Hand in Hand teams up with IKEA Foundation on planet-positive agriculture

With the right mindset, turning a profit and restoring the environment can be one and the same. That’s why Hand in Hand and the IKEA Foundation are teaming up to help smallholder farmers in Kenya become leaders in planet-positive agriculture, equipped with the training and tools to lift themselves out of poverty, reverse environmental degradation and show their neighbours there’s a better way to farm.

The problem

Agriculture employs 70 percent of the rural Kenyans and contributes 26 percent of the country’s annual GDP. But most farmers lack the money, skills and tools they need to get the most out of their land and are forced to use practices that damage the environment, make the soil less fertile and threaten the future of their food systems.

Already, more than a third of Kenyan farmers grow crops on degraded land, costing the national economy an estimated US $1.3 billion a year. Unless we act now, more land will be damaged and productivity will continue to fall, breaking the backbone of Kenya’s economy while causing untold damage to its food systems and natural environment.

Our solution

With support from the IKEA Foundation, Hand in Hand will train 1,600 smallholder farmers in regenerative and circular practices to increase productivity and reduce poverty.

Regenerative agriculture favours practices such as crop rotation and using organic fertilisers that help restore soil and water systems, ensuring farms remain sustainable long into the future. Circularity means reusing essential resources like water and natural fertiliser, cutting down on agricultural waste and encouraging vibrant local economies, independent from global demand. Together, they comprise a transformative approach to agriculture that does good for farmers and for the environment.

To help take this transformative approach to scale, Hand in Hand will generate evidence and spread project learning to its network of 250,000 smallholder members countrywide. At the same time, it will empower its core group of 1,600 planet-friendly farmers to be grassroots advocates for regenerative and circular practices at the local and regional levels.

The three-year, US $2.5 million project concludes in September 2023.

Why the IKEA Foundation is supporting the project

The IKEA Foundation is supporting Hand in Hand to test, share and scale up planet-positive farming methods so that smallholder farmers can earn a decent income and protect the planet, while laying the foundations for future efforts to promote this approach to farming across Kenya.

By the numbers

Project goal: 1,600 members trained in planet-positive agriculture

Project duration: 3 years

Project cost: US $2.5 million

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Let’s do this

Hand in Hand named ACT Charity of the Year for third year running

It’s being billed as the Association of Corporate Treasurers’ ‘(Not the) Annual Dinner’, but for the third year running Hand in Hand International most definitely is the Charity of the Year.

On Wednesday 11 November the ACT’s membership will not meet in a packed ballroom in London’s Mayfair to ring in the premier networking event in the corporate finance calendar. Instead, they’ll meet online as the event goes virtual – including a live online auction in support of Hand in Hand.

Funds raised on the night will go towards Hand in Hand’s Fund for Fearless Women, helping vulnerable women beat the odds and succeed as entrepreneurs, lifting their families and their communities out of poverty.

Hosted by business leader and BBC presenter David Meade, the event features an address from Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Research: poverty rate doubles as coronavirus grips Kenya

When Kenya recorded its first case of coronavirus on 12 March, the government wasted no time in acting: within 72 hours strict lockdown measures were in effect, and inter-county travel bans, the closure of open-air markets and a countrywide 9pm to 4am curfew soon followed.

Now, original new research from Hand in Hand is providing perhaps the most detailed look yet at how the smallholder farmers and microenterprise owners that power Kenya’s informal economy, in particular women, are struggling to cope.

The findings, which come as the government of Kenya yesterday extended its curfew by 30 days even while loosening some travel restrictions, paint a bleak picture of shuttered businesses, dwindling savings, and a country with a long road to recovery.

But they also sketch a roadmap to recovery, capturing the areas where our members – and the 11.8 million Kenyans who work in the country’s informal economy – most need support.

The results

In late-May, Hand in Hand staff surveyed 579 Self-Help Group members and 197 borrowers from our Enterprise Incubation Fund, almost 80 percent of them women, to find out they’d been affected by the lockdown. Respondents were randomly selected from 21 branches spread out across the central and southern portions of the country.

How were their businesses coping? Their savings and debt levels? What steps were they taking to adapt? What assistance did they need, financial and otherwise?

Here’s what they said.

 

83% living in poverty

Poverty

Before coronavirus forced Kenya into lockdown, 44 percent of sampled members lived below the poverty line of US $1.90 per person per day (Countrywide, the poverty rate is 36 percent.) Eight weeks into lockdown, that number had almost doubled, reaching 83 percent. 

