Mikestrathdee’s Blog


Growing vanilla in Tanzania
June 26, 2018, 7:43 pm
Filed under: Business, Environment, gardening, Uncategorized, Work

Growing vanilla in Tanzania

2 Rehema and Martha KisangaRehema and Martha Kisanga grow over a dozen different crops on their three-acre farm.

MEDA partnership helps with irrigation, training

2 polinating by handVanilla flowers must be pollinated by hand.As printed in The Marketplace – May/June 2018

Like many Tanzanian farmers, Martha Kisanga has a lot on the go.

She grows a dozen crops on her three-acre property in Lyamungo Village in the Machame area of Tanzania.

Squash, corn, yams, coffee and bananas have been among the mainstays until the last few years, when she began growing half an acre of vanilla.

She has three dairy cows that supply milk for her household plus a bit more to sell to neighbors. The primary value of her cows is in the by- product. Cow dung provides a free source of fertilizer to promote the growth of various crops. She needs to buy more cows to have enough fertilizer on hand.

Kisanga is also a lead farmer who has received training from MEDA partner NEI (story on previous page). She works with other farmers in quarterly training sessions that include best practices in planting, use of mulching and bio-pesticides, reducing harvest losses, and where to take beans after harvest. She is paid for her time, which includes recruiting new producers, and has an incentive to ensure farmers she works with do well, receiving a percentage from their production.

She harvests between 15-20 kilograms (33-44 pounds) of vanilla pods annually. Vanilla is by far the most lucrative crop of the many she grows. Top quality beans, 17 centimetres (almost seven inches) or larger, fetch $30 a kilogram. Smaller pods sell for $20 a kg. Martha earned about $400 US from the vanilla she sold to NEI in 2017.

2 Neil Ashworth deputy supply chain manager for NEINEI staffer Neil Ashworth works with farmers.Vanilla has to be pollinated by hand, producing one bean per flower, a labor-intensive process. The plant flowers for three months. Six months later, the harvest starts, continuing between July and October. Vanilla vines are not terribly thirsty. But they do need a regular drink, about a litre of water per week. That’s increasingly a problem in some parts of Tanzania. There is a short rainy season of a month or two from the end of November to early January, followed by a couple of months without rain. A longer rainy season begins in April. Then it gets really dry again in September and October. Many crops can’t wait that long for water.

2 IMG 9426Harvesting rainwater for dry season irrigationClimate change is leading to more erratic weather patterns. Some years the short rainy season hardly comes at all. “Every year it’s different,” says Neil Ashworth, NEI’s deputy supply chain manager. “Some years you have heavy long rains, and other years, you miss the short rains completely.”

Getting water from a nearby river is neither practical nor sustainable.

That’s where MEDA and NEI come in, by helping farmers like the Kisangas harvest rainwater from the roofs of their homes into large plastic collection tanks.

The project will supply 300 farmers with tanks, giving them a dependable water source during the dry months. “The more that we can supply (with barrels), that have no access, or very little access to water on the farm, it makes a big difference for them, not only in terms of vanilla, but other crops,” Ashworth said. “They are able to water in the dry season. It helps them with their income.”

MEDA also does training to promote capacity-building. NEI provides vanilla cuttings to farmers, covering 80 per cent of the cost. Farmers pay the other 20 per cent. A two-metre vine takes four years to reach a harvest. ◆

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Climate and Coffee – Kenyan firm helps farmers grow beans amidst changing weather patterns
June 26, 2018, 7:39 pm
Filed under: Business, Environment, gardening, Generosity, Uncategorized, Work

Climate and coffee

CDD WORKER WITH SEEDLINGS 3 Women make up most of the workforce at Caffe Del Duca’s seedling nursery. Photos by Mike Strathdee

Kenyan firm helps farmers grow beans amidst changing weather patterns

By Mike Strathdee

As printed in The Marketplace – May/June 2018THIKA, KENYA — Arabica is the most popular coffee variety in the world, accounting for three-quarter of worldwide production by some estimates.

