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The OPIC Blog

Investing in better harvests

Man Harvesting at the FAIM Company in Rwanda
Workers at the FAIM company in Rwanda begin planting new, virus-free banana plant seedlings. These seedling will help farmers boost their farm production, their incomes, and the local food supply.

In Rwanda, deficient seed and plant stocks hinder food production and impair the health and nutrition of communities that depend on local food. For example, the use of diseased plants and old seedlings has contributed to the decline in Rwanda’s pyrethrum production – a plant used as a natural insecticide. Local production of pyrethrum in Rwanda today is only a quarter of what it was 30 years ago. Production of other Rwandan food staples such as bananas and pineapples has also declined in recent decades. Because of limited supply of these food stables, the United Nations World Food Program estimates that over 50 percent of children in Rwanda are chronically malnourished, while one child in four is underweight.

Steven Jones, a horticulture wholesaler and retailer from Tennessee, recognized these challenging conditions several years ago when he visited Africa on a U.S. Department of Agriculture trade mission to learn about current farming techniques in Africa. He realized that farmers were exerting a large amount of time tending crops with little output.

With experience in plant propagation and many contacts in the plant industry, both Jones and his wife, Cheryl, knew they could help improve crop yields by developing a business that grew virus-free plant cultures and provided advice on plant-care and improved agronomy practices.

In order to help fund his large start-up costs, Jones submitted a business proposal to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance institution. In 2010, Jones was approved for a $2 million loan for his small business, Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM), based in Rwanda.

As part of Feed the Future’s whole-of-government effort to leverage U.S. Government resources to increase investment in agriculture, OPIC looks to help solve critical development challenges such as food insecurity by mobilizing private capital to U.S. businesses such as FAIM.

Today, Jones has a staff of 15 that is cultivating healthy plants that show promise in improving food yields. When comparing his virus-free banana demonstration plots to older, locally grown banana trees, newly propagated plants grown on the Jones’ farm have the potential to produce 10 times more per hectare than similar crops in Rwanda. Jones hopes that this impact will not only help farmers increase their incomes, but help Rwandan farmers produce more food locally and potentially help reduce malnutrition rates. Jones also hopes that Rwandan juice and canning companies can look forward to using pineapple and passion fruit produced by local Rwandan farmers instead of importing across borders.

As the U.S. Government seeks ways to address the root causes of world hunger and poverty and establish long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, OPIC looks forward to continuing its work to help the private sector help transform agricultural development not only in Africa, but across the world.

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