 

25% of businesses closed

Business closures

A full quarter of respondents’ had been forced to close their businesses. In some areas, that figure was as high as 40 percent. Transport and manufacturing were the hardest-hit sectors, with just 55 percent and 67 percent of Kenyan microenterprise owners still managing respectively. Agriculture, where 78 percent respondents of still had work, and retail, where 75 percent did, were faring best.

 

67% drop in income

Business income

Even when businesses managed to stay open, the picture was bleak: regardless of sector, location or gender, the average drop in business income was 67 percent. Not surprisingly, then, respondents identified low business incomes, a lack of customers due to market closures, and low demand as their most pressing challenges. Rising prices for farm inputs and a lack of affordable transport were other common themes.

 

69% drop in savings

Savings

Before the lockdown, 5 percent of respondents had no savings. Eight weeks later, that figure had shot to 39 percent. Just over half of all respondents, 54 percent, said they’d spent at least some of their savings on household needs including food. An almost equal number, 52 percent, had put at least some towards keeping their businesses running. Five percent were using their savings to pay off loans.

For almost all of them, time was running out. Five weeks ago when the survey was conducted, only 14 percent had a rainy day fund that would last more than a month.

 

54% plan to take out a loan to restart their business

Financing

Forty-two percent of members had no outstanding loans. Among the 58 percent who did, Self-Help Group savings funds and Hand in Hand’s Enterprise Incubation Fund were the two most common sources of credit. Both groups said financing to restart their businesses was their most important requirement, citing an average loan size of KES 27,200 (US $260). Zero-collateral loans, grants and even food donations were requested with no prompting.

Other ways we can help

Financing was our members’ number one requirement – but it wasn’t their only one. Eighty-four percent said they need personal protective equipment including face masks, gloves and soap to reopen. Farm inputs such as new seeds, training to help businesses survive during lockdown, and help accessing markets were also requested.

And then there were members who needed no help at all. Nine percent of respondents said they’d made strategic adaptations to their businesses, ranging from sourcing inputs locally to circumvent transport restrictions to more directly marketing their products door-to-door. In one case, a woman in Nairobi said she was working to make her handmade goods available on an e-commerce platform.

To learn more about this report and how Hand in Hand is adapting our programmes to help our members recover, please contact Hand in Hand International Head of Programmes Amalia Johnsson.

Hilti Foundation, Hand in Hand announce major recovery project

From coronavirus to climate change, poverty to food security, humanity’s greatest challenges prove that we, the global family, depend on each other.

Now, a new partnership between The Hilti Foundation, Hand in Hand International and thousands of smallholder farmers across East Africa proves that when our global family comes together, no challenge is too big to overcome.

Launching this month thanks to a US $4.2 million investment from the Hilti Foundation, the three-year project aims to reach 24,000 farmers across Kenya and Tanzania, creating almost 17,000 enterprises and 22,000 jobs. Members will be trained to run some of the most profitable agri-businesses in the region, then recruited into its most robust value chains, helping them rebuild from coronavirus and stay thriving for years to come.

Focusing on dairy, poultry and high-margin produce, the project is the second between Hand in Hand and The Hilti Foundation, bringing the overall number of farmers reached by the partnership to 40,000. Changes to women’s decision-making power in the home will be measured. And climate-resilient practices such as topsoil regeneration, biodiversity and rainwater harvesting will be emphasised throughout.

“The Hilti Foundation was committed to expanding our partnership with Hand in Hand before the outbreak of Covid-19. In the context of the global pandemic, our program in Eastern Africa has become even more relevant: enabling smallhold enterprises in rural areas to grow into flourishing businesses creates economic and social development for entire regions.” said Werner Wallner, The Hilti Foundation CEO.

Dorothea Arndt, CEO of Hand in Hand International, said: “Covid-19 is already leaving a global economic crisis in its wake. As we switch from saving lives to saving livelihoods, organisations like Hand in Hand will be crucial in leading the recovery. And strategic partners like The Hilti Foundation, committed to creating opportunities for people to take their lives into their own hands, will be more important than ever before.”

For more information about the project, please contact Senior Partnerships and Project Officer Dan Browne.

By the numbers

 

24,000 smallolder farmers

17,000 enterprises

22.000 jobs

Research: coronavirus fuels food security crisis in Afghanistan

Spent savings, sold assets and a high and growing dependence on food aid. That’s the picture for thousands of families in north Afghanistan according to new, original research from Hand in Hand.

The findings underscore reports from the IPC and others that that conflict, joblessness and coronavirus are combining to plunge the country into crisis, with 11 million Afghans – more than a third of the population – now classified as acutely food insecure.

Conducted earlier this month, the survey asked community leaders from eight villages in Balkh Province how coronavirus was hitting their communities. The findings will help guide Hand in Hand’s efforts as we move from delivering soap, chlorine, face masks and virus prevention to training to 65,000 vulnerable people in the north of the country, to helping our members lead the economic recovery and remain food secure.

