Lead Father Champions Child Care

Lead Father Champions Child Care

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This story, written by Allison DiVincenzo and Katie Murray, first appeared in USAID’s bimonthly publication, FrontLines.

Richard Ndebele wears many hats. Farmer. Grandfather. Laborer. Mentor. And now, by working with USAID, trailblazer.

Ndebele, 65, lives in Impu village, a rural, semiarid stretch of southwestern Zimbabwe currently facing a historic drought as a result of El Niño. In many ways, Impu village is no different from the rest of the country, where 2.8 million people are estimated to be food insecure this year. However, this area is characterized by low rainfall even in a good year, not to mention particularly high levels of poverty and stunting levels over 24 percent.

USAID, through its five-year, $43 million Amalima activity, is working in Impu village and the surrounding rural areas to strengthen communities’ resilience to shocks, such as drought, by enhancing nutrition and food security, improving livelihoods and helping communities plan and prepare for disasters. Amalima is the Zimbabwean Ndebele language word for a custom where people work together to help themselves through productive activities like preparing land for farming or repairing a dam.

Confident, respected and forward-thinking, Ndebele, a grandfather to five, has taken an active role in many aspects of Amalima. As a member of the Impu village Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Committee, Ndebele received training from the activity to identify and define disasters common in the community and to develop an action plan to respond. And in a gender reversal for this patriarchic society, he is a “lead father,” leading peer-to-peer support groups that help mothers learn how to better feed and care for their children.

A Flea Bath for Cattle

In his role identifying potential disasters, Ndebele, along with other members of the DRR Committee, identified their top priority: the rehabilitation of a dilapidated old dip tank, which was subsequently reconstructed under the supervision of USAID technical experts. Functioning like a large flea bath for cattle, a quick swim through the dip tank protects cattle against disease-carrying ticks. Ndebele worked with 103 other members of the community to repair the dip tank, receiving $30 a month in exchange for his labor.


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Richard Ndebele at dip tank. Photo: Allison DiVincenzo, USAID

“The wages really came as a relief, as I managed to buy food for my family,” said Ndebele, who also bought a goat with his earnings, a potential income-generator for his family.

Now over 1,800 cattle belonging to 200 households can use the dip tank, preventing disease and death caused by ticks and protecting livelihoods in a place where economic stability is tenuous. Ndebele is now part of a committee that will manage use of the dip tank, ensuring it will never again fall into disrepair.

This is one of 32 facilities built or rebuilt through the project. “Not only do these construction projects build resilience against future droughts, but with compensation for the laborers, they meet the immediate needs of people in a very vulnerable situation,” said USAID/Zimbabwe Mission Director Stephanie Funk. “USAID’s Amalima activity has put much-needed cash in the hands of nearly 4,000 workers.”

Women’s Work?

In his role as lead father, Ndebele is breaking down gender barriers by volunteering to facilitate a care group, which is usually run by a woman. In addition to promoting better nutrition for small children, these groups provide a forum for group discussion on the challenges women face in their communities. Amalima has more than 24,000 care group participants led by 1,700 lead mothers. Ndebele, however, is one of only three lead fathers.

He meets with the 10 members of his care group once a month on the dusty ground under a large, shady tree. There they share key health and nutrition messages. He also treks to each of their homes to provide individual mentorship, assess adoption of behaviors and speak with influential family members, such as grandmothers or husbands. Ndebele encourages husbands to provide support in household and childcare activities in an effort to improve the family’s nutrition and food security.

In rural Zimbabwe, women are responsible for household chores and childcare activities, as well as the most time- and labor-intensive agricultural tasks. Impu village and its neighboring communities adhere to a predominantly patriarchal culture that affords limited rights to women and where men are reluctant to take part in duties perceived as womanly.

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Richard Ndebele at food distribution in Zimbabwe’s Impu village. Photo: Allison DiVincenzo, USAID

When Ndebele first started as a lead father, he says, “Men used to laugh behind my back. But they stopped once they needed my help.” By teaching improved infant and young child feeding practices through his care group meetings, his peers now understand he is helping families raise strong, intelligent boys and girls that will better contribute to their household and community’s prosperity.

Ndebele strongly believes that health and nutrition are issues relevant to the entire community and should not be ignored by men. Still, it is the women who are encouraged by the lead father’s advice and wisdom.

Care group member Silvia Moyo learned about the important nutritional benefits of breastfeeding. With Ndebele’s encouragement, Moyo relayed that information to her husband and talked to him about the challenge of making time for breastfeeding when she has so many household duties.

Moyo and her husband together formed a solution that works for their family. “I am very determined to breastfeed my son so that he grows up intelligent and takes care of me when I’m old,” said Moyo. “I’m very happy with the support my husband will be giving me. We will help each other in the household and also use an eco-stove to save time.”

