U.S. farmers provide a legacy of hope overseas

The following article originally published in Michigan Farmer chronicles a trip made by Rachel Conley, associate regional director for Growing Hope Globally, and Emily Vincent, Growing Hope Globally intern, to observe food security programs Growing Hope has sponsored in Nepal and Cambodia.

Growing Hope Globally programs teach farming methods in Nepal and Cambodia

In southeastern Nepal, there is a small village named Neem Tole where 44 households of Santal people live. There, men struggle to find steady work as day laborers in the nearby city of Biratnagar, or on large-scale farms owned by city dwellers, while women stay home with the children and tend to their few agricultural endeavors.

They have little income to provide for their families, and food scarcity and a lack of dietary diversity are a foremost problem. While there are some microfinance loans available to them, they are set with an extremely high interest rate that must be paid twice a month. In an area where government support is in high need, there is little to none.

One organization, Growing Hope Globally, is focused on improving the lives of the Santal people and others like them, and its source of support is based around U.S. producers. But unlike other humanitarian efforts that ship raw commodities overseas, Growing Hope Globally is aimed at “growing lasting solutions” to world hunger.

Each year hundreds of volunteers — including farmers, church volunteers and businesspeople — participate in growing projects and other fundraising activities in their local communities to raise money in support of small-scale farmers around the world.

In a typical growing project, farmers contribute their land, equipment and time, while churches and civic groups raise money for the farming inputs. When the crop is sold, the proceeds are given to Growing Hope Globally and designated for a specific program overseas, such as the one in Nepal.

Although Growing Hope Globally does not have a program in Neem Tole, there are plans to begin one soon. In that village, women say they want to raise more animals to sell, or receive more training to learn new agricultural practices. Getting above the poverty line is their main goal, and to leave something for their children.

The men say they lack the most basic drive for the future — hope. Victims of low production because of droughts or floods every year, they believe there is nothing more that can be done.

Fighting global hunger

In the U.S., one of the most food secure nations on the planet, it’s hard to imagine a day without food. While Americans fight calorie intake, others across the globe are worried if they will have enough to survive. Growing Hope Globally believes there should never be a moment in a mother’s life where she must watch her child wither away because she cannot provide the proper nutrition. However, it happens every day.

Jim Rufenacht, a Growing Hope Globally board member, growing project leader and farmer from Archbold, Ohio, says, “Growing projects give U.S. farmers and communities the opportunity to address the global hunger problem in a special way, from where we are.”

Growing Hope Globally is a Christian nonprofit based out of the U.S. and is solely committed to raising resources and awareness to support small-holder farmers in developing countries.

“Our programs are focused on providing agriculture training rather than material things,” says Rachel Conley, an associate regional director for Growing Hope Globally based out of Holland, Mich. “Things eventually break or get used up, but helping people gain the knowledge to help themselves and provide for their families brings about lasting change. We are able to provide the gifts of dignity, hope and a legacy to pass down to future generations.”

These programs are not carried out by Growing Hope Globally staff, but rather implemented by 13 international partner organizations and their in-country partners who teach people how to not only farm for their families’ consumption, but also how to sell and market their product for a profit. There currently are 46 food security programs in 28 different countries. Overall, $53.3 million has been raised in Growing Hope Globally’s 20 years of working to reduce world hunger, along with 2 million people becoming food secure. The goal: Help people help themselves.

Changing lives through training

Originally founded as Food Resource Bank in 1999, Growing Hope Globally has encompassed more than 2,000 volunteers based in rural farming communities. The name change occurred in October. Organizers feel the new name better reflects the organization’s agricultural roots and focuses more on its international involvement — giving hope to those who have none.

The new logo features a circle with a green heart emerging from soil layers, which represents the love and hope produced from the seeds of knowledge planted by training and instruction.

While some programs are just starting to be established, such as the one in Neem Tole, there are many that have been working for years. In that same municipality in Nepal, there is a couple that recounts how the vegetable farming and kitchen gardening trainings, funded by Growing Hope Globally and implemented by the Mennonite Central Committee, have changed their lives.

Tarra and his wife are in the second phase of the program and have switched from rice farming to vegetable farming. They have learned how to use compost and some chemical fertilizers, which have boosted their production significantly.

But what has been most beneficial to their operation is being educated on starting a nursery and transplanting the seedlings, which are now planted in rows versus broadcast seeding. Now, with enough to meet their family’s nutritional and other basic daily needs, they are growing their operation with the purchase of another plot.

