Kula Project is a local organization that teaches sustainable farming methods in efforts to end hunger and promote nutrition around the world. This past November, Kula Project teamed up with Heart for Africa in Swaziland to build its first international farm. Here's a bit of what they accomplished on that trip from Kula Project Founder and Director Sarah Buchanan.
We believe Bill Gates said it best when he said, “Poor farmers are not a problem to be solved, they are the solution.”
James, the farm director of Kula Project, and I arrived in Swaziland not knowing what to expect. I had traveled to Kenya a couple of times, and James has traveled all over the world but not to Africa. We knew that this tiny nation, a country smaller than New Jersey, has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in world, as well as one of the youngest life expectancies on earth at 29 years old. The list of numbers such as these seems endless. But when you are there working alongside them, you begin to see them as people, not statistics.
The reality is, despite unimaginable challenges and setbacks, the Swazis are a kind and gentle people that are ready and willing to learn. Yes, we could have simply sent meals to this country that imports over 90 percent of their food, but what happens when the food runs out? All the money used to provide one meal is long gone, but people are still hungry. Our goal as an organization is to change that, to change the way charity works, so that is what we did over the past month. We set up a simplified hydroponic farm and taught locals how to construct and maintain the farm, and together, we planted nutrient rich foods such a spinach and green peppers to supplement their diets. With recent advances in hydroponics and a minimal upfront investment in training and low cost materials, we believe we can teach entire communities to proudly grow their own food, minimize existing water use and not only feed themselves, but their families and potentially generate an income.
When we were constructing our farm, we ran into speed bump after speed bump, but it was the Swazis and Kenyans we were working with that offered up the solution, and James and I would laugh because we would have never have thought of it. As the building process went along, people would stop by, ask us what we were doing, and ask if they could learn too. After a few minutes, they would offer their ideas, and more often than not, we implemented them.
People in developing countries do not want you to look at them with pity or try to “fix” them. I believe they want you to appreciate their culture, at least attempt to learn some of their language, respect them enough to introduce new technologies, but most importantly, respect them enough to understand that they have things to teach us as well.
Now that we are home, over the next couple of months, we will focus on being as involved in our own community as we are in the international community. We will work on building a Kula team, as well as setting up the Kula Farm, enabling us to teach people here. We are also working on ways we can create an earned income. This way, we can move towards becoming a financially sustainable organization. Before we seek more funds for international farms, we want to monitor the progress of the first one in Swaziland. We think donors will find it refreshing that their money is being spent wisely, strategically, and with care.
We immensely believe in people’s desire and ability to learn how to make their own lives better, and when that happens, this new spirit of pride becomes contagious. The goal of Kula Project is to end hunger through the teaching of sustainably farming methods, but it’s also to help the conversation evolve from “How can help poor people?” to “How can we empower people?” So, this is what we will do. Maybe people will join us, or maybe they wont, but it is definitively the beginning of something pretty great.