It’s also something that future generations will have to do without due to climate change, a Kenyan coffee expert suggests.

“Eventually, this type of coffee will disappear,” Elio Lolli predicted while giving a tour of his coffee plantation to MEDA supporters earlier this year. “It’s not (going to be) economically viable.”

Lolli, director of Caffe Del Duca, is looking for ways to develop new coffee varieties that will be able to thrive in the changing weather conditions.

A woman mixes coffee beans that are drying on long tables in the sun.Caffe Del Duca, located in Maboromoko- Thika, 26 miles north-east of Nairobi, works with thousands of farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to source quality coffee, roasting the collected product for local and export markets.

Through a recent partnership with MEDA, the company will work with 1,000 new farmers and 100 micro-enterprises in Western Kenya over the next two years, targeting an equal number of female and male entrepreneurs.

cdd OWNER SMILINGElio LolliLolli’s father came to Tanzania from Italy in 1954 to work in coffee, planning to stay for two years. “Since then, we’re still here.”

Throughout his working lifetime, Lolli has been involved in growing coffee and making machinery, including pulpers that reduce water consumption.

Climate change is a concern that forces the development of new coffee blends, including Italian blends. “We are actually seeing the climate change,” he said.

Caffe Del Duca used to get a late crop in November or December. Now they get the crop in May or June “which means the quality is going down, not up. Any good food or fruit, it takes a long time to ripen.”

In addition to declining quality, “it’s getting more difficult to produce because of the climate change.”

Finding the right moisture levels for coffee is challenging. If there is not enough rain, the beans become too light, Lolli said.

If there is too much rain, the coffee berries (also known as cherries) become diseased.

A woman mixes coffee beans that are drying on long tables in the sun.Historically, Kenya has had two distinct coffee crops, Arabica and Robusta, says Leonard Murwayi, a value chain specialist with the firm. Farmers have been marginalized as Kenya imports Robusta, so Caffe Del Duca is working to increase the domestic supply of Robusta.

Robusta coffee has generally been less favored than the Arabica. Robusta is more bitter and less flavorful than Arabica. Espresso in Kenya and Ethiopia has historically been 70 per cent Robusta and 30 per cent Arabica, according to Caffe Del Duca’s web site.

Over the past four years, the company has been working to create a nursery to cross-pollinate and create a Robusta coffee that is water resistant and high production.

Caffe Del Duca has 14 employees, two-thirds of them women. Women have better manual dexterity than men, making them better suited for working with seedlings, Lolli explains.

The partnership with MEDA will help Caffe Del Duca gain improved access to local, regional and international markets and strengthen the business capacity of the 100 entrepreneurs (coffee vendors) it works with.

It  will also train farmers in post-harvest operations for improved quality, using collection points and helping groups to acquire drying tables.  Soil conservation activities such as protecting water catchment areas will be stressed to prevent soil erosion.

A gender consultant will be hired to train both men and women on equity leadership, decision making, business development and financial literacy, including bookkeeping and tracking money. CDD will help entrepreneurs get the public health licences they need to enter the coffee business and assist some of them in buying subsidized coffee-making cans.

Some farmers will receive assistance in purchasing pruning tools, sack sprayers and affordable fertilizer.

Kenyan coffee growers prune their plants, something that is foreign to Ethiopian farmers. (In an unrelated consulting project, Lolli is trying to teach sustainable farming practices to Ethiopian growers.)

One part of the MEDA project targets one of Kenya’s most vulnerable populations — widows who are farmers. Caffe Del Duca will help widows to set up five demonstration farms and nurseries.

CDD SEEDLINGSCaffe Del Duca grows up to 100,000 coffee plants a year to produce disease-resistant varieties.Vulnerable widows have been identified by CDD and MEDA as a specific group that  will be targeted within the overall client population, says Lloyd McCormick, MEDA’s country manager for MEDA’s M-SAWA (equitable prosperity) initiative.

