“In the future I’ll be measuring instead of guessing” – A tech innovation by a young Jordanian helps farmers increase crop yields
Sager Marayha, 28, developed a device he hopes will boost the most important trade in his birthplace – farming. FCA supports the young agricultural engineer with a grant to start production.
THE AIR FEELS thick and there are flies buzzing around. In early November, Jordan is preparing for winter; but in the sheltered Jordan Valley, west of the country, summery conditions continue.
The greenhouses are brimming with foliage. Between them, cucumbers are loaded onto a truck that’ll soon begin its journey to the capital Amman. There, the cucumbers will be pickled and then sold to be served in local restaurants.
Sager Marayha, 28, stands in the scorching sun and fiddles with a tiny plastic bag. Inside it, there’s something that can reduce farmers’ workload and improve crops in the future.
“This is the prototype, like a small computer with several sensors,” Marahaya says, digging into his bag.
“This sensor measures soil temperature, this one assesses humidity, this one acidity and salinity.”
Marayha demonstrates how the innovation works. First, it’s thrusted into the soil, and soon, the farmer will receive information regarding the properties of the soil on a smartphone app. A new result will appear on the screen every five seconds.
“The farmers in the Jordan Valley use fertilisers and water without knowing exactly what the farmland actually needs. It’s possible that the soil is so rich in nutrients already that it’s impossible to grow anything anymore. The device will help reduce the unnecessary use of fertilisers and watering just in case.”
As a teenager, Marayha already worked in the fields and greenhouses. The community encouraged him to continue his studies at a university. Marayha became the first in his family to have a higher education.
During his studies, Marayha got to know different kinds of agricultural measuring instruments and wondered why they all seemed so complex and clumsy. Could a small and easy-to-use alternative provide all that information in one go?
Northern Jordan Valley. Jordan Valley is an area in West Jordan which is known for its agricultural opportunities and crops that benefit the whole country. Photo: Sherbel Dissi
A cucumber farmer is ready to invest in smart tech
The practical experience from the field and the knowledge from university helped Marayha get started with developing the device. Soon the technology began to garner the interest of not only farmers and the media but also researchers.
“The problem is that Jordanian agriculture doesn’t really attract investors,” Marayha points out.
The young agricultural engineer was given support from a joint project of Finn Church Aid and the foreign ministry of the Netherlands. The project trains young agricultural professionals to ensure the industry continues to attract future workforce. After proving his commitment and willingness to develop, Marayha was given a grant he can use to begin the production of the devices and selling them to farmers.
There are plenty of potential buyers. Cucumber farmer Abu Muhammad has a total of a hundred cucumber tunnels in Jordan, and in three months, a single tunnel produces 7000 to 7500 kilos of crop.
According to Marayha, a 500-square metre tunnel can be covered with three devices. Manufacturing one device costs approximately 65 euros, but it hasn’t got a market price yet. Even so, the farmer is ready to invest in the innovation.
“The price doesn’t concern me, and I don’t care about it. I’m sure the benefits will outweigh the price,” Abu Muhammad says.
He’s confident that the device will be particularly useful during sowing.
“Sometimes I fertilise wrong and end up losing both the money spent on fertilisers and the crop. In the future my farming will be based on scientific measuring instead of guessing.”
Making a living as a farmer isn’t easy. The biggest reason, Abu Muhammad says, is that there’s no fixed market price for crops in Jordan.
“As we’re farming, we don’t know for what price we’ll be able to sell. Many have quit, and most people have started to cultivate various plant species to mitigate the risk. I’m taking a significant risk with all these tons of cucumber. I get along, because I have a contract for getting them pickled. If all my cucumbers were sold in the fresh market, the profit would be uncertain.”
Farming is badly lacking young professionals
The situation in the rest of the world also poses a challenge for Jordan’s farmers. The crops no longer travel to dinner tables around the world like they used to.
“We used to farm a lot to meet the needs in Syria, and through Syria, our products would go to Turkey and from there to Russia. Because of the war in our neighbouring country, the trade route has been closed. Previously we also sold to the Gulf countries, but now they have their own farms,” says Abu Muhammad.
Abu Muhammad says he’s constantly on a razor’s edge due to the fluctuating markets.
“I only have to fail once. If I can’t sell my next crop, I’ll give up farming.”
At worst, the consequences to food production can be dramatic. If one farmer after another quits their profession and the young aren’t drawn to it, Jordan might have to start importing more food in the future. The cucumber farmer has faith in young professionals who otherwise have no work opportunities in the region.
