men walking in a corn field

This Holiday Season, Give A Gift That Keeps Giving

Self-Help International, an Iowa-based nonprofit organization, is connecting Iowans with farm families in Nicaragua and Ghana.

By Beth Grabau

Editor's Note: Beth Grabau is Central Iowa Development Officer for Self-Help International, based at Waverly, Iowa.

An Iowa-based organization which helps farmers in poverty stricken, developing countries, has a new twist on adopting a family for the holidays. Through their "farmers helping farmers" initiative, Self-Help International is connecting Iowa farm families with farm families in Nicaragua and Ghana. The Waverly-based nonprofit's mission is to alleviate hunger by helping people help themselves.

According to Executive Director Nora Tobin, most of the families Self-Help works with are small-holder farmers living on less than $2 a day, farming 1/2 acre to 2 acres of land. "They are hardworking families who struggle to feed their children year-round," she says. "They're proud, and have dignity. They don't want charity, they want the training and expertise to improve their yields and escape the cycle of poverty."

Training people how to use improved farming practices
This holiday season, Self-Help is raising funds to train 300 people in improved agricultural practices and small agro-enterprises at two training centers in Ghana and Nicaragua. To ensure the trainees succeed, Self-Help staff members conduct follow-up visits with each person. "Most of the trainees have very little formal education, so we can't send home written materials with them to follow up," says Tobin. "We have to follow up in person. It typically takes three to five training sessions, whether at the center or a visit to their farm, for trainees to learn and fully implement the improved practices."

It costs about $75 per person for each training session or $225 to $350 per person for a full training cycle. That investment in trainees can help farmers in Nicaragua double or even triple their yields or enable young people in Ghana to start a new enterprise, bringing in new income to their families.

"Often, rural families can't afford to send children to school past junior high," she adds. "Students graduate with few marketable skills, move to the city in search of a job, are met with high rates of unemployment and may end up falling into gangs, drugs and youth violence. The training center provides an alternative, a way to stay in their home communities and generate a source of income to contribute to the family."

Helping people help themselves is Self-Help's mission
Self-Help International's centers in Ghana and Nicaragua offer a variety of training, ranging from training young people to raise rabbits, poultry and snails to sell and consume as a source of income and protein for their families, to helping farmers improve yields through demonstration plots, storage bins and new technology such as drip irrigation.

"Drip irrigation allows families to conserve water, a scarce resource, and still grow a food supply year-round, even during the dry season," Tobin explains. "Many families don't have refrigerators to preserve food, so we train them how to pickle vegetables in the rainy season when food is plentiful as a way to preserve food to consume in the dry season. We also offer loans to farmers so they can buy silos, what we in Iowa would call grain bins, to store their crops."

The families put their new earning-power to good use
The silos, for example, are a management practice that reduces postharvest loss by 37% and enable farmers to store their grain to sell when prices are higher rather than right after harvest.

How do families spend the increased income? "With greater family income, children are fed more meals a day, not just one or two," says Tobin. "They're fed more nutritious meals, sent to school at younger ages, and are able to stay in school longer, maybe even go to college! Some families are able to build a second room on their home, or invest in better roofing materials to keep the leaks out, but across both countries and programs, they invest first in providing for their children."

You can designate which program your gift supports
You can make a donation to a family in Ghana or Nicaragua here. You can designate which program your gift supports and download a printable certificate if the gift is given in honor of someone on your Christmas gift list.

$350 provides a farmer with a full cycle of five training sessions to enable him or her to improve yields or start a new enterprise to increase income and food security and escape the poverty cycle

$175 provides a farm family with a 51-bushel silo (grain bin) that can reduce postharvest loss

$100 provides a farmer with a hand-crank corn sheller so farmers don't have to separate corn from the cob by hand

$75 provides a farmer with one training session to enable him or her to improve yields or start a new ag enterprise to increase income and food security, to escape the poverty cycle

$65 provides a farm family with a 16-bushel silo (grain bin)

$50 provides fertilizer for 1 acre of corn

$10 provides a family with a starter pack of quality protein maize (QPM) seed corn to plant a half-acre. QPM is a non-genetically modified corn that's higher yielding than traditional corn and has twice the amount of digestible protein, so children are able to consume an affordable source of protein that's critical to brain development.

For more information about Self-Help International visit or call 319-352-4040.

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