Farmers of the Future: Is it scalable?

Development projects must clear 3 major hurdles to create major transformation.  They must be successful, they must be sustainable and, if change is to be widespread, they must be scalable.

We’re pretty confident Farmers of the Future can clear the first two.  But to achieve the ultimate goal of changing how thousands of subsistence farmers think about and practice farming it must be scalable.  Thanks to the new grant from REGIS and USAID we now have the opportunity to prove if Farmers of the Future can clear this final hurdle.

For the first time, we are entering 5 villages simultaneously using realistic levels of staffing and funding.  If this effort is successful it will confirm that FOF can be scaled.  Of course, it will take tens of millions of dollars to implement the program broadly.   We’ll have to build awareness and excitement for the transformative power of Farmers of the Future.  But even if we can attract the money we need to build the technical capacity to support a major expansion.

For starters, we’ve spent the past year creating an FOF Operations Manual to guide the implementation of the program in new sites.  The manual, available in French and English, contains all the detail and valuable lessons learned from 5 years of “enlightened trial and error” to ensure a successful launch in new locations.

Second, we’ve created a technical training manual.  The FOF field technician plays a critical role in the success of the program.  He/she works closely with the women and children of the village, educating them in new ways to approach farming as a business.   Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of agricultural technicians in Niger, even fewer with a strong grounding in horticulture, and virtually none who understand how to turn a vegetable garden into a real business. 

Our technical training manual will turn people with a basic understanding of horticulture into skilled FOF technicians.  It is designed to be used in 2 ways.  First, we are developing plans for a training center where people with a background in horticulture can learn FOF techniques through classroom learning and practical experience.  The manual serves as the classroom textbook.  Second, it serves as a reference guide for technicians in the field.  It contains information on over 20 vegetables well-suited to gardening for profit, including the best varieties to use, when to plant and harvest, routine care, and how to prevent and treat common pests and diseases.  We think it will become an invaluable tool.

We’ve come a long way with Farmers of the Future, from a promising idea by a brilliant man to a field-tested program with the potential to lift tens of thousands of subsistence farmers out of poverty.  Of course, it will take many more years and resources well beyond Eliminate Poverty NOW to reach the ultimate goal.  But to paraphrase a famous Jewish scholar:  we are not required to complete the work, only to do what we can.  And we are doing all we can to bring this transformative approach to as many people as possible.

We’re extraordinarily grateful to all the supporters of Eliminate Poverty NOW and Farmers of the Future for making it possible.

Farmers of the Future: Is it sustainable?

Many development programs show improvement when outside resources pour in to create change.  But 5 years later, after all the outside influence is gone, are they still producing real benefits?  That’s the difference between temporary success and sustainable change and that’s what Farmers of the Future seeks to achieve.

When Professor Dov Pasternak first piloted Farmers of the Future a decade ago he started in Sadoré, a small village across from the research station where he worked.  The women focused primarily on grafting fruit trees and became hugely successful.  Today, years after formal assistance stopped, the village is totally transformed.  Click here to see how the women's efforts are positively impacting their lives and the lives of their families.  The women earn 4 times the average income in Niger.  Virtually all homes are upgraded, many with small refrigerators, a true luxury in a country nicknamed the Frying Pan of the Sahel.  The women are well dressed, hundreds of their children have gone on to secondary school and dozens to university. 

Sadoré is a wonderful story of sustained success, but hard to replicate given its reliance on fruit trees.  Can we create sustainable success with vegetables, a much larger market with widespread demand?

It looks like the answer is “yes,” but it’s early to tell for sure since none of our sites have been totally weaned off support and only the Leadership Academy uses the scale needed to double the average income in the country.  We’ll be closely monitoring results as support is withdrawn during 2017 and will have more to share over the coming year.  Stay tuned.

Farmers of the Future: Is it Successful?

As you read in the last post, the first “Big S” to confirm in 2017 is whether Farmers of the Future is successful.  After 5 years of pilot testing we’re confident the answer is “yes!”

Farmers of the Future is a prime example of our philosophy of “enlightened trial and error.”  We started with a powerful idea -  to change the mindset of subsistence farmers and teach them to approach farming as a business.  That objective has never changed, but almost every executional element to achieve it has.