Most residents in the villages we surveyed have been forced from their homes by Taliban violence, and today live in tents provided by the UN. Others are returnees from surrounding countries. The vast majority, 80 percent, were considered poor and vulnerable even before the coronavirus brought the economy to a halt.

Here, according to our research, is where they stand today:

  • Most households depend on short-term day labour, which has completely dried up due to lockdowns.
  • Many male household members (parents, youth) have migrated to Iran and Turkey looking for work.
  • Dependency on food aid is high. Resources are extremely limited. As settlements rather than camps, these areas fall outside of humanitarian aid, and government support programmes are very short term.
  • Most households have used up savings and are selling key assets such as livestock to feed themselves.
  • Women are especially vulnerable: domestic violence has increased in many households, as have the risks of robbery in households where male members have migrated.

Hand in Hand wants to help thousands more women and their families stand up to Afghanistan’s food crisis by joining the country’s poultry value chain and producing and selling eggs.

Requiring little space and operational from home, poultry farming is ideal during a lockdown. And because most chickens are imported from outside Afghanistan, it’s one of the few value chains in the country whose worth has actually increased since March. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a direct source of nutrition for women and their families at an incredibly precarious time.

To find out how you can help, contact Hand in Hand. Or you can donate today.

Training resumes in Kenya, Afghanistan

Hand in Hand’s business and skills training is starting to gradually return, two months after coronavirus lockdown measures put projects on hold. The move allows staff to test new ways of delivering training in line with Covid-19 safety rules, working closely with local officials in Afghanistan and Kenya.

Although cases are climbing in both countries, worries around the economy and food security have compelled governments to invite Hand in Hand and other NGOs back to work.

Kenya

Staff are back to work in all 26 of our branches, reaching out to local officials to announce our return. In most cases, we’re being asked to resume training immediately.

In line with government regulations, Self-Help Group meetings have been cut in half to 10 participants, separated by two to three steps, significantly slowing delivery. All meetings are taking place outside.

We’ve also imposed an additional rule of our own: no meeting can take place unless everyone present is wearing a face mask and all have washed their hands to start the meeting. In the event members don’t have these items, we’re providing them ourselves.

Training is being delivered with specific reference to coronavirus, signposting members to new suppliers and opportunities such as making masks and soap.

Afghanistan

Efforts in Afghanistan have been similarly far-reaching, with training back up and running in most branches countrywide.

Just like in Kenya strict safety measures apply, ranging from reduced group sizes and social distancing of at least 1.5 metres between members to mandatory handwashing and face-covering. Members who require safety items receive them, and to the fullest extent possible training is happening outside.

In a country where a third of people face food shortages as a result of coronavirus, projects that boost food security are a particular priority. In Samangan province, work is gearing up to help 350 families onto the poultry value chain, providing vital nutrition to their families and communities.

As in Kenya, reduced group sizes are slowing programme delivery.

Coronavirus response ongoing

At the same time as our regular projects gear back up, Hand in Hand’s emergency coronavirus response is moving full-steam ahead. In Kenya, we reached more than 10,000 members via mobile and SMS with messages about health and safety, sourcing seedlings and crops, and adapting their businesses to make face masks and soap during the month of May. In Afghanistan, we’re on track to provide more than 65,000 people with life-saving health messages, chlorine and soap by the end of June.

Hand in Hand reaches thousands in Kenya with coronavirus advice

Last month, as lockdown measures, curfews and strict social distancing laws brought Kenya to a halt, Hand in Hand traded Self-Help Groups for SMS’, motorbikes for mobile phones, setting out to reach more than 85,000 members with handwashing guidelines and other health messages, signpost to vital health services, and counter fake news.

At the same time, we were determined to empower our members to lead the fight against the coronavirus in their communities, providing advice on how to produce soap and masks, boosting food security by pointing rural members to alternative sources of seedlings and crops, and making sure far-flung communities get their messages to distant government officials.

One month later, as outreach ramps up across 21 counties, we’re able to report our progress for the very first time. From 13 April to 10 May, the latest period for which data are available, our trainers reached:

45,417 members with handwashing guidelines and other health messages

14,666 members providing links to new sources of seedlings and crops

11,104 members with advice on adapting businesses, selling face masks and soap

 

Face masks made and sold by the Uwezo Wema Self-Help Group.

Uwezo Wema, a Self-Help Group based in Babadogo, Nairobi County was one of the first to be contacted by trainers.

