SMART Program Offer Fellows Rich International Development ExperienceLisa Jervey Lennox
Each spring the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD) runs a field study program called Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Teams (SMART). Students work with faculty researchers on challenging, hands-on projects in international and economic development. For CIPA Fellows who are concentrating in International Development Studies, the SMART course can serve as an integral part of their curriculum.
SMART teams are assigned to clients companies and communities in developing countries and are challenged to develop innovative solutions for complex problems involving markets, food, agriculture, and development. In the spring of 2010, SMART offered five different research projects. Two of them were based in South Africa and the others were located in Morocco, Nepal and Kenya. Over the January winter break, teams traveled to their respective project locations to conduct research on the ground.
Several CIPA Fellows who participated in SMART last semester are sharing their stories.
South Africa: ZZ2
By Phoebe Garfinkel
I am mulling this newfound wisdom over on a pleasant summer day in January in South Africa while surveying a multi-acre greenhouse full of tomato seedlings. This day day four of a 20-day research adventure in South Africa my fellow Cornellians and I are learning about the process of raising tomato seedlings for ZZ2, a farm to which we had traveled across the world to study. We are eight students from five different departments across Cornell: one PhD candidate, five masters students, and two undergraduates. We are Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian, and American, and one 24-year old Namibian plant pathologist from the University of Pretoria. Dr. Janice Thies, a Cornell Soil Ecologist, is our fearless leader.
As participants in the Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) program offered by the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD), we traveled to South Africa to research and document strategies in emerging markets and/or economies. Our trip proved to be unique among the SMART portfolio: ZZ2 is a multi-system, family-run farming conglomerate that has over 60,000 hectares under cultivation. In addition to tomatoes, ZZ2 produces onions, avocados, apples, pears and beef. The company exports some of these commodities to Europe, the Middle East, Canada, and neighboring African countries, but the bulk of production is consumed domestically. As the largest producer of tomatoes in Sub- Saharan Africa, ZZ2 is far from "emerging."
However, ZZ2 is in the process of pioneering a new way of farming. Several decades ago, ZZ2 began to experience declining yields despite increased fertilizer and pesticide inputs and a seven-year pasture rotation between crops. With the help of consultants, ZZ2 identified declining soil health as its fundamental problem. In 2002, ZZ2 embarked on a new agricultural approach: Natuurboerdery® or 'Nature Farming, a method wherein more organic inputs and fewer agrichemicals are used to maintain soil fertility and control pests. Since then, ZZ2 has attempted to move away from industrial agricultural practices that depend on the heavy use of chemical inputs and move toward the use of compost, compost teas, fermented plant extracts, and 'effective microorganisms (EM) as alternative fertilizers and/or pesticides.
ZZ2 provides a unique opportunity to study agricultural innovation systems because of its size, dominant position in the market and because of its continuing interest to transition from conventional, high-input agriculture to a systems-based, ecologically friendly approach. If ZZ2 can successfully transition to an agricultural system that yields as well or better than the previous high-input system, has similar or improved profit margins, improves soil health, conserves natural resources, and maintains good labor conditions, it will be an excellent example from which to glean lessons about adopting and implementing agricultural innovations.
My travels to South Africa to work with ZZ2 dramatically altered the way I think about agricultural innovation systems, enterprise, organizational structure, and the potentials for horizontal growth within profit-driven business. The trip was an excellent bridge between Cornell coursework, on-going research projects, upcoming summer internships, and, ultimately, a professional report or thesis. I can truthfully say that the three weeks I spent at ZZ2 in South Africa rank among the highest of my academic experiences to date.
South Africa: Intaba Fruit Processing and Mhudi
By Perla Parra 11
Our first client was Intaba Fruit Processing, a business that specializes in jam production and operates in the form of a cooperative. Eloise Joseph, one of the owners of the company, explained that a key objective of their company was to create more jobs for the community.
Intaba was primarily founded by, and continues to employ, mostly women of color many of whom are heads of household. Employees have benefitted not simply from the pay rendered by the company, but from obtaining training and new skills. The employees feel pride in working for an organization that uplifts their community while also creating quality, hand-crafted, preservative-free products.
Intaba, which means "mountain" in various indigenous, black South African languages, is literally located on top of a mountain and is surrounded by a wide variety of fruit farms and orchards. The company struggled during the early years to find a (large) customer base to purchase their products. At times, unable to cover operating expenses, Intaba paid its employees with jams, which they in turn sold during the weekends to obtain a living wage. The companys resilience and perseverance throughout the years is inspiring.