“It’s great that Marayha and other young people are developing agriculture. Everyone wins: the farmers benefit from the innovations and the young get more work opportunities. Marayha has a university degree, and the studies have cost a fortune, and currently he hasn’t got anything else to do for work. It’s up to us farmers to encourage the young to make a living for themselves,” Abu Muhammad ponders.
Marayha says that his education as well as the grant he received improve the financial situation of his family. The young man wishes that with the help of his future income, his hard-working mother could finally get some rest.
“I dream about my future every day. I have already received inquiries from people who could help me sell the device abroad. My dream is to see the device in use specifically in Jordan, so it could benefit the people in my own region.”
The Cool-Ya project is funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The project is seeking to attract more youth to the agriculture sector by making it more appealing and interesting for the young people.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Photos: Sherbel Dissi
“This is my decision” – Story of an independent business woman inspires others in Somaliland
Naciima found her way to make her dreams come true while attending to FCA’s Technical and Vocational Education Training.
WHAT DOES an independent businesswoman look like?
Naciima, who recently graduated from Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programme, is a perfect example. She lives with her family of eleven in Gacan Libaax in Somaliland. They have a very limited income and her father, though he struggles to pay her school fees, has always encouraged her to find something she is passionate about.
“After deciding to drop out from the university, I put my entire focus on the training that I was getting. It was sensational and the most skillful experience I have ever gotten before,” says Naciima, who joined the Finn Church Aid’s TVET program recently.
She got to know about the course from one of her friends who went to the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee TVET Center. When deciding to apply, she says she felt at peace.
“My dream has always been to design clothes – coming up with ways to make them look fashionable. It was a dream come true when I found out about the training and I immediately joined without consulting my family. However, afterwards I told them about my decision.”
“Without the training I would not have become the woman I am today”
Naciima says that she gained skills from the tailoring course, including how to start business and practical tailoring skills. During the training, she was inspired by two things. Firstly, the way to come up with new designs and, secondly, the profits she could be make, especially since tailoring skills are in demand the country.
Naciima has become an advocate for TVET and wants to explain the benefits of it and how it leads to profit making.
“Without the training I would not have become the woman I am today – a business woman, an independent woman, and career-oriented individual.”
After graduating from the program, Naciima and the other graduates, received business start-up grants and equipment that helped her to start a business that could also support her family. Her idea was to start a tailoring shop that produces fresh looks in women’s clothing. She knew that the majority of ladies in Somaliland liked to wear tailored clothes and knowing her market helped her come up with her designs.
High hopes for the future
Within the first three months, the business was booming and made a decent profit. She hopes that in future she can support her family even more. At the moment she supports family in other ways than just financially – she makes clothes for her younger siblings. Some of her earning go into servicing her machines but her support for her family motivates her siblings and helps them to believe that they too can start a business and support the family in future.
Naciima is optimistic about the future and dreams of hiring more people for her business to meet the growing demand. This woman, who had waited to be supported by her family, has now become the one who supports them.
“I am able to save the money; average $100–150 in month,” she says. This is what a successful businesswoman looks.
Ugandan youths and refugees trained in Business and Vocational Skills
Finn Church Aid with partner Enabel has provided Ugandan and refugee youth in Palorinya settlement with necessary business understanding and vocational skills to find opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.
The war in South Sudan forced Alex Lojuan, 27, to flee his home and settle in Palorinya Refugee settlement, located in Obongi district in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda. He is one of the 512 youth that enrolled for the GIZ-ENABEL funded project implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in the Palorinya refugee settlement.
“My father died during the war and as the eldest child in the family, I had to take on the mantle of providing for the family. These were the hardest moments of my life, fending for a family in a foreign land,” Alex says.
Alex started laying bricks for income and later got the opportunity to work with Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as a casual worker, distributing soap to refugees during the monthly distribution of food rations and household items in settlements. While at LWF, he received information about the FCA Business and Technical Vocational Education Trainings (BTVET).
“As luck would have it, I was enrolled as one of the FCA business skills trainees. Although, I am yet to finish the business training course, what I have learned so far in the first two modules has instilled in me a positive mindset for success,” Alex says.
Enhanced youth employability
The project ‘Promoting Youth Employability through Enterprise and Skills Development’ (PROYES) began in October 2019 and ended in May 2021. It sought to enhance profitable employment opportunities for refugee and host community youths through skills training and business development support, by equipping the youth with demand-driven vocational and business skills for fluent transition into working life in employment or self-employment.
