VSLA Program in Yemen
The Pilot Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) program in Yemen is a microfinance initiative that aims to provide access to financial services to low-income households in rural areas of the country. The program is a joint effort between the Yemeni government and international organizations. Its ultimate goal is to empower communities and promote economic growth.

Approximately 1.1 billion women around the world are excluded from their respective countries’ formal financial systems. This reality becomes exacerbated during humanitarian crises. When a country experiences a crisis, its formal institutions stop operating optimally. This is exactly what has occurred in Yemen, as it continues to be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Almost 23.4 million people in Yemen are in need of assistance, and approximately 13 million of those people are children. The crisis has completely crippled Yemen’s political and financial institutions, and this vacuum is slowly filling with humanitarian agencies.

CARE International and VSLA

CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) is a major international humanitarian organization that delivers emergency relief and administers developmental projects around the world. Its aim is to fight global poverty and hunger. In 2021, CARE formulated and enacted a pilot program that ran from November 2020 to October 2021 and established 12 VSLAs in Taiz, Yemen, a city that has been a central and critical location during the civil war in Yemen.

A VSLA works by establishing a group of 15 to 30 members who meet regularly to provide the group with a safe and secure place to save money and access loans from the money collected from the members of the group. VSLAs also set up insurance funds to allow members to access money in times of emergency and crisis. An external party, such as CARE, provides training to these members to agree on a purpose for the VSLA, devise and settle rules for savings and loans and run regular meetings, amongst other responsibilities.

Benefits of VSLAs

One of the key benefits of VSLAs is that they are highly decentralized and community-driven. They do not rely on external funding or financial assistance. This allows them to be more sustainable in the long run. And, because the groups are self-governing, they are able to adapt and acclimate to the distinctive needs and circumstances of their respective communities. The main purpose of a VSLA is to serve people with low income who live in remote and poverty-stricken areas and have little to no credit. Ultimately, over time, a VSLA should increase access and control over assets and resources for group members.

 VSLA Distribution in Taiz

Although CARE initially planned to institute only 12 VSLAs in Taiz, it ended up with 16 formal VSLAs with 300 women by the end of 2021 because demand was high. Before the establishment of VSLAs in Taiz, 97% of people did not have any savings to fall back on in times of emergency, and almost 40% of households had to depend on negative coping strategies such as selling homes, skipping medication, or forcing kids to drop out of school. Afterward, the percentage of people in VSLAs with savings increased from 3% to 100%.

Furthermore, almost 50% of VSLA members were able to start small businesses, and the percentage of people using negative coping strategies dropped to 28%. Additionally, people in the community replicated these model VSLAs to create their own VSLAs, which resulted in total participation of 600 people in fully functioning VSLAs by the end of the program in Taiz. Additionally, over the course of the program, 88% of VSLA members distributed money from their respective VSLA social fund to assist people in need who were not part of VSLAs, creating a social security network in the city.

Challenges with the VSLA Program

Despite this success, the VSLA program in Yemen still faces a number of challenges. The biggest one right now is the ongoing civil conflict which makes it difficult and dangerous for external agencies to reach certain areas and guarantee the safety of program members. Additionally, because VSLAs are highly decentralized, it is difficult to replicate them in larger communities. As a result, the program could have a hard time reaching a larger number of people.

Looking Ahead

Thus far, the VSLA pilot program in Yemen is showing promising results in the communities it has impacted thus far. It has the potential to trigger economic growth and empower women in rural and impoverished communities. With continued support from the Yemeni government and CARE, VSLAs in Yemen could have the potential to create long-lasting economic transformation for low-income households in Yemen and beyond.

Aemal Nafis
Photo: Flickr

Rural Development in Rwanda
Rwanda’s agricultural sector is the main driving force behind its economic growth and development. About 70% of its population is directly involved in agriculture. With few natural resources and a small mining industry, the landlocked country relies heavily on agriculture. Despite the large involvement and employment of people in agriculture, Rwanda’s agricultural sector accounts for only 33% of its GDP. Smallholder farmers are responsible for producing 75% of Rwanda’s total agricultural production. Most of them are in rural areas, which constitute nearly 98% of the total land area. Although 61% of Rwanda’s soil is ideal for agriculture, several challenges have affected its agricultural sector. Here is some information about how a company called OX Delivers is aiding rural development in Rwanda and improving life for those in rural communities.

