MEDA in the News

Riding for women farmers

Cyclists Mary and Sarah Delta OptimistSource: "Riding for female farmers" by Jessica Kerr for the Delta Optimist

Ontario duo passes through South Delta during the early days of a cross-country bike trek


Two women biking their way across the country to raise money to empower female farmers in Africa made a stop in Ladner this week.

Sarah French and Mary Fehr, who both hail from Ontario, started their cross-Canada trek, Bike to Grow, Monday in Victoria. After getting off the ferry in Tsawwassen, the pair rode to Ladner where they spent the evening before heading to Vancouver on Wednesday.

French said they dipped their back tires in the Pacific Ocean in Victoria and they plan to dip their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean when they arrive in St. John's, Newfoundland in September.

French and Fehr are riding to raise funds and awareness for the Mennonite Economic Development Associates' (MEDA) Greater Rural Opportunities for Women Project.

The money raised will help female farmers in Ghana learn better techniques to increase their yields as well as how to explore new ways to make money, such as tending livestock and poultry.

Both women have worked with MEDA in the past and met two years ago at an orientation session in Waterloo, Ontario. After the session they went their separate ways - Fehr was doing impact assessment work in Tanzania, while French was in Nicaragua working in sustainable development and agriculture.

Both said they witnessed great inequalities between men and women and when they returned to Canada, decided they wanted to do something to give back to MEDA.

Fehr, however, wasn't initially on board with the idea of cycling across the country. It was all French's idea.

"It's kind of been a passion of mine to ride across Canada," she said.

"I absolutely did not want to do that," Fehr said with a smile.

Eventually, she came around.

"I thought this could really be a cool way to give back to MEDA and a really cool summer."

The pair began training and planning a year ago, and, with a goal of raising $150,000, set out this week. The pair will ride an average of 100 kilometres a day and has already raised $50,000. Together with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, all contributions will be matched nine times.

Fehr and French will be chronicling their journey online at www.biketogrow.com

DutchCrafters to sponsor MEDA's Bike to GROW

Source: "Business briefs: DutchCrafters sponsor Mennonite fundraiser" by Herald staff and wire reports for the Bradenton Herald

MANATEE – DutchCrafters Amish Furniture is sponsoring part of a bike ride to raise funds for Mennonite Economic Development Associates' GROW program. GROW supports women entrepreneurs in Ghana.

Mary Fehr and Sarah French will bike across Canada to raise $150,000 for Greater Opportunities for Rural Women. GROW assists women in obtaining seeds and other materials needed for success in rural areas. The program plans to reach more than 20,000 women within six years.

DutchCrafters will match up to $5,000 of funds raised. 

20 Under 35 honoree Siera Vercillo’s passions guide her choices

Source: "Siera Vercillo's passions guide her choices" by Dave Rogalsky for the Canadian Mennonite

In the fall of 2014, Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) presented its inaugural 20 under 35: Young Professionals Changing the World Awards, honouring young adults from Canada and the U.S. for their "faith, entrepreneurial spirit and service." Ethan Eshbach, coordinator of engagement initiatives for MEDA, explains, "20 under 35 connects the values behind MEDA's work around the world to those of young professionals here in North America." Canadian Mennonite is featuring profiles of the Canadian winners.

Siera VercilloGumani Kenneth Tshimomola nominated Siera Vercillo for Mennonite Economic Development's (MEDA) 20 under 35 award because he saw her passions and MEDA's qualifications matching so closely.

Neither Tshimomola, a South African, nor Vercillo, a Canadian, are Mennonite or connected with Mennonites, except for the work they were doing in Ghana. Ghana is the home of MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (Grow) program. GROW uses market-driven approaches to focus on improving food security for families in Northern Ghana. Women grow soybeans for their own families, improving protein for them. As well the crops fix nitrogen in the soil, improving fertility, and the women can sell the excess.

Vercillo knew of the MEDA GROW program as she worked in Ghana with Engineers Without Borders Canada helping develop extension services for smallholder farmers. She is very excited about MEDA's work there as women increase their ties to markets, something they did in pre-colonial times. Empowering the women to do what they want with their lives fits with her passions for gender, racial and income equality. And Ghana has a place in her heart—she chose to do her PhD studies at Western University in London, Ont., even though she had invitations from other schools as well, because there is a group of Ghanaian women working there in the geography department. She is excited about collaborating with these women.

Vercillo feels that this group of women also encourages her in finding support for herself to be able to keep on attending to her passions. A Roman Catholic by upbringing, Vercillo finds that the religion of the Ghanaian women supports them to live in harmony with each other and to keep calm. It's having the same effect on her. Up to now she has been funnelling her anger and frustration into her work and has managed to stay "mostly progressive."

She sees "inequality as the greatest challenge in the world today." This leads to people not being able to live their lives as they see fit. With over 1 billion people hungry in the world, and only 1 percent of the world's population living in wealth, she sees a catastrophe happening before her eyes.

Her PhD studies are focused on agriculture, business, reducing inequality, and ensuring fairness and justice. In Ghana traditional crops and small landholdings have been replaced by larger farms and crops for sale, resulting in poverty in communities that were once self-sufficient. Hunger, poverty and stunting are on the increase, even though people are making more money. Seemingly the quality and quantity of food for the farmers has decreased. The situation is complex, as one would think that more money would result in better nutrition and life but this has not. Vercillo's work is done by collaborating with women, consulting them for what they want and need.

As the first person in her Italian immigrant family to study at the graduate level, she sees her PhD as "for the family." She has an opportunity, a privilege to ask questions in her studies, to develop tools and skills for higher level thinking, and to question the status quo in regard to development in the world. While her degree will probably lead to teaching, she wants to keep on going back to Africa to work with people there as well, testing ideas with those who are to benefit from her studies. As a white North American feminist she wants to create space for African women and men to share their thoughts, stories and needs.

