Increasing resilience in the face of skyrocketing costs

In the last few years Kenya has seen a 70 percent drop in crop production, with an estimated 3.1m people in acute hunger, now in need of aid. As a result of the conflict in Ukraine, the situation has worsened, with disruption to global supply chains causing the price of grains, oil, gas, and fertiliser to skyrocket.

Hand in Hand Eastern Africa CEO, Albert Wambugu, explains how the country’s poorest are bearing the brunt of the crisis – and how Hand in Hand is supporting its members on the ground.

Poor yields and food insecurity

“There are a number of reasons why crop production is falling overall in Kenya,” Albert explains. “Growing conditions here are extremely variable. You might have pockets where the land is fertile – and then areas where the soil quality is degraded, and rainfall is low.”

Maize is the country’s staple crop – but soil degradation and drought is affecting the ‘breadbasket’ regions where it is grown. Some of the commercial fertilisers used here are extremely acidic, and have damaged the soil. Albert says: “When the crops fail, people become reliant on food aid. Some families survive on as little as 2kg of maize a week,” Albert says.

Ukraine war causes price rises for staple goods

Because of the crisis in Ukraine, Kenyans are seeing price rises across the board. “The increasing price of fuel is very noticeable,” says Albert. “There’s been a 30% increase in less than one year.”

People in poverty spend a greater percentage of their income on food. For the very poorest, food price increases will result in adults skipping meals, or subsisting only on staples. “Cooking oil has doubled in price. When costs go up like this, the only thing people can focus on is putting food on the table. You would not be able to afford a balanced diet,” says Albert. “Protein from fish, for example, would be inconceivable.”

Cost of living increases can impact members’ enterprises too. Albert explains it’s almost impossible for people to prioritize saving when times are tough, or to spare the funds to invest money back into their businesses.

Strengthening resilience

To combat the hunger crisis, Albert’s team provide training on a range of sustainable farming techniques that improve soil quality as well as increasing yields.

“We tell our members there will always be things outside your sphere of influence, like supply chain volatility and weather changes. But there are things you can do to offset these – like crop diversification, or by using fertiliser that improves the soil instead of harming it. When you don’t know when the next rainfall will be, even something as simple as a water storage butt makes a difference. We teach people to adapt to their environment. Root crops like arrowroot contain more starch than maize and are easier to grow, so it might be a question of changing your dietary habits.”

They also focus on improving members’ financial resilience.

“We train people to set aside some of their income where possible, because savings are an important way of mitigating the impact of financial shocks. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, and now with the Ukraine crisis, this is vital. More recently, we have introduced our members to insurance. Only 3% of Kenyans have insurance,” Albert explains. “So we are working with providers to create new financial products that meet our members’ specific needs”

The team also encourage people to save in self-help groups. “When self-help groups are strong they can lend when things aren’t going well and, unlike some banks, don’t charge exorbitant rates of interest.”

Despite the challenging circumstances, Albert believes that the team at Hand in Hand Eastern Africa will continue to make a difference to the women they work with – and alleviate food insecurity.

“By giving women the tools they need to lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty, we are able to strengthen their resilience so they can weather this global crisis.”

“The farmers we train will also have an important role to play in safeguarding food security within their communities, as well as restoring the soil so it remains productive for future generations.”

 

Hand in Hand creates 3 millionth job

Fourteen years ago, Percy Barnevik and Dr Kalpana Sankar joined forces to expand a small charity in southern India that provided free schooling to children working in the local silk trade. It was called Hand in Hand.

They soon realised the real problem wasn’t a lack of schools; it was the desperation that forced parents to send their children to the factories in the first place. “We had to attack the root cause of the problem: poverty,” says Barnevik.

Fast-forward to today and that’s exactly what Hand in Hand has done, fighting poverty with business and skills training from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and in eight countries in between. Today, we’re proud to announce a major milestone in our story: the creation of Hand in Hand’s 3 millionth job.

“Even when they’re undernourished, downtrodden and illiterate, Hand in Hand’s entrepreneurs have an enormous will,” says Barnevik, now Hand in Hand’s honorary chair. “When they get a chance they’re not letting it go by. These women can move mountains.”

Here’s to fourteen more years, millions more jobs and more moved mountains.

Hand in Hand must ‘prioritise income diversification’ in Tanzania: study

Hand in Hand’s programme in Tanzania will hinge on two key factors, according to a new report from Ipsos: changing the way people think about Self-Help Groups and helping our members diversify their incomes.

Published this month, the report surveyed 4,000 adults in Arusha and Kilimanjaro, providing Hand’s in Hand’s clearest picture yet of life in our target areas and establishing the baseline by which future progress will be measured. With the report finished, group mobilisation can begin later this year.

Our target districts

There is no shortage of districts in Tanzania that could benefit from Hand in Hand’s training. To begin with, we’re focusing on five: Ashura Rural and Meru in Aruha, and Moshi Rural, Hai and Rombo in Kilimanjaro. Besides their proximity to our headquarters in Kenya, the districts were chosen because each has a population density of at least 150 people per square kilometre, the minimum required to make our programme viable according to Ipsos.

More than half of Arushans (55 percent) and one-third of Kilimajarans (34 percent) live in poverty, according to the UNDP 2014 Human Development Report. Across our target districts, the estimated rural adult population living in poverty is 293,110. If Hand in Hand achieves our goal, a significant majority (68 percent) of impoverished adults in our target areas will see their lives transformed.