Challenges in the Agriculture Sector

Land degradation and soil erosion are existing challenges to Rwanda’s agricultural sector. Land degradation is largely due to human activity as farmers use land multiple times to cultivate different agricultural products. On the other hand, steep slopes partly create soil erosion. It is particularly challenging for Rwanda because 90% of the country’s territory comprises slopes, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Erosion displaces soil due to the heavy rain that carries away soil particles from one area to another. Large involvement and dependency on agriculture result in forests becoming farm fields. According to World Wildlife Fund (WFF), agricultural crops like coffee, soybeans and wheat that replace trees cannot hold onto the soil which increases soil erosion. Rwanda’s principal crops include coffee and wheat among many others. Most smallholder farmers also struggle to find and access markets for their goods. Rural areas often have poor infrastructure. Roads of poor quality present challenges in making markets more accessible to smallholder farmers. Changing its agrifood market structure is an important task for Rwanda as the country aims to transform its agricultural sector into a value-creating and market-oriented food sector.

Terrace Fields and Market Access

Rwanda has been able to solve its own challenges in the agricultural sector. An innovative solution to land degradation and soil erosion is changing the structure of fields. Instead of working on the steep hills and farmlands, farmers in Rwanda have adapted reverse slope bench terracing. It is a soil and water conservation measure that moves soil to build a reverse slope with bench-like structures. Stable soils characterize the terraces which reduce the risk of landslides. Smallholder farmers also use grass and small trees to stabilize the bench-like structures. Farmers have benefited from higher yields as a result of farming crops on steep slopes.

Delivery companies like OX Delivers are also transforming Rwanda’s agricultural sector. OX Delivers was established in 2020 to improve farmers’ access to rural markets in Rwanda. It uses fully-electric trucks to transport goods in rural areas where transportation is challenging due to rough terrain. OX trucks are reliable for their clean and affordable transport. The company has identified the high transportation costs associated with rural areas and thus, charges customers for only what they need.

Customers, most of whom are smallholder farmers, pay on a per kg per km basis. Customers book space on a truck with the drivers and make payments face-to-face. According to the founder, Simon Davis, OX Delivers is able to charge affordable prices as running on electricity costs 50% less per day compared to diesel engines. What makes OX Delivers unique is that it is solely focused on rural development in Rwanda. The company serves rural smallholder farmers and small-scale traders looking to access markets in Rwanda.

An Improved Agricultural Sector

Innovative solutions like the reverse slope bench terracing method and the electric truck services are transforming Rwanda into a nation with a rich market-oriented food sector. These solutions help to counter problems like soil erosion, land degradation and lack of access to markets in Rwanda. Rural smallholder farmers are able to contribute to rural development in Rwanda by not only farming for their own consumption but also by supplying to markets. Small-scale traders are able to increase their profits as electric trucks improve their access to markets. Farmers are also able to grow their production by successfully farming on steep slopes. With more participation in markets, they can increase production, profit from commercial activities and improve their household incomes.

– Hans Harelimana Hirwa
Photo: Flickr

Byrraju Foundation
India used to be one of the world’s poorest nations in the past century. However, the country has experienced exponential growth since the turn of the 21st century and is now one of the fastest-growing economies. In the last 20 years, their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has skyrocketed from approximately $469 billion in 2000 to 3.17 trillion in 2021. Accordingly, the GDP per capita quintupled from $444 in 2000 to $2,277 in 2021. However, this does not necessarily reflect decreased inequalities among citizens. According to the State of inequality in India Report issued in 2022, the top 0.1% and 1% respectively earn 5% to 7%, and 6.82% of national income; while the bottom 50% hold 22% of total national income. Not surprisingly, this disparity affects India’s rural areas the most.

Conditions in Rural Areas

Although there have been significant improvements in living conditions in urban areas in India, there still remain pressing challenges across rural areas in the country. Poverty rates are high, while literacy rates are low. Basic infrastructure for health and education is lacking in addition to transportation methods, which ultimately leaves these regions disconnected from the outside world. Still, people are dying due to diseases due to poor water quality. Regarding the gender gap, one can see the inequality between men and women in the clear disparity in their respective literacy rates: 82.14% of men are literate while that number is almost 17 percentage points lower for women at 65.46%. Moreover, unemployment remains a challenge for rural areas. Increasingly, more young Indians are emigrating from these regions to find employment in urban areas, causing an outflow of talent in these regions.

