Smallholder Farmers

The Importance of Human-Centered Design, with Wes Meier, EOS International

EOS International empowers rural families in Central America by providing simple, inexpensive solutions that improve health, generate income, and provide access to appropriate technology.

Wes Meier, EOS International

Wes Meier, EOS International

Wes Meir studied mechanical engineering at Iowa State University. In his junior year, he took a course with an international focus. He and his fellow students were challenged with creating a laptop that would work in Western Africa. To figure out the design criteria, Wes typed “What is West Africa like?” into Google.

In his senior year, he signed up for a second international design course. This time, he was assigned the role of designing a water valve. Unlike his junior year, he traveled to Mali where he spent several months on the ground learning about the specific needs of the local community. His first valve designs worked technically, but they did not fit the specific needs of the local community. “That’s where I learned, human-centered design is the most important component of the design process,” Wes says. “If you’re going to design for the long term, you have to design with [customers].”

Wes also says of his time in Mali, “It gave me an opportunity to see that my engineering skills can go towards a greater good.” As Wes ended his senior year, he declined a job offer and joined the Peace Corps.

Before Wes joined the Peace Corps, he and some friends formed an organization. They thought that they would design new solutions for the people of rural Nicaragua. But, after living in Nicaragua for more than two years, Wes realized that solutions already exist for almost all the challenges he encountered.

Wes spent more than two years volunteering in Nicaragua in the agricultural sector. There, he applied human-centered design to solve problems for local families. “That is where I really learned that, I need to get the involvement of the consumer, and that was the most critical part.” He was practicing human-centered design. But it wasn’t until he returned to the United States and took courses from IDEO that he had language he could use and repeatable processes he could apply.

Water systems exist for problems with contaminated water. Cook stoves exist that make cooking more efficient and less polluting. And the solar technology exists that provides electricity for off-grid communities. “So, we pivoted and focused on the distribution, of the promotion, and on the implementation of these simple solutions.”

The opportunity at the Peace Corps allowed Wes to create the network he needed to start EOS International. EOS International targets rural families in countries like Nicaragua to improve lives through appropriate technologies.

They work to provide clean water. Wes says, “Here we see by water as a normal way of life.” For the people of rural Nicaragua, running water is a luxury and is often is contaminated. EOS International installs simple water purifiers that can treat the water at the source and provide water for up to 1,000 people. A three-year study conducted with the Ministry of Health found a 61% decrease in diarrheal disease related to water.

Another example of a core technology is cooking stoves. Many people in Nicaragua still use firewood as a cooking source. The firewood is burned in inefficient stoves. This results in time spent gathering more wood. It also results in indoor pollution. By installing more efficient stoves the people of rural Nicaragua are able to reduce the amount of smoke they breathe and reduce time to gather wood. The people who use these stoves have reduced their firewood consumption by 1 ½ million pounds. Wes and the team have also noticed a surprising side benefit. “Of all the ovens we have installed, we found that 42% of the people started businesses with them. Giving people the opportunity to start their own business and make their own money is really empowering.”

A third technology that is being implemented is solar panels. “The benefit to them is not the renewable component of the solar panel but the access to electricity,” Wes explains. The grid electricity may never reach many of these remote areas, and these panels have been a huge benefit. Just allowing homes to have three to four hours of extra power each night is a game changer.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Wes Meir:

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re focusing on rural families.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have a portfolio of six core solutions that we focus on.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

“Having those engineering skills has been critical.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s not something I had planned.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Human centered design is the most important component of the design process.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I need to get the involvement and the interaction with the consumer.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We want as many people to have access to these technologies as possible.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

“Two-thirds of the people are now not going to the hospital because they are sick.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We are focusing on rural families and needs that these rural families have.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We empower them for long-term sustainability.” @WesleyMeier, @EOS_Intl”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


155, Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor | Collaborative Consumption for Smallholder Farmers

Hello Tractor is an AgTech company focused on improving food and income security across sub-Saharan Africa through a tractor sharing platform.

Collaborative Consumption for Smallholder Farmers with Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor

Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor

Collaborative consumption is reshaping the world. There are the well-known players. For example, Airbnb rents more rooms than Hilton, Marriott, and InterContinental combined. If you want to get around in a city, you can grab a ride with someone via Lyft or pick up a bike with bike sharing services such as Nice Ride Minnesota.

But can collaborative consumption help feed the world? That’s what Hello Tractor is attempting to do.

