the real causes of rural poverty in Latin America. Read on...

  • Incubating Rural Entrepreneurs in Benin
  • Micro-Grant Competition - Extension of Deadline
  • Viewpoint: Identifying the Real Causes of Rural Poverty
  • Agricultural Spotlight: Rapid Compost for Faster Cash
  • Piglet Pilot – A Micro-Project in Ghana
  • Developing our Network
  • Teach A Man To Fish joins the Trade Justice Movement

Incubating Rural Entrepreneurs in Benin

How a school is smoothing the transition from learning to earning by cultivating fledgling student businesses.

Growing CabbagesNo matter how good a school’s training program is, starting out in business will always be a major step for any budding entrepreneur. The Songhai Centre in Benin, West Africa, has however developed an effective technique for bridging this divide between studying and ‘going it alone’.

At Songhai the basic 18 month agricultural and business management training course is only the first step in gaining a coveted Certificate in Rural Entrepreneurship. The second ‘application’ step is where this learning is really put to the test.

Working in teams of three or four, students draw up and implement genuine business plans targeting profitability within nine months. After assessing the quality of their proposals Songhai provides the land and credit needed to put these plans into action.

Ongoing assessment, mentoring and technical support help keep things on track; but ultimately success or failure is entirely dependent on the students themselves. Receiving a certificate however is only part of the students’ incentive to make their plans work. To keep things interesting, any profit made by their businesses is theirs to keep.

For the students, the capital and confidence that they gain from this experience helps put them on the first rung of the ladder to entrepreneurial success. For Songhai, profits on the loans are ploughed back into the program, but the big reward, is the certainty that their graduates leave equipped to thrive in the real world.

Micro-Grant Competition - Extension of Deadline

An extended chance for newsletter readers to enter the Schools for Rural Entrepreneurs micro-grant competition.

Chicken CoopWhenever we visit schools and education programs in developing countries we’re constantly amazed by the number of great ideas we encounter for school-based businesses which have a clear educational value.

Knowing how hard it can be for institutions to find start-up funding for these kinds of initiatives, we launched the Teach A Man To Fish ‘Schools for Rural Entrepreneurs’ micro-grant competition in October.

From chickens and pigs, to African groundhogs and snail farming, we’ve seen a flood of entries from all over Africa, Asia, and South America.

Just in case you missed out on the launch however, we’re giving newsletter readers and their contacts an extra chance to enter by extending the deadline for Round 1 one-page concept notes till the 22nd November.

Full details and application forms can be accessed via the competition website – click here

Viewpoint: Identifying the Real Causes of Rural Poverty
article by Polan Lacki, translated from original Spanish by Andrea Mulei

It is deplorable that in Latin America we have wasted more than 50 years misidentifying the causes of rural problems and telling farmers that external factors are really to blame.

The underperformance of agriculture in the developing world is often blamed on ‘external enemies’ such as the rulings of the WTO, unfair subsidization and market protectionism. Before attributing the fault to third parties however, shouldn’t we first ‘take care of our own back yard’, and deal with our ‘internal enemies’?

Latin American CowsWhat is needed is a rural educational system that provides rural families with the knowledge and skills to correct internal deficiencies such as those below.

Diversification of production
Many farmers still practice mono or bi-cultivation. These generate income only once or twice a year, thereby increasing farmers’ dependence on credit. If farmers diversified their agricultural production, they would be able to feed their family all year round, and reduce not only their dependency on credit, but their vulnerability to external factors (climate etc.). 

Increasing the value of produce
The poorest rural farmers often produce items of low economic value for consumption by low income urban residents. Even if high yields could be obtained through efficient production, these would generate very limited revenue. Farmers need to be trained to produce items of greater economic value; to move from ‘selling a lot and earning a little to ‘selling a little and earning a lot

Improving co-operation between farmers
Farmers reduce their earnings by buying and selling as individuals. The result is that when purchasing supplies farmers pay a retail price with high added value; yet they sell their products at wholesale, without added value. If farmers were taught how to work together they could reverse this situation - reducing the power of buyers and middlemen to dictate prices.

