Pleasanton Weekly

Column - June 17, 2011

From Amador to Tanzania: Quite a career path

by Jeb Bing

Andrea McNees will leave later this summer for Tanzania to spend the next nine months with farmers in the small sub-village of Kwakiliga to help them improve their harvests. A 2000 graduate of Amador Valley High School, McNees prepared herself for a career dealing with social and poverty issues at UC Davis, where she earned a master's degree in International Agricultural Development. The program was only one of four in the U.S. that focus on agricultural development at the scientific level to provide long-term results, including how to combine development theory with effective applications in third world countries where people might be resistant to western technologies.

McNees took a job with a watermelon distribution company in Yolo County to learn how it handled national and global sales. Melons from California farms and those shipped in from Arizona, parts of the East Coast and Central America required special and quick processing to markets everywhere and was done so with an eye to quality and profitability. It's these skills that she hopes to teach the "subsistence" farmers in Kwakiliga who know how to plant crops and harvest them but not how to market them beyond local markets nor how to adjust their expenses to last through the part of the year when Tanzania lacks rainfall. Mainly, these farmers grow corn and specialty products such as peppers, tomatoes and occasionally pineapples. But without an education, financial skills and often basics such as electricity and indoor plumbing, they are among the poorest in Tanzania where local government help is sparse.

McNees will be working with two other women as part of the 2Seeds Network, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to fighting extreme poverty in Africa by investing in what it calls the "human potential." Instead of using U.S. dollars to provide subsidies, 2Seeds puts people on the ground to teach, train and work with the poor to help elevate their standards and provide real-world opportunities. In one Tanzania community, a local school sat on 2 acres of choice farmland. Some students brought lunches to school; others couldn't and had to watch their classmates eat. Often the lunches came from farming families who had to give up their own meals for the children. 2Seeds worked with the community to seek volunteers to raise crops on the school property with so much success that both the food raised and the profits now provide free lunches year-round for the school.

As project coordinator, McNees' goal is to tweak the Kwakiliga farmers into working more cooperatively in planting their crops, mixing what's raised with market needs, and pooling their profits to provide long-term investments and savings to add more acreage, better storage facilities and family savings. She plans to start a micro-loan investment plan with interest on their investments that will give them a chance to move out of their poverty status over the longer term.

2Seeds Network, a nonprofit that was co-founded by Stanford and Harvard graduates two years ago, saw the need during their own work in Africa of shifting development priorities to projects within the poor communities from those that were being imposed on them by Western-centric agencies with few long lasting benefits. By involving people like McNees in a community project's inception, execution and management, the farmers and their families should be able to sustain what McNees' group will bring them with good results.

First, though, on McNees' priority list is to learn Swahili, no easy task in the U.S. where there are no teaching centers. She plans to meet her future 2Seed partners during the summer to study together, and then get a head start in London and the larger cities in Tanzania before settling in with one of the farming families in Kwakiliga. Every two weeks while she's there, the group will travel to a nearby city that has electricity. There, she plans to plug in her laptop, link to the Internet, and send us reports on how she and her team are doing. We look forward to hearing from her.

For more information on the 2Seeds Network's agricultural development projects, send an email to donations@2seeds.org.

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Clarification: In last week's column, I wrote about the full summer of events ahead in Pleasanton. I should have included that the Pleasanton Downtown Association is partnering with the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, the City of Pleasanton and the Pleasanton Weekly to launch ShopPleasanton.com to raise awareness of the value of shopping locally. This new program is designed to connect Pleasanton shoppers with local businesses. It features a directory of nearly all businesses in Pleasanton, profiles of companies, special offers and coupons, restaurant menus, photos, maps, event announcements and more. Representatives of the PDA and the Pleasanton Weekly will be on hand at tonight's concert to promote the efforts.

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