Ndebele’s pioneering role as a lead father is raising awareness of the benefits of male involvement in childcare activities and setting an example for young boys. “Men come to me and ask questions about nutrition, health and their children’s porridge,” he said.

Already the project is seeing positive results. According to preliminary data, the proportion of infants under 6 months who are exclusively breast fed is now 84 percent, up from 45 percent at the start of the activity.

Ndebele believes he and his village are at the forefront of improving their food and nutrition security, and building resilience to natural disasters. “It has built in us a sense of togetherness and helped us realize that, as a group, we can achieve many things,” he said.

Hazelnut Farmer Finds Success through Trainings and Association Membership

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Hazelnuts are an important crop for many of Georgia’s farmers, but growers face a number of production and harvesting challenges that have, until now, limited their success. Iveri Kvaratskhelia, a hazelnut farmer from the Nakipu village Nakipu in the Tsalenjikha district of Georgia’s Samegrelo region, was intrigued by the trainings provided by the USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI). At that time he owned four hectares of hazelnut orchard. Through EPI, Mr. Kvaratskhelia learned modern methods of farming, including new orchard establishment techniques. Following the trainings, he added five new hectares to his hazelnut production.

Reflecting on his experience, Mr. Kvaratskhelia says, “For me the training was very interesting; I received a lot of information, particularly in new orchard establishment, and I used that information while setting up my new orchard.”

EPI’s trainings have helped improve farmers’ productivity and quality. To date, more than 1,000 farmers and service providers have benefited from the improved hazelnut production methods and post-harvest handling practices learned at these trainings.

Mr. Kvaratskhelia then established an informal farm group with 25 other hazelnut farmers. With EPI’s support, he was able to transition the informal group into an established agricultural cooperative. EPI linked the cooperative members with the Georgian Hazelnut Growers Association, which serves its members with free de-husking and drying services for their produce. As a member of the Association, Mr. Kvaratskhelia was able to dry his 2013 crop, and stored seven tons of hazelnuts using modern methods of post-harvest handling. As a result, his inventory had higher than average kernel outcome rate (the rate of sellable nuts per container), reaching 44%, whereas the average in Georgia is only 36%. Mr. Kvaratskhelia stored his produce until January 2014, when he sold his hazelnuts at price premium of 0.25 GEL per kg, due to their high quality.
Farmers like Mr. Kvaratskhelia will continue to implement the best practices they learned through EPI’s trainings, and will reap the benefits of belonging to an association. Thanks to EPI, they will experience improved productivity, increased quality, and be able to access premium prices for their products.

First Female Agro-Retailer Certified by the Agro-Inputs Retailers’ Network

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Following the death of her husband 27 years ago, Parvin Aziz was uncertain of her family’s future. In Bangladesh, widows face social and economic hardships and often remain dependent on male family members or children for their livelihoods.  Every day Parvin dreamed of a better life in which she could provide for her two children. She understood she would have to be strong, smart and remain productive for their benefit. “I didn’t know what to do until my in-laws encouraged me to take over my husband’s seed business. I was lucky I had the support of my in-laws when I continued the family’s agro-inputs business.”

The AIRN learned about Parvin’s entrepreneurial spirt and offered her the opportunity to attend trainings to build her capacity as an agro-input retailer. “When I discovered the AIRN I recognized it as an opportunity to improve my business and to learn more about quality agro-inputs,” remarked Parvin. “Now, I encourage female entrepreneurs to become involved in the agro-inputs business because it helped me raise my family. I know how important it is for mothers to earn money for their families,” she added.  Parvin completed a three-day training on business management, safe use of pesticides and best agronomic practices which resulted in her certification as the first female AIRN Accredited member.

The increasing participation of women in the commercial sale of agro-inputs means more women are able to contribute to their family’s income. It improves women’s decision making power over allocation of household income and is beneficial to the whole family. Since becoming a certified AIRN retailer, Parvin has indicated that positive outcomes of running her business include increased self-confidence, improved business management skills and knowledge of nutritious crops, as well as an increased ability to provide quality embedded services to farmer-customers. The AIRN is continuing to focus its effort on recruiting female agro-input retailers like Parvin to promote the importance of female entrepreneurs so that more women can support their families and participate in the agricultural economy. By the end of the project, AIP will help create at least 300 women-owned retailers which will join the AIRN.

The AIRN is a network of agro-input retailers committed to selling quality agro-input products. It was created by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by CNFA. The AIRN members undergo trainings that improve their knowledge about quality agro-inputs, which expand their business and increase their profits. With quality agro-inputs there is quality production to feed families and improve the agricultural economy in Bangladesh.