In Africa and Asia, more than 80% of the food is produced by smallholder farmers. These farmers cannot afford to purchase and maintain a tractor. They depend on manual labor to work their land. With a lack of available labor, they often do not fully cultivate their land. Hello Tractor builds low horsepower tractors, suitable for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Smallholder farmers can request tractor services by sending a text, just as you might request a Lyft.

Hello Tractor is not just building tractors. They have created a technology platform that can be used by other manufacturers to provide services on-demand.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Jehiel Oliver

“I’ve always been a fan of using commercial markets to reach low-income populations.”

“Most people who access microfinance, earn their income on the farm.”

“The tractor itself is low-tech, but the technology that supports it is fairly sophisticated.”

“We just asked people for advice.” 

“Our biggest asset is a willingness to put yourself out there and sound really stupid.” 

“The upside was clear.”

“We were always putting out fires. I think that was part of the fun.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Get started. Just go. You’ll never have it figured out.” @Jehiel, @HelloTractor”]

“The best learning is not done behind a desk. It’s done out there in the field.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Be bold with your ideas. Because some of these challenges are so massive.” @Jehiel, @HelloTractor”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

More Stories of Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger

In 2017, we’re emphasizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In February, we are focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger. You can read more about Sustainable Development Goal 1 here, Sustainable Development Goal 2 here, or learn about the Sustainable Development Goals here.

115, Anushka Ratnayake, myAgro | How to Move Smallholder Farmers out of Poverty

Anushka Ratnayake of myAgro uses a combination of savings, inputs and training to increase the income of smallholder farmers.

As a social entrepreneur, Anushka Ratnayake has seen startup challenges that are not common in other regions. For example, less than a year after launching myAgro, an armed conflict broke out in Mali. A group associated with Al-Qaeda set up a new state in Northern Mali. In response, the French military launched an operation and ousted the rebels.

Anushka Ratnayake, the founder of myAgro was an early employee with Kiva. There she learned about the power of microfinance to impact poverty. She also worked with One Acre Fund where her job was to develop a repayment process for smallholder farmers. She heard from the farmers that they wanted to prepay their loan, or in other words, they were asking for help in saving money for the future.

Seventy percent of the population of Mali are smallholder farmers, most living on less than two dollars per day. The farmers have seasonal income. They have the most cash at harvest time and less cash on hand when it is time to purchase seeds and fertilizer.

myAgro sells seeds and fertilizer on layaway via a mobile phone platform. They also provide training on well-established agricultural methods. This helps smallholder farmers grow more food and increase their income.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Anushka Ratnayake

“Smallholder farmers make up 80% of the two billion people living under two-dollars per day.”

“I saw this opportunity of low yields, lots of land and a fast growing population.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I started hacking One Acre Fund from within.’ Anushka Ratnayake, @myAgro_”]

“When you’re working a startup, everyone’s time and resources are so valuable.”

“On the side, I started working with someone on a savings program for a cow.”

“There were all doing amazing work, but no one had a savings program specifically for farmers.”

“Solving the financing problem for farmers is a key to ending poverty in our lifetime.”

“One of the reasons it’s hard to serve smallholder farmers is that they tend to need many different support mechanisms.”

“It’s really convenient for farmers to put small amounts of money aside.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We bulk purchase seeds and fertilizer and deliver it to farmers.’ Anushka Ratnayake, @myAgro_“]

“It’s that combination of financing plus delivery of inputs plus training that really gets us that increase in harvest and the increase in income that we’re seeing.”

“Farmers are increasing their harvest from 50% – 100% over a control field.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘They’re increasing their income by an average of $150.’ Anushka Ratnayake, @myAgro_”]

“There was a twelve hour period when it was unclear whether Mali would continue to exist.”

“I think social enterprises sometimes under value the impact they have on their team.”

“Our favorite day across the organization is delivery day, when farmers get their inputs.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

113, Yvette Ondachi, Ojay Greene | Connecting Smallholder Farmers to Markets

Yvette Ondachi uses technology to connect smallholder farmers to markets.

Yvette Ondachi is a biochemist. She was a pharmaceutical product manager across several east African countries. “The problem I encountered was, most people couldn’t afford [medicine],” Yvette told me. Even after an experiment in which the company lowered the cost of medications by 75%, many people still could not get access to medicine.

