Seed Programs International

Rouse Ramirez helps organize an Ixil community of women in Chajul, Guatemala
Rouse Ramirez helps organize an Ixil community of women in Chajul, Guatemala

When we discuss SPI programs, we talk a lot about livelihoods. So, what is a livelihood? A livelihood encompasses the capabilities, assets, and strategies that people use to make a living. And a productive livelihood is an important part of our social, emotional, and economic well-being. Productive, successful livelihoods require access to resources. When it comes to women’s agricultural livelihoods, we know that female farmers produce more than half the developing world's food, yet they own less than 2% of the land and have significantly less access to the tools they need for success — inputs like seeds, tools, and knowledge.

At their core, SPI programs provide access to resources so people can grow food and establish a productive livelihood. We join with women's gardening efforts in the most impoverished countries worldwide by providing top-quality vegetable seeds and locally-driven support through programs that provide them with a path to empowerment, income, and nutrition.

We work to develop and support these paths because we recognize the powerful potential of communities and their members to create a hunger-free future when given the chance. It is the community members, not SPI, who drive social change to adopt these pathways. Our programs are partnerships that rely upon the expertise and direction of local leaders; this is one way we ensure that our investment is mutual and will continue long after we are no longer involved.

One such partnership is our women’s empowerment initiative in Chajul, Guatemala. Tucked away in the highlands of western Guatemala, the small but vibrant Ixil community of Chajul was devastated by a 36-year civil war. Many indigenous Guatemalan women who survived the horrific violence are living with the trauma of losing family members, friends, and neighbors — just one legacy of the country’s civil war.

SPI’s gardening program in Chajul provides resources and training for women to create and maintain backyard gardens. Gardening provides opportunities for these women to participate in the restoration and strengthening of their local economy, and simultaneously provides fresh, nutritious vegetables for their families. Gardening also provides an ideal space for psychosocial recovery from the ongoing trauma of war. In other words, this partnership program offers all the right components for a successful and productive livelihood.

“The biggest benefit from the garden is that families get to eat fresh vegetables at home that are full of nutrients.” — Rouse Ramirez, Chajul Area Program Coordinator

Limited access to resources is not the only barrier to livelihoods. Illiteracy is a significant hurdle for most participants. It prevents them from advocating for themselves or gaining access to key resources, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Many of the women are the main source of livelihood for their families, but limited access to information and key resources hinders their efforts to fortify their livelihoods.

With the help of our in-country Program Coordinator, Rouse Ramirez, women in the Chajul area are organizing themselves to support each other and overcome these common barriers. Rouse visits with women in their homes to ensure they don’t fall behind or miss out on group activities due to family obligations. When a group member isn’t able to access a community resource, Rouse brings the access to her! This community is a compelling model of women empowering women, and themselves.

While women in this community don’t have easy access to literacy and other education, they are beginning to partner with other women’s groups to exchange for access to education and vocational training. Mothers in the group share the dream that their children will have the educational opportunities they did not, and together they are realizing that dream. We’ll share more about this program as it develops. If their work is inspiring to you, I hope you’ll consider supporting our work with them.

Compost Basket, via CEC
Compost Basket, via CEC
Compost Basket, via CEC

Today’s we’ll talk about composting — right in the middle of your garden! But first, what do we mean by a “smart garden” idea? Many people think that here at SPI we do a lot of teaching of how to grow vegetables. The truth is actually the opposite: we do a lot of learning. Our program philosophy is to engage local leaders to share gardening skills and ideas with seed recipients. Their skills and ideas are truly smart gardening: these techniques use every available resource already on-site to minimize waste and cost. Water is considered a precious, finite resource -- a worldwide truth that is too easy to ignore when we have an apparently infinite supply coming out of our hose. Gardening can feel easy where amazon.com, Wal-Mart, or our local store sell every type of soil amendment or tool we might need. But this type of gardening uses a lot of resources and can be expensive for the gardener. By learning from regions like East Africa and Central America, we can save money, reduce household waste, and maybe even grow better vegetables and flowers.

Today’s idea is the compost basket. “Basket” is not a literal term, but instead refers to any structure you might build in the middle of your garden to hold compost. U.S. gardeners are fond of composting in a special pile or bin and then carrying the finished material to the garden. But this work is unnecessary, and the missed opportunity comes when rain falls on the pile or moisture seeps from a covered compost bin: much of the wonderful soil-enhancing nutrient potential is lost into the dirt nowhere near your garden.

Instead, steal this idea practiced all over the world, coming to us most recently from our collaborator Sostine Mukhebi at the Kenya Department of Agriculture: compost right in the middle of your garden, and then water your garden through the compost pile. Here’s how:

  1. Make a tube or bin-like structure out of material of your choice. It can be about 2 feet wide and 4-5 feet tall; a section of wire fencing rolled into a cylinder works well. If you’re more of an artisan you can form a truly basket-like structure from woven sticks or vines. Place it in the middle of your garden bed and mark its footprint. Remove it.
  2. Dig out this area below ground level. Sostine recommends 60 cm (about two feet) but your soil might make that difficult; do what you can. The width of the hole should be about the same. Put your bin structure in the hole and fill up to soil level with a mix of rocks and organic material. This initial effort to ensure below-ground drainage will help the good stuff from your compost pile reach your vegetable plants’ roots.
  3. Prepare your garden bed around the compost basket just like you usually would. Allow 6 inches from the basket to where your first plants grow, just in case the level of nutrient flow from your compost is very strong.


