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Our Blog: Agriculture
June 18, 2013
Baseline study completed in Haiti
In May we completed a baseline study. This was a door-to-door socio-economic survey of all 698 households in Phaeton and Paulette. We hired and trained 10 local surveyors to carry out the study and coached them throughout the two-week process.  
We now have solid demographic data, including information about household economic activities – what people are doing to scrape by (a lot!); key health issues; the number of kids who are in school; the number of meals people are eating each day and how many of them are getting meals from our feeding program, etc.
A few points we found interesting:
The overall average monthly income is 1,499 Haitian gourdes, or US$35. This is an important starting point as we begin to work with community members on income generating initiatives. 
Here’s a table summarizing the current make-up of household activities.
The information collected in the survey complements and substantiates what we’ve been learning the past six months in our work with villagers to develop a strategic plan for the future.  As those plans and community dreams turn to concrete action, we will use this data to measure our progress.  
Looking back in a few years’ time, we will know in very real terms that families are earning more income; that people are eating more food with improved nutrition; that more kids are in school; that more people have access to clean water; that more goats, cows and chickens are helping provide food and livelihoods; that more women are getting the care they need during their pregnancy; and that their kids are getting the nutrition and medical care they need to thrive.  
We’re excited about the future of these two communities and we have eager and motivated community leaders ready to work with us. 
May 16, 2013
Catching up with Natividad in Guatemala
I met Natividad last fall when I was in Guatemala visiting a project we support in the highland community of Buena Vista. I found Natividad incredibly charming, with a contagious smile and a delightful blend of confidence and earnestness. Needless to say, I was excited to see Mercy Corps publish a story on Natividad in their latest project update (adapted below).  – Laura Koch, Program Manager.
For the past two years, Natividad has been an active member of the Buena Vista producers’ group in Cabrican, Guatemala. She manages her time as secretary-treasurer of the 12-member association alongside her work as a mother of two small children. She and her husband are working together with other members of the group to build a sustainable agricultural business in their community. 
“With the support of Mercy Corps IMARE program, I have learned a lot of important things, like how to use a water purifier and how to make better food for my family, thanks to the Household and Plot Management Plans.” 
Natividad and her husband built and manage a 2000 square-foot greenhouse. “Since I started participating in the IMARE Project, I have been able to grow professionally,” Natividad explains. 
“The project really helped me with the tomato crops. So far, the first harvest was 182 kilograms, which I sold for $104, and I hope to harvest at least 680 kg more,” Natividad says. “I sell the tomatoes locally to my neighbors here every day, and I feel good that I can offer them fresh tomatoes produced without too many chemicals.”
Since the fall, the Buena Vista producers’ group has sold almost half of their total vegetable production, earning an income of over $1,000. Natividad says she will use her share of the proceeds to pay for her children’s schooling. 
In addition to agricultural training, co-op members participate in workshops promoting gender equality, and last year, Natividad represented her group at the national Women’s Network for Prosperity Conference. 
“The ongoing training has changed our lives as a couple,” Natividad says. “Before, we used to just each do our own thing; but now, thanks to the gender trainings, things have really changed for the better in our relationship.”
April 19, 2013
New crops and potential benefits in Kenya
by Vibrant Village field team
Calliandra, also known as calliandra haematocephala is part of the fabaceae plant family, or legume family. Ring a bell? No? I was also unaware of this crop until last week when Richard, an unfathomably tall local farmer in Esabalu, stood up at the back of one of our meetings and asked whether I had any knowledge of the plant. My experience with farming is limited to a few failed attempts to grow tomatoes and chillies on my kitchen windowsill back in the UK, so I abashedly admitted my ignorance.

Turns out that calliandra is a non-native plant to Kenya that has myriad uses including animal feed, organic fertilizer and as a crop that can improve soil fertility. Full grown plants can also be used as fencing and construction material. Richard, after assisting a PHD researcher at the local university in the 1990s, has planted calliandra at home and wants to establish commercial production of calliandra saplings for local sale. 
Plants like calliandra could contribute to the crop diversification, which historically has not been a focus for farmers in the area of Esabalu. Part of the problem is a lack of access to key inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, the lack of cash to pay for these inputs, and lack of irrigation. Farmers are also reluctant to diversify their crops because of the focus and tradition of subsistence farming. For most if not all subsistence farmers in Esabalu, food security and ensuring they have enough food to feed their family is the sole focus.
However, crop diversification in the area is important for two reasons – firstly, complementary crops like calliandra can fix nitrogen and improve soil fertility for staple crops, improve yields and improve food security. Secondly, alternative crops may open new markets, create additional opportunities along the value chain and unlock wider community development potential (calliandra is a great source of feed for dairy cows!) -  all of which may lead to increased income for families.
Perhaps calliandra is not the silver bullet – but Richard’s dream of a commercial nursery for calliandra saplings represents just the kind of entrepreneurial spirit the Vibrant Village is looking to support to help farmers succeed in making a living and improving the health and wellbeing of their families and communities.