Vercillo has a Masters in Gender and Development from the University of Sussex (UK), and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Toronto. There she led the responsible investment changes made to the University's multi-billion dollar investment fund. 

Talking Books expansion in Ghana’s Upper West, benefits women farmers

Women farmers in Ghana librarySource: "Women farmers in Upper West receive support" by Michael Quaye and Agnes O. Amoah on Graphics Online

About 20,000 women farmers in the Upper West Region are benefitting from agricultural extension services and other facilities to improve on food production and reduce poverty.

The project is being funded by the Canadian Government at a cost of $20 million, with support from Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA).

The project involve 662 women's groups of about 30 members each, and cover 190 communities in 11 districts of the region. The six-year project, which is in its third year of implementation, involves the supply of a simple electronic device called the Talking Book to each of the women's groups.

The device contains audio messages recorded by experts in agriculture on soyabean farming, and it is intended to enhance agricultural extension services to the women farmers. The project was piloted last year in 30 communities within the Lambussie-Karni District.

GROW Project

The initiative is under the Greater Rural Opportunity Women (GROW) project in the region which offers information on health and nutrition, gender sensitisation, value chain and marketing for agricultural products, and village loans and savings associations to the beneficiary women.

At a day's sensitisation workshop for lead farmers drawn from Nadowli-Kaleo and Daffiama-Bussie-Issa districts, Mr Andy Bayor, Research and Development/ICT Manager of Literacy Bridge, Ghana, a non-governmental organisation in the Upper West Region, said the successful implementation of a pilot project on the use and relevance of the device had necessitated the expansion to cover the entire region.

He said the device had come to save time for other partners in the project who otherwise would have needed to transport personnel and experts onto the fields to engage farmers.

The project, according to the Programme Coordinator of MEDA, Mr Livinus Balog, was a collaboration between MEDA and Literacy Bridge, with support from key facilitating partners, including ProNet North, Partnership for Rural Development Action (PRUDA), Country Aid for Rural Development (CARD) and Centre for the Alleviation of Poverty, Environment and Child Support.

He said the ratio of one extension officer to about 500 farmers in the region had made it almost impossible for the extension officers to be useful to farmers or effective in their work.

"The device bridges that gap and helps the women farmers to acquire some knowledge that may otherwise never be available to them because of the small number of extension officers around," he said. 

MSCU-MEDA agricultural partnerships lead to global impact

Source: "Agricultural partnerships lead to global impact" in MSCU (Mennonite Savings and Credit Union) Share Spring 2015 Issue

We announced in our summer issue of Share that, as part of our commitment to the ongoing Farmer to Farmer partnership with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), we'd donate $50 for every agricultural loan we advanced in 2014. Because of your business with us, we are excited to announce that 483 loans led to a $24,150 donation in December.

This big opportunity is a result of the many successful partnerships between MSCU account managers and our members. Thank you! MEDA's current agricultural projects support farmers in countries as diverse as Ukraine, Tanzania, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia where innovative partnerships improve access to technology and markets that improve the lives of millions.

Typically, dollars donated to MEDA are used as seed funds and are multiplied seven times through partnerships with other organizations and governments to make a huge impact around the world. We also invite all members to: discover more by visiting www.meda.org; consider donating online, by cheque, or through ChangeIt; and spread the word to others about this partnership! 

20 Under 35 recipient Tiffany Meyer: Relationships important in lending

Source: "Relationships important in lending" by Dave Rogalsky for the Canadian Mennonite
Tiffany Myer
Tiffany Meyer cares for 120-plus clients at Mennonite Savings and Credit Union

NEW HAMBURG, ONT. – Coming from a conservative Mennonite Background, the Midwest Mennonite Fellowship, Tiffany Meyer absorbed what it meant to be Christian and Mennonite through both church and family. But she and her husband desired a less "bounded" faith experience and moved first to a Mennonite Brethren congregation and now to Creekside Church, a Waterloo church plant of First Baptist in Kitchener.

She believes her Mennonite background influences the work she now does at Mennonite Savings and Credit Union (MSCU), New Hamburg branch. As a twenty-something she is a senior account manager, overseeing more than 120 families in a wide range of agricultural and commercial industries.

Ben Janzen of MSCU nominated Meyer for the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) 20 under 35 honour. In an e-mail he said he nominated her because of the length of time in her role with MSCU, having served members in different branches, living out her values in the job and serving members who do similar work to what MEDA does in agricultural communities.

While not an entrepreneur herself, she serves many entrepreneurs in her work, supporting them as they create businesses. She sees her work as service, "fulfilling our purpose on earth," especially when she can give a listening ear to members with difficult stories to tell. She does the same with her friends, family and relatively new neighbours in New Hamburg, living out her internalized Christian and Mennonite values: "community, fellowship and mutual aid."

Meyer entered employment at MSCU as a teller and worked her way up, eventually going to head office in Kitchener for nine months to be trained for her current job. There are ongoing courses she takes online to keep up with her position, but a big part is building relationships with clients and families. She is glad that she has time to listen to the story, rather than just look at the numbers, especially if a client or family has fallen into a difficult situation, whether financial, health or relational.

"But this is still a business," she adds, noting that in some situations MSCU has to move to end a loan or mortgage in spite of trying other avenues first.

Meyer takes the lead in weekly meetings in the branch, reviewing lending, and making and following policies. Annually she is part of the team that reviews all files. MSCU does "not just loan and then leave [the client] for 10 years," she says.

The new connection with MEDA, including the chance to travel to the annual convention in Winnipeg last November, opened her to the sense of wanting to be more involved with MEDA in the future, although she still feels humbled to have been chosen for the award.