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Planting the seeds of food security

Two years ago, Vancouver-based investment banker Kevin Campbell visited a Plan program area in Mali, West Africa and decided to help fund an innovative agricultural microfinance project.

In Mali, one of the world’s most impoverished nations, agriculture is the main source of income, with 80% of the labour force engaged in it. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, Malian farmers face constant challenges in their struggle to ensure consistently strong crop yields to feed their families and generate income. But these farmers lack the means to purchase even the most basic supplies and equipment that farmers in richer countries take for granted.

Consultations with community members, communal councils, government, local non-government organizations and Plan staff confirmed that subsidies for fertilizer and equipment were a priority need. Campbell committed to a donation that made it possible to provide low-interest loans for this purpose. Planting the seeds of food security

“The first year was difficult because the farmers faced tough and unusual climatic conditions,” says Campbell.  “We decided that we wouldn’t ask them to start paying back their loans until year two. But remarkably, all the farmers still insisted on keeping to the original schedule. They were completely committed to the business model and the extraordinary opportunity the program presented.”

When the farmers pay back the loan portion of the financing, the money goes into a community fund. In addition to providing a pool of capital for more agricultural loans, the fund provides financing for schooling, the operating costs of health clinics, and other priority projects. The community fund will support the repair of a water retention dam, expansion and development of irrigation piping systems, and educational support to women and youth farming cooperatives.

In an area with no banking infrastructure, this innovative program is giving community members the start-up funding and organizational training they need to improve their agricultural production, income, food security and quality of life in a sustainable way. This equips families with what they need to reduce their vulnerability in a time of food insecurity.

Expanding the circle

When Campbell returned to the area earlier this year to see the progress that had been made, he brought along his friend, Dario Meli.

Meli was so impressed by what he saw on the trip that he returned home determined to spread the word and raise more money to ensure continued funding for this and similar projects. He started by participating in the 2008 Vancouver Blogathon for Charity.

In his blog, Meli wrote, “When we arrive in N’Gouraba the entire village is out to greet us. We are early even, but they are waiting diligently. Once we run the gauntlet of cheering villagers we sit with the mayor, tribal elders, and a host of spectators as we are presented with gifts. [Kevin Campbell] is overwhelmed as they present him with one thing after another including the honourary position as head of the Farmers. This is a tremendous honour and because you can’t be the head of the Farmers without any land, he is promptly presented with a deed for one hectare of land! Wow!”

Through the blogathon, Meli raised more than $2,500 for Plan projects. He continues to fundraise for Plan, encouraging colleagues at his company, Invoke Media, to join him in his efforts.

Ending hunger

Over the next five years, Plan will invest $750 million in food and income security programs that will reach more than five million people. Our goals are to provide immediate relief for children and families, and long-term solutions to the global food crisis.

Like Meli, you can launch your own fundraising campaign, using our online tools to help you get organized. Inspire your friends and family to be part of something extraordinary!