Erik Schultz is being honored as a Champion of Change for strengthening food security.
At the global level, perhaps no issue is as fundamental to poverty alleviation as food security. Technological and agricultural innovations, along with increased governmental and philanthropic assistance, have all contributed to improving global food security. However, new approaches are continually needed to ensure our ever-expanding global population will be able to sustain itself. Socially responsible small businesses are one often-overlooked contributor to food security.
Thriive, a nonprofit organization I helped launch in 2010, pursues an innovative approach to food security in diverse worldwide locations such as Vietnam, Kenya, Palestine, and Nicaragua. We focus on the growth needs of small-scale agricultural and food products businesses such as smallholder farms and livestock operations, greenhouses, nurseries, and food processing and distribution businesses. Helping such small businesses grow makes the entire food chain, from producers to consumers, more resilient and self-reliant. Thriive first provides capital for production and distribution equipment to facilitate business growth and job creation. Small businesses repay their capital loans not to Thriive, but by donating an equivalent value of in-kind products, services, or job training to the most vulnerable members of their community. This pay-it-forward approach not only enables small agricultural businesses to boost output, but also ties their business success to enhancing the food security of impoverished local populations through their donations.
In Kenya, Thriive supported Artesian Farms with capital for a solar-powered electric water pump to provide more consistent year-round irrigation for staple crops such as maize and bananas. The resulting jump in production boosted business profits and delivered crops to market on a more regular basis. To repay their capital loan, Artesian Farms donated food to local orphanages where chronic malnutrition is a daily concern. But the story doesn’t end there. Artesian’s expanded profits allowed them to invest further in the livestock portion of their business, and a subsequent capital infusion from Thriive allowed them to purchase a milk pasteurizer to provide higher quality milk and yogurt products required by bigger distributors, further expanding their production capacity. This time Artesian is repaying their capital by donating cows to these orphanages so that they will be able to produce their own nutritious milk and dairy products, a longer-term solution to their food security challenges and a possible future source of earned income for the orphanage.
In Palestine, Thriive’s capital financed new irrigation infrastructure for Al-Zaytouna Olive Tree Nursery in the West Bank, allowing them to boost olive tree seedling production by over 100%. It is hard to overstate how important olive trees are to both the formal and informal Palestinian economy, not to mention their cultural power in maintaining a physical connection to the land. Informal olive tree operations dot the countryside and during the fall entire families can be seen working small backyard plots harvesting olives, a core food staple and important source of supplemental income. Al-Zaytouna is proud to help sustain this iconic Palestinian produce by donating thousands of olive tree seedlings to poor informal farmers and their families.
These are just two examples of what Thriive is doing in global communities facing food security challenges. While it is tempting to focus exclusively on improving economies of scale with food security, we must also promote local approaches that address food security one farm, one business, one community, even one orphanage at a time. Increased support of small-scale initiatives like Thriive that make existing local food systems stronger and more productive hold great promise for contributing to the food security needs of the 21st century.
Erik Schultz is the founder of Thriive, a nonprofit based in Sun Valley, Idaho