“Western Kenya was hit hard by the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the recent past, thus leaving a significant number of widows,” McCormick said. “The project will help a number of these widows access better livelihood opportunities (including) farming and small-scale vendor retail.”

Each new farmer needs five seedlings and a tree to provide shade to get into coffee production. Coffee bushes are intercropped with both food crops and shade trees. Plants take two years to mature enough to produce and will yield for five years.

A coffee bean (or cherry) is a seed of the coffee plant and the source for coffee. It is the pit inside the red or purple fruit.

CDD’s nursery grows plants from cuttings and seeds, producing up to 100,000 plants a year, focusing on varieties that are resistant to several diseases. “As the climate gets warmer, it (coffee plant) is more susceptible to leaf rust,” Lolli said.

Climate change is also increasing the size of insect pests. As temperatures increase, yields drop. Yields were down by 50 per cent in 2017, he said. “The taste varies from the date of the rainfall.”



Challenges amidst business boom
June 26, 2018, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Business, business incubator, Generosity, stewardship, Uncategorized, Work

Tech innovators, charities need to understand each other to tackle social problems

As Printed in The Marketplace – September/October 2017

Rapidly increasing wealth and inequality in North American high-tech hubs is forcing charities to reach out to technology entrepreneurs for solutions to societal problems as well as donations.

That new, uncomfortable reality means that both sides need to understand each other’s challenges, a forum on technology and inequality in Kitchener, Ont. heard recently.

The event was held at the offices of Vidyard, a fast-growing firm which provides a platform that helps companies analyze the performance of their online sales videos. It was organized by FaithTech, a nascent movement operating in three tech clusters across Canada (Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and Vancouver).

FaithTech provides a place for Christians working in the technology sector to share their stories and think about ways to apply their talents to pressing social issues.

Speakers at the event came from both the social service and technology sectors. They included:DSC 0082John Neufeld holds a 3D-printed car in his office. His agency partnered with tech employ- ees to provide 3D-printing camps for low-income youth. Photo by Gail Martin

  • John Neufeld, executive director of Kitchener-based House of Friendship, which serves over 42,000 low-income men, women and children throughout Waterloo Region.
  • Christian Snyder, head of community relations at Smile.io, a Kitchener firm that manages corporate rewards programs.
  • Stephanie Rozek, executive director for Hive Waterloo Region, which works to teach digital literacy skills and to build diversity and greater inclusion within the tech sector.
  • Fizsum Areguy, who works with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute researching the use of tech with health care.

FaithTech founder James Kelly, who moderated the event, recalls being told that in California’s Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s largest tech firms, “you can taste the difference between the rich and the poor when you are there.”

Waterloo Region, home to one of the fastest-growing tech clusters in the world, could become the Silicon Valley of the North, he said. “The question is, will we like it (if the inequality accompanies the economic growth)?”

Under-representation of women and minorities in tech jobs, sexism and housing affordability as sections of the city undergo gentrification were the most frequently-named issues by an audience of 120 people, most of them young and employed in the tech sector.

Inviting the tech community to be part of community conversations around inequality requires adjustments by both parties, said Neufeld (who is a past president of MEDA’s Waterloo, Ont. chapter). “We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t have a template, we don’t have a formula for this.”

One of the disconnects that must be overcome is the inability of social services organizations to move quickly enough, and the need for tech firms to slow down, Snyder said. He experienced that first-hand in a previous job working at an organization that serves refugees. A large Kitchener tech firm volunteered to help his employer solve a problem, but could only devote resources for a limited time. The refugee organization couldn’t react quickly enough, and “eventually, it came to naught.”

Other conversations have borne fruit. Neufeld was invited last Christmas to the Accelerator Centre, a University of Waterloo-based incubator for tech firms, to thank them for donating to his agency. He challenged tech entrepreneurs to consider running computer coding camps for bright youth in low-income neighborhoods.

After his talk, some people came up to him with a counter-proposal. “We can’t do coding camps, but we can do 3D-printing with you,” employees of a 3D-printing firm told him.