New Cash Market for Fruit and Vegetable Growers

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The Georgian horticulture sector has significant untapped potential for growth that has been validated by a rapidly increasing export rate in the last few years. Official statistics for stone fruit exports in 2014 show an increase of 108% ($3MM) compared to 2013. Georgia has made increasing agricultural exports a strategic priority and identified the overall availability of effective postharvest activities as a key indicator of success. Given this reality, USAID’s REAP program awarded matching grants to 13 emerging agribusinesses to install modern refrigerated cold storage systems for fruits and vegetables.

Established in 2012, Georgian Fruit Company’s (GFC) initial business activities involved renting warehouses in different regions of Georgia to consolidate produce from local farmers for export. Utilizing a REAP grant and favorable loan terms from the Agricultural Projects Management Agency (APMA), GFC installed a new 400 m3 refrigerated cold storage unit with modern packing and boxing mechanisms in the Gurjaani district of eastern Georgia.

Additionally, a new calibration machine that sorts fruits by color and size provided further incentive for local farmers to work with GFC and the company’s modern agricultural technologies to increase their productivity and sales.

In the first half of 2015, tangerine, apple, and cucumber exports to Ukraine and Russia have increased by 50%, totaling 280 tons. Currently, GFC is working with more than 100 peach and nectarine farmers in Kakheti to meet an export demand of more than 1,500 tons from their various international partners.

Mobile Literacy Training Enables Women Entrepreneurs to Make Informed Decisions

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(Above: Ms. Almaz Delgeba with her mobile while attending her milking cows.)

Mrs. Almaz Delgeba is a female entrepreneur who lives in Lera, Berebera district of Selta zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). Almaz is a leader of a dairy association in her locality, with 13 members scattered in a rural setting. One of her duties is to facilitate meetings beween association members where participants can market information as well as announce upcoming meetings. For Almaz, a middle-aged woman with six dependent children, moving around the village to convey messages was very challenging. A year ago, however, she was approached by USAID’s AGP-LMD Project and asked to take training on mobile use for women entrepreneurs, which led to the purchase of a mobile phone.

At the training, Almaz learned how to use a calculator, how to fill in money and how to save contacts.   “At the beginning, the only thing I knew was how to receive and make phone calls. The practical training on how to use more of the tools on my mobile is now helping me to exchange timely market information and to also manage some parts of the finances in a better way,” said Almaz.

“There have been many cases when I had to use my mobile for emergency calls to the animal health workers in the locality when the milking cows got sick. Timely treatment enabled them to recover,” elaborated Almaz, who is also in charge of looking after the three milking cows quartered in her compound. Without a mobile phone and the know-how to use it, Almaz’s only option would be to walk or to send one of her boys if he wasn’t in school.  “If I take transport to pass the message, it would cost me 30 birr; making the call may cost me 10 birr,” she added.

Almaz still finds it challenging to recharge her mobile phone. Her village doesn’t have power, so she needs to travel to the nearby town to recharge.

“I daily spend two birr to recharge. The transport cost makes it more costly,” she said; though the benefits for her do outweigh the costs. Her association, which began with three heifers a year ago, is now supplying milk to a nearby café; and two of the heifers have given birth. Thanks to her phone she was able to check the prices of milk in other towns before fixing her association’s price at 14 to 15 birr per liter. “Within the next 3–6 months, my plan is to buy a better mobile with more tools, as what I have sometimes cuts off in the middle of a talk. I will make sure that the new one includes a radio, as it will teach me about different things while I perform my duties,” added Almaz.

Almaz is grateful for the support from USAID; and she has shared her know-how with five of the association’s 13 members who own mobile phones in order to help them benefit as well.

USAID Empowers Self-Employed Women to Become Entrepreneurs

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Five years ago, Hajira Beyene, and her family of 12 became beneficiaries of the Ethiopian government’s safety net program – an initiative that supports the poorest of the poor in food insecure districts of the country to help them meet their basic needs and become self-sufficient – in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). For 38-year-old Hajira, who is the head of her family, the 750 birr she received a month from the safety net program, along with food rations, was helpful, but far from enough.

Hajira knew she had to take matters into her own hands to ensure that her family would survive and escape poverty. She decided to start rearing and selling goats, by using one female goat that she received from a charitable organization known as Goal, and selling seasonal vegetables, which she planted in her yard when the rains allowed. Despite her efforts, lack of technical and business skills hamstrung Hajira’s efforts and left her without fair return, keeping her family reliant on the safety net program.

Hajira is one of the 63 women from the Amhara, SNNP and Tigray regions who received a four-month training on business management and leadership skills organized by USAID’s Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Market Development (AGP-LMD) project from February to May 2015. The training taught the women how to become successful business operators by offering training in resource management, as well as improving their participation in the leadership and decision-making process of their businesses.