In 2009, Intaba finally landed a sizeable contract with Woolworths (the South African equivalent of Whole Foods) to produce and supply the company with large, monthly quantities of jams. Ironically, the current demand for jams exceeds Intabas capacity for production. The Cornell/CIPA team conducted an extensive assessment of the companys position and provided Intaba with recommendations to increase their capacity while helping the company uphold their chief mission and goals.
The second client that our team worked with was Mhudi which Malmsey Rangaka, the CEO of the firm, described as a family-owned "small business with a big vision and a big heart." Mhudi is in the business of making wine. The brand represents the first and only black-owned vineyard in South Africa since the insolvency of the Apartheid system in 1994. Located near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape Province, the hilly region offers a splendid Mediterranean-like climate an ideal environment for viticulture and wine production.
Mhudi currently exports nearly 95 percent of their wine production, mostly to the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the recent worldwide recession has hurt their sales. The Cornell team that worked with Mhudi conducted several assessments that included marketing options and alternative paths for diversification, looking at various other markets within the African continent, other parts of Europe, and beyond, for expansion.
At the end of our stay in South Africa, we provided both clients with an extensive report that included benchmark studies, detailed reviews of their marketing tools, and a series of concrete recommendations including growth options that weighed costs and benefits.
Both Mhudi and Intaba expressed their gratitude for the work we had done, saying that it would have "cost [them] hundreds to hire a consulting firm to do the same work." Almost immediately, they implemented several of our recommendations. Intaba purchased a labeling machine and MHudi modified its website; both were simple changes that made a significant impact in their companys production process.
As students, the benefit of working with these companies was beyond measure. The experience offered us the opportunity to work organically with students from various other disciplines and to learn that many variables exist beyond the profit line, which must be taken into consideration when proposing a model. We saw first-hand how, with a little vision, a small company can serve an entire community.
Kenya: Hillside Green Growers and Exporters
By Elvira Omondo, Kadir Basboga, and Keiko Nakamura
Our group of five graduate students included three second-year CIPA Fellows Kadir Basboga , Elvira Omondi and Keiko Nakamura. Seth Eden, from the Department of City and Regional Planning, and Rachel Ullman, from the Department of Applied Economics and Management, rounded out our team, which was led by Laura Cramer, the program coordinator for CIIFAD.
Our motivations for participating in SMART varied greatly. Nakamura was intent on understanding how stakeholders from different sectors of the economy work together; Basboga sought to understand the dynamics of the horticultural industry in Africa; and Ormondi wanted to broaden her experience with challenges and opportunities in emerging markets.
Hillside Green Growers and Exporters Ltd. (Hillside), a fruit and vegetable exporting company based in Nairobi, was our client. Ninety-five percent of Hillsides export markets are in the Middle East, while Europe accounts for five percent of the companys sales. As a medium-sized player in Kenyas horticultural sector, Hillside sources fruits and vegetables from its own farms and out-growers, as well as brokers in Kenya. Their products are packaged per buyers specification in the companys pack house in Nairobi, then shipped to various buyers via Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi.
Our main objectives as consultants for the company were: 1) to recommend growth strategies for the company after carefully assessing their operations; and 2) to document Hillsides case for the purpose of classroom instruction.
assess the macro environment of Kenyas horticultural industry. This was followed by visits to Hillsides offices, pack house and farm sites to obtain first-hand information from the companys CEO, Eunice Mwongera, as well as other staff. Farm visits enabled us to see what measures had been put into place by the farmers as well as companys agronomist to ensure produce safety. Additionally, we visited other stakeholders in the Kenyas horticultural sector, Second-year CIPA Fellows (l to r) Keiko Nakamura and Elvira Omondi, along with teammate Rachel Ullman, a graduate student from the Department of Applied Economics and Management, collect data during a visit to a Hillside Green Growers and Exporters pack house. including an exporting company, a food certification company, and the Kenya Horticultural Development Program, which is funded by USAID and Nakumatt a local high end supermarket chain.
We compiled our findings in a field report, which included an analysis of Hillsides business plan and our observations of company activities, and presented our findings and recommendations to our client on the last day of our stay. We also prepared information for Hillside on website marketing and developed a concept note for the expansion of their business.
Our participation in the SMART program clearly enhanced our understanding of emerging markets. But the experience was enriching in other ways, as well; it strengthened our abilities to work as team members, and it broadened our appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration.
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