It is not worth losing more time seeking answers in Brussels, in Geneva, in Washington, or in Tokyo. Instead of exaggerating the importance of external factors to the point of "paralysis", there is an urgent need for profound reform of the rural education system - something even the most impoverished of governments are capable of.

The full version of this article, along with several other pieces by Polan Lacki can be found here

Agricultural Spotlight: Rapid Compost for Faster Cash

article by Michael Bengwayan

How farmers in the Philippines are using a fungus-enriched compost to increase earnings.

Composting in the PhilippinesIn many less-developed countries farmers use compost to cut down on the cost of fertilizers. But composting normally takes three to four months, a long time especially for marginal and hand-to-mouth subsistence farmers.

There is however a way to compost in only a month’s time - by using Trichoderma harzianum Rifai. This cellulose decomposer fungus isolated from soil in Mount Makling in the Philippines, is already helping many Filipino farmers to compost faster and earn more. It’s a technology that could benefit other poor farmers in the world as well.

How it works
The fungus is cultured in sterile sawdust mixed with leaves to produce compost fungus activator (CFA), which is then broadcast over a pile of rice straw or other plant residues.

The activator increases the population of microbial cellulose decomposers. If the compost pile has adequate moisture content, enough Vegetable Gardensnitrogenous materials and good aeration, these microorganisms multiply rapidly. The increase in the population of microorganisms raises the temperature inside the compost heap, which in turn hastens the decomposition process. The composting period is shortened to just four weeks.

The results
The experiences of the Filipino NGO PINE TREE show that composting with Trichoderma has enabled many farmers to earn more and harvest safer organic vegetables. Farmers earn not just from improved harvests, but can also benefit from selling Trichoderma compost to other farmers.

Yield increases of up to 21%, combined with cost-savings from not buying chemical fertilizers, translate into typical increases in income of USD $300 a year. For marginal farmers in the Philippines, where many workers barely eke out a $4-a-day, this could cover the cost of a year's tuition fee for a child in college, or up to five years’ worth of medical insurance!

To view the full article which contains detailed instructions on how to prepare Trichoderma compost – click here

Piglet Pilot – A Micro-Project in Ghana

There’s a saying that ‘great oaks from small acorns grow’. Our piglet project in Ghana aims to prove this true.

Thanks to the support of a few generous individuals we’ve been able to help sponsor a tiny piggery at The Leadership School for Practical Agriculture (LESPA) based outside Kumasi.

They may only be starting with a few animals, but the school will now be able to teach pig-rearing as a valuable skill to its students and use the additional income to help expand its facilities.

We’ll bring you more on this project and its progress in the coming year.

Developing our Network

The Teach A Man To Fish Network has grown rapidly in the last few months to over 250 members from around 50 countries. Members include academics, agricultural experts, schools, grass roots NGOs, international NGOs, and individuals who’re passionate about development and education.

This vast range of experience offers a great opportunity for members to share ideas and lessons learned, and to get answers on their tricky technical questions. Over the next few months we’ll be putting in place a range of online services to facilitate these member-member communications.

Watch this web-space!

Teach A Man To Fish joins the Trade Justice Movement

The Trade Justice Movement is a UK-based group of over 80 organizations committed to campaigning for trade justice.  

Trade rules have a huge effect on small-holders in the developing world yet they are often geared to benefit the rich and powerful. For Teach A Man To Fish to maximize its impact in agricultural education we need international trade to work in the favour of poorer farmers in developing countries, and not against them.

The internet has opened up whole new ways to campaign for Trade Justice online. We’d like you to be a part of it – more soon!

Link of the Month

The Timbuktu Chronicles is an excellent blog that highlights the best of entrepreneurship and innovative technology in Africa.

Run by a New York based African with a sharp eye for an interesting story, it's constantly updated, and offers a virtual one-stop shop for information on how Africa can, and is, solving it's own problems. To visit it now, click here…

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