By the numbers

Infographic: Members trained: 104,934 Our Self-Help Group members save together, train together and start businesses together

Rural adult population living in poverty in Hand in Hand’s target areas: 293,110

Number of jobs we aim to create: 200,000

Percentage of target rural poor with improved incomes: 68 percent

Before we can start to mobilise in earnest, we need to know everything we can about our future members. What are their livelihoods? How can we help them most effectively? What threats do they most consistently face? Only 9 percent of households surveyed by Ipsos earned their income solely from business – owning a shop, say, or transporting people and goods on motorcycles (known in Eastern Africa as boda boda). An additional 15 percent earned a portion of their income from business. The rest, 76 percent, relied entirely on farming to see them through, many at the subsistence level. It’s no surprise, then, that only 57 percent of respondents are putting money aside as savings. Perhaps more surprising was the degree of organisation among those surveyed: 34 percent of respondents already belong to Self-Help Groups. The groups exist chiefly to support members in times of trouble (46 percent) and occasionally as a source of microfinance (20 percent), and are registered with local government.

Challenges

Flooding in Arusha

There are two seasons in northern Tanzania: rainy and dry. For the 91 percent of adults who rely on agriculture for some or all of their incomes, says Ipsos, the resulting boom-and-bust crop cycle means periods of relative abundance followed by periods of scarcity and hunger.

Making matters worse, ‘rainy’ and ‘dry’ can often mean ‘flooding’ and ‘drought’, and depressed incomes and food insecurity are perennial risks. In an environment where almost half of households (43 percent) regard saving as an impossibility, “fear and mistrust” of savings-driven Self-Help Groups are common, warns the report. Microfinance is considered even more dangerous and avoided for fears that climatic shocks will wipe out crops and livestock, leading to borrowers to default on their loans.

Recommendations

Hand in Hand group savings meeting, Rwanda

Only 5 percent of survey respondents who belonged to pre-existing groups said they were being supported by NGOs. To begin with, says the report, Hand in Hand should focus on the other 95 percent, filling gaps in skills training, the provision of microfinance and links to larger markets. Mobilising the ‘un-grouped’ – the 66 percent majority who worry they cannot save – will require a softer touch, says Ipsos. Here, initial efforts should focus on “community sensitisation… to change negative perceptions”, and “may require a pull factor, e.g. market linkages, to bring people together.” It will also require a programme that addresses climatic shocks head-on, reducing risk in order to incentivise savings and credit. This “can be achieved through Hand in Hand’s entrepreneurship training” in two ways, Ipsos concludes. For starters, early training modules should promote farming practices that mitigate the effects of climate change: irrigation, planting trees to reduce soil erosion and so on. Secondly, once groups are firmly established, training should “prioritise income diversification” and encourage members to launch businesses that generate income all year.

Download the report

Hand in Hand teams up with the IKEA Foundation on youth, climate change

Hand in Hand and the IKEA Foundation are teaming up to help thousands of women and young people in rural Kenya work towards a brighter, more environmentally friendly future.

Launched in April with a US $3.6 million grant from the IKEA Foundation, the project will help 43,200 impoverished mothers and young people in Kenya thrive as eco-entrepreneurs, even while inspiring 4,800 future business leaders at Entrepreneurship Clubs in schools. For thousands of children, the results will be transformative: full stomachs, inquiring minds and a world full of potential.

The grant is among the IKEA Foundation’s first after it announced last year it would dedicate €1 billion (US $1.14 billion) to fighting climate change.

“We believe children have better futures when their families earn sustainable incomes, which is why we are supporting Hand in Hand with a US $3.6 million grant,” said Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at IKEA Foundation. “Our partnership with Hand in Hand will help thousands of women and young people in Kenya create jobs and small businesses that can stand up to climate change. We are really excited to launch this partnership and begin our work together!”

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Standing up to climate change

Look at poverty differently and you’ll see entrepreneurs, full of energy and ideas. Hand in Hand’s helps harness their potential. They find a way up and out of poverty, boosted by our comprehensive job creation model.

Savings groups and business training in areas such as bookkeeping and marketing aren’t rare. Nor, for that matter, is microfinance. But where other organisations focus on one or two of these elements, Hand in Hand combines all three – then adds a fourth by connecting entrepreneurs to larger markets and value chains.

Our partnership with the IKEA Foundation goes one step further, adding another crucial element: resilience to climate change. That means creating thousands of self-sustaining green businesses in areas like water purification, charcoal briquette production and upcycling. It also means training thousands more agricultural entrepreneurs to farm organically, and to use techniques including crop diversification, irrigation, planting trees to reduce soil erosion and more.

“Impoverished rural communities are on the front lines of climate change,” said Hand in Hand Eastern Africa CEO Pauline Ngari. “Now more than ever, adaptation and mitigation are absolutely crucial. We thank the IKEA Foundation for playing their part, and enabling us to play ours.”

Entrepreneurship Clubs

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Students in the Entrepreneurship Club at Wangu Primary School, Nairobi.

Empowering mothers to work their way out of poverty is a prerequisite to achieving the first Sustainable Development Goal, to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’. But it raises an important question: if our members received entrepreneurship education earlier in life, would they be struggling as much to begin with?

Thanks to Hand in Hand’s Entrepreneurship Clubs, we’ll soon find out. The after-school clubs teach students aged 10 to 16 the basics of business, culminating in income-generating group projects used to offset participants’ school fees. In a country where high school graduates vastly outnumber available jobs, and where 80 percent of unemployed people are between the ages of 15 and 34, promoting entrepreneurship at school must be part of the solution.

By the numbers

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43,200 jobs created

info entrepreneurship club

4,800 students in Entrepreneurship Clubs

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US $3.6 million donated by the IKEA Foundation