Around the world, MCC and its partners follow development practices that reflect community needs and desires, include local people in crafting solutions and help make projects more sustainable. Here are some examples from the work of MCC partner Zakho Small Villages Project (ZSVP) in Iraq’s Ninewa governorate. (No last names of project participants are used because of security concerns.)
1. Know the market
In Iraq’s Ninewa plains, years of economic upheavals and conflict have reduced honey production. But ZSVP’s core staff – including teachers, engineers and an agriculture professor at a local university – knew the quality and taste of honey produced there was once famous and that people were willing to pay a premium for local honey.
That knowledge paid off. After receiving beehives and training through ZSVP and MCC, Liza and her husband Benyamin, above, now produce honey that they are able to sell for five times the cost of imported honey in local stores. Exactly how much? They’re charging $50 per kilogram – more than $22 for 16 ounces – while mass market honey costs about $10 a kilogram.
2. Let the community select participants
ZSVP works alongside community leaders to identify project participants, targeting those most in need.
Gaining community input from the outset reduces misunderstandings about why specific people were chosen to participate and helps to alleviate jealousy within the community as projects succeed. This is especially important in communities like these in Iraq, which are a mix of long-term residents and new families who fled violence in other regions.
Joanna, a widowed mother of four girls and four boys, began a kitchen garden through an MCC-supported project of ZSVP. Since then, she has doubled the size of her garden and used information from the trainings about greenhouses to construct a makeshift hothouse (pictured at her feet) where she is starting seedlings of tomato and pepper plants to plant once the weather is warmer.
3. Offer choices
People know what projects are most likely to work out for their own lives. When ZSVP has identified a participant to be part of a livelihoods initiative, the participant has a choice of what to pursue.
Zena, for instance, could choose between keeping bees or establishing a kitchen garden. She chose the kitchen garden. Beekeeping might have a larger payoff, but that income only comes after waiting months to harvest honey. She’s raising five children, ages 6 months to 15 years, as her husband works as a day laborer in a city more than two hours away by car.
With a kitchen garden, she can earn a little at a time during a greater part of the year. As she sells portions of her crop, she can buy other kinds of food such as eggs or yogurt for her family.
And with what she harvests from the garden, her children, who used to eat mainly the rice and bulgur wheat that are staples in this area, now are consuming more vegetables.
The kids’ favorite? The arugula, which they eat with rice or bulgur.
4. Go beyond seeds and tools
Education, training and follow-up are part of the livelihoods initiatives from the beginning, but more resources might be needed in a particular area to make the project successful.
For example, for a kitchen garden, people need to know how to plant and how to tend, of course. They’ll need seeds and tools to dig into the dirt.
But for Zena, one of the most valuable parts of the project was that it provided fencing to keep roaming animals, such as sheep and cows, from destroying her crop. Indeed, when the project began, she had some farming knowledge and enough water to grow plants but could not afford the fencing that would make a garden a viable project. MCC’s local partners know what’s most needed in each context, whether fencing, a particular pest repellent or something else.
In addition to working with a family from the outset, ZSVP staff remain in touch with families even years after a funded project has ended – continuing to be on call for questions or problems with bees or gardens and keeping an eye on how initiatives are working out over time.
5. Make giving back part of the program
ZSVP infuses its projects with a spirit of giving back to the community. For example, beekeeping beneficiaries receive five beehives at the start of the project, which are then divided into 10 hives after several months. Then, two of these 10 hives are returned to ZSVP, which uses them to start off a new group of beekeepers.
This kind of giving back provides resources that make the project more sustainable, and participants’ generosity often goes beyond what is required by the project.
Fawzia, above, received five beehives through MCC’s project with ZSVP in February 2015 and now has 16. As her hives multiplied, she not only gave the required two hives to ZSVP but also, on her own, gave eight more directly to other farmers.
Zena, even as she works to feed her family from her kitchen garden, sets aside a third of her harvests for displaced families living next door. “I can only support them by vegetables,” she said. “I was poor. I am poor now also. If somebody gives me something, I feel happy. I want to give the same happiness to people.”
Want to know more about the work of MCC and Zakho Small Villages Project (ZSVP)? Read about ZSVP’s approach to helping reduce conflict by combining food assistance for displaced people with these livelihoods initiatives for host communities. See p. 13 of the Winter 2016 issue of Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly.
In April 2016, the Spring 2016 issue of A Common Place magazine featuring MCC’s work in Iraq, including through ZSVP, will be available.