Changing someone’s mind is no easy task.  In fact, it’s about the hardest thing you can do.  (Just watch a Democrat and Republican try to convince each other of their point of view.)  And adult men are particularly set in their ways.  That’s why we focus on women and children to create the change.  We want women in the community to earn twice the average income in Niger and their children to see farming as a good source of income. 

Initially, tree grafting was going to be the major source of income.  But the demand for fruit trees turned out to be limited.  So we shifted focus to vegetables.  That required each woman to double the plot size she was tending which in turn required a whole new approach to irrigation. 

Thanks to a grant from Rotary International we’ve created a showcase site which incorporates all these learnings.  The Leadership Academy Garden started up last fall and initial results look promising.

The program for school children also went through major change.  Our initial attempt was overly ambitious, requiring too much classroom time and too much teacher training.  So we greatly simplified the program.  Students learn by doing, working in the gardens under the supervision of FOF technicians.  Additionally, guest speakers share personal stories of how farming transformed their lives. The program is working well and many students are dreaming of making big money through farming. 

After 5 years of enlightened trial and error we’re confident we have a program that is practical and effective.  But is it sustainable?  That’s a question for our next post.

Great News for Farmers of the Future!!!

We heard in April that Farmers of the Future is receiving its largest grant ever to open five villages in a new region of Niger!!  The grant comes from REGIS (Resilience in Economic Growth in the Sahel), a major USAID-funded project, and enables us to double our reach in the country.  It also greatly increases the credibility and visibility for EPN’s signature project.

The application was submitted last September.  Since then it has gone through 4 rounds of review starting in Niger, then Washington DC, then Dakar (USAID's West African Regional Office) and finally back to Niger.  During that time, we steadily updated implementation plans to be ready to hit the ground running.  Our FOF Implementation Team has already held initial organizing meetings with members of the communities and is relocating to the new area in the next few weeks.

2017 will be the most important year in the history of Farmers of the Future.  It’s our opportunity to confirm three “Big S’s” -- is Farmers of the Future successful; is it sustainable; and is it scalable?  In our next posts, we’ll have more to say on each.

Rotary Increases Support of Farmers of the Future to $130,000!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

When John joined his local Rotary Club in Colorado they were looking for a bold international project to call their own. When John described Farmers of the Future and its goal of lifting millions of subsistence farmers out of poverty, naturally, they were excited by the challenge. The Rotary Club of Carbondale recently approved its third grant to support the expansion of Farmers of the Future. Thanks to the Rotary Club of Carbondale and their leadership in enlisting support from other clubs and from The Rotary Foundation, Rotary has now provided over $130,000 for the Farmers of the Future program.  

This latest grant is particularly exciting. We’ve been refining the Farmers of the Future concept for 5 years in a handful of villages in Niger. These pilot villages have not only been a great source of learning, they’ve also become our best vehicle to build awareness and support. We’ve had a parade of visitors over the years: government officials from Niger and neighboring countries; members of international development organizations like USAID, USADF, and the World Food Program to name just a few; agricultural specialists; academics; and more. And the universal reaction is “WOW!” They’re blown away by the progress and especially by the knowledge and commitment displayed by our women farmers.

Last year we decided to create a 5th site, a place to showcase the expertise and best practices we’ve cultivated from the pilot phase. It’s called the Leadership Academy Garden. It will be twice the size of any existing garden. The size of women’s plots will also double - as will their potential to earn sustainable income. The new site, funded entirely by Rotary, is underway and the initial crop should be ready for planting in October.



Where have you seen this picture before?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Carol Falk visited Kenya with her family and while there introduced them to Lilly and her very special school - Little Rock. During the visit Carol reunited with Theresa. Here is their story:

We held hands as we navigated the mud slick warrens on the way to her home in Kibera. The day was hot, and we shared a bottle of water as we laughed about my almost sitting on a vendor’s coffee table that I had mistaken for a bench. I was meeting Theresa for the first time. She is the sister of my first Little Rock Scholar, and I was providing her the opportunity to go to nursing school while her 2-year-old daughter was cared for at the Little Rock day care center.

This past January I returned to Kenya with my entire family and was able to spend more time with Theresa. She looked happy and healthy and her now 4-year-old daughter was thriving at the Little Rock preschool. Theresa is in her third year of nursing school and is getting very high grades despite having to rise well before dawn to prepare for each day.