“One of the things that propelled me,” Yvette explained, “was watching mothers, helpless as their children suffered from preventable diseases.” She knew she had to do something to make a difference. “Something within me became very restless. I said, ‘I have to do something about this.’”

Most of the people who were unable to buy medicine were smallholder farmers, those who farm on small plots of land and live off of their crops. Globally, there are about 500 million smallholder farmers. They produce 80% of the food consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In Kenya, around 42 million people work at least part time in agriculture.

Yvette’s company, Ojay Greene works with smallholder farmers to remove the barriers that limit them. Ojay Greene uses technology to give smallholder farmers access to markets, therefore increasing their earnings. Farmers who participate increase their income by five times over five years.

Quotes from Yvette Ondachi about Smallholder Farmers

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘What we do with smallholder farmers is, we link them to profitable markets.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene “]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Smallholder farmers constitute between 50% and 70% of populations across Africa.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Poverty robs them of their potential.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #smallholder #farmers“]

“I asked the question, why is it that people who are involved in food production are poor?”

“Despite advances in mobile phones and other advances, very little had occurred in agriculture.”

“I looked at the skill I had in my hand, and the skill I had in my hand was marketing.”

“There was a lack of coordination between the supply and the demand.”

“It is uncomfortable to watch people wallow in poverty.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I was looking at the science of farming.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #agtech“]

“This text system came out as a result of a problem and a frustration.”

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, the continent is spending close to $40 billion importing food.”

“We’re taking them on a journey where they move from subsistence farming to building micro enterprises.”

“The end game of what we’re trying to achieve is to build strong and vibrant communities.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We’re looking at going into four countries by 2018.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #startup“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘When you have a goal, it’s important to stick to it.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #SocEnt“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘For every ten doors I knock, chances are that nine are shut.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #SocEnt“]

“Many people want the success of your journey and not the hardship of your journey.”

“I looked into the business aspect of the social enterprise and said this has to make business sense.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We have focused on churning up the revenue.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #SocEnt #ImpInv“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Never forget why you did this in the first place.’ Yvette Ondachi, @OjayGreene #SocEnt“]

“Don’t do this for the money. Do this for the positive change.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

106, Marta Del Rio, Wasi Organics | Balancing Purpose, Passion and Skills

Can food be both delicious and nutritious? Can business be both profitable and purposeful? Can a company improve nutrition for consumers while improving the lives of smallholder farmers? Yes!

Marta Del Rio’s journey to social entrepreneurship began with her mother. Her mother was a volunteer with the Red Cross. She taught Marta that for those whom much is given, much is required.

Marta spent much of her career as a busy executive with global brands you would recognize: L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Burger King, Mars and American Express. These jobs required long hours and sacrifices. Still, Marta found ways to give back through pro bono work. She wondered, would there be a way for her to combine her purpose, passion, and skills to make an impact.

Marta and her co-founder, Gianina Gandullia spent almost two years working out a market segmentation and supply chain strategy. She started with her desire to make an impact. She chose food, which was her passion. She focused on Peru, her native home. She knew that Peru was the home of some of the world’s superfoods such as maca, cacao, quinoa and purple corn. She selected the needs of farmer associations as her target population for impact. By combining these elements together, Marta co-founded Wasi Organics.

Wasi Organics is a Peruvian producer of organic, healthy snacks. They reduce the poverty gap by sourcing products directly from small Andean farmers’ associations and paying fair pricing.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Marta Del Rio, Wasi Organics

“I had no idea that social entrepreneurship was what I was doing.”

“I started to question what kind of impact I was having as a person.”

“When I went back to Peru I thought there must be a way to make a bigger impact.”

“I knew there had to be a way to build a business that could turn a profit and make a positive impact.”

“What I had been doing in the corporate world was building companies, to make them last.”

“What is needed for a social company that lasts? Purpose? Yes. Passion? Absolutely. And then skills.”

“There are a lot of social entrepreneurs with a wonderful idea, but they come up short on skills and experience some times.”

“I think sustainability for a company is about the impact you make in the world.”

“I thought, how do I make an impact in the food sector – anywhere in the world, but in particularly in Peru?”

“It was a lot of field work, and then literally taking a plane, a train, a truck, a mule…”

“What you cannot do as a small startup is to try to aim for everything.”

“We only work with Peruvian superfoods because that makes us different and our products different from everyone else.”

“That’s how we started. Where are the people who are farming these crops with so much value, potentially? And yet, that value has not been realized.”