During the project, FCA trained and mentored young people in Business Start-up and Management and in vocational skills like hairdressing, sandal making, carpentry, tailoring and building construction.
Backed by the training and skills received from the FCA business class training, in March 2020 Alex started up a retail business with the money saved from bricklaying and casual work.
“I used my 300,000 Ugandan Shillings savings to start a retail shop in Odraji Village, Zone 1 in Palorinya settlement. Within seven months, my business capital had doubled. This is in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic situation that has affected most businesses,” Alex says.
“I run my shop with proper business principles learned during the FCA training. I have a business plan, I negotiate with suppliers to get the best deals, practice marketing of my goods, and deliver great customer service in my business,” he adds.
Alex earns a weekly profit of over 30,000 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) and with this money, he is able to take care of his extended family. He also bought bicycle for himself and put up a temporary structure that houses his retail shop.
Linking learning to earning
In a bid to increase employability chances of the youth trained, FCA provided start-up kits to the trainees who completed the course. The organisation also linked the trainees to available employment opportunities.
By end of the project period, 153 trainees, including 86 males and 67 females, were employed either by the private sector entities where they had attended industrial training or became self-employed.
Gordon Chiria, a 26-year-old Ugandan living in Obongi town managed to set up his dream business after the training.
“I used to grow and sell maize and other crops to support my family. This business wasn’t successful because I failed to maintain it. After FCA’s training, I started a retail business with a capital of UGX 300,000. Currently I make sales worth UGX 80,000 per day and much more on market days,” Gordon says.
Using his business profits, Gordon managed to buy two goats and support his family. He plans to expand his business to both retail and wholesale. “I appreciate Enabel and FCA’s efforts towards making the livelihood of Obongi community youths better,” he adds.
Focus also on young women’s skills
The project also supported female youths. More than half, 53 % of all beneficiaries were females that benefited from the six skills trades under the project.
FCA supported female participation by establishing four child daycare centres and also facilitated customised career guidance, counselling and life skills training to enable female trainees appreciate the trainings and build their resilience to complete the course.
Esther Kuyang, 25-year-old South Sudanese refugee came to Palorinya refugee settlement with her family in January 2017. “My family and I were depending on the limited resources provided by World Food Programme. The food rations provided were not always enough, yet it was quite hard to get supplementary food due to lack of a source of income,” she recounts.
“While I was still pondering about what to do to take care of my family, FCA came to my aid. With their support, I enrolled for a business entrepreneurship course at Belameling Vocational Training Centre,” Esther tells.
“I had previously been trained by FCA in sandal making. Due to the lack of start-up capital, I was yet to put that skill into practice. During the business training under the FCA-Enabel project, I learned that my real capital was my brain. I immediately started to think of ways to get capital to rejuvenate my previously acquired skills of sandal making.”
“In mid-July 2020, I got a loan of UGX 170,000 from my friend and bought some basic materials such as rubber, thread, beads, for starting a sandal making business. With the business skills acquired in the training like record keeping, marketing and proper accounting, my business started growing. Within two months, I grew my business capital to UGX 200,000. On average, I earn a profit of UGX 28,000 weekly. I am still paying off my loan and I will keep reinvesting the profits in the business. I am also saving with Vision Savings Group, our FCA–Enabel Internal lending group,” she adds.
Esther is the chairperson of the savings group that was formed in January 2020 under the support of FCA-Enabel project. So far she has saved 75,000 shillings with this group. She also bought a bicycle, which facilitates her movements. Esther plans to buy more tools and equipment’s for sandal making, especially those that she currently lacks. She also plans on expanding the business and opening more branches in other trading centres to generate more income.
Business and Technical Vocational Education Training provides opportunities for a brighter future in Ugandan refugee settlements
Finn Church Aid has been providing refugee youth in Uganda business and Technical Vocational Education Training. Their pre-exiting skills were diverse but overall, the programme has provided many with necessary capacities to provide for themselves in the future.
FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) promotes vocational education and entrepreneurship among women and young people in Uganda, a country that has taken in more than a million refugees from its neighbouring countries. No other country in Africa hosts more refugees than Uganda. The majority of them are children and youth who have arrived with varying educational backgrounds and skills to start earning their own living in time to come.