However, the most substantial life change is being able to afford to send their children to school and to buy the necessary supplies and clothing.

Not far from Tarra’s farm is a mother’s group located in Dhangarha Village that received kitchen garden training as a group. Before, their children were some of the most malnourished in the municipality. Since the training, their children have gained weight and are healthier. The mothers have learned how to produce more vegetables with their small plots of land, and how to increase the variety of cultivars they grow.

They are now aware of proper pregnancy care such as having a balanced diet, drinking enough water and many other practices benefiting both mother and child. They are making sure their childrens’ growth is being monitored at the local health post on a monthly basis, and that they receive immunizations. 

Their prime goal is for their children to receive proper education and move on to become teachers, doctors and engineers.

Focus on mushroom production

Just like its programs in Nepal, Growing Hope Globally supports many others across the globe, including two programs in Cambodia.

One is in the Kampong Cham Province, where the program is implemented by one of Growing Hope Globally’s partners, World Hope International. The focus here is mushroom production, as farmers use agricultural waste from growing rice and mung beans to grow mushrooms.

In the mushroom houses, which are made from bamboo and lined with plastic, mushrooms are grown in a temperature-controlled environment to ensure a profitable yield. These farmers can collect an income every 21 days if they immediately add new spores after harvesting.

World Hope has set up a social venture called Thera Metrey, where farmers can take their mushrooms after harvest to be sorted by grade and sent to the markets in the capital city of Phnom Penh. This ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their produce and have a regular cash flow.

One woman, Nan, has taken the mushroom house training and now is the owner of three houses. Before, Nan was renting land to farm rice. Because her first mushroom house proved profitable, she is now solely focused on mushroom farming. She has doubled her monthly income and makes close to $500 per month, nearly half of Cambodia’s average household income of $1,376.

This allows her to repay a land loan, buy a motorcycle, purchase a hand tractor and dig a new well — all beyond her ability before the mushroom houses. Her greatest pride is being able to send her daughter (grade 12) and son (grade 8) to a private school. In the future, she wants to buy a toilet for her home and send her daughter to a university to become a teacher.

Close by, Sri and her husband built a mushroom house in 2016. Even though it made some income, it was not enough to support their two children and Sri’s elderly mother-in-law. So, they left Cambodia in pursuit of work in the neighboring country of Thailand. They left their son at home with his grandmother while their daughter went with them.

The grandmother, Paing, 73, was left with the care of the land and the mushroom house. She devoted herself to the mushrooms until they became profitable enough that she could call her children home. They returned in 2017 and are now happy to be at home and working as a family. They have continued mushroom farming and now are one of the top mushroom producers in the program.

Sri’s husband is teaching others about growing mushrooms and has traveled to a nearby province called Kompong Thom for seven months, where he teaches on a larger farm with 16 houses. He earns $600 a month on top of their income from production and just sent his daughter to a university to become a teacher.

Multipurpose farming

World Renew, another of Growing Hope’s partners, implements the Cambodia South program, which encompasses five provinces. Here, they are teaching a multipurpose farming method. Migration to other provinces and other countries has been a big issue, but this method helps farmers to make an income at home — even on a small piece of land.

The participants grow vegetables and fruit and raise chickens and fish, providing something to sell and something to eat throughout the year. First, they train what they call the first-generation farmers. Each of them then commits to training an additional seven to 10 farmers as a second generation. Because of this, producer groups are being formed and networking opportunities are becoming available.

One first-generation farmer, Ti, only grew rice and a few livestock before receiving the multipurpose farming training in 2017. Now, he mainly grows vegetables and raises chickens, earning him and his family $5 to $10 per day.

One of the most important things he has learned through the training is making compost and using the 7-3-3 method to improve the soil.  This means seven parts soil, three parts compost, three parts biochar. Two of his students, Saroam and Ni, shared the same messages about their experience. In the future, he is looking into marketing and packaging the products he grows.

Growing Hope Globally makes a lasting effect on not only the lives of these marginalized people overseas, but also in the lives of the farmers who donate their time, land and equipment to help others.

LaRaine Salmon, a growing project leader out of Moline, Mich., says, “It hasn’t been possible for me to be a missionary overseas, but this allows me to serve right where I am and help others.”

To learn more about Growing Hope Globally, visit growinghopeglobally.org, or contact Rachel Conley at 616-283-0694 or rachel@growinghopeglobally.org.

Click on growinghopeglobally.org/webinars to watch a webinar about this trip, “A Legacy of Hope: Impacting Generations in Nepal and Cambodia.”

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