“Two years of that was tiring, because you don’t see the products. You’re planting the seeds.”

“We thought at the beginning that it was about telling them ‘We’re going to change your lives,’ but they have heard that a few times.”

“They’ve heard that speech many times. I did not know that. That was one of the initial surprises.”

“What I thought at the beginning would take a few months, took a few years.”

“We don’t work with associations who are looking for charity. We work with associations where the leading families want to regain their dignity.”

“I have basically seven superfoods I work with.”

“I love to cook, so I called a few chefs that I know and asked ‘How can we do something interesting with this?’”

“We thought, let’s start with small markets and see how it scales.”

“We wanted intelligent, patient capital and that is what we found with Acumen.”

“It’s all about word of mouth and building credibility within the association.”

“We move from working with one association to two and from two to three. Basically, we replicate the model.”

“Follow your dreams. It’s never too late. It took me twenty years.”

“Yes, it is much, much, much more difficult to run a profitable social enterprise. But it is much, much, much more satisfying.”

“Before you buy a product or a service, think what’s behind it.”

“One of the best ways to collaborate is to support companies that are making a difference in our world.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

096, Lee Wallace, Peace Coffee | Fair Trade Coffee from Smallholder Farmers

Smallholder farmers grow more than half of the coffee consumed worldwide.

Lee Wallace, Peace Coffee, Fair Trade for Smallholder Farmers

Lee Wallace, Peace Coffee

Imagine if you will, that you are working at a non-profit in Minnesota, focusing on public policy. The phone rings, and the person on the other end says “Hello. This is the Port of Los Angeles. We have 38,000 pounds of green coffee with your name on it. How would you like to pick this up?” You know nothing about coffee or roasting or retail. What would you do?

That is exactly what happened twenty years ago at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. In today’s Social Entrepreneur, Lee Wallace, the Queen Bean of Peace Coffee tells us the rest of the story.

Peace Coffee is a for-profit social enterprise, owned by a nonprofit, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Peace Coffee has a wholesale business that they have been running for about two decades. They also have four retail coffee shops within the Twin Cities, Minnesota.

Last year Peace Coffee purchased 735,000 lbs. of coffee from 12 countries and 20 smallholder farmer cooperatives. In the process, Peace Coffee paid $370,000 in fair trade premiums.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Lee Wallace

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We think hard about how to do the right thing for coffee farmers.’ Lee Wallace of @Peace_Coffee”]

“Our customers named us.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I was trying to find a career that made sense to me in terms of my passions.’ Lee Wallace of @Peace_Coffee“]

“What I was trying to do was find places that sit at the nexus of mission and money.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Pretty quickly I realized that this is a magical place for me. Lee Wallace of @Peace_Coffee“]

“I have always been interested in how organizations work.”

“We spend a lot of our time at work.”

“The Twin Cities is an amazing place to learn about natural foods because we have such a vibrant and thriving co-op ecosystem.”

“My dad really wanted us to understand the history of industry as it came in and out of communities and how that really impacted families in those communities.”

“The original idea was that we would be an importer of all kinds of things.”

“More than 50% of the world’s coffee farmers, farm coffee on very small parcels of land.”

“We come this work with the sense that, what we’re doing is working on trying to elevate the livelihood of an awful lot of people who historically have been very disadvantaged when it comes to the way trade works.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It’s livelihood, but its community development too.’ Lee Wallace of @Peace_Coffee“]

“Co-ops are stepping in and playing the role of civil society in these communities.”

“People in these communities have ideas and know how they’re going to make their communities better. Our job is to be a good partner on the other side of that.”

“We have a price floor…We believe that below this level is unsustainable for coffee farmers.”

“This company existing 10 years from now is more important than what is happening this month. This company is bigger than all of us.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You’d be amazed at who would be willing to talk to you.’ Lee Wallace of @Peace_Coffee“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

Upcoming Webinar: How to Make a Difference while Making a Living (HINT: No Ramen Noodles Required)

On July 20, 2016 at Noon US Central time, I am hosting the webinar, “How to Make a Difference while Making a Living (HINT: No Ramen Noodles Required).” In this webinar I will be talking about:

  • How to go from being a compassion person to being a changemaker
  • How to overcome the five most common roadblocks to being a changemaker
  • The seven key characteristics of successful changemakers
  • The ten steps on the path to changemaking

During the webinar, we will be giving away fabulous gifts and prizes. You won’t want to miss this. Register for the webinar today: .