The Byrraju Foundation

The Byrraju Foundation originated in 2001, in memory of the late Shri Byrraju Satyanarayana Raju, a philanthropist and agriculturist who believed that enhancing the quality of the lives of citizens in rural areas could aid in the development of villages. The Foundation rapidly expanded its operation to cover 200 villages, running 40 diverse programs, touching all aspects of rural life and impacting more than 2 million people. Its mission is “to create and operate a collaborative platform dedicated to rural transformation by systematically leveraging global knowledge, technology and infrastructure,” while doing all it can to involve people and apply knowledge, in order to ultimately make things happen.

Social Impact

The Byrraju Foundation’s social impact programs cover a wide array of sectors. They range from helping in agriculture and farming to providing health and education services. The environmental department provides safe drinking water to villages and helps with sanitation and waste management. Over the course of three years, it is aiming to provide 8.9 million people with 100% access to safe drinking water. Moreover, the organization is placing a focus on disability and women’s empowerment. The latter occurs by promoting young women entrepreneurs by granting them financial assistance and market connections while advising them on how to set up profitable and sustainable enterprises.

What makes Byrraju Foundation stand out is also its investments in technology. Examples include banana fibre extraction units, coconut tree climbing robots or even core rope-making machines. The Foundation is also attempting to bridge the digitalization gap by preparing villages for the reality of the global technological revolution. It is accomplishing this through its DEEP program, otherwise known as its Digital Empowerment and Education Program.

– Alexandra Piat
Photo: Flickr

rural Ecuador
Andean Health and Development (AHD) is a nonprofit that specializes in health care. It operates mainly in rural Ecuador, where barriers to health care are everywhere. Costs of travel into more populous areas where hospitals are typically located, the types of physical work that are common in rural communities and lower health literacy rates in rural Ecuador all have negative implications for human development.

What Andean Health and Development Does

Andean Health and Development (AHD) works to create health care system solutions that make care more accessible to rural Ecuadorians. AHD has built two hospitals in rural Ecuador that offer quality health care to those who cannot travel for health care. To make this approach sustainable, AHD has a rigorous three-year residency program that trains Ecuadorian doctors to become “the rural health care leaders of tomorrow.” This residency program has classes of up to 60 physicians who are hoping to focus their practice in the rural communities that need it. All of the staff at AHD health centers are Ecuadorian, which plays a key role in the success of this community-based approach.

As a nonprofit, Andean Health and Development also maintains relationships with local and international governments, global universities and donor relations to continuously expand its reach. AHD can operate its facilities through a mix of fundraising, patient payments where applicable, partnerships with public and private sectors and government funding. As capital grows, AHD shifts from simply operating its facilities to investing in its staff and covering costs for the poorest people. AHD’s partner organization, the Andean Health Institute, is the operational force that conducts its own research, lobbies for policies that increase access to care and monitors the work that Andean Health and Development is doing.

Why Andean Health and Development Matters for Rural Ecuador

Rural poverty is the result of poor infrastructure, poor access to quality resources like health care and education and fewer job opportunities.

AHD addresses all three of these systemic issues. Although Ecuador has universal health care coverage, access is the most significant challenge for rural citizens. By implementing nearly an entire supplemental health care system, AHD is not only providing health care to those who need it but is also creating a wealth of job opportunities for providers and other AHD staff. AHD creates a sustainable healthcare system that improves patient care as the business grows.

Andean Health and Development is providing care to more than 150,000 rural Ecuadorians while training hundreds of physicians and staff members each year. AHD is also one of the few rural health care providers in South America that successfully utilizes this approach to health care. Adopting a model of local community buy-in combined with capacity-building outside of the health center could be a model that poor or rural regions around the world that require access to health care can use.

 – Hannah Yonas
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

E-commerce Brings Opportunities to Rural CommunitiesRural commercialization continues to grow in Latin America as communities increasingly turn to e-commerce to conduct business and make purchases. In 2020, retail e-commerce sales rose by 63.3% in Latin America. The COVID-19 pandemic is a driving factor in the growing popularity of e-commerce in the region as digital platforms to purchase and sell negate the need for physical contact. According to a study by Karine Haji, e-commerce brings opportunities to rural communities to improve their quality of life. E-commerce has the potential to engage rural communities and provide the opportunity for those communities to participate in the consumer market unlike ever before.