In early 2020, the pandemic had a tremendous impact on self-employment in Uganda. A survey conducted by the UN Capital Development Fund showed that around half of self-employed people fell below the poverty line after one month of lockdown. Fortunately, by the end of the year, the situation was showing signs of improvement.
The work in Kyaka Refugee Settlement is based on FCA’s Linking Learning to Earning (LL2E) approach, establishing functional links between Business, Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and the world of work. FCA Uganda has been implementing BTVET programmes in other Ugandan refugee settlements for several years already. During 2020, 1,925 young people in total received Business and Technical Vocational Education Training (BTVET) in FCA Uganda country programme.
Our trainees and graduates from Kyaka Refugee Settlement share their experiences and thoughts below.
Bashimbe Banzuzi, 17
Bashimbe fled the DRC for Uganda in 2018. “There was no peace,” she says. “We couldn’t sleep as we were constantly afraid of what the night would bring.” She arrived with her grandparents and two sisters. Bashimbe is now two weeks into her hairdressing course with FCA and is excited for the future. “I love hairdressing because I know there is demand for it,” she says. “After finishing this course I will be able to support my family. Right now there is no one else who is earning money.”
Charles Biyoik, 18
Charles arrived in Uganda from the DRC in 2019. He came alone. “Life was too hard and I wasn’t studying,” he says. In the DRC Charles had a no-skill job in a restaurant. When he arrived in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement he heard an radio advertisement for vocational training and decided to pursue a course in motorcycle repair. “Hopefully, I will one day open my own garage.”
Erian Tuyisenge, 17
Erian has lived in Kyaka all her life. Her parents fled Rwanda in 1997, passing through Tanzania before settling in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement. “I was sitting at home doing nothing,” she says. She has just begun a 6 month tailoring course at the FCA’s Vocational training centre. “I know tailoring will provide me a future as there is always demand. So you can earn a lot of money.”
Beni (standing) arrived in Uganda with her sister after fleeing violence and the murder of their parents in the DRC. “I had very little skills in hairdressing, but when I heard about the program, I knew I wanted to take part so I can help my family,’ she says. Beni and sister Rose went through the training together and in December 2019 they decided to open up a little salon in Kyaka settlement. “Even if we get one or two customers a day we are able to buy some soap, and some food.”
Skills are important especially for girls because many, Beni says, are involved in prostitution. “If they have skills, girls can focus on improving their lives and their family’s lives.”
Prince Mushesa, 22
Prince crossed the border alone, arriving in Uganda from the DRC in 2019 after rebels had kidnapped his family. When Prince heard from his neighbours that is was possible to study agriculture he was excited as he felt that it was a skill that could help him in the future. “I have been taught new techniques that I didn’t know before,” he says. FCA continues to supports students once they graduate by providing small plots of land for the students to continue to practice their farming. And of course whatever they grew, they keep.
Priska Kabira, 19
Priska is one of many students who are also young mothers. To support their learning, daycare is provided by the school. For Priska, who is studying Tailoring, this has meant she can spend more time in the classroom. “If they didn’t have daycare it would be very difficult. I would have to take her to the classroom and every time she cried I would have to tend to her.” Priska has been in Uganda for four years after fleeing the DRC with her family out of fear of being kidnapped by rebels.
Sonia Kalombola, 21
Sonia fled to Uganda with her family in 2010 due to conflict between families that left her uncle murdered. The family first settled in Kampala, capital of Uganda. Urban refugees are expected to be self-reliant but the high costs of living forced the family to Kyaka II where the family now resides. Sonia is currently studying Catering. “I love catering. I love to cook and bake. I hope to be a professional in the future and open a hotel and help others to learn about catering.”
Isabela Kabuwo, 23
Isabela settled in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in 2017 after war forced her to flee the DRC with her family. When she heard about the tailoring course offered by FCA she jumped at the chance. Fast forward to 2021 she now works alongside two other fellow graduates in a small tailoring business on the busiest street in Kyaka. “When we work as a group, we work better,’ she says. Isabela currently rents her sewing machine but is hoping to pay it off in the next couple of months.
Yvonne Ishimye, 19
Yvonne arrived in Uganda in 2017 after fleeing violence in the DRC with her family. Yvonne was already studying agriculture in the DRC and when she was determined to finish her studies however the costs of schooling were too prohibitive. When she learned that FCA offered a course in Agriculture to refugees it filled her with tremendous excitement. “When I was practicing agriculture in the DRC it wasn’t in my heart, but when I came to Uganda it became my ambition,” she says. Since graduating, Yvonne now plants tomatoes not far from her family’s house. Every five months she harvests her tomatoes earning enough money to buy new seeds and provide for her whole family.
