MEDA in the News

A Reflection Upon Winning Canada’s 2014 Social Finance Awards

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Source: "A Reflection Upon Winning Canada's 2014 Social Finance Awards" by Jason Dudek, Chairman & Chief Financial Officer, Mountain Lion Agriculture on

MLA EmployeesWhat does winning Canada's 2014 Social Finance Awards alongside MEDA mean to Mountain Lion Agriculture? We feel deeply honoured by this recognition of our work – the field of nominees was excellent, a testament to the strength of Canada's growing impact investment and business sector. The award greatly bolstered the morale of our staff but is also a deeper recognition of the rising, demonstrable efficacy of impact investment and business in tackling the toughest problems with resilient, sustainable solutions.

The 2014 Social Finance Award recognizes Mountain Lion Agriculture during a critical time for our business, and for the farmers and consumers we serve in Sierra Leone. The ebola outbreak which has made international headlines continues to wreak havoc upon Sierra Leone's healthMLA loading rice system, economy and people.

In this context, the fact our company and business model is defined by a social purpose has been instrumental in enabling us to continue our work. In fact, during the ebola outbreak we are having a record year in terms of production and the number of smallholder farmers we have assisted. With the strength of business thinking on the one hand, and the centrality of purpose usually associated with a non-profit/charity on the other, we have persevered despite the immense challenges facing our staff and company during the crisis.

This synthesis of business and purpose also enables us to provide a unique solution to the acute food security crisis caused by the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The problem is clear: Agriculture Minister Joseph Sam Sesay reported in late 2014 that the agriculture sector of the economy "has been deflated by 30% because of ebola" while closing borders and reduced shipping are making it difficult for food imports to reach Sierra Leone. Yet if relief aid agencies and donors invest resources in food security by indiscriminately importing grains, they will stem short-term supply shortages but may damage long-term efforts by Sierra Leonean farmers, traders, and domestic businesses to service the country's demand for rice.

In contrast, Mountain Lion Agriculture is working with local producers, paying market prices for their raw rice, processing it locally and finally selling competitively priced, finished rice locally. We are enhancing livelihoods in communities hit hard by the ebola crisis, strengthening the country's agricultural sector, and delivering food rapidly while creating local employment – all on a sustainable, profitable basis.

In addition to this, Mountain Lion Agriculture has been providing families suffering from ebola with our rice as food aid, at no cost, as a new CSR program complementing our existing impact business model. These efforts have been widely recognized by local Sierra Leonean media outlets, including newspapers such as Awoko. This CSR was initially made possible through the ongoing support of our farmer friends in Greenfield, Illinois – an outstanding, hard-working community which has been highly supportive because of our business-based approach and problem solving.

Impact businesses – which MaRS, The Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund and other forward-thinking institutions are working hard to facilitate – have unique strengths that make them a powerful vehicle for solving long term, complex problems. The 2014 Social Finance Award is an important recognition of this, and the fact that as an impact-business we are helping to lead the fight against the long-term damage caused by the Ebola crisis with the support of our partners.

We therefore invite foundations, donors and investors to consider impact investment and business as a step towards a future where the power of our economy is harnessed to solve problems rather than create them – by uniting purpose with profit.

Dalhousie, McGill, Jimma and MEDA to boost agricultural education in Ethiopia

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Source: "McGill, Dalhousie to boost agricultural education in Ethiopia" on McGill University's website

A traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony held to celebrate ATTSVE launchMcGill's Faculty of Education and the Institute of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies have joined the lead partner, Dalhousie University, to embark on a 6-year, $18 million project to help Ethiopia enhance their colleges' Agricultural Technical and Vocational Education Training (ATVET) programs. Key to McGill's involvement in the project will be to foster and support gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness.

As Dr. Claudia Mitchell of McGill's Faculty of Education and her team found in the Project Implementation Mission, the current enrollment of female students, staff and instructors in ATVET programs is relatively low while attrition and turnover rates remain high. Equity and diversity will be addressed through a participatory approach to gender mainstreaming, including the establishment of Gender Offices, with trained personnel, in the four participating ATVETs at Maichew, Nejo, Woreta and Wolaita Soddo, and through training targeting ATVET administration, instructors and technical staff. In addition a Gender and Leadership Community of Practice will be established.

Agriculture forms the base of the East African country's economy. The most populated landlocked country in the world, Ethiopia's 88 million inhabitants rely on agriculture for 80% of their total employment and 84% of their exports, while agriculture accounts for only half of their gross domestic product. Soil degradation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor infrastructure are contributing factors.

The project aims to help move Ethiopia towards a market-focused agricultural system better poised to support the country economically, while meeting the needs of both male and female farmers and youth, and the agriculture industry.

The Agricultural Transformation Through Stronger Vocational Education (ATTSVE) initiative is funded by the Government of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, and partners McGill with the Faculty of Agriculture at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University; the Mennonite Economic Development Associates of Canada; and the College of Agriculture at Jimma University, Ethiopia.

Revolutionizing agriculture in Ethiopia: MEDA to assist Dal on $18M development project

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Source: "Revolutionizing agriculture in Ethiopia: Dal to lead $18 million development project" by Robyn McCallum on the Dalhousie University website

The ATTSVE teamIn Ethiopia, agriculture isn't just a way of life: in many respects, it's the cornerstone of life itself.

Approximately 80-85 per cent of the country's population is employed in agriculture. The country has the largest livestock population in all of Africa, and agriculture contributes more than 40 per cent of the country's total GDP. But the country is both heavily populated and economically poor. There's widespread food insecurity, limited social support for and acceptance of women, and 30 per cent of the country's 85 million people live on less than $1.25 US a day.

