One of the most rewarding parts of my job is getting to travel and see the life-changing impact of the Clinton Development Initiative’s (CDI) work firsthand. During these trips, I’m reminded of why our work is so important. For the tens of thousands of smallholder farmers we work with, and the millions more that we hope to reach one day, farming is not just a source of food and income, it’s a way of life. And I’m reminded that, at the end of the day, what we’re doing is helping people build better lives for themselves.
This August, I visited our projects in Rwanda, Malawi, and Tanzania. Here are my notes from the field:
Our ultimate goal across all our projects is to empower smallholder farmers, which is something that is becoming more and more important as climate change and other challenges make it even harder for poor farmers to grow crops. Things are no different in Rwanda, where CDI recently expanded its program.
This season in Rwanda, we’re working with more than 20,000 farmers in five districts. Through our various outreach efforts, we’re introducing the farmers to new ways of doing things—showing them different combinations of field preparation, seed selection and planting, and use of fertilizer. As a result, farmers are able to see for themselves the health of the plants and the yields generated using the various combinations.
We have built off of the lessons we’ve learned in Malawi and Tanzania to help smallholder farmers who don’t have access to the latest cutting-edge agronomic techniques. At the same time, in Rwanda, we’re looking at building a different type of model—one where CDI’s anchor farm shares a common farm site with smallholder farmers, as opposed to the model where a larger commercial farm surrounded by smaller plots.
To apply this model, we’re working with a local farmer cooperative named Kaboku, which is in Matimba in northeast Rwanda. Visiting the region, I saw a number of areas where CDI could assist this cooperative. The land is irrigated, but over time that irrigation equipment has become more and more difficult to maintain. The farmers in the cooperative are not trained in how to take full advantage of that irrigation system. The individual farmers who are members of this cooperative each cultivate small fields within a large, 400 hectare farm site—a configuration that would work well with our anchor farm model.
We started our work in Malawi in 2006, and over the years, we’ve seen great success and growth of our work. One of our newest efforts to empower smallholder farmers has been the establishment of a community health clinic.
The clinic program started because of our interest in providing better health services to our commercial farm staff and their families. When we looked at their need for health care, we realized that there was a broad absence of basic health services in the communities in which we are working.
Instead of looking at a smaller facility that would just serve our own employees and their families, we designed and began construction on the first of what will be three large community health clinics that will be part of the Ministry of Health's district health system, which are made possible through the very generous financial support of the German government. The construction is nearly complete, equipment and supplies are on hand, and soon we will be ready to turn the clinic over to the Ministry of Health.
In Tanzania, I was able to return to Iringa, in the beautiful Southern Highlands, where our first Tanzanian Anchor Farm Project is located. President Clinton visited Iringa this past April, which was a very exciting event for the residents. I went back and met with Wazia Chawala, the farmer who showed President Clinton her farm and told him directly about the impact that CDI’s program was having on her crop yields and on her life. The memory of that visit is still powerful; Wazia says it is something that she always will remember and cherish.
We were at the tail end of the farming season, so I was able to see the results of harvesting at our Ngongwa commercial farm. We've built new facilities and renovated existing ones there, and having recognized a need for better storage for harvested crops, we are in the process of building four large storage silos that will serve the farm.
We are doing our planning now for the next farming season in Tanzania, which begins with the start of the rainy season in December. This season, we'll be expanding the Anchor Farm Project in Tanzania in two ways: on our commercial farm, we'll be expanding the number of hectares that we are cultivating there, and we’re significantly increasing the number of smallholder farmers that are in our training and outreach programs.
One of the interesting things going on at the Ngongwa commercial farm is that a local NGO has been renovating some of the older buildings to use as an agricultural training center for young Tanzanians. On this visit, I met with the leaders of that local organization to talk about their progress and to offer suggestions on how CDI can partner and collaborate with them to help provide training, curriculum, and instruction for their students. We’re also exploring opportunities for their students to get placement as interns in our smallholder farmer training program, which would be great practical experience for them.
It is always exciting for me to return to the places where CDI is working and to visit with the farm families that we are working with there. I love to walk the fields with farmers and compare the way that the fields look at the end of the harvest season with the way that they looked a year ago or two years ago. For me, to see what would otherwise look like unkempt farm fields, with dried maize stalks chopped down and covering the field—well, that’s a beautiful site. And it’s a visual indicator that farmers are practicing the climate-smart agriculture techniques that we’ve taught them. With more and more farmers adopting these practices, we know they are going to create dramatic improvements in their yields, their incomes, and the lives of their families. Helping smallholder farmers live their best life stories is at the core of what we're trying to do and why I love doing it.