With the gift of an education, I know that Theresa will achieve her goal of becoming a nurse. She will be able to move her family out of Kibera and out of poverty. My hope is she will become a productive member of society and an example of what hard work can accomplish when given a little bit of help. I am making a real difference in one person’s life. It is a small contribution, but it fills me with happiness and joy and great hope for Theresa’s future.


Youngsters seeing Little Rock for the first time!

Helen Greenberg - Monday, April 1. 2016

My name is Alex Falk. I am nine years old and I live in the U.S. I recently visited the Little Rock School. I think it is amazing how this school can bring education to their students of any age.

For example I visited a class with eighth graders. For some of them they’re here because of a physical disability. They are here because other schools may have rejected them because of their disabilities. But Little Rock is open to everyone!

I also think it’s amazing how the school makes sure nobody feels mistreated because of their looks or how they interact with other people.Seeing this school has changed my life because seeing all these kids who have barely anything at home have so much at this school.

Then there is Patrick who had this to say: Little Rock welcomes children with open arms, regardless of family situations or disabilities. Seeing these kids come out of poverty at home, eager to learn and discover, was so inspiring. It is so, so important to help children around the world get the education they deserve, and Little Rock is taking a big step for Kibera. This experience has been life changing, and I am so thankful that I got to visit the school.


Niger: A great place for EPN to work

Thursday, February 11, 2016

As I mentioned in the previous post, John will be traveling to Niger in the upcoming weeks to visit the site of the Farmers of the Future. Niger is one of the world's most challenging places to live, economically speaking. But when it comes to reducing extreme poverty, Niger is a great place for EPN to work. Here’s why.

Niger: Quick Facts 
 Population: 19,113,728 (2014 census)

Capital: Niamey

Bordered by: Nigeria, Chad, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Libya (a pretty neighborhood these days)


  •   Aïr mountains (a cooler region with altitudes over 1800 meters)
  •   Ténéré desert (where temperatures often exceed 122 F)
  •   The W National Park (home to buffalo, hippo, lions, antelope, and elephants) 
  •   The Great Mosque in Agadez (mud-architecture with 27-meter minaret)
  •   Neolithic rock engravings – some in museums, others left in remote areas

Languages: French (official government language), and 5 main local languages: Hausa, Songhai, Fula/Fulbe, Kanuri/Beri-Beri, Tamasheq/Tamajaq  

Motto: “Fraternité, Travail, Progrès” which means “Brotherhood, Work, Progress.”  

Geography & Climate

Niger is the largest country in West Africa; to give you a sense of its size, its area is just under two times that of Texas. It has one of the hottest climates in the world, and as such has been nicknamed “the frying pan of the world.” Over 80% of its land is covered by the Sahara Desert, and only 0.02% of its area is covered by water. 

People & Culture

Over 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim. Some of the people are nomadic or semi-nomadic, following ancient grazing routes.

Subsistence Farming

The vast majority of the population of Niger survives by subsistence farming, which means that they only raise enough animals and grow enough crops to meet the family's needs. Women are often left for long periods of time while their husbands look for work in town centers or graze the herds. In their absence, the women farm the land and care for children and elderly relatives.

Cattle, sheep, and goats are the main herds that graze the land, and millet, sorghum, and cow peas are important agriculturally. But when the rains are poor, people really struggle. Rainfall has been decreasing over the last 50 years and severe droughts have led to pronounced food shortages as recently as in 2005 and 2009. Agricultural experts are engineering crops that will grow quickly to take advantage of what rains do fall.

While most of the land is too dry to grow crops, Niger’s southeast and southwest corners have more fertile soil. In the southwest lies the Niger River Basin, which Niger shares with eight other countries. The Niger River supports farmers, cattle grazers, and fishermen from all these neighboring countries, and it is thus a very fragile region. In order to preserve it, they have developed one of the world’s most progressive river management systems: The Niger River Basin Authority, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the Niger River’s resources are used judiciously and that it benefits the local communities.  

Farmers of the Future

Perhaps you remember reading about our EPN Hero, Dov Pasternak?  Dov lived in Niger for 10 years and has worked with thousands of rural farmers in the country.  For all the challenges they face, Dov describes Nigeriens as some of the most kind-hearted people he has met anywhere in the world.  And Dov has seen a lot of the world! 