Shukuru Misago, 20
Shukuru fled to Uganda when as a child with his entire family. In 2020 Shukuru was successful in securing a place in motorcycle repair at the FCA Vocational Training Center in Kyaka II. “There are so many boda boda’s (motorcycle taxis) where I live so I knew there would be a market. Now that I am working and own my own garage I can get everything I need to support my family,” he says. He has grown up seeing FCA’s impact in the settlement. “I want to see other refugees benefit from this programme the way I have benefited.”
Text: Nora Luoma and Erik Nyström Photos: Hugh Rutherford
Several smallholder farmers grow maize in Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Uganda. The product has growing markets in nearby areas. Still, due to low productivity and an absence of associative organizations or other platforms for sharing knowledge and empowering local farmers, the markets are not profitable.
Several opportunities to increase income, food security and self-reliance exist, yet the lack of skills in organizing the maize production and making it sustainable remains a challenge. Currently, local buyers – the so-called middlemen – buy the maize at low prices from the smallholder farmers. They add to its value by, for instance, drying or sorting and then sell the maize in towns for much higher prices. Some buyers are processors that grind the maize into flour and other bi-products, such as animal feeds.
Supported by our Food System Lab, the maize farmers will be organized into a strong association that can directly access the maize market without middlemen’s influence.
The Food System Lab Rwamwanja, coordinated by Finn Church Aid, addresses these challenges that refugees and Ugandan women are facing in the settlement by supporting self-sufficiency and community-based extension. Our Food System Lab empowers women smallholders and trains them in improving their maize production in terms of productivity, quality and sustainability, ultimately boosting their access to the maize market.
Supported by our Food System Lab, the maize farmers will be organized into a strong association that can directly access the maize market without middlemen’s influence. This will improve maize prices and smallholder farmers’ income and enhance their socioeconomic wellbeing and societal status.
In the refugee context, the income growth increases household consumption of other food products that complement the World Food Programme’s support of maize meal and beans. To put it simply: refugees earn more money and diversify their diets by affording more nutritious food.
Aiming to change the market system
The vision in our Food System Lab is threefold. Firstly, as the result of improved local extension structure, soil fertility is enhanced, and good maize farming practices are adopted. This, in turn, leads to improved maize yields.
Secondly, value addition through milling and packaging attracts premium price for the product.
Thirdly, by organising themselves better, the smallholder maize farmers can increase their negotiation capacities and thus tap into emerging market opportunities directly, without middlemen’s influence. Our Food System Lab will bring together relevant actors to identify best practices and learnings relating to setting up new livelihood activities in the refugee settlement and developing functioning and equal value chains and market linkages.
The government’s public extension system supports the activities by providing agro-technical knowledge to the farmers to improve maize productivity. The Food System Lab will also establish a Community-based Extension system using Village Enterprise Agents, maize farmers themselves.
Producers will be organized into collectives to sell in bulk and to negotiate prices. Input suppliers provide maize farms with seeds, fertilizers and other necessities related to production, while advisory agencies and NGOs train producers on production techniques. Smallholders can receive financing from micro-finance agencies.
Our Food System Lab will change the market system, making the market increasingly beneficial for low-income maize producers over the upcoming years. By changing the behaviour of market actors, the market works more efficiently and inclusively, responding to the needs of poor households and communities.
Village Enterprise Agents and smartphones improving the knowledge base and communication
One of the key approaches towards achieving increased productivity, sustainable practices and market access is to provide the farmers with the requisite training and on-farm extension support through a community-based extension structure, using a network of Village Enterprise Agents.
To disseminate agro-technical knowledge, the Village Enterprise Agents will be equipped with mobile phones pre-loaded with relevant agricultural content. Our Food System Lab develops an online dashboard to provide timely visibility of field activities, thus enabling timely information sharing, monitoring and learning. Stakeholders at any location will access the online dashboard through a username and password.
Introduction of smartphones in agricultural extension services in hard-to-reach rural areas in Uganda can enable communication with farmers, extension agents and managers in ways that were impossible before.
Photo: Sharon Shaba.
The adoption of smartphones in agriculture extension has occurred even more rapidly in developed countries than in Uganda. However, its adoption merits particular importance and attention because extension services in Uganda have been characterized by too-few field agents and a lack of communication support infrastructure and budget.
