Thursday, February 18, 2010

Millennium Promise Video

Dear All -

Here is a beautiful 2 minute video about Millennium Promise. It's very well done. Hope you enjoy it.

Love, Judy

Monday, February 15, 2010

What can YOU do?

Dear Friends,

Remember two years ago? John and I came back from Africa and asked if anybody knew an expert in Israeli water technology that we could talk to about partnering with the Millennium Villages Project. Not only did several people have good contacts, Rabbi Silverstein was able to put us in touch with Alon Tal, who put us in touch with MASHAV, who created a month-long course at Hebrew University for the agricultural and water coordinators of the Project. Amazing.

This time we have lots of projects we'd like you to think about. I'm hoping that you will see a need that speaks to you, and suggests a way for you to connect people you know to villagers in Africa. Because by connecting them, you make all our lives better.

Certainly, financial support is important. But this letter is about something different. I'm asking you to look into your Rolodex, and use every skill and gift at your disposal to think about connecting the villages with partners who can help them. Some villages need products, some need knowhow, some need markets. The people and organizations who will want to partner with them will already be ethically motivated; i.e., they already believe that supporting small farmers in developing countries is part of their mission. They could be in the US, Europe, Asia - anywhere! I give several very specific needs below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you brainstorm a bit, I'm sure you'll come up with other ideas. Please feel free to email or call if you want to talk through any of them.

There are many good causes, and a global issue like extreme poverty can seem overwhelming. But no one has to save the world alone. You don't have to do it all. You can do the research to find out the decision maker in a company and we can make the phone call.

Together we are enormously powerful. I'm a big believer that there are really very few degrees of separation. With all of you putting your minds to it - as much as you feel comfortable doing - I know we can change the world.


Judy and John

Can you connect the Millennium Villages Project with . . .

. . . to help move these projects forward?

§ Food manufacturers and retailers (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Starbucks, etc.)

§ Fruit juice and tea companies

§ Cosmetic companies (L’Oreal, etc.)

§ Health and beauty aid companies

§ Hibiscus. Some of the villages are getting good crops (often organic) of a variety of hibiscus whose flower is used in teas and fruit juices.

§ Dried mangoes and dried pineapples. There are so many mangos - fantastic ones - that just rot on the ground for lack of markets to sell them to. Uganda has an equally impressive crop of pineapples.

§ Shea. Used in cosmetics and soaps.

§ Market bags. Women in the villages could sew bags which would then be sold in supermarkets.

Seed companies to partner or provide product

Seeds and/or capability for seed production and dissemination. Production and dissemination of high quality seed is a major limiting factor in farmers’ being able to improve their yields. Particularly useful would be fruit and horticulture seed that is well suited to these climates.

Film maker

Documentary about Dov Pasternak. His work is so amazing that the rest of the world should know about it!

People or organizations with expertise in manufacturing inexpensive solar cookers, and providing micro loans for their purchase

Solar cookers provide environmentally clean cooking and reduce deforestation.

Companies or grantor organizations interested in supporting technical/vocational education

Vocational training (examples: making clay pots, solar cookers, etc.; fence repair; irrigation pump maintenance; nurseries for seed production and propagation of trees and plants; tailoring). Build training centers, supply equipment (sewing machines, power tools, etc.), teachers and curriculum.

Companies or grantor organizations interested in funding children’s education and nutrition

§ Fortified milk. Local dairying could be expanded to supply milk to schoolchildren.

§ Dov Pasternak's Farmers of the Future. $10,000 would fund one site at the village of Sadore.

Educational institutions with business programs (Northeastern work study, MBA programs, other)

Source for design assistance (FIT, RISDE, etc.)

§ Interns to work on developing business plans for local African opportunities

§ Design market bags for sale in supermarkets. Bags should be unique, attractive and cleverly designed so they will sell well in supermarkets.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Millennium Villages Project - The Sequel

(Written by John, typed by Judy)

Dear All,

Once again, Judy has done a fantastic job of documenting our trip and sharing learnings as we go. This time she's really outdone herself. Her emails have been extremely well-written, insightful and entertaining. And she pounded them out with two thumbs on her Blackberry. A real labor of love and I know we all appreciate her extraordinary effort. (Judy: so sweet of you to say. You're very welcome.)

In addition to my photos, which I'll edit down and post on Flickr in the next week or two, I'd like to share a broader perspective on what's happening with the Millennium Villages Project. MVP is reaching an important milestone (5 years in the field), taking stock of its performance to date and adjusting strategy going forward.

A quick refresher. The Millennium Villages Project was established in 2004 to demonstrate that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are, in fact, achievable. The MDGs are eight goals designed to create a better and more equitable world for all. They include eliminating extreme poverty, drastically reducing deaths from preventable diseases (such as malaria and HIV/AIDS), providing universal primary education for children and ensuring gender equality for women.

The MVP "model" combines an integrated approach to rural development (simultaneously tackling challenges in healthcare, education, economic development and infrastructure) with full involvement and ownership by the local community. The premise is that by applying proven best practices within an affordable budget over a 5 year period, the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved.

A total of 80 villages in 10 African countries participate in the Project. These villages are located in remote rural areas, typical of the areas where most of the extreme poor reside. Some villages have only been in the program for two or three years, but several are approaching or completing their 5th anniversary.

And the results? Mission partially accomplished. The most dramatic improvements have come in the areas of health care and education; Judy has already shared some of the impressive results in these areas in several of her emails.

In infrastructure, projects have focused on access to safe drinking water, improved road access and telelcommunications availability, with good progress on all fronts. In agriculture the emphasis has been on "food security," a euphemistic way of saying ensuring people don't starve to death. Again, good progress. Improved seed and proper
fertilizer have doubled or tripled yields of traditional subsistence crops.

