Food for Good has had a huge impact through a decade of expeditions – and the pandemic won’t stop its efforts

The journey of a charity campaign that has raised £2m over a decade and transformed the lives of countless African farmers, their families and communities, began with a single step. That was taken in 2011, towards the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

This was the initial ‘Food for Good’ challenge organised by charity Farm Africa, which promotes sustainable agricultural practices, strengthens markets and protects the environment in rural areas. The location was “an iconic choice” says Tim Smith, chairman of Cranswick, who joined the climbing party.

He was one of several food sector executives – representing the likes of AB Sugar, Dairy Crest, Waitrose, Greggs, Moy Park, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – who took part in the climb. The going was tough.

“You’re sleeping in a tiny little tent, with a dug-out loo. That’s all you’ve got,” says Charles Reed, CEO of The Grocer publisher William Reed, who also took part. “When you think how many c-suite guys are fussing over whether they’re booked into a four or five-star hotel for a business trip, this is pretty basic… but far better views than you get from the Hilton.”

“Some of our group got really badly affected by the altitude. We had a few that nearly didn’t make it,” he adds. But make it they did. And in doing so raised £250,000 for Farm Africa.

That money made a real difference. According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s extremely poor people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the vast majority of them working in agriculture. Farm Africa works to tackle this poverty by helping farmers grow more, sell more and add value to their produce.

Like in Babati, Tanzania, where the charity has supported 4,500 sesame farmers to achieve yield increases of 75% and a 180% increase in their income. The charity helped them work with new seed varieties and cultivation techniques, and built a warehouse so they could store seed until they could sell it for the best price.

The projects Food for Good has helped

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Forest growth, Ethiopia

The charity has worked with forest-based co-ops, training them to produce honey, coffee, gum and resin and helping them secure new revenue streams while avoiding the need to chop down trees for timber and farmland expansion.

Fish farming, Kenya

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The wide-ranging project included technical work with farmers and lobbying for legislation changes. “This has enabled us to thrive. So many people have gone to school because of this farm,” says fish farmer Emmanuel Bukati.

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Youth boost, Kenya

The charity has helped 4,500 young farmers in the country capitalise on growing demand for veg – increasing their yields and links to markets. “I don’t have enough words to thank the project,” says farmer Emily Jepkosgei.

Prosperous potatoes, Uganda

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Farm Africa worked with farmers to improve their post-harvest handling skills in this project, and  built a new processing centre with washing and peeling facilities, a chipping machine and a solar dryer.

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Beekeeping buzz, Tanzania

The Big Beehive Build enabled residents of the village of Erri to earn an income, where they once grew just enough to survive. “Now we are able to pay our children’s school fees,” says local Joyce Lali.

Making a difference

The Kilimanjaro group visited some of the farmers ahead of their climb. “It’s humbling when you realise you’re changing these people’s lives,” Reed says. “You begin to realise that you can make a difference.”

No sooner had the blisters gone down, the next trip was being planned. Expeditions and project visits have followed in most years.

Like in 2013, when a group of female industry leaders worked with the members of the Afula Women’s Group at one of Farm Africa’s projects in Kisumu, Kenya, hand-digging a swimming pool-sized fish pond in three days.

“Being able to engage in a project that delivers a benefit directly upon completion really caught my interest,” says participant Susie McIntyre, MD of Kettle Produce. “As I understood more, I became more engaged – working with the people who were going to manage and farm the pond; understanding the bigger picture of a local aquaculture industry of which this group were a part; the concept of a team of women, working together and becoming more independent, self-sufficient and able to take more control of their own destiny and businesses.”

A female executive group – led by Judith Batchelar, then Sainsbury’s director of brand – returned to the continent in 2015, helping a community of women farmers in Tanzania build 90 beehives. Batchelar returned with another group in 2017, who built 100 beehives in three days. The businesswoman group in 2019 headed to Kanungu in western Uganda to plant 1,000 trees in three days and together raised £75,000 for the charity.

“The women’s determination, enthusiasm and positive spirit was inspirational,” says Lorraine Hendle, William Reed’s retail and manufacturing MD, who went on all three of the women-led trips. “I was struck by how much we had in common as these women [in Africa]. We shared similar goals for our families – for them to be happy, healthy, have a great education and achieve their ambitions. We were divided only by the availability of resources to realise those ambitions.”

Meanwhile, peaks and valleys have continued to be conquered by climbing groups, including a hike up and across Mount Elgon on the Uganda-Kenya border, and a 145km trek over six days on uncharted paths through the Great Rift Valley in the Tanzania Highlands.

“Now I am able to pay the school fees for my children. I am able to clothe my children and buy food so my family can have a balanced diet” 

Cranswick’s Smith recalls on the Elgon trip, after visiting several Farm Africa projects, “we were alone in remote country trekking at high altitude going where very few others had ever been. The team we assembled were superb, supportive and fun to be with.”

From a networking point of view, as Reed puts it: “This is at another level – you get to know people really well. And you learn to trust everybody.”

Seeing the benefits

But more importantly, the benefits for the African farmers helped by Food for Good are enormous. Take Aloysius Okutui, a farmer who took part in Farm Africa’s ‘sweet potatoes for prosperity’ project in Uganda. “I had no technical knowledge of how to grow my crops – I didn’t use the agronomic practices that I know now. I grew crops, I sold them but I got very little money,” Okutui says.

“Now I am able to pay the school fees for my children,” he says. “I am able to clothe my children and buy food so my family can have a balanced diet.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has put Food for Good expeditions and project visits on hold. The charity has been “hit hard” as a result, says Farm Africa CEO Dan Collison. “But the communities we support need us more than ever,” he says. “However, the Food for Good network offers a variety of networking events for our food industry members in the UK and opportunities to meet face to face with our international staff virtually. It quite simply transforms lives.”

Food businesses can still join the network, for a £10,000 annual fee. As soon as travel bans ease, trips are expected to restart. Considering getting involved?

“Do it without hesitation,” says McIntyre. “You will be humbled, you will be astounded, you will reflect upon your own position and values. Not only will you be part of a tremendous team of people helping leave a legacy for future generations of those involved in the project, but the personal growth and experience you will take from it will be second to none.”