Keyhole Garden, Ethiopia, Photo by David Snyder via Nifty Homestead
Keyhole Garden, Ethiopia, Photo by David Snyder via Nifty Homestead


Now that your compost basket is proudly centering your garden bed, just add any compostable material: kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, old oak leaves, lawn clippings, and aged manure from livestock or poultry. Periodically layer in sticks to keep air flowing through the pile, as it’s hard to turn the compost. If your neighborhood sports wild critters like raccoons, rats, or bears, avoid any prepared foods more fragrant than vegetable peelings, or build the bin from a sturdy narrow gauge type of fencing and keep it covered.

Water your plants as normal when they are very small, but as they grow, or in addition, water the garden bed via the compost basket in the middle. This is an especially good use of “greywater” such as rainfall captured from your roof, or water leftover from the kids’ play pool on a hot day.

Want to learn more and see diagrams and examples?

This article from Nifty Homestead shows many examples of keyhole gardens which are a type of round raised bed with a compost basket in the middle. Notice how many different ways the compost basket can be built!

This article from Hungary highlights compost baskets as an especially appropriate method for urban areas with limited good soil.

Reporting is an important part of SPI's programming. We ask everyone to complete our partner survey, and depending on your program, we may also ask you to write a narrative report. Surveys and reports help us learn about your program, your goals, and how successful you've been at achieving those goals.

Your report also helps us to show our funders that we are using their money wisely. The seeds and support your program receives may have been paid for by donations from individual donors, businesses, or other charities. Just as you have to report to SPI, we have to report to our supporters and funders. If we can show that your program is a good investment, we can make a case for future funding for your program.

Why does the SPI want a report?

  • We need to know how the seeds were distributed.
  • We need to show our funders that we are using their money wisely.
  • We want to make sure that both SPI and our partners are achieving their goals.
  • Businesses that support our programs want good examples of projects that align with their own values so that they can get more funding to give to more projects in future.
  • If your program reporting demonstrates that you are a good organization to fund, you will have a better chance of being funded again in future.

Why is program reporting useful for your group?

Evaluating your project can be really useful for your group. You need to give the funder the information they want, but the process of preparing an evaluation report can help you think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you would do differently next time.

Try to involve as many people as possible in doing the report, as this will help get more ideas about the successes of your project and the problems you have faced. Remember what you’ve learned from these discussions when you are planning for the future so you can build on your successes and improve your program.

Before you start:

Check what you said you were going to do. Don’t panic if what you have actually done is slightly different from your original plans – we understand that plans change a bit as you go along.

Discuss the evaluation report with your group.

Your report will contain more useful information if you get ideas from a range of people. Discuss it at your staff and program participant meetings.

Find out:

  • What do the staff and participants think was particularly successful about the project?
  • What problems were encountered along the way?
  • What did you do to solve problems?
  • Did the seed distribution and trainings happen exactly as you planned? If not, why not?
  • Did you make changes or improvements to your planned project along the way?
  • What were the benefits of the project to the people who were involved?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently in future?

Writing Your Evaluation Report

Follow the steps below to write your report.

1. Describe what you did.

This should be a short description of your activities. Include figures showing how many people and groups received seeds, how many extension visits or trainings you held, and how many people attended your programs. For example:

“We organized a total of 12 extension visits to Bong and Lofa Counties. A total of 50 farmers attended these sessions, 25 men and 25 women.”

“We organized a nutrition and food preparation training which took place on 16th May 2016. The party was attended by 49 people in total, 3 of whom had not been involved with our group in the past.”

If your program is focused on running activities for a particular group of people, such as women or Ebola survivors, you should include information about how many people from that group took part.

2.  Include any changes to your original plan.

It is quite common to make changes to your project plan as you go along. It’s difficult to know in advance exactly how things are going to work out. You might choose to change things if you work out a better way of doing them, or in response to requests from people taking part.

It is important to be open and honest about changes to your program. It shows you are trustworthy, and may also be an opportunity to show how the changes have been positive. For example:

“We originally planned to provide business planning training. However, after six weeks we had very few people taking part in business planning training, and nutrition training was full to capacity. In order to include as many people as possible and respond to the interests of the community, we decided to cancel the business planning training and run two weekly nutrition sessions instead.”

3.  Explain how you collected information about your success.

Briefly describe what you did to collect information about how your work was going. This might include counting the number of people that took part, and asking them how your project benefited them.

“We kept a record of how many women and men attended each session.”

“We carried out a survey at the beginning and end of the project, so that we could measure how people felt about vegetable gardening and nutrition before and after they had attended the training.”