All reasons to feel very good. But- - - true success only comes if the improvements are sustainable, and the villages are still far from being self-sustaining. And even doubling or tripling the yields of traditional crops is a long way from building a solid economic base from which to permanently escape extreme poverty. Among the key
reasons for this are the extremely small land holding sizes and complete dependance on rain fed agriculture.

So, turns out it takes more than 5 years to change the world. Who knew! The Project has started to map out the strategy for years 6-10. Think of it as Millennium Villages Project: The Sequel. The major shift will be an increased focus on economic development, exactly the area that Judy and I have been most concerned about.

The economic model emerging is to use agriculture as the economic engine, turning agriculture into income-producing agribusiness and then layering additional non-agricultural opportunities (think of Judy's email on sewing) on top. Sounds simple. It's not. But for the first time, significant energy is being put into figuring it out - - identifying the right opportunities,
lining up the money and people to drive it within the villages and identifying business partners who can connect the villages to regional, national and international markets. The women's garden in Mali is one small building block in what we hope will become a major foundation for economic development.

Judy and I have been keeping track of various opportunities over the course of our trip. We'll send out one last email with a list of things you can do if you're interested.

Love to all,


Bonus Material - The DePat Palace Hotel sets a new standard in lodging

Dear friends and family,

Lest you think all is coming up roses in Ghana, I wanted to share with you our experiences at the hotel near the cluster.

Lauren is all about "managing expectations" on this trip, and she has been lowering expectations about this hotel for months now. Actually, the De Pat is no worse than the Nomad Palace in Garissa, Kenya near the Somali border, just remarkable in its own way.

The day in Bonsaaso, Ghana had been great, but we were all hot and sticky, and in sore need of a shower and a cold beer.

How does the nursery rhyme go? The king told the queen and the queen told the dairymaid - everybody knows that I am not a fussy man; all I really want is some butter for my bread.

None of us are fussy people. But the rooms were a bit of a disappointment. Wendy's had "disco lights" - you know, pulsing fluorescent ones - and a broken window with no screen. Her air conditioning worked, but too well. She slept in all her clothes, and her morning shower had no hot water. One of the jalousie windows in our room had glass slats falling out and - like Wendy's - could not be closed.

Lauren thought she won the prize for worst room. In her bathroom she found a previously used soap and 3 used toothbrushes. Reception clerk: "Didn't you know you can use soap more than once?" Lauren: "Yes, if I'm the one who used it before!"

Our room had only two lights, overhead fluorescent fixtures (not disco!) But only one (approx 60w) was working. Judy: "Can you fix that light?" Reception clerk: "No, that's why the working one is so bright."

Our room - and Ashley's had a non-functioning toilet - but in both cases the person who used it last didn't realize that. Probably that's why the bathroom window was open.

Worst of all, the bar was unattended and the beer fridge was locked! I got a little crabby at that point and told the reception clerk that if he coudn't fix our toilet, he needed to change our room. (I later apologized to the reception clerk.)

Two Guinnesses and a new room later all was well: this toilet was not broken, just flush- challenged, there was one working overhead 25w fixture- a WORKING AIR CONDITIONER - no broken windows! Interestingly, there was a makeshift shower rod with rings but no curtain. There was no hot water but the cool water felt like showering outside by the pool.

When we got back outside, the beer had been liberated and people were waiting for dinner to be served. At that point, they had been waiting an hour or so, and I was deputed to check things out in the kitchen.

A little background: we seem to be the only guests at this hotel. We had come down to the restaurant when we first arrived. It did not seem to be operating. It was pitch black, and pots and pans were strewn all over the kitchen floor because the few counters were piled high with various utensils and ingredients. Agnes, the young woman we found there seemed startled to see us. When she asked what we would like to eat Lauren said, "What do you mean "eat"? I don't see any food here!"

With Rafael's help, we were able to determine that she could make white rice, fried rice and vegetables with rice. It took a little while longer, but then it turned out that she could also prepare chicken, fish and eggs.

So back to our hungry group waiting up near the pool an hour later (did I mention the slightly scummy pool with the bullfrogs?). When I went down to check on the delay, I found Agnes and another young woman dashing madly around the hot kitchen, trying to turn out the 8 meals on a 5 burner gas stove. The fish and rice were done, vegetables were chopped, and chicken was frying.

I offered to help, and was delighted when they accepted my offer. Especially since it meant I could have some input into how our meal was prepared. It still took another half hour, but it was fun for me. You know, people pay lots of money in fancy hotels to take cooking lessons and prepare their own food. I got a bargain.

Breakfast this morning was not a repeat of dinner: there was no rush because one of our cars had developed a flat tire. But we did get to see other quirky operating practices of the restaurant. There were no plates and only one set of silverware for the 8 of us to share (last night's mess was piled on the kitchen floor, so maybe that's where the plates and silverware were). The sugar bowl held 5 sugar cubes and the first thing that came to the table was a plate of salt and pepper. While we were discussing how to share this meal equitably, Agnes brought out toast and rolled up fried eggs. Luckily, I still have plenty of peanut butter.

Meanwhile, the reception clerk kept repeating to Lauren, "You're going to pay your bill. You're going to pay your bill."

As we left the hotel, our driver Agbeko's tape of "Praise the Lord" said it all.


ps. Rafael says he is planning to bring me back vicuna yarn from Ecuador next August! I win!


