I’m in the hospital today getting ready for tomorrow’s operation. Don’t worry about me; I’m fine. It’s not such a big deal, and I am being treated in one of Italy’s most deluxe private hospitals. The waiter has already come around and asked me if I would like the quail or the trout for tonight’s dinner. Since I can’t get out to the garden to photograph a subject this week, I thought I would talk about one of my favorite agricultural outreach programs — Backpack Farm, which teaches people in East Africa how to farm.
The people who work for Backpack Farm are amazing. It is a profitable business that makes and sells backpacks that hold both tools and information, helping people with very low incomes start farming and producing food for themselves. This innovative and highly practical business seems to be doing more to help citizens in this troubled region than a lot of charities.
I wish we could get people like Rachel Zedeck, the founder of Backpack Farm, to clone themselves and replace all the corrupt and useless politicians that are leading us into big trouble. The Backpack Farm business is just such a good idea that it embarrasses a lot of government-sponsored programs.
This week, Backpack Farm announced the KUZA Doctor program in cooperation with Mercy Corps. The KUZA Doctor is a cellphone SMS tool that provides text-based technical support to small-holder farmers in Kenya. The Backpack Farm team and Mercy Corps have joined forces to market the training tool to more than 17 million small-holder farmers in Kenya, who are constantly challenged by drought, poor yields and post-harvest losses. Surprisingly, mobile-phone solutions hold the potential to positively transform the lives of small-holder farmers and build more productive, equitable, and environmentally sound food and farming systems in a cost-effective way.
“Helping to facilitate the growth of commercially sustainable social enterprises that develop and service these technologies is a scalable and sustainable way to build access to a wide variety of vital technical and financial tools that can decrease hunger, increase incomes and improve environmental sustainability for millions,” says Keith Polo, Mercy Corps director of agricultural development.
In addition to the SMS messaging system, the Backpack Farm/Mercy Corps team is also fundraising to support a series of more than 30 2-D and 3-D animated training films developed in partnership with the group Scientific Animations Without Borders at the University of Illinois. The films will be published in four regional languages including English, French and Swahili, and they will be made publicly available as part of a database of opensource training materials.
Three cheers for these groups of clear thinkers. Thank you!