Researching Innovation for the Nuru Agriculture Program

The Agriculture Program mandate is to create a sustainable economic base for chronic hunger communities. Even amidst the success of thousands of Nuru farmers bringing in a bumper maize crop for the 2012 long rains season, I find myself researching other program interventions to create more impact in the lives of farmers in extreme poverty. Lately, I’ve spent time reflecting on our agriculture program model and wrestling with innovation while keeping our program impactful, sustainable, and scalable.

These quality solutions criteria – impact, sustainability, and scalability – define the work we do at Nuru. Impact means we achieve our goal in a measurable and significant way. However, making impact to significantly improve livelihoods must also be sustainable – financially and organizationally – to keep producing impact over the long term. Layered on impact and sustainability is scalability, keeping programs simple and easily replicable to spread worldwide under the guidance of local leaders.

To consider the Agriculture Program’s work and areas for innovation, it helps to categorize program interventions. According to the technical compendium Proven Successes in Agricultural Development, agriculture programs typically fall under one of several categories:

1)    Intensifying staple food production

2)    Expanding the role of markets

3)    Improving food quality and human nutrition

4)    Integrating people and the environment

5)    Reforming economy-wide policies

6)    Diversifying out of major cereals

1,2)  Nuru’s work falls primarily under the first two categories of staple food production and market access.

  • In Kenya, Nuru Agriculture has worked primarily with maize, which is a staple crop for household consumption.
  • Nuru’s agribusiness division helps farmers with market access, both in obtaining fertilizers and seeds on loan and at a competitive price and in selling surplus maize to Nuru’s maize trading business.
  • These two areas are the principle focus of Nuru’s Agriculture program and together help achieve our overarching goal of ending extreme poverty in remote, rural areas by creating a sustainable economic base in those communities.

3,4)  Nuru’s agriculture work creates impact on the third and fourth categories – human nutrition and environment.

  • The maize yields of Nuru farmers provide enough food for the caloric requirements of the household for the year.
  • However, maize alone does not supply many important macro and micro-nutrients. Nuru’s healthcare program has helped fill this gap, for example by providing access to the nutritional supplement moringa leaf.
  • Nuru’s agriculture program helps care for the environment by promoting proper crop management through crop rotation, site selection, and adequate fertilizer use.

5)  Nuru’s Agriculture Program has not yet worked in economy-wide policy reform.

  • Nuru’s projects are principally grassroots and community-based.
  • Nuru Agriculture actively collaborates with the Government of Kenya – Ministry of Agriculture insofar as community work partnerships, but we have not worked in policy development or reform.

6)  Nuru has not worked on crop diversification outside of major cereals.

  • Since our focus has been on the staple crop maize, we have not yet expanded our focus to other non-cereals high value cash crops.
  • Consideration of non-cereals cash crops remains for future research.

The future development of the agriculture model could grow to consider many different topics including farmer organization in cooperative structures, vegetable gardens for household nutrition, high value cash crops, macro-economic policy reform, agroforestry applications, and organic farming.

The constantly changing world and the future of Nuru scaling to different countries demands that Nuru’s agriculture model is flexible to include different types of interventions. These interventions must fit local needs and circumstances, which in turn determine program goals and fit into Nuru’s integrated model of development. At every step program interventions must fulfill a rigorous evaluation of quality solutions criteria – impact, scalability and sustainability. Ultimately, local leaders will run programs using quality solutions criteria to innovate past challenges on their own.  At present we are working with maize in Kenya, while we constantly adapt and research for the challenges of tomorrow.

About Matt Lineal

Chief Program Officer — Matt received his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and a MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, and began his international service career in rural Honduras, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later with The Nature Conservancy. Over several years punctuated by severe challenges for Hondurans, his experiences were eye opening as to how people navigate the complexities of rural life. Matt was drawn to Nuru International in 2011 with the resolve to take on tough challenges and has been humbled and amazed to be part of the transformational impact of local leaders. As Nuru’s Chief Program Officer, Matt continues to promote the agency of rural communities as the foundation of meaningful positive change.

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