Last summer, the company did a pilot 3D-printing campaign at a community centre in one of the region’s poorest neighborhoods. Neufeld is optimistic the idea will spread.

“I think we’ve got something good here that we can co-create,” he said, while acknowledging that success will require difficult conversations, “hearing things that we don’t want to hear.”

Systemic solutions take time, “which is counter-intuitive to how tech works,” Areguy noted.

Snyder agreed. Community development in the tech sector is difficult work with data-driven engineers, he said. Those professionals typically work in two-month sprints, and are oriented toward objectives and key results (OKRs). But relationships aren’t OKRs. “If you do work in tech, don’t think about relationships as OKRs,” he said. ◆



Peace Ventures
June 26, 2018, 7:29 pm
Filed under: business incubator, Peace, stewardship, Theology, Work

This story was published in the November 2017 issue of The Marketplace magazine:

https://www.meda.org/articles/features/1326-peace-ventures

Paul Heidebrecht is a different kind of business coach.

Heidebrecht is director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement, an inter-disciplinary organization that takes multi-sector approaches to the advancement of peace.

In a region that has many organizations working to encourage and support business start-ups in a variety of sectors, CPA is unique. It is currently the only university-based program in the world supporting peace-building related start-ups.

A program of Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, ON, the centre’s space was made possible by a $1 million donation from Kindred (formerly Mennonite) Credit Union. The centre is a natural fit at Grebel, home to Canada’s oldest Peace and Conflict Studies program.

CPA is agnostic about the best way to make an impact. It might be starting an NGO, or creating a social enterprise, or even developing a project that is best placed and implemented by an existing organization, whether a business or a charity.

Heidebrecht’s goal is “elevating somebody’s efforts so they can make some sort of systemic impact,” he said. “It could be through a venture that’s created, it could be through a venture that has failed, but has kind of moved the needle on a public policy debate.”

Working with start-ups is an amazing, enriching experience for Heidebrecht. “To be a part of these journeys, even for a short while, and to be able to point people, help them realign” is a tremendous privilege, he said.

“People are ready to fail, they are ready to learn, to turn corners and make progress. It is just breathtaking.”

Every week he comes away from a meeting thinking that the world is an amazing place, “and I get to know these amazing people, even for a short while.”

CPA works at supporting three kinds of activities: The Epp Peace Incubator, the Grebel Gallery, and collaborative efforts around research, training and community engagement. Participants include research fellows and a number of organizations that lease adjacent space.

The Epp Peace Incubator is named in honor of the late Frank Epp, a former Grebel president, and his wife Helen.

Plans for the Peace Centre go back at least 15 years, said Grebel director of advancement Fred Martin, who served as start-up manager for the centre at its inception.

Many of the incubator participants are graduates of Grebel’s Peace and Conflict Studies program. CPA “celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit in a way that reflects our (peacemaking) values, meeting the needs of our society in ways that use the talents of our students,” Martin said.

Heidebrecht regularly connects with students beyond the incubator. He teaches a fourth-year Peace and Conflict Studies course on engineering and peace to University of Waterloo (UW) engineering students.

“For Mennonites, plowshares ultimately matter more than swords,” he wrote in an op-ed piece in the Waterloo Region Record newspaper, challenging Communitech, an area technology lobby, to get more involved in PeaceTech.

“The worldview that drove the development of Silicon Valley couldn’t be more different. The opportunity and challenge for all of us in Waterloo Region is to embrace and enliven a commitment to collaboration and peace-building, and I think there are promising signs that we can do just that.”

Fifteen ventures have been part of the CPA incubator in its first years, including seven currently in the program. Those early efforts are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential, he says.

Heidebrecht started at CPA in 2014 after spending five years as Ottawa office director for Mennonite Central Committee Canada, where he led efforts to advocate for government policy change on behalf of program partners working at relief, development, and peacebuilding.

He also did seasonal stints for MCC in Nigeria and Bangladesh. His educational background includes a Ph.D. in religious studies from Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wis., a master’s degree in theological studies from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UW. His work championing innovation brings him full circle to his student days in one respect. He worked for the Waterloo-based Canadian Industrial Innovation Centre in his first job after graduating.