Ghana and Conclusions

Dear All,

Ghana is very different from any other place we have been in Africa. To begin with, the south central region we are in is hot and humid. From the airport in Accra to the Cape Coast (where the Elmina Bay resort was) to Kumasi city to the Millennium Village cluster in Bonsaaso is incredibly lush tropical rain forest. Much of it is under cultivation, with many small family farms growing palm fruit (for palm oil), cocoa, plaintain and citrus trees. Everywhere you look, you see green. The color is such a treat for my eyes, which have been so hungry for green.

This part of Ghana is primarily Christian, while the other countries we have visited this trip are predominantly Muslim. There are many churches and only the occasional mosque. Vehicles and businesses have religious slogans. For example, one mini bus sported "psalm 23," another "psalm 91"; on a dump truck "God is one"; Christ the King Computer Services, El Shaddai Car Parts. I am not making this up.

This country has plenty of water for cash and food crops, although poor people generally don't have access to clean drinking water. The roads into the rural areas are terrible, so the rural poor have not had access to market for their valuable cocoa (or less valuable other) crops. Ghana has natural resources, including gold (near Bonsaaso) and oil recently discovered offshore. In addition, Ghana has a more progressive and stable government than we have seen elsewhere. They have held elections where power was transferred peacefully. The government has organized a system which guarantees that the Ghanaian farmer can sell every cocoa bean he can grow, at a price that can lift him out of extreme poverty.

The government is building roads and schools, and pays young people for a year of national service. It also pays for a network of community health workers. These networks exist in other countries we have visited, but have traditionally been staffed by volunteers. Ghana also has laws which empower women. Women are able to inherit land, and do not lose it to their husband when they marry.

However, the country's roads are still a major obstacle to development. Villages are spread out and the roads are terrible It takes forever to go any distance, and in the rainy season villagea can be cut off for months at a time. Now, in the dry season, roads are just dry red dust, so thick that sometimes you can't see and have to stop driving until the dust settles. Car windows are thick with dust. Many people smile and wave as we pass, but I feel bad about the enormous cloud of dust we have kicked up that they are breathing.

Our group has expanded by two: Charlotte from UBI, a potential MVP partner, and Rafael a wonderful young man (have you noticed how so many people get labeled "young" in these letters? Is it me or is it the people I'm meeting?) from Ecuador who works for MVP as agriculture and business development specialist for West and Central Africa.

According to Rafael, Ghana is probably going to be the only sub-Saharan country to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Last year it met goal #1- halving the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1/day). And in the village cluster we saw so many examples of other mdg's achieved or nearly achieved by the Millennium Villages Project.

We visited one of the health centers built by the Millennium Village Project. Here's an amazing statistic: there have been no maternal deaths in the cluster during childbirth since the project started 3 years ago! Paid community health workers register each pregnancy. They make sure each pregnant mother gets all prenatal care, vitamins, etc. Higher risk pregnancies are identified ahead of time and - before their due date - are sent to the clinic where the doctor is. A midwife attends the majority of women in the village clinic, but goes to the home if a woman cannot get to her. The project has brought in two ambulances, and its partnership with Ericsson and Zain (a local cell network) has made cell service generally available. So people can call or get to a clinic if there are problems. And the average birthweight is 8.4 lbs!

We visited a grain storage building built by the project and spoke with 4 women farmers. They told us the money they earn will go for their children's education. Actually, they probably meant their grandchildren's education. All are grandmothers, all in their 40's.

We met the area chief at an elaborate ceremony in his palace, a cement home built around a central courtyard. First, we went through a receiving line, shaking hands with the chief and the leaders he had assembled (they were all seated). Then we sat and they walked past us and shook our hands. After some speeches and a prayer, gifts were exchanged. Actually, they gave us 2 bottles of schnapps, and then they took them back. One of the leaders (the official taster?) opened the schnapps, poured some into a glass, and then poured it on the ground. An offering, we think. Finally, the glass was passed for us all to partake if we chose. Isn't that a nice way to start a meeting?

We saw cocoa growing - very cool. The tree is taller than I expected - about the size of a medium-sized apple tree. The cocoa pods, which look sort of like large papayas, sprout off the trunk of the tree.

Palm fruit is the other major crop here. We watched a truck being loaded with the large clusters studded with palmfruit. The project had helped the village get access to this truck, which picks up palmfruit every 2 weeks and carries it to market in Kumasi, eliminating the middlemen who would strip the farmers of nearly all their profit.

Then a dynamic village woman joined our discussion. Most people here do not seem to be uncomfortable in the very high heat and humidity. But this woman was sweating profusely. Turns out she had made two trips to her palmfruit field that morning, to pick fruit to be sent on the morning's truck. Her field is 4 miles away! She had walked 16 miles that morning, 8 with large baskets of palmfruit on her head. No wonder she was sweating.

But even though villagers pick as much as they can, at a terrible toll on their bodies, they are only able to pick half the palmfruit by hand. Half will be left in the field. Rustom suggested that the project help the village acquire carts to carry larger quantities back from the fields. The woman responded that the villagers would be quick to widen the footpaths to accommodate such carts.

Later we visited a computer lab in one of the villages. About 40 4th graders crowded into the room (two to a seat with some standing) and waited their turn to get to use the 6 computers. The computers are available to the adults at night.

Our last stop was the school feeding center. Eight thousand children have their largest meal of the day at school, which has had an enormous impact on school attendance and children's ability to learn.


In all the villages we visited, we found people's lives greatly improved by the interventions of the MVP. But the pace of change is not nearly fast enough, and often it is difficult to visualize how the gap will be bridged between what the project shows is possible and the facts on the ground.