“The knowledge I gained from the training has entered my bones, not just my head,” Hajira siad.


The training has given her the confidence to take immediate action in purchasing one more goat for rearing by better managing some cash she had. “I purchased a new goat for 650 birr. She is expecting and will be giving birth in two months’ time, and the twin from the old goat will be ready for sale in a few months. Unlike before, I plan to sell them at a better price, and save the income from one of the goats’ sales, so that I can plan to build a better barn for the expansion,” said Hajira who mentioned lack of capital, as her main challenge.
According to Hajira before the training she never considered borrowing from the savings and credit association in her village for fear of not being able to pay back the money “Every 15 days, I contribute five birr to the association. If I borrow money, I need to pay it back within three months together with the interest based on the borrowed amount. My fear of doing so was always based on not having the source to pay back,” explained Hajira, who thinks that the training has now given her the self-confidence to overcome this difficulty as she will practice better financial management thanks to the knowledge she gained from the training.

As the safety net program of the government is set to terminate this year with a probability of being replaced with a different program, this training by USAID is a timely contribution to support Hajira’s transformation, and that of other women, into self-reliance. “There was a time when my first born had to drop out of school after he reached the ninth grade, because I couldn’t put him a school uniform. Although he is a year behind his class mates, I was able to work hard and send him back to school,” Hajira, who herself dropped out of school from the sixth grade as a result of unwanted marriage, said. She is firm in wanting to invest more in her children’s education, including her nine-year-old grandchild who is in the first grade, and whom she supports after he lost both of his parents at an early age.

Demonstrating New Techniques for Pollinating Pomegranate Flowers

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Although Azerbaijan has been a major supplier of fruits and vegetables to Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere in the region since the Soviet era, it is able to export very few agricultural products to modern markets. Due largely to an inability to provide sufficient volumes and consistent quality, most of the country’s fruits and vegetables are not internationally competitive. Azerbaijani pomegranates, however, have the potential to be a notable exception. The country already exports a variety of processed pomegranate products, including narsharab, a traditional Azerbaijani sauce. Unfortunately, farmers selling to processors are price-takers and are paid very little for their produce. Therefore, to help them increase their incomes, the USAID Agricultural Assistance to Azerbaijan Project (ASAP) is working with pomegranate growers to improve quality for both the export and premium domestic markets.

Mr. Eyvaz Samedov, who has a farm in the Goychay region of central Azerbaijan, is a good example of the kind of grower that ASAP is assisting. Around 6-7 years ago, he planted four different pomegranate varieties (of the over 20 grown in the country) on a 60-hectare orchard. Although his trees are in good physical condition, his lack of agronomic knowledge has prevented him from achieving the required production quantities and quality, forcing him to sell his entire harvest last year for the extremely low prices paid by domestic processors. An input dealer who has worked with Samedov in the past and was aware of his difficulties, referred ASAP to him in early 2015.

ASAP began by providing basic growing recommendations that Mr. Samedov committed to implementing on a dedicated three hectares of his orchard in order to compare the results of these new efforts with his existing yields and quality. Then, on ASAP’s recommendation, Samedov purchased a cultivator and chemical sprayer (at a total cost of 9300 AZN), and initiated the application of mineral fertilizers for the first time, buying six tons of triple 16 and four tons of urea (for 3080 AZN).

Besides providing technical assistance in pruning, weed control, irrigation and pest management, ASAP decided to introduce pollination of early pomegranate flowers to the farm. By purchasing bumblebees, placing the hive in the center of the demo plot, and ensuring that the bees were provided with plenty of water, pollination within 200 meters of the hive was facilitated. Pomegranate flowers that are pollinated earlier in the season typically produce larger, higher quality fruit. In the future, ASAP will work with Mr. Samedov on improving his harvesting techniques as well as improving his postharvest handling and storage capacity. With proper implementation, he will be soon able to sell his product to the much more lucrative fresh market, both domestically and to Russia, with the potential to eventually initiate exports to EU countries.

Promoting School Milk Days in Ethiopia

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The USAID-supported Agricultural Growth Program – Livestock Market Development (AGP-LMD) kicked off a series of events known as “School Milk Days” aimed to increase the awareness and knowledge of school age children, parents and teachers about milk in Ethiopia. The project organized these events as part of a campaign to stress the nutrition and benefits of milk to normal growth and development.


Watch this short video to learn more about this activity.

Improving Livelihoods and Nutrition through Dairy Production

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USAID’s Agricultural Growth Program – Livestock Market Development (AGP-LMD) in Ethiopia partnered with Project Mercy, a faith-based development and relief organization, to help improve the livelihoods and nutritional status of Ethiopians.


Watch this short video to learn more about this partnership.