Rural Opportunities with E-commerce

Consumer market demand is increasing in rural regions and with that comes increased financial inclusion and access to products not typically seen in the region. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, rural markets are expanding at a faster rate than urban markets in many countries. Rural communities typically have a short supply of retail stores, products and e-commerce that offer the opportunity to fill this gap. Not only can rural areas access more consumer goods due to e-commerce but they are also able to avoid the difficulties of traveling to urban centers to purchase goods. E-commerce brings opportunities to rural communities by alleviating the burden of transportation and ultimately saves money. The expansiveness of e-commerce allows rural sellers to make sales on a more broad and dynamic scale rather than limiting their reach to customers in their immediate vicinity.

Social Commerce Provides Inclusivity for Rural Communities

Social commerce is a trend occurring in the e-commerce realm that connects suppliers with local communities. The concept of social commerce is based on the market model and uses existing social platforms. Originating in Colombia and launched in 2018, Elenas is Latin America’s first social commerce marketplace and has increased services to communities all over the region. Many sellers on Elenas are housewives or students and large portions of Elenas sales come from rural communities. Furthermore, the research team behind Elenas has found that the impact of the company directly affects social and economic conditions for women. In 2021, Elenas launched in Mexico and became a popular employment opportunity for unemployed women in the country. E-commerce brings opportunities to rural communities, especially women and students who seek economic opportunities and employment.

E-Commerce Brings Opportunities to Rural Communities in Brazil

Brazil is embracing e-commerce as an inclusive and sustainable economic alternative to traditional consumer markets with the goal of alleviating poverty and improving the quality of life for its people. Brazil is a leader in e-commerce in Latin America and seeks to expand its interests. According to the 2021 eEbit Webshoppers report, Brazil’s e-commerce activity rose by 31% in the first six months of 2021. The Brazilian government supplied pandemic relief funds to citizens through digital wallets, providing access to online stores. Brazil has also taken steps to bridge the digital divide by implementing national broadband plans. Increased internet access offers inclusivity and access to consumer markets typically out of reach to rural communities.

E-commerce Inclusive Opportunities for Rural Communities

As rural communities continue to engage with e-commerce, they begin to emerge in the global supply chain, ultimately generating wealth for the community and by the community. E-commerce brings opportunities to rural communities as well as a sense of ownership and economic engagement, ultimately giving power to marginalized communities. Additionally, it nourishes job creation and industry development. E-commerce also generates the funds that a community needs to improve infrastructure and increase broadband connection. Several countries in Latin America embrace the benefits of e-commerce as a proven inclusive and sustainable economic opportunity for marginalized communities.

– Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture Cooperatives in Impoverished CommunitiesFor the estimated three-quarters of the global impoverished residing in rural environments, agriculture is the primary source of income. Any aspirations of poverty eradication are existentially dependent on the development of these communities. Cooperatives are associations of people who come together to achieve common economic, social and cultural goals. The long-standing tradition of agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities, where small farms pool resources, is a potential component of an efficient policy to offset the ravages of endemic poverty in agrarian economies.

A Moment in the Sun

Designated by three branches of the United Nations, 2012 was the International Year of Cooperatives. One of its primary ambitions was to highlight the financial disadvantages of small farms and the potential for inter-community economic unions to fight poverty. Agricultural cooperatives, having an impact that “cannot be overstated,” figured heavily into U.N. recommendations and initiatives. Creating 20% more employment opportunities than multinational ventures, agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities provide a long-term potential for sustainable job creation, which is paramount to poverty eradication.

Harvesting Prosperitya 2020 World Bank report, concluded that funding agricultural productivity is twice as effective at reducing extreme poverty as alternative methods. Crucially, the exhaustive report details the belief that industrial farms are the gold standard of high-yield agriculture. Contrarily, current research on “the inverse relationship hypothesis” questions the correlation between scale and productivity. Because impoverished rural communities are overwhelmingly populated with small-scale subsistence farms, one cannot overstate the essentiality of agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities.

Being unique entities based on democratic principles, each cooperative has distinct requirements that defy a universal approach. The economic complexities of members serving as both suppliers and owners create multifaceted organizations with financial and social obligations, as opposed to a corporate performance that is based solely on finance and profitability. The dualistic nature of cooperatives as inherently business and community actors gives these organizations a great deal of leverage to impact the well-being of their communities.

Portuguese Traditions in the Age of Globalism

Over the long history of wine-making cooperatives in Portugal, these unions have consistently allowed members to garner higher prices and greater market share while simultaneously improving value chains and decreasing transaction expenses. Additionally, Portugal has garnered attention as cooperative bylaws are enshrined in the constitution, making them integral to the national economy.