Ghana gives me so much hope. With its plentiful water, natural resources and its responsible governance, it is so much easier to see how the achievements in the Millennium Village cluster here can show the way to real change.

People in Africa

Dear All,

I'm writing this from my room at the Elmina Bay resort on the Atlantic coast in Ghana. All nine 4-room buildings are right on a pristine sandy beach fringed with coconut palms. The waves break quite a ways out, and then continue breaking all the way to the shore. The spot is totally secluded, apart from a few fishing boats (sail- or oar-powered - I haven't seen any motor boats) out past the breakers. Mom, you would love the setting. The resort has been open less than a year and it is lovely. The rooms are all non-smoking, nicely but simply furnished, with wifi access, tv, etc. The owner is a gracious, pleasant man. His staff are all young, friendly, anxious to be helpful and enthusiastic about the environmental consciousness of the hotel. And the food is delicious. I could stand a tad less humidity, but otherwise the place is perfect.

The makeup of our group has changed. We lost Sabrina :( as she had to return to work Monday. Sabrina, we miss you and talk of you often. However, we have been joined by Ashley, who is also wonderful. Ashley is the corporate counsel for Millennium Promise, but that is only one of the three-plus jobs she does for them.

John and I are so impressed with the people who do African development work. Ashley is a case in point - so passionate about helping people that she chooses to leave a big law firm in order to do it all the time, rather than do periodic pro bono projects. And I do mean all the time. Rustom and Lauren have spent each day working with us and each night working with the US by phone and email. And then there are amazing people like Dov Pasternak and most of the MVP staff, who choose to live here to be most effective. We could never do it, but John and I have the utmost respect for people who can.

For some time, I have been wanting to write to you about African people. But it's difficult to see how to do this without sounding naïve at best, or racist at worst. Of course, I understand that there are good and bad people here just as everywhere. And of course I understand that there are cultural differences within Africa. But I have never been anywhere where the people are so incredibly pleasant to be around.

So please forgive my naivete and/or racism as I generalize and list the adjectives in no particular order: friendly, sociable, gentle, affectionate, spiritual, eager to laugh, beautiful, helpful, respectful of personal space.

These qualities are apparent in people in all settings, not just relatively high paid people working in tourist hotels. We have met the poorest of the poor, who could resent us for all we have - from our ubiquitous water bottles to the fat on our bodies, not to mention our possessions and opportunities. And yet they interact with us warmly.

I know you're thinking about generalizations. Yes, people in Kenya rioted two years ago, killing their neighbors. Worse, what happened in Rwanda and what continues to happen in Darfur show that people here - as everywhere - can sink to unspeakable evil.

But the normal way people interact here is very different than in the States. People greet you on the street, strike up a conversation (with no agenda of getting you to buy something from them), and are comfortable sharing the details of their lives with you. We understand that they also are extremely hospitable, although we have not experienced that personally.

Wendy, from Rotterdam, thinks that interdependence - especially of the poor - gives rise to this behavior. In a context where you must depend on your neighbors, and they on you, it would be inappropriate (and stupid) to be selfish. She also points out that wealthy people ensconce themselves behind high walls here as much as they do anywhere else in the world.

As we talk to many of the development people, what motivates them most is their love of the people. Dov calls it "being bitten by the African virus."

Sam's sewing machine idea

Hi all -

Daddy, you were 100% correct. Thank you for bringing this up repeatedly, so that the idea was imbedded in my brain when I finally grasped its importance. I'm sorry it took me so long to get it.

So here's the story. For over a year my father has been expressing concern at one aspect of the Millennium Villages model. He has repeatedly said, "These people need sewing machines." My answer was that the academics running the program are brilliant and they know what they're doing. Look how successful they've been at improving the lives of over half a million people, providing clean drinking water, school feeding programs, protection from malaria, improved crops and on and on.

There is, however, one aspect of the program that John and I have been frustrated by. We wish there was more of an emphasis and more funding supporting business development. It is our own particular area of expertise, and we see a myriad of opportunities which are not being pursued. We wish the project could move faster to help people connect to income-generating possibilities besides farming. It would be one thing if each farm had drip irrigation. Then the women would be freed to use their energy and drive (and believe me, they have it) to pursue other sources of income. But it makes it that much harder when she has to spend much of her day watering her field, often with a baby strapped to her back as she is bending over her plants.

I probably shouldn't be so critical, but we wish this could happen much faster. Have you read Jeff Sachs' The End of Poverty yet? When women have a source of income they stop having so many babies. It is the answer to so many of the world's most pressing problems. And it is a way to transform each woman's life and the lives of the people who depend on her.

Often on this trip I've observed how beautifully the women dress (you know me and cloth). In the cities some women wear western clothes, children and men much more often than women. But the majority of urban West African women, and all the rural women, wear traditional outfits.

These costumes are gorgeous and, except for some of the urban poor, always perfectly maintained. There are various traditional styles. John is taking fantastic photos and will upload them when we return. Many women wear a wrapped cotton skirt with a matching sash, blouse and headdress. The skirt comes to mid- or lower calf, and the blouse may have short or long sleeves.

I have seen handweaving here, but only for decorative cloth. All the clothing I have seen uses machine made cloth., sometimes jacquard-woven (ie, damask), often with appliqued trimming Often there is a shawl of a different fabric. (Imagine - all this fabric and the temperature is in the 90's. At least here women's faces are not covered.) If she has a young baby, she carries it tied behind at her waist with a wide sash.

Women wear these outfits to do everything - water their crops, nurse a baby, carry goods to market on their heads - I even saw a woman in Niamey driving a motorbike dressed this way.