However, the smallholders – the majority of farmers in Uganda – are unlikely to have high levels of education (or could actually be illiterate) and generally with little experience operating mobile phones and related Apps.
These challenges can lead to underuse or abandonment of the technology if proper support is not provided. For this reason, Food System Lab Rwamwanja will combine these approaches in a structured system that trains local Village Enterprise Agents to become ‘professionals’, acting as liaisons to provide assistance and seek information on behalf of other farmers in their community.
This way of using technology combines the best of both approaches; the self-guided nature allows the user to tailor information to each farmer’s specific needs and situation. The organization and training of the Village Enterprise Agents mean that the knowledge they will provide can include up-to-date information to introduce smallholder farmers to new ideas.
Author: Elias Katareiha, Livelihood Program Officer, Finn Church Aid
1. Donation: The blockchain creates a reference for each donation. The reference allows users to track exactly how their donation is used.
2. Beneficiary registration: Blockchain technology enables electronic registration of beneficiaries, for instance, biometrically through fingerprint or iris scans or with smart cards.
3. Verified retailers: Retailers of food and other necessities are equipped with the relevant technology for identifying beneficiaries and trained in using the system.
4. Redemption: The retailer receives payment from the NGO that coordinates the operation for the items they have sold to identified beneficiaries.
5. Monitoring: If transactions are made electronically, the smart contract enables the donor to follow up on how the beneficiary spends the assistance in real-time through an online link.
The benefits and challenges of cash assistance
Cash transfers are one way to ensure that a greater amount of assistance funds directly reaches those in need while also enabling vulnerable families to decide for themselves what they need and prioritise their procurements. Local retailers benefit from increased activity at local markets.
Distributing cash does also bring challenges. The beneficiary is subject to risks by carrying relatively large amounts of cash in a fragile context. To ensure that the money does not instigate fraud or corruption, organisations need to allocate staff for monitoring and follow-ups.
The spread of the coronavirus has also complicated arrangements of cash distributions, and the use of cash increases the risk of transmitting the virus between people at local markets.
With the support of blockchain technology, an organisation can create a virtual wallet for each beneficiary. The beneficiary can then buy necessities from verified retailers equipped with the appropriate identification equipment. Transactions are followed virtually, making monitoring easy, and the blockchain enables safer transactions that protect the identity of the beneficiaries.
Online learning gains new ground among artisans in Myanmar. Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) training on entrepreneurship builds new paths of cooperation that help businesses grow sustainably.
A new toolkit on artisan entrepreneurship inspires a fast-growing community of entrepreneurs in Myanmar, driven by its popularity and increased demand for remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
FCA released a package of seven videos under the name of Myanmar Artisan Toolkit (MAT). Thus far, 192 people have completed the training designed to meet the demand for new business opportunities in Myanmar. The country’s tourism and business environment has grown rapidly.
The training consists of animated videos on how to start and run businesses.
The MAT education materials offer guidance on starting and running businesses. The training was translated into animated videos and paired with physical working materials that enable independent learning at home and allowing more people to participate in the training.
A Facebook Messenger Chatbot included in the learning concept allows participants to ask advice from administrators and other members of the online community, and watch additional lectures.
The training particularly benefits those that are already skilled in handicraft but lack experience in running businesses. Nin Nu Htwe makes hand puppets and participated in the live MAT-training in 2019 and took part in the online training during the pandemic.
Nin Ni Htwe has expanded her business with the support of networks she built during the training.
“The Facebook Chatbot was particularly helpful for me. I used to work alone, but now I have a large, expanding network of artisans and trainees who I work with”, Nin says.
The training supports quality and marketing
The videos are available in four languages; Burmese, Rohingya, Rakhine and Pwo Kayin. During the first four months, 1,200 users registered to the service.
Htoo Thint Zin graduated as a MAT trainer in 2019 and gained both skills and a new network of entrepreneurs. Her business focuses on handicraft, and she works with 50 other artisans.
“On top of my business, I teach business skills such as quality control, planning and bookkeeping to youth, women and persons with disabilities”, she says.
The training has helped Htoo Thint Zin’s business to flourish.
Htoo credits the training for improving the quality of their local handicraft as well as expanding the opportunities of delivering the products to markets.
“The training has resulted in social and financial gains for my business partners and me, and soon our products will meet international standards”, she says.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) develops entrepreneurship training in Myanmar in collaboration with Lutheran World Federation Myanmar (LWF).
