Last November, Rise Against Hunger began promoting a new crop in northeastern India: Moringa. While this plant sounds amazing with its high nutrient content and the possibility of harvesting every 45 days, you may wonder, just how will this new crop will lead to a community-level transformation, where families are able to eat three healthy meals each day? We chose Moringa because it is drought-resistant, grows year-round and is in-demand on the local market. In order for small-scale farmers to tap into this opportunity, we will provide training on improved cropping techniques to increase yields, and nutrition, so increased incomes translate into healthier family meals.
Even with our general approach outlined, we still have more to consider in the design of Rise Against Hunger’s Empowering Communities projects. On a recent trip to the India Sustainable Livelihoods Initiative (ISLI), we worked through five steps, below, to achieve project success.
Step 1: Understand the Community’s Culture
People in each town or region around the world have their own norms, culture and ways of organizing themselves. There are also power dynamics among different groups, whether defined by ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or something else. ISLI seeks to increase agricultural production, incomes and nutrition for people below the poverty line. Through conversations with colleagues, implementing partners and community members, I learned that certain castes traditionally do crop farming, while others raise goats. Also, women from different castes may not feel comfortable or be willing to attend public events, like nutrition training, together. This affects how the project staff form groups of learners and when they will hold training.Step 2: Consider How the Project will Affect Men and Women
Our initial focus was on the introduction of Moringa as a drought-resistant, highly nutritious crop that could be eaten at home and sold to generate income. Research has also shown that Moringa is a prime fodder for goats: Goats that are fed Moringa yield more meat of a higher quality and have more offspring. We anticipated that the Moringa farmers would begin raising goats as well, since they could feed them the leaves and stalks. When I asked about typical roles for men and women, our project implementation team informed me that goats are typically raised by women from a different social group than the (primarily male) farmers who were likely to grow Moringa. To reach men, women and people from different social groups, we have decided to provide training on both these value chains. This approach is a win-win, as the goat herders will have access to high-quality fodder and the farmers will have a market for their Moringa.
Step 3: Collaborate with Partners Who Bring Complementary Strengths
Just as many notes in harmony comprise a song, many people are necessary to a successful project. In ISLI, we collaborate with Jaiprabha Mahila Vikas Kendra, a Bihar-based nonprofit organization with 20+ years of experience, to deliver training to the farmers and goat-herders. Rise Against Hunger India has been instrumental in initiating the project, identifying Jaiprabha as an experienced partner, and ensuring that it builds upon their work in Bihar State. Market linkages are key to the profitability of Moringa, so we were lucky enough to connect with an entrepreneur who wants to buy Moringa and process it into animal fodder pellets. India’s Central Institute for Research on Goats has produced research to support the project design. The ISLI project’s two agricultural officers have also attended training at the institute, and now have strong knowledge to share with the community’s farmers.
Step 4: Create a Project Plan
Even when we assemble an amazing team of people with the skills and knowledge to create change, we have to build consensus on what we wish the change to be. One of the most powerful moments of the trip was gathering the project stakeholders (from Jaiprabha, Rise Against Hunger India, Rise Against Hunger U.S. and the Moringa processor, Sanctus Foods) to develop shared objectives and a plan for achieving them. A group of people who came from Bihar, Bangalore and the U.S., some of whom were just meeting for the first time, brainstormed, discussed, ranked options and organized their ideas into a comprehensive results framework (project impact diagram).Step 5: Get Out of the Way
Once we’ve collaborated with the relevant stakeholders to define the project’s scope, activities and objectives, and have connected them to any needed training or consultants, the best next step is to get out of the way. The in-country partner, project staff and lead farmers wield the necessary knowledge and social capital to start a transformation in their communities.