Can you visualize this? Women here care a lot about their clothing. As I grasped this, I finally connected the dots to Daddy's insistence that people should have sewing machines. Somebody must be making all these beautiful clothes - but we have seen no one working at a sewing machine. Contrast this with rural China where just inside so many doorways, women sit at foot treadle sewing machines I wondered how village women felt about machine sewing. Was it something the knew how to do, something they liked doing? Could it represent a good business opportunity? Were there sewing machines rugged enough to withstand the very dusty conditions? Are there opportunities for formal or non-formal training?

For the last several days, I've been interviewing village women about this, and the answer to all of the above is a resounding "YES!". So Sabrina (another member of our tour) and I are going to put a plan together to support these women and give them access to sewing machines.

I'll write later with some ideas about what you can do to help, and this project will definitely be on the list.

The moral of the story: always listen to your parents!

This would be a good time to tell you about our traveling companions.

Besides the two professional staff members from Millennium Promise, Rustom (head of economic development) and Lauren (head of major gifts), our group includes Sabrina, from London,

and Wendy, from Rotterdam. Sabrina and Wendy are donors to Millennium Promise, and
each heads up the fundraising effort in her respective country. They are both amazing, intelligent, funny, interesting women. John and I are enjoying traveling with them and feel we have made two new friends.

Millennium Village - Tiby, Mali

Dear All,

The visit to the Millennium Village was inspiring, emotional, tiring, and moving. I want to focus on all that rather than on the facts and figures. So I'll remind you that the Millennium Villages website ( has all such data as well as links to many other important websites.

The part of Mali we visited is blessed with the wide Niger river flowing through it. Where the river has been used for irrigation, the land is verdant. The MV cluster of villages is right on the Niger river, but they are as dry as dust.

During and after the rainy season the river overflows its banks, covering land as far as you can see, and the people plant rice. At the end of the rice harvest, water remains in depressed areas. Even during the dry season, water remains very close to the surface. A well just 30'-45' feet deep could be used to irrigate crops and provide drinking water. (For comparison, our well in NJ is at least 400' deep.) But this water generally goes unused.

One of the goals of the Millennium Villages Project is to show that with a relatively small investment - within the amount already pledged but not paid by the developed world - people in places like Tiby could have access to water.

In fact, this area could be the breadbasket of Africa. So here's something you may not know - I certainly didn't know it: Libya and Saudi Arabia are buying up huge tracts of prime land with access to the Niger River. Their own water sources will not last forever, and when they are gone, these countries will have locked up enormous areas of arable land for their own populations.

Two questions pop up: what will happen to the impoverished Malians when this happens? And why would a government allow its land to be sold off this way, rather than leased for some period. I certainly don't know, but one thing is immediately evident when you visit Bamako, the capitol city: Libya is making major investments in Mali. There are Libyan hotels (we stayed in one). We flew in on the Libyan national airline. Khaddafy is building a beautiful, expansive, modern campus for the Malian government. Draw your own conclusions.

Now for some background on our involvement in Tiby. The Tiby cluster consists of 11 villages with a total population of 55,000. One of the smaller villages, Sama, is located along the Niger River. Sama has a cooperative of 275 women who farm a 6 hectare (12 acre) vegetable

In this part of Africa there are 3 seasons - a "cool" dry season (temperatures can get well into the 90's) that runs from October to March, a hot dry season (temperatures can hit 120) From April to June, and a rainy season from July to September. Until recently, the women have been limited to growing 2 crops of shallots during the cool dry season. While theoretically the garden could support 4 cash crops per year, the lack of proper irrigation and perimeter fencing to keep out roaming herds of goats and cattle has limited its potential.

For the last several years, we have been talking to Rustom, the head of economic development for Millennium Villages, about projects that can showcase the potential of agriculture to substantially increase local income. In this case, Rustom came to us with a proposal to upgrade the garden's capabilities and operating practices with the potential to triple the income generated. We were excited by the economics and by the ability to provide income directly to the women.
(If you haven't read Nicholas Kristof's article about the many benefits of providing income-generating opportunities for women, you should check it out online. The NY Times devoted an entire Sunday magazine to it last summer. It's important reading.) So we agreed to fund the startup costs and implement the proposal.

The plan called for installing an effective irrigation system and perimeter fencing, procuring good quality seed and fertilizer, and planting off season crops so the women could grow 4 crops per year and maximize the revenues generated. We all hoped that in showcasing what can be accomplished with proper upfront investment and best practices, we could attract the attention of much larger donors, multiply the number of gardens under cultivation, and substantially raise the income generated throughout the Tiby cluster.

I did not know what to expect. I didn't know what 6 hectares looked like. I don't know how long shallots take to grow. But I have done a lot of gardening. And I lnow what hard work it is to grow vegetables, and how many things can go wrong. I would not have been surprised to see a few plots or rows of spindly sprouts struggling to thrive in the parched soil.

Imagine how overwhelmed I was when we drove up to the garden - there were shallots as far as you could see, thick tops waving in the breeze, healthy and GREEN. Women were watering their plots, many with babies on their backs. It brought me to tears that day, and it makes me cry to remember it.

The women welcomed us with songs and speeches. Mawa, the head of the women's cooperative, explained that they had planted the shallots 2 months ago and would harvest them in March. The women told us that by fencing, irrigating and fertilizing their crop, they were able to produce 500 kg on each 200 sq meter plot, where before they only produced 250-300 kg. I have no idea what that means but it's about doubled, right?

Every woman pays a small amount of money each week to pay for fuel and maintenance of the pump and fencing. When the crop is sold (hopefully at the peak of the market), they will negotiate as a cooperative so that buyers do not drive down the prices. And the money they earn is theirs alone! Each woman will use it for her own needs: paying for her daughter's wedding; buying dresses, animals, a cart; starting small businesses, or lending it to others.