Ugandan Emmanuel Obwori, 40, has founded and run five different businesses during his lifetime, all of which have been successful. Now he has a job that no one in Finland had done before January 2019.
In the autumn of 2018, when Finn Church Aid became the first humanitarian organisation in Finland to found its own investment company, FCA Investments, taking the position of investment manager was a natural decision for Emmanuel Obwori.
Obwori has always had a knack for business.
Born and raised in Ugandan capital of Kampala, Obwori first became an entrepreneur at age 16 while on summer holiday from school.
”Back then, my father worked for Sony, and one day he brought home a computer. At the time, computers were still very rare in Uganda. At first, I used it to play games, but then it occurred to me that I could teach other people how to use it as well. I started giving computer lessons on my parents’ balcony for a small charge.”
Obwori used the money he made from the computer lessons to buy baking supplies and started baking sesame cakes.
”The neighbourhood children coming home from school were always looking for something to snack on. I made quite a lot of money selling the cakes. My parents ended up being angry with me because I focused more on my business ventures than I did on schoolwork,” Obwori laughs.
Later, Obwori became an assistant in a computer hall near his university. When the elderly man who owned the hall wanted to retire, Obwori persuaded him to sell the hall to him on credit, with Obwori paying him back once the business would become profitable.
”I soon noticed that children and young people were mainly interested in computer games, so my younger brother and I turned the hall into a gaming arcade. It was one of the first gaming arcades in Kampala and is currently the biggest in the city. My younger brother still runs it.”
Obwori sees a great deal of unexplored potential in combining traditional development cooperation and sustainable investment.
”Most people think of this as a zero-sum game; you either work for a non-governmental organisation or for the private sector. In fact, the two complement each other. Non-governmental organisations are good at providing emergency aid: delivering food, shelter and drinking water as well as offering education and immediate income support. But if we leave it there, the recipients of aid will depend on our support for the rest of their life.”
Finn Church Aid’s investment company invests in small and medium enterprises in developing countries in order to offer people work and an income even after aid organisations have left the country. As an investment manager, Obwori’s job is to seek out and assess potential enterprises.
”We choose the entrepreneurs and businesses that already have the biggest positive impact on their communities. We invest in these businesses to help them grow and employ more people. This way, these businesses lift the community out of poverty for good.”
Text: Elina Kostiainen
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho
Finn Church Aid’s investment company FCA Investments Ltd (FCAI) announced its second investment on Thursday June 27th in Kampala. FCAI committed 4 million euros to the Ugandan Yield Fund, which targets agriculture-related businesses in Uganda across all value chains.
Yield Fund was launched by The European Union (EU), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) in January 2017, and it is also backed by The Soros Economic Development Forum (SEDF).
The fund’s support to agriculture includes supply of agricultural inputs, production and agro-processing within all sub-sectors, post-harvest storage and distribution, but also peripheral activities such as transportation, communications and certification.
“This is a unique opportunity to invest in solid local expertise in the agriculture sector, with strong international support”, says FCAI’s CEO Jukka-Pekka Kärkkäinen.
Yield Fund is a partnership between public and private investors that offer innovative and tailored financial solutions, using equity, semi-equity and debt to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It has the potential to generate both strong financial returns and significant social impact.
“The model looks at the entire value chain and matches the investment with tailor-made technical assistance. Investee companies can increase production and productivity in a robust manner. This concept is scalable and can be copied to other, even more fragile countries”, Kärkkäinen says.
Investments in agriculture change lives in Uganda
Yield Fund seeks to support businesses with a clear competitive advantage and ambitious local management. The fund will benefit the Ugandan economy by improving an estimated 100,000 rural household livelihoods, and increasing access to markets for an estimated 26,000 farmers.
Emmanuel Obwori, Investments Manager for FCA Investments speaking at the press conference. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA
It also creates jobs and employment opportunities, ensures food security while generating income, foreign exchange and new export opportunities – all fundamentally contributing to Uganda’s economic growth and the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Investments in the agricultural sector is the surest way of changing lives in Uganda, says Emmanuel Obwori, Investment Manager at FCA Investments.
“Employing over 70% of Uganda’s working population, the agricultural sector is Uganda’s largest employer, but it contributes only 25 percent to the GDP”, Obwori says.
“The agricultural sector is also the least productive, inevitably trapping the majority of Uganda’s population in cycles of seasonality and hunger.”