CPA works with firms that have gone past phase one or the initial discovery phase, putting wheels to an idea that has been shown to have merit. Ventures that can say “it looks like it’s got legs, I’m ready to take it to the next level.”

The next level is sometimes handing off learnings to an established organization rather than continuing as a stand-alone entity. Food Not Waste, an early CPA participant, was designed to use food that would otherwise be wasted. Success for that venture came in the form of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region adopting the best practices used in the Food Not Waste pilot.

Three alumni of the Greenhouse residential incubator program at the nearby St. Paul’s College (see story, pg 16) have been part of CPA as well. “We see them as a crucial part of the pipeline, or the funnel of incubators.”

Demine Robotics (story pp. 13-14) is perhaps the most intriguing and significant CPA alumnus. The company, which uses mobile robots to excavate landmines without detonating them, took advantage of several local incubators: CPA, the Velocity Garage in downtown Kitchener, St. Paul’s Greenhouse and UW’s Sedra Student Design Centre, which consists of over 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to design teams and student prototype projects.

Demine Robotics is the first solid example Heidebrecht can point to of the centre playing a part in the rollout of “PeaceTech,” thinking about technological solutions to peacebuilding. Another initiative he puts in the PeaceTech category is current incubator participant World Vuze, an online discussion portal that connects classrooms in various countries.

Three firms Heidebrecht has coached — Demine Robotics, Marlena Books and EPOCH, a skills and services marketplace that connects refugees and community members through a mobile platform, have won $25,000 awards in the UW Velocity pitch competition. In total, firms that have gone through CPA have won about $300,000 in seed funding in a variety of competitions to date. In mid-September, EPOCH pitched at the United Nations with former US President Bill Clinton in the audience for the $1 million Hult Prize.

Finding long-term funding to add staffing support may be one of Heidebrecht’s larger challenges. CPA is the only university-based incubator program in Ontario that doesn’t receive any government funding. That leaves him working to run an incubator with much less staffing than other incubators.

CPA recently received a $100,000 memorial gift from the Bauman family to establish the Barry Bauman Mentorship fund, to develop mentoring relationships for incubator participants, and to provide small seed funding for incubator participants.

One area company has stepped up to sponsor a “hot desk” — a shared workspace that startups can make use of — at the incubator. Heidebrecht is in discussions with other companies about possible sponsorships. “I think we’re well-positioned in some respects. The social innovation programming has been under-resourced, compared to the tech side.” ◆



Lives transformed through job creation
March 19, 2018, 2:18 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving, Investing, Theology, Work

Here’s an article I wrote about MEDA, and why we focus on creating business solutions to poverty in 60 countries around the world. The article first appeared in the March issue of Faith Today magazine: http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20180304/MobilePagedReplica.action?pm=2&folio=24#pg24

 