You can imagine how all this made us feel. At one point, the women broke into dancing. I was so immersed in the experience that I was jumping up and down with the rest of them. (Don't tell the orthopedist!)

Before we left, I realized I wanted to make a gift to Mawa in honor of all the hard work of the women's cooperative. She is a beautiful - and forceful - woman, beautifully dressed as are all Malian women (more about this later), wearing beads, earrings, bracelets - as well as a baby on her back. It may have been a grandchild because she looked to be in her 40's.

You probably have figured out where this is going. My first African glass bead necklace, the red one, the one that spawned Nanyuki Handcrafts, has a new home in Africa on the other side of the continent.

Notes from Niger

Dear all,

I'm sure you could tell that we enjoyed the time we spent with Dov. I
hope that it was the first of many meetings. But I don't think I need
to visit Niger again any time soon.

Niamey, the capitol city, is pretty strange. It reminded me of
Garissa, the dry, dusty town where we stayed when visiting the village
of Dertu in eastern Kenya. But Niamey is the capitol city. As John
said, "This is as good as it gets in Niger." Niamey is dry, dry, dry.
Soft red dirt covers everything. There are goats roaming the city,
like the cats in some other cities.

There are no street signs in Niamey. People somehow find their way
around, and since all mail is picked up at one's post office box,
there is no need to make things workable for the mailman.

People shop in roadside stands or at one of the very large town
markets, which sell meats as well as vegetables. Laundry from all over
the city is picked up by the launderers, washed in the Niger River and
hung over bushes and clotheslines on the riverbank to dry.

Niger is a real backwater in other ways as well. There are no atms in
the whole country which accept US bank cards. We don't usualy carry
traveler's checks but happened to have them this time. We went to 3
banks before finding one able to exchange them, and then at a 25%
service charge. Finally we got Liz to send funds Western Union, which
was an adventure in itself. "Dear Liz, Please send $500 as soon as
possible." "Dear Mom, Are you ok?" Someone here joked, "At least she
didn't ask, 'Do I need to send it to the local jail?'"

We were there before the hot dry season By April and May daytime
temperatures will reach 120 degrees F !!! Niger's nickname is the
frying pan of the Sahara.

I know my French is nothing to brag about. My only consolation is the
comic relief I provide to the natives. I"m leaving them laughing in my
wake. So I think I have the right to pass along a quote from the sign
in our Niamey hotel room: if you have a problem with your room, seize
the Management of the hotel.

Leaving Niamey was an adventure all in itself. We had a 5 hour layover
in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. People in Niamey pointed out that since
we did not have a visa we would be unable to go out and see the city,
but that there was an air conditioned restaurant where we could hang
out and have dinner during the layover.

What they didn't realize, though, was that the airport is being
renovated. In the meantime, they have closed ALL the buildings except
for the gates. You arrive, pick up your bags in a temporary shelter,
and exit to the parking lot in order to re-enter the departure side of
the airport.

We presented quite a conundrum to them. We had not been advised to get
a visa for Burkina Faso, being only in transit. The police really
wanted us to have a visa, and they could provide a day visa. We came
to agree that this would be best. However, the police photographer (2
photos required for a visa) was not to be found, so that was not an
option after all.

So the policewoman wrote us a small receipt and told us to leave our
passports on her desk, collect our luggage and then go have dinner and
come back at 10 pm (the flight was scheduled to depart at 10 pm). We
had a lot of conversation about this (did I mention that all of this
negotiating was in French) but ultimately John was convinced that we
should do it

"Leave our passports on a desk in an airport where there isn't even
any airport there???". I couldn't believe he wanted us to do this. "It
will be an adventure," he said, "something we'll look back on and
laugh about." "We'll only laugh about it if we get our passports
back," I said

So we go out into Burkina-Faso sans passports, collect our luggage
(thank heavens still sitting there after our lengthy conversation with
the police), and go outside. Only then did we realize that the
departure area was also closed for renovations. All that was left was
another temporary shelter, where you check in before going to your

Now what? We're standing in the parking lot surrounded by taxi drivers
who are explaining that because of the renovation there is no
air-conditioned place to sit for 5 hours and have dinner. They say we
should go with one of them to a nice place, a hotel with an
air-conditioned restaurant. Whoever we choose will bring us back to
the airport in time for our flight. All in French.

And that is exactly what we did. We pick Amadou - the oldest,
sweetest, most harmless-looking one of the bunch and start off with
him. One of our new advisors stops us, saying "No. First you must ask
him the cost. Then you go off with him." That done, we put our luggage
in the oldest cab in the lot and go off with Amadou.

And guess what? We had a lovely cool afternoon sitting in an
air-conditioned restaurant 5 minutes from the airport. Dinner was
delicious (everybody serves "capitaine" - Nile Perch and it's
fantastic. The French influence. I suppose), and spent the time
writing the letter about Farmers of the Future. (Ruth and Liz, it
reminded us of those long afternoons in the Athens airport except no
one was smoking.) Exactly at the agreed upon time, Amadou returned us
and our luggage to the airport, where our passports were waiting with
the police.

It was not all smooth sailing after that. At every step in the
departure process - and there were many - we were challenged as to why
we had no visa. The line took forever to work its way through all the
checkpoints. We did not reach security until after 10pm. We were
really worried we would miss the flight and have to stay in
Ouagadougou until the next flight - two days later!