Farmers of the Future nurseries - Niger

Dov is the father of the Farmers of the Future project, and has developed a range of techniques to grow hardy vegetables even on severely degraded land. He’s helping Nigeriens rethink agriculture, to view it as a business and not just a means of survival. Using irrigation to grow and sell high value vegetables, farmers generate significant profits which they can use to purchase essentials and raise their standard of living. John will be visiting Niger in March along with Dov and reporting back on the progress with the Farmers of the Future program. 

The need is great in Niger, and EPN is making great gains there. Stay tuned for more! 

Niger: The worst place to live. The best place to work.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2015, when life expectancy, education, and standard of living are taken into account, Niger is pretty much the worst place to live. These dimensions are used to calculate the Human Development Index (HDI), and last year, Niger ranked dead last: 188 out of 188.1

HDI was developed in 1990 by Mahbub ul Haq, a Pakistani economist, and his team of developmental economists. At that time, monetary measures like GDP were being used to evaluate a country’s development, but many people, including these economists, found that the human element was missing from these calculations.

HDI attempts to measure the richness of human life. It gauges human opportunities and choices using calculations across three dimensions. The first is health, based on life expectancy at birth. The education dimension measures the schooling obtained by adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children. Finally, the standard of living dimension is measured by gross national income per capita. 

To put this all in perspective, consider that the 2015 report ranks the United States at number 8 and Canada at number 9.  Niger has been ranked last for 3 consecutive years, and has always been among the lowest-ranking countries in the report. 

While Niger may be the worst place to live when it comes to HDI, it is most certainly one of the best places to work when it comes to eliminating poverty. John is planning a trip to West Africa in March, where he’ll be splitting his time between Niger and Benin. In Niger, he’ll work on Farmers of the Future, and in Benin, on the Songhai Women’s Capital Fund. You can read more about these projects by following this link, and also find notes and photos from John’s travels in upcoming blog posts.

In an upcoming post we’ll look beyond Niger’s dismal HDI to explore the features of this country and point to opportunities EPN is creating there. John says it’s nicknamed “the frying pan of the Sahel” – and there’s got to be a good story behind that!

What a Year!

Friday, December 18, 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, we’d like to thank you for your generous support of EPN and your enthusiastic engagement with us online. With your help, our work is making a difference for the extreme poor in Africa on so many fronts. Here are some highlights from this year:

Farmers of the Future: 
After 4 years of testing we are nearing completion of the pilot phase in four villages and preparing to launch the optimized model in a fifth.   Over 70 women like Hamsa Kindo participate in the program along with hundreds of primary school students who learn that farming can be a good business.  Our videos of local Nigerien successes in agriculture are a huge hit and plans are under way to share them broadly around the country. 

Little Rock Scholars Program: 
In 2015, the number of students on EPN-funded scholarship expanded to 26.  The extra tutoring and mentoring program introduced last year is paying big dividends.  Eighty-five percent of our scholars are in the top half of their class; 25% are in the top 5% and one is in the top 1% of her class.  Not bad for a bunch of kids from the slums!!  And capped by a successful Giving Tuesday campaign, we will be sending another 10 students to secondary school in 2016. 

Little Rock After School Tutoring: 
This is our sixth year of funding after school tutoring at the Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre.  Currently, over 100 primary school students take advantage of the program.  We foster a love of learning and reinforce that education is the surest path out of the slums.  As students prepare for the national entrance exam to secondary school, tutors work with them intensively to maximize their odds of qualifying for an EPN scholarship.   This year’s 8th grade cohort increased by 50%. 

Songhai Women’s Capital Fund: 
The Songhai Women’s Capital Fund provides low interest loans to Songhai graduates to start their own agricultural ventures.  To date we have awarded 15 loans with 10 more to be extended in Q4 2015.  Several women are struggling to make their new ventures a success.  While it is unrealistic to expect a 100% success rate with startups, we are increasing emphasis on technical support and mentoring in these first critical years to maximize commercial success for these women pioneers. 

Lead Farmers Program: 
We completed Year 2 of a 3-year test to provide affordable technical support to rural farmers in Africa.  The test is being conducted with 5,000 farmers in Myange, Rwanda.  Farmers learn best agricultural practices and ways to maximum farm revenue.  Valuable learnings are being implemented to improve program effectiveness and farmers are seeing meaningful improvements in crop yields and income. 

Thinking of donating still this year? There's still time - take a look at our Annual Appeal. At Eliminate Poverty NOW we are proud of how hard your contribution dollars work. With your support we can touch even more lives in 2016. 

Have a wonderful holiday season - see you next year!