Tending the Body – Generosity Across the Generations

Published in the Summer 2014 edition of Leader Magazine
When I was a boy, finding ways to earn money was easy. By age 10 I was selling greeting cards and TV Guides, then delivering the morning paper. In my teen years, even for a smaller-than-average kid, there were no end of opportunities – mowing lawns, scooping ice cream and stacking shelves at our small town store.
I had to work my way through university, helped by several part-time jobs and small student loans that were repaid within a couple of years. Debt wasn’t a huge issue, as I mostly just spent what I could afford.
Decades later, the world that my daughters face is considerably different. Jobs are scarcer. Education costs have soared at a rate many times the increases in what can be earned from part-time and summer jobs.
Credit is easy to get, but the debts that accompany its use are harder to repay. Being in debt is the norm. Our children and young people are overwhelmed with choices and opportunities to spend far beyond what we or our parents ever had. Unless a person chooses early on to make giving a part of their life pattern, there will always be excuses why not.
We dare not allow our churches to be silent on the connection between our use of material things and our spiritual walk. A giving God created us to reflect and pass on God’s generosity. That’s a tough sell in our culture.
Author Nathan Dungan says many youth will encounter as many as 5,000 advertising images in a day encouraging them to spend (ignoring two other important purposes God intends for material possessions– sharing and saving).
Irregular and incomplete messages about money are too often the norm in church settings. In many congregations, there are year-end bulletin appeals. There are pleas from the front of the sanctuary to give more to close the gap between church income and what is needed to meet the budget.
Where are the other messages we all need to hear about money, regardless of our age? We all need examples of how to live contentedly, within our means. We need to hear warnings about the cost of debt, spiritual and otherwise, and the trade-offs we need to make.
The question of how to provide counter-cultural opportunities, to help to form and grow the generosity impulse in children and young people, is a major issue for the long-term health of the church and the spiritual growth of future generations.
We need to wrestle with what the gaps are in helping young people to gain a holistic appreciation of dealing with money. Then we need to reflect on how we fill those gaps.
Some congregations do a good job of involving young children in the offering. Having a separate box or other container into which children can bring coins is a helpful practice, as is designating a special project for that offering.
What happens when children graduate to junior youth and beyond? Where are the forums for conversation, for modeling giving as spiritual protection against consumerism? When are our young people invited to regularly give, to view the offering as a spiritual act?
Mennonite Foundation of Canada has had considerable success in starting conversations about holistic use of money with a Timbit Economics/ Lifestyle Choices game. This game allows people to have fun contemplating choices around food, clothing, lodging, transportation, leisure, charitable giving and taxes, using donut holes as a form of proxy currency that can be eaten at the end of the exercise. You can get details about how to play the game at this web link:
http://www.mennofoundation.ca/downloads/timbit-economics.pdf
The game is most often done with high school or young adult groups, but works well as an intergenerational activity. It is best suited for groups of between 20 and 50 people, to allow for mixing people up into imaginary households of 5 to 7 people.
If you are seeking multi-week curriculum, Mennonite Foundation has adapted Everence’s Money Matters for Youth publication for the Canadian context. This seven lesson resource, intended for 45-minute Sunday school classes, includes sessions on biblical perspectives on money, budgeting, debt, saving and giving. It includes suggestions for accompanying print, video and music resources.
You can download the PDF file at this address: http://www.mennofoundation.ca/downloads/money-matters-for-youth.pdf
The original Everence version of this study, plus two other studies: Stewardship for Kids and Three Key Questions and Money: What’s God Got To Do With It? (for youth groups) can be found at this link: http://www.everence.com/showitem.aspx?id=12617



Why Business Matters to God – And What Still Needs to Be Fixed
January 9, 2013, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Business, Environment, Generosity, Investing, Theology, Uncategorized, Work

Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)
Jeff Van Duzer Inter Varsity Press, 2010, 201 pages
For Van Duzer, business is about much more than the bottom line. “Business is intended to serve the common good by providing goods and services that enable the community to flourish and by providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities through meaningful and creative work,” he writes in Why Business Matters to God.
The author is a lawyer and Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University. His keynote address at the opening of the 2012 Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) convention of in Niagara Falls in November was by far the highlight of the event.
Van Duzer’s reflections on business and why it does matter as part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity encompass the scope of the biblical narrative – creation, fall, redemption and consummation. His incisive analysis will give pause to entrepreneurs and church leaders alike, for a variety of reasons. He persuasively explains why the cherished notion of the free market, for instance, is a post-fall construction, given its dependence on scarcity. His analysis touches on the role of a providing a living wage and care of the environment in conducting business, among other considerations. “Business must concern itself with redemptive as well as creative work.’’
The even-handed approach that he brings to this work is shown by the fact that early reviewers – business people and theologians, all found something different to pick at. “Business associates criticized the text as being too negative about business… My theology friends, however, argued just the opposite.”
I often read while traveling, but have never been asked by strangers about what I am reading. This book elicited questions from several people curious about its message. Well worth taking in at several sittings and pondering at length.