You Can’t Force a Man to Fish: Creating Sustainable Livelihoods

By Sarah Buchanan | Urban Agriculture, Urban Farming

In the global development world, one rarely goes a day without hearing the age-old proverb “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime,” and at Kula Project, we strongly believe this. Kula Project is a non-profit that equips small farmers with the methods they need to create sustainable livelihoods. What we have learned in the eighteen months since we began however, is that you cannot force that man to learn how to fish. Having worked in Swaziland, Jamaica, Kenya, and Rwanda we learned that our programs are incomparably more effective when we work with men and women that are already doing their best to grow the crops they need to feed their families and earn an income.


Creating Sustainable Livelihoods. Rows of kale at the farm in Bondo, Kenya planted in September.

Creating Sustainable Livelihoods

In the first months after founding Kula Project, James Sasson and I focused on teaching people that were not currently farming new ways to grow food and unfortunately, our first two projects did not excel as we wished. At first, looking through our notes, program details, and video footage we couldn’t figure out where we went wrong. Why weren’t our programs expanding? Why is this group of people not growing food at all? All of our information was correct, the materials were top-of-the-line, but yet it still wasn’t working. Then, it suddenly clicked. We weren’t working with farmers. We were working with people who had no intention of growing food before so why would they now?

Over a billion of the world’s poorest people are farmers. Being a small start-up organization, why were we exhausting all of our efforts teaching people to become farmers when literally a billion people were already trying but falling short? That is when we decided to be for the farmer. More than 75% of farmers in the developing world grow their crops on plots about the size of a football field or smaller, so with the growing population we have to make sure these farms are as productive and efficient as possible. For example, we are working with an amazing farmer in west Kenya named Phoebe. Not only does Phoebe have a 12 acre farm, but she uses the food from her farm to feed the 80 orphans that are in her care. This season, her once thriving farm began to suffer. She did not have the funds or the access to good seeds. The fuel-powered water pump became too expensive to operate, and her flooding irrigation method caused too many weeds which skyrocketed her labor costs. This year, despite her greatest efforts was the first year in which she could not provide the children with three meals a day, so we decided Phoebe would be Kula Project’s first farmer.


Phoebe, farmland owner in Bondo, Kenya.

This past October, our team traveled to Bondo, Kenya where we hired a local business to install a gravity-fed drip irrigation system on her farm. While it will not completely eliminate her need for the fuel-powered pump it will reduce it by up to 90%, and drastically cut labor costs due to weeding because water is only going to the base of the plant. From this same company we were able to purchase excellent seeds and fertilizer, as well. After the irrigation was properly installed we hired a local agronomist to train Phoebe and 14 nearby widows on the irrigation technology. Which brings me to the next crucial addition to Kula Project’s model. Now we hire local experts to do the training. Sure, our team can grow a pretty impressive organic garden in United States but we aren’t exactly experts when it comes to growing cassava in Kenya or growing coffee in Rwanda. The great news is that there are experts on the ground that have been farming the same land for generations, and they are far more equipped to teach a fellow citizen new technologies and better practices, and we can hire them to do so.

Poverty is complicated but hunger is one of the unacceptable tragedies of our time because we have the answer. We have the technologies and resources to end it so now it is time to do it. Kula Project is doing its best to create situations in which people can not only feed themselves and their families but earn an income, and we must make sure we do it with respect to the farmers, the land, and the culture of the people we are trying to help or we will only create more problems.

Feature Image:  Women working the new plots with the newly installed drip irrigation system in Bondo, Kenya.

About The Author

Sarah Buchanan
Sarah Buchanan is the Executive Director of Kula Project which she co-founded in May of 2012 with her partner (and boyfriend) James Sasson. Passionate about helping others earn a living and makes full-circle impacts in people’s lives, Sarah has fallen in love with Africa and her endless beauty. Sarah lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she studied Political Science and International Development at Georgia State University. Follow her on Twitter @sarahnbuchanan