With 39,506 vineyards in the Douro wine-growing region alone, the long-term economic future of an essential component of Portuguese national character requires the implementation of structural reform. Cooperatives represent 46% of regional production in Douro and Port. With most farms under one hectare, individual producers must combine resources to vinify grapes. But, after several failed governmental attempts at modernization in response to globalism, agricultural cooperatives have been stymied by encroaching foreign markets.

Upon Portugal’s entry into the EU in 1986, a direct-to-consumer model that sustained wine cooperatives became untenable as cheap imports via larger wine-producing nations like France and Italy brought competition. Furthermore, environmental and geographic factors prevented Portuguese vineyards from countering increasing imports through higher production. Often inefficient bureaucracies, a slow transition, accompanied by foreign investment allowed Quintas — independent for-profit producers — to flourish. Many Portuguese wine agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities did not survive the opening salvos of globalism.

Think Local, Act Global

The culling of slow-responding cooperatives has forced researchers and policymakers to develop a framework for adaptability. Several organizations, native and foreign, contribute to shaping and communicating the strategies for agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities.

  • CASES: As previously noted, cooperatives must satisfy social obligations in addition to economic concerns. At Cooperativa Antonio Sergio para a Economia Social (CASES), an NGO focusing on the interrelatedness of finance and society, an alliance of Portuguese Creditors finances various cooperatives throughout the economy. A €12.5 million endeavor, Social Investe enabled several wine cooperatives to fund various projects and improvements.
  • PDR2020: The active involvement of governmental agencies is crucial to structural reform. Wine industry infrastructure is notoriously expensive and beyond the resources of independent producers. A federal initiative, Programa de Desenvolvimento Rural de Portugal (PDR 2020), funds agricultural purchases that are particularly crucial for Portuguese vineyards. These grants, amounting to €37.5 million in 2020 alone, also help farmers adapt to increasingly frequent climatic abnormalities that disrupt production.
  • Fenadegas: In order to affect the regulatory environment, wine cooperatives actively lobby for policy reform. Difficult at the individual level, Adegas Cooperativas de Portugal (ACP) is a coalition of 41 members and represents a unified agenda for addressing distinct exigencies of the industry. Additionally, the organization provides a global marketing platform, helping one cooperative survive the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing exports by 18% in 2020.
  • SALSA: The dual requirements of integrating with the local economy and tailoring production while simultaneously developing global strategies present major challenges. With the intergovernmental organization Small Farms, Small Food Businesses and Sustainable Food Security (SALSA), Alentejo regional farmers created the “Km0 Evora” label that certifies local provenance within 50km. Efficient value chains are a traditional strength of cooperatives, but pressures of globalism have disrupted local economies, making community initiatives and branding more relevant. Mimicking Km0’s success, several European agricultural cooperatives have introduced similar measures.
  • Adega de Borba: Maximization of member profit and temporary gain often leave cooperatives under-invested. Despite initial struggles, Adega Cooperativa de Borba (ACB), which began in 1955, successfully transitioned to the global marketplace and produces 15 million bottles annually. A €12 million-member investment to build a state-of-the-art production facility has allowed 300 small farmers to compete internationally by diversifying product offerings.

Restoring Profitability to Agriculture

As rural communities face increasing pressure from foreign influence, these already-disenfranchised populations will struggle to have others hear them amid the cacophony of global interests. Portuguese winemakers, that the rapidly-changing economy overwhelmed, suffered immense emigration as farming no longer provided sufficient income. Restoring profitability to agriculture is a powerful mechanism by which endemic poverty can disappear. Organizations at numerous levels will be instrumental in this effort, but progress must begin with collaboration in agrarian rural communities.

– Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

Cancer and Poverty in AustraliaThe nation of Australia suffers from the highest rates of cancer in the world, but, the disease takes a significant toll on the disadvantaged and rural residents in particular. Impoverished and disadvantaged Australians are 60% more likely to die from cancer due to a lack of finances for a timely diagnosis and proper treatment. The connection between cancer and poverty in Australia can be clearly seen.

The Link Between Cancer and Poverty

The cost of treatment is only one part of the problem. The importance of prevention cannot be overstated and because of a disadvantaged situation, many poor Australians are more likely to smoke cigarettes, be overweight and not get screened for cancers. This leads to more impoverished residents developing a range of cancers that reach later stages before they are diagnosed.

