On Earth Day: How Mercy Ships agriculture programme is getting to the very root of poverty in Africa

On Earth Day: How Mercy Ships agriculture programme is getting to the very root of poverty in Africa

Babies and children suffering from malnutrition make up so many patients treated by Mercy Ships and its partners in Africa.

Lack of appropriate nutrition in their early development results in weakened bones and many of the orthopaedic conditions that cause huge debilitating conditions, pain and distress.

What if we went to the very root of this problem and stopped this from happening in the first place?

The good news is, with your help, we do. And we’d love to do even more.

Since 1997, Mercy Ships has provided education to help participants rebuild, restore and renew their land and communities through agriculture development. Today, we call this life-changing programme – Food for Life.

The programme gives participants in-depth agricultural training, with a special focus on nutrition and business entrepreneurship. As course participants discover which crops to plant and best tending practices, they also learn how to produce, process, market, and sell their crops.

The result? A sustainable approach to agriculture that has the potential to transform individuals as well as communities. Since 2007, Mercy Ships has led Food for Life courses in nine African countries, training more than 800 participants.

Meet Birima, a Food for Life student in Senegal

Birima is a Food for Life student in Senegal. He jumped at the chance to participate in the programme, after years of searching.

Looking for a successful job, he had travelled far and wide – even journeying from his home country of Senegal to Morocco. When he heard of an opportunity to participate in the Food for Life training program in late 2019, he decided to join.

That decision has been transformational on every level.

Birima said, “Having this knowledge allows me to be independent and take care of my own food supply.” But is so much more than this.

Throughout the 22-week course, Birima — along with a group of more than 30 fellow students — developed a foundation in the world of agriculture, including agroecology, nutrition, and food processing.

The course has empowered him to begin his own food production business. He started his venture with the equivalent of £29 — and it has already blossomed into a successful, sustainable business.

Currently, Birima’s business produces moringa, a leaf-based powder that’s rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. He is also working on setting up a unit to process other community products, like fresh bissap and baobab juices.

How Food for Life Transforms Communities

But the programme doesn’t just help Birima and its participants. It helps the entire community.

By the end of the program, participants have also learned how to train others with their fresh skills and business acumen. Food for Life graduates are given the resources and tools to go back into their communities and create a ripple effect of transformation as they share their knowledge with other aspiring farmers. This ‘train-the-trainer’ approach is key to our sustainable health systems strengthening model.

In 2021, we will provide another Food for Life training programme in Senegal as well as Benin, where we are also partnering with Phaz Compassion to renovate a regional Food for Life campus.

Transforming Communities Through Agriculture

The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t stopped Birima from dreaming big.

Birima’s plans for the future go to the very core of improving nutrition and to the very heart of the vision of Mercy Ships – to give people the skills and tools to help themselves and their communities.

His plan is to eventually produce infant feeding flour, a product that will help with babies’ strength and early development. This in turn will hopefully fewer babies and children will suffer from malnutrition and need treatment.

By implementing effective agricultural training programs in the nations we serve, Mercy Ships aims to tackle this issue from its root.
It is our hope that by collaborating with farmers, food producers, and agroecological (sustainable farming that works with nature) workers, we can see better nutrition and healthier food systems in rural areas.

Birima’s dream will become part of carrying out this vision for his community in Senegal.

Birima’s greatest lesson – teaching others

Birima’s greatest lesson wasn’t anything that could be taught in the classroom. It was learning how to train other community members that transformed him with a new confidence.
He said, “Because of the training, everywhere I go, everyone listens to me. People ask about and are very interested in agroecology.”

“I was challenged by circumstances,” added Birima, “but through this opportunity to learn how to grow and process food, I have now built a vision for my life.”

With your help, we can continue to get to the very root of poverty in Africa.