Africa has been historically characterized by widespread need and promising opportunities to shape the world through impact and innovation, which compels the focus of impact entrepreneurs like Barbara D’Amato who have been shaping the transformation of Africa. Ethiopia has one of world’s largest populations living in poverty. Her latest project focused on agriculture, farm initiatives, water improvement, community development and family health, all of which lagged behind, facing recurring and critical challenges.
Over six million children faced critical food shortages in Ethiopia during the worst drought in 50 years, famine was rampant, and the world seemed to have grown immune to the problem. Barbara D’Amato an avid social impact entrepreneur received a phone call from one of her clients in Utah, Paul Morrell from Morrell Agro Industries, to embark on an impact investment project to solving famine in Ethiopia.
She recalls her immediate response: “Sounds crazy. An ambitious goal. Surely I can make a difference. I’m in”. That is just how her brain is wired. A simple neurological path leading to intended and calculated risk-return with a forgone logical conclusion.
While many corporate executives only see the challenges, she prides herself in seeing the challenge alongside the opportunity to shape the world and create profit with a purpose.
She often quotes Warren Buffet who once said: “When you find something where you know the business, it’s within your circle of competence, you understand it, the price is right, the people are right, then you take your thumb out of your mouth and you barrel in.”
In her pitchbook presentation on Bio-Genetic Agriculture in Ethiopia the opening quote read: “Today is the beginning of the end of famine in Ethiopia. The irrigated, rain fed, and dry farming methods combined with geographic diversification provides for a predictable and sustainable revenue model enabling a balanced approach to invest in Emerging Markets, leveraging US best practices and technologies, exploiting significant opportunities in large scale food production, ultimately proving to be the key to improve the living conditions in Africa. Today is the end of the poverty that grinds the hopes and dreams out of the people of Ethiopia and neighboring regions in Africa”.
First phase in global disruption is to define your strategy: Think big, think sustainable, drive purpose, and drive scale. Second phase is project development: Reconnaissance, logistics, and government relations. Third phase is: Proof of concept.
The project team imported seed varieties from the United States, including all farming equipment, chemicals, fertilizers; constructing housing, equipment shops, grain silos, airstrips, and storage facilities; constructing high volume wells, guard towers, fencing, and more; ultimately succeeding at producing three drought resistant seeds matched to Ethiopia’s climate, and another eighteen varieties of dry farm seeds donated to the Government which are now in various testing stages at Ethiopian testing institutes. The project further imported expertise that was transferred to locals and farm technology never before used in Ethiopia, improved water quality, livestock, implemented sustainable green and conservation practices, and forever shaped business practices in Ethiopia and Africa.
Best of all, the project inspired hope by successfully mitigating the significant challenges of extreme drought in remote locations and uncultivated regions of Ethiopia, proving local farmers that high yields and output is possible everywhere in Ethiopia.
While Ethiopian agriculture produced yields based on one crop a year, the project introduced three successful high yield crops a year with the same hand-worked farmers and farming technology yet with American productivity and knowhow, which coupled with the introduction of drought-resistant grains, the right processes, fertilizers, chemicals, and over 2,000 new Ethiopian jobs in rural areas, created a proven and sustainable model for agriculture.
Drought was an important risk on the early stages of the project as the initial acreage farmed was intentionally dependent on just one arid region of Ethiopia. Moisture level in the soil had decreased over the last 30 years due to global climate change, which coupled with the projected global population growth to double in the next 30 years, presented a challenge of famine once again for Ethiopia due to the lack of yield production as the operations were reliant on rain-based crops. Under severe drought conditions the US used to ship wheat as aid which solved the issue of hunger temporarily yet ran the risk of destroying the existing market over the longer haul.
The bio-genetic seed improvement agriculture project was a success. For the first time in the history of Ethiopia a unique variety of drought resistant seeds were created, able to withstand the drought climates of Ethiopia.
The dairy farm initiatives focused on: Animal improvement (embryo transfer and artificial insemination), property enhancement (wells, fencing, forage), and people development (staff genetic training and inter-relationships with the community and government). While the typical Ethiopian dairy cow produced 2 to 10 pounds of milk per day, the US dairy cows average 50 to 80 pounds of milk per day. The project was collecting and freezing female embryos from successful breeds of dairy cows in the US and then implanting them in the native cattle which act as surrogate mothers. The team collected 130 Holstein/Jersey embryos and shipped them to Ethiopia. During the following year, these embryos had been implanted in recipient cows at the farm and at three other government research institutions.
The project successfully performed the first artificial insemination and embryo transfers in the history of Ethiopia; and was the first-time cow milk yields were increased through successful animal improvement initiatives.
Not only genetics were improved, but the team improved local knowledge transfer on animal improvement, training, farm and factory design, feeding practices, and cultural practices of the Ethiopian dairy industry. The team had successful training experiences with the Ethiopian people, ranging from basic skills such as elementary animal handling and treatment, to more advanced techniques such as artificial insemination and bovine embryo transfer. Management believed that better education would enable a more efficient and productive workforce and a larger labor pool for future larger projects. The company also partnered with three government research institutions to help them develop their own embryo transfer programs in exchange for use of recipient cows to build the project’s dairy herd.
The Ethiopian physician to population ratio was one of the lowest in the world, with 1 physician/health officer serving 25,958 people. Since most of the physicians were stationed in the urban areas the above ratio shows a large variation across the regions, which goes to as low as 1 to 72,764 in some rural areas. Delivering proper health care to the rural areas, where more than 80% of the population is living, was a challenging task. From the time the project was being built, the farm’s First Aid Station had been providing medical advice, limited diagnosis, first aid, emergency treatment and transportation to the closest hospital which was 6 hours away over very rough roads. The nurses are the first line of diagnosis for colds, stomach problems, pregnancy issues, accidents, cuts, punctures and bullet wounds to mention but a few. The project’s first aid station employed 4-6 nurses and treated 200 to 300 patients a month.
Impact investing is the beginning of a long-term solution to solve famine by creating more food and more income, achieving sustainability in Africa. While challenges and successes go hand in hand, progress showed a substantial positive impact in the lives of small-scale farmers, villages, and children.
Purpose-driven transformation and innovation are disrupting the global landscape through impact investments. Deep expertise global leaders like Barbara D’Amato build social enterprises by taking what they do well and use it to do good. Good news… the world is getting better.