While the country has a decent healthcare system, the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia is significant. Poor citizens are more likely to develop cancer and are the least financially prepared for it. One out of every three Australian cancer patients has to pay out-of-pocket for treatment ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $50,000 AUD. Patients that have private health insurance rather than public medicare often pay far more out-of-pocket, sometimes double, in addition to their regular insurance payments.

Rural Residents in Remote Areas

Residents of Australia’s rural areas often face the worst financial obstacles as they must incur travel expenses and be far from home for extended periods. In 2008, only 6% of oncologists practiced in rural areas, leaving a third of Australians that live in remote regions without immediate access to decent treatment. There were 9,000 more cancer deaths in rural areas than in urban areas over a decade, a 7% higher death rate compared to city residents.

Due to the extensive travel time, many cancer patients from remote regions are forced to quit their jobs increasing the financial burden of treatment. Those that can keep their jobs, often force themselves to continue to work despite their illness and during treatments in order to pay the bills. In many instances, cancer patients must take loans from friends or family. creating further financial obligations.

Indigenous Australians

In addition to rural residents, indigenous citizens also disproportionately die from cancer compared to other residents. Indigenous Australians have a 45% higher death rate from cancer compared to non-indigenous patients. Cancer is extremely underreported by indigenous people in remote or rural areas resulting in a lack of proper data for the government to act on.

Addressing the Link Between Cancer and Poverty

To reduce the mortality rates of cancer patients, the government must address the correlation between cancer and poverty in Australia. As of 2017, only 1.3% of Australia’s health budget is allocated for cancer prevention, screening and treatment. The country must invest in prevention as well as rapid-access cancer aid for both patients and caretakers.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia and Cancer Council Australia are working to improve cancer treatment in rural areas of Australia. Solutions to diminish the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia include new methods of diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth and shared care, in which the patient’s primary physician works with an oncologist to limit travel for treatment, help cut down on costs for struggling patients.

Cancer organizations in Australia have worked with the government to set up the regional cancer center (RCC) initiative across the country to make cancer care more accessible for residents living in rural areas. Since 2010, 26 regional cancer centers have opened to help patients living in remote locations.

Prioritizing the Health of Rural Residents

For the mortality rates of impoverished or rural cancer patients to lessen, the government must invest in prevention as well as access for rural residents. Above all, for Australia to successfully provide aid for cancer patients there must be accurate data collection on cancer and poverty in Australia to properly allocate funds for all demographics.

— Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Quinoa Supports Farmers in PeruQuinoa is a species of goosefoot original to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. For more than 6,000 years, Peruvians and Bolivians considered quinoa a sacred crop because of its resistance to high altitudes, heat, frost and aridness. Because of its sudden rise in worldwide popularity, the U.N. declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa” to recognize the indigenous people of the Andes, who continue to preserve quinoa for present and future generations. Quinoa supports farmers and livelihoods in Peru.

History of Peru’s Quinoa

Due to its high nutritional qualities, quinoa has been grown and consumed as a staple crop by people throughout the Andean region. However, when the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s and sent farmers to gold mines in Peru and Bolivia, quinoa production declined sharply. The year 2013 marked a turning point in quinoa-producing countries. The crop surged in popularity because of its superb nutritional value, containing all eight essential amino acids. It is also low in carbohydrates but high in unsaturated fats, fiber, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. The sudden demand for Quinoa from the U.S. and Europe increased the price of the grain from $3 in 2010 to $6.75 in 2014.

The Quinoa Market Boom

Today, quinoa supports farmers in Peru, as Peru is one of the world leaders in quinoa production and exports. In 2016, Peru produced 80,000 tons of the crop, about 53.3% of the world’s volume, with 47% of quinoa exports worldwide.

In 2012, Peru exported $31 million worth of quinoa. Two years later, the export value of quinoa was six times that amount, at $197 million. In 2016, however, the export value dropped to $104 million. This was reflected in the average price of quinoa worldwide. In 2012, a kilo of quinoa cost $3.15. In 2014, the price shot up to $6.74 per kilo. By 2017, however, the price had dropped dramatically to $1.66 per kilo.

The demand and price fluctuations had several negative effects, including reducing the welfare of households. When quinoa prices fell, total household food consumption decreased by 10% and wages fell by 5%.

Though traditionally grown for household consumption only, the global demand for quinoa encouraged farmers to use their fields for quinoa production only. The monocropping negatively affects the overall health of the fields, as nutrients do not get replenished as they would by rotating crops.