We needn't have worried. The flight was
2 1/2 hours delayed. By the time we arrived in Bamako, checked into
our hotel and got to bed, it was about 4am. The only saving grace was
that Bintu, from the MDG Centre, met us with a limo - on the tarmac! -
whisked us off to the vip lounge, handled our immigration details, and
then bundled us off to bed.

Toto, we're not in Niger any more.
- Show quoted text -

Farmers of the Future (Dov Pasternak - Part 3)

Dear friends,

Today's installment is being written by John (typed by Judy). But first, let me tell you why I love my husband. Not only is he solicitous about my foot, not only has he taken over today's letter, but he is such a wonderful partner in the work we are doing. He listens to my ideas, even though I often forget to "be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in motion," and even though he always expresses himself so much more effectively than I do. And it is such a joy to work together, since we are so much of the same mind on things. Just thought I'd mention it. Now here's John.

Farmers of the Future is another one of Dov's really big, potentially transformative ideas. It starts with an observation (admittedly debatable and controversial) that the values of hard work, savings and investment to build towards a brighter future do not exist in Africa to the degree they do in western and eastern cultures. Is it due to the residual effects of colonialism or the perverse effects of aid or long-standing cultural values? Or is it a result of the mind-numbing
effects of extreme poverty, of knowing you will lose children in the normal course of events, of living in a place where "the hunger season" is as common a phrase as "the rainy season?" Don't know. But it is a major obstacle to any economic development initiative.

Dov's concept is that we need to create a new generation (think of the Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years before they were ready to inherit the land of Israel) of market-oriented farmers, receptive to innovation and aware of the environment.

Farmers of the Future is designed to be a significant part of primary school education for the older children (grades 4-6). It's one part classrom work, one part 4H club, one part Junior Achievement.

The classwork would focus on environment, nutrition, agriculture, animal husbandry, modern farming techniques, marketing and farm management.

The 4H part would provide for an African Market Garden (see Dov Pasternak - part 2) adjacent to the school where kids could put their classroom learning into practice. In addition to the farming of fruits, trees and vegetables, the school would also provide experience with the raising of the smaller farm animals.

And the part dealing with Junior Achievement would have the children identify local market needs for agricultural products and livestock and to create small ventures for the sale of their production. By providing a base of immensely practical knowledge and experience,
the goal is to raise an entire new generation capable of using agribusiness as a vehicle to escape extreme poverty.

Dov's hope is to pair technical experts and people from national education ministries with curriculum development people to hammer out the curriculum details and pilot the program.

For approximately $1 million to fund a 5 year startup period, Dov figures he can create the curriculum and start 4 pilot schools in each of 4 different countries. If successful, the goal would be to integrate the program into the national primary school curriculum and expand from there with the goal of training thousands if not millions of children.

Told you this was a big idea.

This concept was implemented in Sadore, but has stalled for lack of funding. To maintain the teaching staff and the hands-on farming activities requires $10,000 per year. Dov is pursuing some promising leads, and we hope to help him increase awareness of the program and find more sources of funding.

Anyway, "from a single acorn tall oaks grow" and the immediate goal is to firmly plant an acorn in Sadore.

Love, John

Dov Pasternak - Part 2

Hi All -

Today we're going to talk about lateritic soil. It is really important, and I understand only the barest essentials, so this won't be complicated.

First of all, lateritic soil is degraded soil in which almost nothing grows. Africa is very old, geologically speaking. (I have no idea about millions and billions so don't ask.) Early on, the atmosphere had much more carbon dioxide than it does now. The climate alternated between tropical and dry periods. During tropical periods, acid rain (because of the high CO2) depleted the soil of its soluble nutrients, leaving it wuth high concentrations of non-soluble elements such as silica and iron (which gives it the characteristic red color today). During dry periods, this lateritic soil would be covered with sand.

Plants grew when there was a sandy top layer. This prevented soil erosion. Then - in the last 10,000 years - humans came. We grazed animals on the land, cut trees and cultivated the soil, exposing the laterite. Current agricultural practices exacerbate the problem. After harvesting crops, herders graze their animals on the residue. The annual hamattan winds blow the soil away, further exposing the laterite patches. This crusty surface does not allow water to penetrate causing major runoff and further erosion. (Now I bet you see how important it was that Acacia tumida can thrive in lateritic soil!) This vicious cycle is also - according to Dov - an opportunity, in that there is an abundance of land which might be put to productive use feeding and supporting hungry people.

The surprising good news about lateritic soil is that once you break through the crust it retains water! Dov is employing three methods of capturing rainfall (zai holes, demilunes and shallow trenches) in his research on plants that can survive without irrigation. They're pretty interesting. John has pictures of them.

He also has pictures of many of the plants Dov is developing. Besides the plants I mentioned yesterday, Dov is also adapting okra, tamarind, mango, moringa, heat resistant lettuce, carrots, papaya, grapes, pomelo, tomatoes, onions date palms, cassava, watermelon, cantaloupe, Acacia senegal (for gum Arabic) neem, marula, jatropha - an incomplete list in no particular order. I'll let you know when the photos are online.

In all of his efforts, Dov is looking for plants that will thrive in these harsh environments and will also provide food security, nutrition and, ideally, income generation.

Dov's African Market Garden is designed to accomplish these goals. The concept combines irrigation with superior varieties of vegetables and fruits. MASHAV, the development arm of the Israeli government (the same folks who provided the water course last year for 30 Millennium Village staff people) considers the African Market Garden its flagship project in Africa, and hopes to organize a donor conference in Senegal to promote it. Several different versions of the concept are being tested, some varying the type of irrigation, some varying the scale and type of ownership.

