ACDI/VOCA Project Model Recognized by NGO Coalition, IFAD
ACDI/VOCA’s groundbreaking Sell More For More™ project model was recognized with an InterAction Best Practices and Innovations (BPI) Award recently at a ceremony at InterAction’s headquarters in Washington. The award is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The Sell More For More™ (SMFM) project, which originated in Rwanda but is now implemented in three countries, is a comprehensive approach to organizing and training smallholder farmers in best agricultural and post-harvest practices, and in linking them to more lucrative markets. It is noteworthy for enabling local farmer groups to gain capacity that allows them to succeed in a demanding marketplace and independently maintain a competitive edge.
Making a Real Difference
InterAction President Sam Worthington said the award luncheon that the award “is recognition by professionals, by your peers, that you have made a real difference.” He added, “By fostering local capacity, international NGOs build self-sufficient communities, and ensure that a project’s success outlives an individual program.”
ACDI/VOCA’s project became one of 16 recipients of the BPI award since its inception in 2009. InterAction bestows the award in coordination with the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. Besides effectiveness and efficiency, award criteria include sustainability, scalability and gender equity, but as Brian Greenberg, InterAction’s director of sustainability, put it, local capacity building is “front and center.” Nominations undergo a careful independent review process by a selection committee expert in food security.
The 'Fiscal Cliff' Faced by Smallholders
ACDI/VOCA’s William Sparks, VP for program services, who designed the model along with John Leary, director of training, accepted the award and described the project. He spoke first of the fiscal cliff—not the looming disaster of the U.S. economy, but the personal financial exigencies faced by poor African smallholders of who constantly wonder, “Will it rain, can I afford the necessary inputs, can I eat until harvest time?”
Not What NGOs Do—What Local Actors Do
Sparks said the proper framework of project implementers is not what they must do under the project—it is what local actors do. He referred to ACDI/VOCA’s historical practice of working with cooperatives or other farmer groups to capture efficiencies and enable scalability and sustainability. He described the project’s methodical M3 assessment of membership, management and money, which is conducted using a narrative scale to be clear, evoke nuanced responses and set up monitoring and evaluation.
He also described the Leadership Kits that have become project fixtures. They teach lessons in leadership, marketing and management and involve homework. The attendant training sessions are structured according to a 5/25 rule: for every 5 minutes of talking, there must be 25 minutes of participatory activities.
The third component he touched on was the STICKS™ document that is a focus for each participant. It is a durable, multipurpose large-format document that addresses the three major challenges of cascade training: consistent knowledge transfer, tracking of trainees and incentives. One side of STICKS™ provides illustrations that depict the desired technical skills. Trainees sign on one portion, which becomes a point of pride as well as a means for project staff to track participation and evaluate results. With all the participants’ names listed, STICKS™ displays a lead farmer’s credentials as a trainer and highlights his or her group, which incentivizes the learning and organization at the heart of the project model.
Results? Sales to WFP
Sparks said that after SMFM training 80 percent of participants’ grain met the exacting World Food Program standards. This compared with a 47 percent rate among nonparticipants. He cited a quote from Emmanuela Mashayo, World Food Program's Purchase for Progress (P4P) coordinator in Rwanda: “We have seen marked improvement in the quality of the maize being produced, as well as in the leadership capacity of the cooperatives' management. We are now able to purchase with confidence from those cooperatives who have undergone this training."
Sparks added that 93 percent of participants report more income. Even Bill Gates in a recent speech took note of the example of a Rwandan farmer named Odette who had quadrupled her yield after SMFM training.
InterAction is the largest alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs. In addition to ACDI/VOCA, the Alliance to End Hunger and Lutheran World Relief received BPI awards for their efforts to build local capacity in food security and agriculture.
Pictured at top left: William Sparks presents at InterAction's Best Practice and Innovations award ceremony about the Sell More For More approach.