5 Ways Quinoa Supports Farmers in Peru

With the help of several U.N. agencies and national and local governments within Peru, a program called “Andean Grains” was implemented in Ayacucho and Puno – rural areas with high levels of poverty, where 78% of Peru’s quinoa is produced, to create a value chain of quinoa production to increase the welfare of farmers. Through the program, quinoa supports farmers in Peru in several ways:

  1. Income of rural quinoa producers increased by 22%. By focusing on producing organic quinoa and fulfilling a niche market demand, rural Peruvian farmers remain competitive in the global market. The program trained more than 2,000 producers in cooperative management and financial education and certified several farmers for organic production.
  2. The production, promotion and consumption of Quinoa improved. By implementing technological alternatives, including establishing technical standards for producing organic fertilizer, farmers increased their crop yields, improving the food quality and nutrition of the grain and making the crop more available to local communities. In Puno alone, yields increased by 13% through the organic certification program.
  3. More farmers joined cooperatives, increasing their market power. The program taught farmers about selecting suppliers, managing credit, how to negotiate when signing a contract and how to commercialize their organic quinoa. By standardizing the production of organic quinoa, poor farmers could negotiate better market prices under a collective brand. The cooperatives also promoted the national consumption of quinoa and helped sustainable development of the quinoa value chain.
  4. The program empowered female farmers. Women make up 31% of agricultural producers and more than 50% of participants in the program were women. They were able to accumulate up to $4,800 through Unions of Credit and Savings, which they used to buy natural fertilizers to protect their lands from desertification.
  5. The program participants’ welfare increased. In areas of Peru where quinoa was consumed before the boom, a 10% increase in the price of the quinoa increased the welfare of the average household by 0.7%. The additional income to quinoa producers in turn allowed them to spend more. Household consumption also increased by 46%.

Quinoa supports farmers in Peru in several ways. After the implementation of the U.N. “Andean Grains” program, the income and wealth of Peruvian farmers increased. By joining cooperatives, both male and female producers compete in the global competitive market. Today, quinoa continues to be celebrated as a vital part of Peru’s economy and culture.

Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

STEM Education Can Reduce povertyEducation has long been proven as a tool for poverty reduction. In fact, UNESCO estimates that if all people in low-income countries had basic reading skills, an estimated 171 million people could escape poverty. Education allows for upward socioeconomic mobility for those in poverty by providing access to more skilled, higher-paying jobs. In particular, STEM education can reduce poverty.

STEM Education

STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Because of the shifting focus toward STEM in the job market, millions of STEM jobs are opening up in developing countries. However, many go unfilled because of gaps in the STEM education pipeline. These jobs could be the key to helping the poor to improve their standards of living, but those in poverty often lack the education necessary for these jobs, such as in rural China.

Education Disparities in China

Education in China is becoming more accessible and comprehensive. Since the 1980s, the adult literacy rate has risen from 65% to 96% and the rate of high school graduates seeking higher education has risen from 20% to 60%. However, these gains are not equal across the country. Rural students in China have often been left behind in the education reform movement. More than 70% of urban students attend college while less than 5% of rural students do, partly because urban residents make about three times more than rural residents. Another reason has to do with parental support; a researcher at the University of Oslo found that over 95% of urban parents wanted their children to attend college, while under 60% of rural parents wanted the same.

Rural students also receive lower-quality education than urban students. Despite China’s Compulsory Education Law in 1986, rural schools often lack the ability to put the proposed reforms in place because they do not have the educational resources. Teachers are scarcer in village schools as most qualified professionals flock to the urban areas where there is a higher standard of living and higher pay. As a result, fewer rural students get into top colleges and therefore lose out on opportunities for advancement.

Generational Poverty and the Effect of STEM

Generational poverty refers to families that have spent two or more generations in poverty. This is especially common in rural areas where parents have a harder time generating the necessary income for their children’s education, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty when the children grow up. In rural China, about 5.1 million people live in the throes of generational poverty. This is due to a number of factors but a major one is lack of educational opportunities in the rural provinces.

STEM education can reduce poverty by helping children in rural provinces break the cycle of generational poverty. Since 2016, 248 high schools in poor areas have tuned into live lessons hosted by one of the top high schools in China, giving poor students the ability to receive the same education as their upper-middle-class peers. As a result, 88 of the participating rural students were admitted into China’s top two universities — universities that are estimated to have a rural population of only 1%.