Irrigation can use either drip or hand-watering. Both methods enable farmers to grow 3 crops per year rather than the one produced now. Dov has modified existing drip irrigation equipment for the smallholder farmer, greatly reducing the initial cost and simplifying ongoing maintenance. With either irrigation method, there are significant fixed costs (pumps, holding tanks, perimeter fencing to keep out critters, technical supervision, etc.). Each individual plot is approximately 5000 square feet, and the economics are greatly improved by clustering multiple plots together and sharing these fixed costs.

It isn't intuitively obvious how best to share costs, so Dov is testing various concepts of ownership. The form of ownership raises all kinds of interesting cultural issues relating to the role of women. If you remember the NY Times Sunday magazine on the critical importance of empowering women,'s%20rights%20are%20the%20cause%20of%20our%20time&st=cse

you will remember that when women grow crops, they choose food that will feed their families (and - if there is surplus - can be sold). But typically, only men have rights to crop land. Dov says that women have a hunger for soil, and the chef du village can often be persuaded to allocate degraded land to the women.

Dov has tested single gardens, cluster gardens (where each farmer has a separate water, fertilizer and pesticide supply) and communal gardens where each farmer works a section of a large field and shares the costs of communal water, fertilizer and pest control. It's like the difference between a family farm, a moshav and a kibbutz. The economics are the best in the communal model.

Not surprisingly (at least, I'm not surprised) women are much better at the communal method than men. Women behave better in groups, women cooperate better, women pay their share more reliably, etc.

The ICRISAT research center where Dov is chief scientist is located in the country, about 25 miles south of Niamey, next to the village of Sadore. We saw an installation of the African Market Garden in Sadore, as well as some other very interesting things. I'll tell you about some of them now, but the most important - Dov's Farmers of the Future program - I'll save for part 3 tomorrow.

The ICRISAT field workers live in the village. We saw a school (ICRISAT built it, the government supplies the teachers), homes, a very nice greenhouse and the most BEAUTIFUL children you have ever seen (John has pictures).

The children looked so healthy - not covered with flies and none had the eye problems we saw among the Maasai of Kenya. When we asked Dov why, he explained that the children eat a diet rich in vegetables.

The greenhouse turned out to be entirely a private operation of the village women and their children; ICRISAT had not paid for anything - plants, greenhouse construction, netting - all of it was financed by the women of the village. The children had grafted mango to root stock, using techniques developed by Dov's work. The resulting mango plants are of such high quality that people drive out from the city to buy them. Each plant earns the village women approx $1.50 and we counted over 500 plants. The women have used the profits from this business to build new homes - adobe rather than the usual thatched hut - that are the finest in the village.

Sadore shows the potential that agriculture has to lift people out of extreme poverty.

Dov Pasternak - Part 1

Dear All,

Dov Pasternak is a giant. I am sure he is embarrassed to read that, because he is the nicest, most unassuming man you can imagine. Actually, I am the more embarrassed because I had no idea we were visiting such an important person.

The short list of Dov's accomplishments? This is the person who introduced drip irrigation to China and Europe. He holds the UNESCO Chair on combating desertification in sandy deserts. It was his work that revealed that pomegranates - among other plants - can thrive on salt water. The list of plant varieties he has developed for arid climates is vast. He was the first to recognize that the best way to adapt plants for arid climates is to start with plants from other similar places, rather than starting with varieties that thrive in more temperate zones. Sounds obvious, right? But he was the one who thought of it, and this concept forms the core of the work he does today.

But you shouldn't think that he is only (!) a very nice world-renowned scientist. He has a firm grasp of business and understands how to bring his innovations to market for the benefit of the poorest of the poor.

(Just a little more praise, Dov - I'm almost done.). Dov's mind is always going. He is incredibly creative on a wide range of topics, but is happy to accept good ideas wherever he finds them. A good example is what he learned from Frieda Caplan, the woman who named the Kiwi fruit, the Sunchoke, and other produce items. (Google her - she's amazing.) She explained to Dov the importance of product branding, so his varieties have catchy names like Pomme de Sahel (his adaptation of Christ-thorn or Jujube tree), Moringa sucre (catchier than PKM1, right?) Icrixina (to his improved Xina tomato). Not just plants get catchy names. So do programs - I'll tell you later about the African Market Garden and Farmers of the Future.

So do processes, like "bullshit technology." Let me tell you the story of Dov's work with Acacia tumida. As you know, acacias thrive in sub-Saharan Africa, Israel, California and other places. Scientists have scoured the globe for varieties of acacia that might have useful characteristics for the Sahel, the narrow band of semi-arid land to the south of the Sahara, which spans the continent and is home to the world's poorest people. He hit a home run with Acacia tumida. A. tumida thrives in hard laterite (more about that later, too). This variety has no thorns. Once the tree matures, its branches are excellent for firewood and they REGENERATE within a year of being cut. Its seed is 24% protein and is excellent chicken feed - and chickens provide good food security, giving both meat and eggs.

But Dov had a problem with his acacias. Unless he fenced them, goats would eat the saplings. And fencing would not be practical once they were outside of his research facility, in the hands of poor farmers. Dov struggled with this problem, asking others for ideas. A professor of veterinary science gave him the beginning of a solution when he told Dov that when goatherds want to wean a kid, they smear her teats with. . . Well, you know where this is going. Anyway, it works first time, every time.

Dov experimented with various ways to apply this information, and after testing came up with a solution of cow manure, water and glue which, applied once a month during the dry season for 1-2 years, repels goats until the trees are established.

I think this is a long enough letter. Next time I'll write less about Dov and more about what he is accomplishing in Africa.

Can you tell we are having a great time?

Love, Judy and John