Improving Ethiopia's economy and addressing the poverty of its people both depend a great deal on growth — in all meanings of the word.

For more than 10 years, Dalhousie's Faculty of Agriculture has had strong collaborative partnerships with Ethiopian agricultural institutions, working together to increase the country's agricultural capacity. Now, a new international development project will take those partnerships to a whole other level.

Peter MacKay Solomon Demeke Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine and Dal honorary degree recipient and President Florizone chat during the coffee ceremonySupporting Ethiopia's future
On Sunday, the Government of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development announced a nearly six-year, $18-million project in Ethiopia. Titled "Agricultural Transformation through Stronger Vocational Education" (ATTSVE), the project will be led by Dalhousie with the support of partners the Mennonite Economic Development Associates of Canada (MEDA), Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (JUCAVM) in Ethiopia and McGill University.

ATTSVE, one of the largest international development projects ever awarded to a Canadian university, will focus on enhancing current Ethiopian agricultural education programs available at agricultural colleges. Its goal is to help evolve the country's agricultural practices and education beyond its subsistence-based foundation towards a market-focused system that better supports not only the economic strength of the country and its citizens, but also the unique needs of farmers, rural youth, the agri-industry and the broader rural communities.

The official launch for ATTSVE was held Sunday at the MacRae Library on the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus, timed with the start of International Development Week. Minister Peter MacKay, MP Scott Armstrong, representatives from partner institutions as well as 14 deans and vice-deans from Ethiopia were in attendance.

"Our government is proud to partner with Dalhousie University to help Ethiopian agricultural students to participate in market-led and growth-oriented agriculture, either as producers or employees of commercial agricultural enterprises," said Minister MacKay. "This means increased incomes and better access to food for thousands of families."

Ethiopian doctoral student Bizuayehu Mengiste who led the coffee ceremonyThe event featured a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, an important cultural component for ceremonial and social gatherings in Ethiopia. (Coffee is one of the country's leading crops.) The ceremony is traditionally led by a woman and in this case, was led by Ethiopian doctoral student, Bizuayehu Mengiste, who has, under another project with Ethiopia, studied at the Faculty of Agriculture and Dalhousie's Halifax campuses.

"At Dalhousie University, we aspire to have not only a local impact but a global impact," said Dal President Richard Florizone, speaking at Sunday's announcement event. "This international development project in Ethiopia, one of the largest in Dalhousie University's history and the largest for our Faculty of Agriculture, will allow us to make world-class contributions to a global issue by sharing agricultural expertise to support economic growth and alleviate poverty."

David Gray, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, explained that the project will bring benefits on many levels: building capacity for agricultural training and education in Ethiopia with Dal's partner colleges, bringing knowledge and experiences of Ethiopian agriculture to students at Dal, increasing potential research collaboration opportunities, and more.

"If we are to be successful and meet our mandate and responsibilities as the Faculty of Agriculture, it is crucial that we engage internationally," said Dr. Gray, noting that capacity building on an international scale is a key component of the Faculty of Agriculture's strategic plan. "We are so pleased to be part of this historic project which will, quite literally, change the approach to agricultural education, not only in Ethiopia but across the world."

Farming for the future
Currently, most agriculture technical and vocational training colleges in Ethiopia are located in rural areas and focus largely on competency-based approaches and outcomes. What they're increasingly interested in, though, is programming that emphasizes rural growth through agriculture. They recognize that more emphasis is needed on marketing and entrepreneurship, as well as curriculum development and content delivery.

The primary goal of ATTSVE is to increase the supply of male and female graduates from these institutions who have the necessary skills and knowledge not just to become successful farmers, but to develop the commercial agriculture sector in Ethiopia. The Faculty of Agriculture and other implementing partners will use their expertise in applied learning models to support Ethiopian instructors in delivering education programs aligned with the country's national priorities.

As the project lead, the Faculty of Agriculture will be involved in institutional planning and leadership, curriculum development/revision and project financial management. Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (JUCAVM) in Ethiopia will play a central role in applied research, increasing cooperative links with industry and information technology enhancement at the Ethiopian schools. The Mennonite Economic Development Associates of Canada (MEDA) will be primarily involved in business management training, entrepreneurship and value chain development. McGill University will be heavily involved in inclusivity and gender equality matters.

Increasing opportunities
The project will result in increased instructor training, more opportunities for institutional networking and partnerships and increased capacity at the colleges in a variety of areas, leading the graduates who will take part in entrepreneurship and market development initiatives.

"ATTSVE will give youth the opportunity to train in a new way," said Suzanne Johnson, ATTSVE project director at the Faculty of Agriculture.

The Agricultural Transformation through Stronger Vocational Education project will focus on four colleges: Maichew (Tigray region) Nejo (Oromia), Woreta (Amhara region) and Wolaita Soddo (SNNPR). Not only will they share knowledge gained through the project with one another, but they'll also help translate initiatives to other institutions in Ethiopia.

"The ATTSVE project is very important and will enhance the capacity of agricultural technical and vocational education training institutions to be responsive and reactive to the emerging labour market," says Professor Solomon Demeke of Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Ethiopia. Dr. Demeke received an honorary Doctorate from Dalhousie University in 2014.

Environmental sustainability, in terms of both best practices in natural resource management and institutional environmental plans, will continue to be part of the new project, along with gender equality. The latter, in particular, will be a key part of the Faculty of Agriculture's work as it aims to increase the number of rural women farmers in Ethiopia.

"Agriculture is a global industry, and we are a global community," said Dean Gray. "Projects like this bring us together to face our challenges together."