Organizations for STEM Education

Some groups are working to bring STEM education to even younger students. In 2019, Lenovo, a technology company started in China, donated 652 sets of scientific toolboxes to primary schools in Huangzhong County, Qinghai Province, an area that is over 90% agrarian. The toolboxes contained materials that helped children perform science experiments and solved the problem of the lack of equipment in rural schools. Each toolbox, spread over 122 schools, helped 12 children at once and was reusable. In total, it enabled about 43,903 primary and secondary school students to become more scientifically literate and will prepare them better for future education and employment.

The Green & Shine Foundation is also helping teachers better instruct their students. It trains rural teachers in teaching necessary STEM skills to help lay the foundation for more STEM education later in their students’ lives. It also helps to develop curriculums and hold exchange programs with STEM schools so that rural teachers can observe and discuss new teaching methods. These efforts have helped 1,411,292 rural teachers and students across China.

STEM for Ending Generational Poverty

China has made strides in alleviating poverty, reducing its poverty rate every year since implementing major reforms. The Chinese government needs to prioritize investment in STEM education in rural provinces to close the education gap between rural and urban students and help bring an end to generational poverty. STEM education can reduce poverty globally.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Improving Healthcare in Rural AreasWhether it’s a smartphone or a calculator, many people have technology right at their fingertips. With the world continuing to advance technologically, rural areas tend to be left behind. However, some technological advancements are benefitting rural areas in particular. Technological advancements in the medical world are saving lives and improving healthcare in rural areas.

5 Technologies Improving Healthcare in Rural Areas

  1. Virtual health services Virtual health services launch the list as one of the most popular, accessible healthcare advances. Prior to telehealth technology, all prescriptions were provided by a live pharmacist. Today, patients may communicate with their doctors and request prescriptions remotely. Live chat and video rooms provide healthcare for remote patients from the comfort of their homes. A recent survey found around 67% of U.S. adults are willing to try virtual healthcare; although, only around 20% have tried telehealth so far. It seems telehealth is here for good and here to stay.
  2. Virtual reality – Virtual reality is also improving healthcare in rural areas. Purdue University created augmented reality technology that may assist inexperienced doctors and surgeons. This newly emerging technology allows a more experienced medical professional to see the patient and lead the responder through the procedure. Preliminary trials show doctors in rural areas benefit from virtual reality technology. With fewer tools and materials to work with, feedback from a better trained professional can be critical. Juan Wachs, the leader of Purdue’s augmented reality research team, hopes that this new technology will decrease “the number of casualties while maximizing treatment at the point of injury.”
  3. 3D printing – Another healthcare advancement that benefits patients in remote locations is 3D printing. Before 3D printing became widespread, prosthetics would take weeks to make and could cost as much as $15,000. While the price of a prosthetic varies, 3D printing greatly reduces the cost. For example, biomechanics professor Dr. Jorge Zuniga from the University of Nebraska 3D printed a prosthetic hand for around $50. When 3D printing emerged, not only did prices decrease significantly, so did production time. A Canadian company called Nia Technologies predicts that a 3D printed model can be done in six hours. Therefore, 3D printing is particularly beneficial to patients in need of urgent care or with limited funds. As a result, advancements in prosthetic production benefit people in both rural and urban areas.
  4. Electronic medical records (EMRs)EMR is a networking system created by Sanford Health in South Dakota. EMR keeps track of patient and treatment data. This database helps establish a standard treatment for common medical conditions. Additionally, EMR reminds medical professionals to follow up with their patients. For example, if a nurse finds a patient has high blood pressure, EMR prompts the nurse to follow up with their patient, ensuring the patient checks in with their primary care provider. So far, Sanford Health’s EMR program has been implemented at 45 hospitals and over 300 small clinics; about two million individuals living in the Dakota areas are benefitting from the EMR platform. Technology like EMR may be used to increase efficiency and quality of treatment in other rural areas as well.
  5. Mobile Stroke Units (MSUs) Mobile stroke units also benefit patients in rural areas. An MSU is an ambulance-like vehicle that specializes in diagnosing and caring for patients who suffer from strokes. In places like rural Australia, MSUs are crucial for patients since strokes require urgent care. While 77% of urban patients have access to stroke units in hospitals or clinics, only 3% percent of rural patients have access. With the aid of Mobile Stroke Units, rural patients have a better chance of getting critical care in time.

Because rural areas are difficult to reach, healthcare is often less accessible. Travel costs are a barrier to healthcare, particularly for people in poverty. However, innovative technological advancements like these continue to improve the quality, cost, and accessibility of healthcare in rural areas.

Karina Wong
Photo: Flickr