This is Mandela. He is from one of MEDA KFPs – key facilitating partners – a fancy name for the local organizations that provide the bulk of the interface and training between MEDA and their clients.
MEDA does extensive research to identify projects and their local partners.
But this is what Catherine Sobrevega, MEDA country project manager for GROW, said when she described MEDA's original plan for the project: “They said it would never work! Why? Africans were used to all the nonprofits giving them things – they wouldn't participate if we didn't give them something. MEDA actually scaled back their program due to the local partners’ concerns.”
How often we think that because we have always done it one way – a hand out – that people don't really just need a helping hand.
But now that KFP, Pronet, is MEDA's biggest promoter. It has changed how they view their work. They praise the model of lending/finance and entrepreneurship over giving. They have seen that this is a more sustainable model and seen – in a relatively short time – the women are more independent, more confident, seen as more important in their villages, have increased income that they have channeled into healthier futures for themselves and their children.
And in the villages they dance with joy. We were honored again and again with music and dance and clapping and singing. We were thanked for coming to see them and for being supporters. And we brought Mary Fehr and Sarah French, who cycled across Canada last summer as part of Bike to GROW to raise money for them and other women like them in the GROW project.
Ma-ion Akosie is a lead farmer in the far northwest corner of Ghana participating in MEDA’s GROW project. A couple of years ago her husband died, leaving her and her six children to support themselves. This past year she grew nine 50-kg bags of soybeans despite poor rainfall. She is excited because even with a poor growing season, she achieved her best year ever using the right seeds, inputs, and technical assistance. She desires to give her kids the opportunity to become educated and sees her participation in GROW as the best way to achieve that. She is in the process of selling her soybeans and despite already receiving an offer to sell them at a good rate, she is exploring her options with other potential buyers as well.
This is Mary Babele from Tendoma, one of GROW’s lead farmers. Is there any question that this woman is confident? Look at her stance. Not only is she a lead farmer – she is a Ghana soybean farmer of the year!
Here is a common lead farmer story: As it is her husband’s land, she has to ask for half an acre. When she does well, she asks for one acre, then three, and now is aiming for 10, then 30!
Dayi first won a district soya farmer award, and she received a bicycle and tools that she needed for her farm. Then she won soya farmer of the year! Not only did she earn the bike and tools, but she won a cell phone that makes it easier to coordinate with her other farmers.
She also won money. And as we hear over and over, the money that she earns she brings back to her village and family: Her children can go to school, the family can afford better food, she can work more with her other farmers. And of course she brings pride to her family and village. And this is how the sustainable model of MEDA grows.
This group of a village’s lead farmers don’t have to be coaxed to come forward!
The upper Wa Valley, where GROW works, has over 1,000 lead farmers. Some were chosen for their farming/leadership ability; some came forward when they heard of an opportunity to do something new.
They all have similar stories: They started small and their success grew. These lead farmers each have a group of 15-30 other women farmers that 'report' to them. The program already reaches over 20,000 women farmers. Thanks to them and their local partners and MEDA, they can now see:
- that soya is better for the soil,
- that soya is more nutritious than maize,
- that an acre field of soya creates a larger yield than the same acre of maize,
- and that this extra production allows them to have some for their families and some to sell.
Through MEDA and their local partners:
- They have been taught better ways to plant and grow the soya.
- They have been taught many new nutritious ways to prepare the soya for their families, which provides a marked improvement in their diets.
- They have learned about value chains – understanding that they can't just grow their crops but need sustainable ways to sell and market them. MEDA has created incentives/loans to local people who want to 'risk' becoming entrepreneurs as well.
One man has begun a soy milk processing plant; other women have been growing soya seeds to sell and they are locating markets to sell their soya, and so again the sustainable chain continues to grow.