“The usual products we used to sell the pre-Corona period – shopping bags, playing balls and sandals – are no longer in high demand,” says Rhoda, the group’s Chair. “In order to survive we were forced to be creative and come up with a different business idea. Now we’re selling masks and sanitiser, which Hand in Hand taught us how to make. Our income is down from what is used to be, but we are thankful that at least we can make something during such a difficult time.”

Why women and girls are vulnerable to coronavirus

Although the risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19 is greater among men and the elderly, women in the developing world face unique challenges that shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, Hand in Hand Programme Development Manager Isabel Creixell explains how women are being affected – and what Hand in Hand is doing to help them.

 

 

Livelihoods

Women are traditional caregivers: when a family member gets sick, it’s their job to step in. First and foremost, this puts them at greater risk of infection. But even in cases when they don’t fall ill, the burden of household work can increase exponentially, particularly at a time when children are home from school. Parents all over the world have been struggling with a version of this, and in many cases feeling completely overwhelmed. Now imagine if you also had to walk miles every day to fetch water, plus do the chores and shopping yourself, all while tending to the smallholding that’s keeping your family from starving and, in many cases, trying to run a small business on the side. Something’s got to give, and when a family member or members fall ill that thing is almost always the business – and in many cases the farm.

 

 

Hunger

Women working as unpaid nurses don’t have time to be unpaid farmers. In households where men don’t share the burden (most of them, in rural settings) and virtually 100 percent of female-headed households, health crises can turn to hunger crises, quick.

Across our operating countries – right now – there are women who don’t have the time to grow food because of coronavirus and don’t have the savings to buy it. Those who do have savings will be running out soon. At the same time, women are more likely than men to work in the informal economy, meaning they lack social protections like insurance or sick paid leave. Their capacity to absorb shocks, in other words, can be effectively non-existent.

Finally, and maybe most starkly, when economic pressures and food shortages visit rural households, tradition often dictates that women and girls eat least and last.

 

 

Gender-based violence

Increases in gender-based violence during lockdown have rightly caught our attention here in the developed world. The developing world, where rates of violence against women are significantly higher, deserves our attention too.

Let’s not forget that things could get worse, not better, as the lockdown lifts and the true extent of our economic crisis begins to dawn. If isolation is one cause of gender-based violence, stress and financial difficulties are two more. At a time when every spare penny will have gone to buying food, escaping violent relationships will be more difficult than ever.

 

 

Health

Health services can be universally lacking in the countries where we work. But even when they’re available women face unique challenges in accessing them. In some communities, restrictive norms keep women from travelling alone. In others’, doctors won’t see them unless their husband – who could well be ill with Covid-19 – is present at the appointment.

How Hand in Hand is helping

Long-term plans to help women weather the coming economic storm are being developed by our programmes teams now.

In the more immediate term, we’ve already taken measures to protect our women members. These include:

  • Reaching women that official health guidance hasn’t, typically via their Self-Help Group leaders, to spread information about social distancing, handwashing and other virus prevention measures.
  • Providing opportunities to talk about domestic abuse. Although they’re stuck in their homes, some women find that simply having a space to talk about their situation can benefit their mental health. When the lockdown is over, we can more actively direct them to support services.
  • Providing information about keeping their businesses running, from how to produce items such as soap and masks to boosting food security by pointing rural members to alternative sources of seedlings and crops.
  • Working with men, who make up roughly 20 percent of our members, to share information about the benefits of sharing household tasks.
  • Reaching men with targeted messages about coping mechanisms, and providing someone to talk to, in order to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse.

95% of Hand in Hand members report improved quality of life

From designing new projects to evaluating old ones, Hand in Hand puts our members at the centre of everything we do. So last year, we asked 60 Decibels – experts in measuring impact through “customer feedback lens” – to find out what our members in Kenya are saying about our work.

For two weeks in November, the team at 60 Decibels interviewed more than 170 members who’d completed our training, all within the last two years.

Here’s what they had to say:

  • Hand in Hand’s training is useful. 95 percent of respondents were still using it in their business.
  • Hand in Hand’s training improves people’s lives. 95 percent saw improvements in their quality of life after completing our training. Bigger incomes were the main reason why.
  • Hand in Hand goes where other NGOs don’t. 92 percent of respondents said there was no alternative to Hand in Hand where they lived.
  • Given a choice, they prefer Hand in Hand. Among respondents who had an alternative, 85 percent said Hand in Hand was better.
  • They could use more credit. Asked for suggested improvement, 34 percent of respondents suggested increased financing, the most common of any response.

Conducted before the threat of coronavirus was known, the survey will nevertheless help us tailor our post-Covid-19 response, providing insight into what’s working for our members and where we can be of more help. More on that in weeks in and months to come.