Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mahindra's Story

Below is the story of Mahindra, one of the shadehouse growers participating in Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program in Guyana. He recounted this compelling story when I was in Guyana this past August, and he is eager to share his good news with others! The video mentioned below can be viewed this previous post.

Mahindra had invested nearly all his family’s money in his field crops, but they failed due to weather or other conditions. He was at the end of his rope, and was worried about how he would make ends meet for his wife and 4 children. He began exploring all options, including difficult manual labor jobs and assistance for his agriculture activities. With the phone book in hand, he cold-called organizations in Georgetown, Guyana, looking for someone who could point him in the right direction to get back on his feet. 

Crops growing in Mahindra's shadehouse, August 2011
No one was able to help him, but one day he called an international agency and a person there knew Kelvin, the coordinator of Partners’ Farmer to Farmer Program in Guyana, and put them in touch. Mahindra had never heard of Partners of the Americas or the Farmer to Farmer Program. When Mahindra called, Kelvin was in the middle of an activity so he took Mahindra’s phone number and promised to call him back. The next day was the first day that Kelvin had formalized collaboration with Gavin, coordinator for Partners'  shadehouse project developed with CASRI and the Inter-american Development Bank, and supported by FTF technical assistance. 

When Gavin called Mahindra that day, he was surprised because he thought he had been politely written off by another organization. The following day Gavin visited Mahindra and within no time he was starting his shadehouse on a wing and a prayer. He had borrowed money from him neighbors to get the shadehouse running, and he and his family constructed the structure on their own to save money. Mahindra explains that he had to put blind trust in Partners and the shadehouse project. He had been skeptical, like most, of farming on raised table beds in a covered area. 

The youngest shows newest section, using palettes as low-cost materials
That was January 2011. As of August of the same year, he had developed a successful greenhouse operation growing celery, lettuce, and other crops. He is paying off his debts and he beams with pride, saying that he couldn’t even think of a sum of money that would be able to repay Partners of the Americas for what he was “given”. He says that he wasn’t given a meal for one day, but the ability to feed his family for a long time, and the technical assistance that the FTF Program provides at no cost is the most effective project. He’s expanding his operation and has started a small seedling nursery. He will become a key supplier of seedlings for this area of Guyana. 

His wife and family help with the operation where they can. He dreams to expose his children to the development of this small business and expand to other regions of Guyana in the future. He tells everyone about the project so those like him who are seeking a means to support their families, without as much risk as in-field farming, may also be exposed to the appropriate technology.

Recently, he sent his very first email ever to a team of Farmer to Farmer volunteers in Wisconsin who helped capture part of his story in a video they produced, which teaches people the basics of shadehouse growing. His relatives in the US saw the video before him and he heard that they loved it. By now, Mahindra has seen the video show in front of other farmers and stakeholders in Guyana. He says that he now feels like a part of a family – the network of shadehouse growers and FTF staff and volunteers, and he’s excited about the future. 
Four months later (Dec 2011), Mahindra's newly added palettes are full of vegetables. Mahindra (left) is pictured with Lauren Bernsten (center) of Partners' Youth Engagement Program and Ms. Myrtle Richards (right), Chairperson of the Guyana Chapter of Partners of the Americas

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