Grassroots level investments during the next three years
Emmanuel Obwori, Investment Manager for FCAI (left) and Edward Isingoma, Managing Parnter for PCP / Yield Fund. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA
To date, Yield Fund has made investments of over 1,9 million euro in SESACO limited, an agro-processing company specialising in soya products, CECOFA, a coffee processor, and Chemiphar, an analytical laboratory providing testing and inspection services to SME businesses.
The fund is managed by Pearl Capital Partners (PCP) Uganda, with the mandate to make investments ranging from 250,000 to 2 million euros. Managing Partner Dr. Edward Isingoma says that PCP’s and FCAI’s ideologies of supporting vulnerable smallholder farmers match perfectly.
“Some of the key principles from which Yield Fund Uganda was established are about the unique, conducive agri-business environment, work against climate change and the potential of bringing about real change in the lives of smallholder farmers and rural communities”, Isingoma says.
By utilizing PCP’s and FCAI’s impact Investing experiences and principles, Isingoma believes that the efforts will also create core foundations from which the SME agri-business sector and smallholder farmer communities can develop and grow together.
“We shall be looking forward to making strategic, effective and efficient on the ground investments over the next three years and are excited at partnering with FCAI not only as an investor, but also in impact measurement, reporting, SME growth capitalization and more.”
Dr. Edward Isingoma, Managing Partner for PCP / Yield Fund speaking at the launch event. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA
FCAI plans more investments in the near future
FCA Investments was founded in 2018 to invest in socially and environmentally responsible businesses that create jobs, raise the income level of low-paid employees, and reduce poverty.
The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs granted FCAI a loan of 16 million euros for investment activities that support this objective. The creation of jobs plays a key role in the fight against poverty and inequality in developing countries. Jobs are also key to sustainable peace.
According to a World Bank estimate, the world should create more than 600 million jobs during the next 15 years in order to give its growing population opportunities for decent livelihoods.
The next investment after Uganda will possibly target Somalia, and as resources grow, investment activities can also be launched in, for example, Cambodia, Jordan, Kenya, Myanmar, and Nepal.
“We have now made two SME fund investments, the other one being in Asia. These investments are important for risk diversification and information sharing”, Kärkkäinen says.
“True impact investors are happy to share the lessons they have learnt and help others so that they do not need to invent the wheel again. The expertise we have teamed with is extremely valuable when entering into environments that are more fragile.“
Finn Church Aid (FCA) exports Finnish vocational diplomas to Uganda in cooperation with education export company Omnia Education Partnerships (OEP).
The diploma in question is an official Finnish vocational diploma, equivalent in its requirements to a Finnish secondary degree diploma.
The training programme is currently provided at a refugee settlement in Uganda. The first group obtaining Finnish entrepreneurship diploma at Rwamwanja refugee settlement are graduating on March 28, 2019.
There are more refugees in the world than ever, and it is estimated that only one in five will receive a secondary degree education. The average length of displacement is 20 years.
“What makes this programme exceptional is the fact that refugees are able to obtain a diploma while they are displaced, which helps them find employment already during displacement. A secondary degree education that is offered in crisis areas decreases dependence on aid and provides support where it is most needed”, says Tomi Järvinen, Director of International Cooperation at FCA.
In Uganda, FCA and OEP currently provide vocational diplomas in entrepreneurship. In the future, the plan is to also provide vocational qualification in education and instruction. The programme welcomes refugees as well as Ugandans to participate in the training.
Regina Meta, 18, fled to Uganda from Congo with her mother and sister in 2016, and is now studying in the Finnish entrepreneurship programme. With confidence gained from the programme, the young woman has opened her own hair salon, which is now among the most popular in the refugee settlement.
“Hairstyling has always been my passion. Thanks to the programme, I have learned a lot, especially about how to interact with clients. These days, I get lots of new clients based on the recommendations by my old clients”, Regina says.
Thanks to legislation that came into force in Finland last year, all vocational education providers have the opportunity to export vocational education, either as complete diploma programmes or as parts of them.
The reform is an important step forward for the export of Finnish education, and also a new form of sustainable development cooperation. It reinforces the ability of refugees to pursue their livelihood.
The project is a pilot that can be later used to provide vocational training in other refugee settings.
Ville Wacklin, Project Manager, tel. +358 40 719 0592
Tomi Järvinen, Director of International Cooperation, tel. +358 40 641 8209