4.  Tell us whether, and how, you achieved your goals.

Look back at your project goals and state whether you achieved your goals, and give any evidence you have. Make sure you also explain how your project matched up with SPI’s goals. For example, if you received seeds or other resources for your women’s empowerment project, explain how your project benefited women. Be sure to include a description of both the program goals and how you achieved those goals.

5.  Account for how you spent the grant funds.

You need to provide a breakdown of how you have spent the grant money. If there is anything significantly different between how you said you would spend the grant and how it was actually spent, make sure you explain why it was different. For example:

     $20 Contract Nutrition Trainer
     $30 Venue
     $10 Refreshments
     $20 Training Materials
     $70 Total

“We originally budgeted $20 for the Venue and $20 for Refreshments, but we decided to use a larger venue so more people could attend the training. The larger venue was $30, so we took money out of Refreshments and put it into Venue.”

6.  Share photos, quotes, and other evidence from your project.

Photos, quotes, and other evidence of your work show the funder how much your community benefited from the project and brightens up your report. Sometimes photos are the only way for funders to visually connect with the work you’re doing. A good photo can change how someone feels about your report, so think about how you want other people to see your work and participants. This is a great way to tell your story!

Good photo examples include: seeds being distributed, land being cleared, planting activities, tending gardens, and harvest and market activities. If your project involved training people, you could include group pictures and a copy of a certificate. Remember to ask permission to use a photo from the people in the photo.

Quotes are also a great way of showing how much the project meant to people. If you conduct a survey, include a question which asks people to say why the project is important to them, or why they participate in the group activities and trainings. You can then use these quotes in your report. If you haven’t done a survey, you could ask a few people from the group to tell you what the project meant to them, and write down what they say.

Quotes that directly relate to the program goals and the impact of the program are best. Otherwise, a quote that shares how the project was important someone is good.

Example: “I really enjoy gardening. Since we just had our first baby girl, it has been so nice to be able to produce fresh vegetables for our family. Sometimes we eat the vegetables and if there are too many we sell it to others in the neighborhood. This allows us to save a little money to purchase other items that we need. Last yield, we harvested so many different variety types: cauliflower, zucchini, cabbage, and eggplant. You know what my favorite part of having a garden has been? Well, it is truly seeing that you are produce something from seed to vegetable. How beautiful it is to see the plant grow and turn into something that is edible. It makes me happy to be able to provide for my family.” - Mme. Jinja, Toamasina, Madagascar

7.  Conclusion

Finish off your report with a short concluding statement that sums up what you have said and ends on a positive note. You can also mention the kinds of things you are thinking of doing in future. This is particularly important if you are hoping to receive additional support in the future. For example:

“As you can see, the seeds and funding you have provided has been very important for our group. We have run a successful project and this has really improved things for a lot of people in our community.”

“The seeds and funding you have provided our program has allowed us to build up our program and get more people involved. We have developed successful activities which we will continue in future. We have also gained valuable experience which will help us run new activities in the coming year. Our plan is to increase the number of training provided, so that we attract a wider range of people, and to focus especially on activities that are focused on women’s empowerment.”


74301072 pak choi 575A young garden grown from SPI seed by St. Barnabas Center near Cap Haitien, Haiti.

Of the more than 25 vegetable seed types offered by SPI to our partners, some are less common or unfamiliar to some programs and regions. One of SPI’s most important roles can be to share lessons learned (including both successes and failures) among our partner networks. In this spirit, we’ll try to highlight a vegetable type or variety in each partner newsletter. Today’s feature is chinese cabbage.

The photo above shows an impressive young garden grown from SPI seed by St. Barnabas Center which trains agronomy students near Cap Haitien, Haiti. Chinese cabbage of the pak choi type is the leafy green in the front of the photo. These plants may be only 2-3 weeks old. This is what our partners like most about chinese cabbage: it grows more quickly than almost any other vegetable into something healthy that tastes good cooked or raw! You can pick the largest outer leaves to eat and the plant will keep growing; when fully mature around 30-40 days, the stem of each pak choi leaf will be a thick, white, juicy rib. The leaves are softer and milder-tasting than collards, mustard greens, or kale.

Chinese cabbage is a member of the Brassica family of vegetables, all of which do prefer cooler temperatures and ample water. You can see a garden hose in this photo which shows that St. Barnabas Center has access to a well or cistern. But chinese cabbage is a little more heat-tolerant than some Brassicas and it is fast growing. So, even in a dry season it is possible to carry water to a small garden plot of chinese cabbage a few times a week and keep the plants happy. People short on water may then wish to pick and eat the leaves early so that the water-use burden on their homes is reduced. People wishing to sell chinese cabbage at market will want to let the plants grow to a larger size. The mature plants will stay fresher in transport and storage.

ens 021816 yves bokchoy 575Yves Mary Etienne, a Haitian economist, pulls bok choy from the test plot and gives it to a woman from the community to sell at a local market.
Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

At St. Barnabas, agronomy students, who come from rural families and may find it difficult to afford further education, are able to sell school garden harvests to contribute to their school fees. The photo above shows mature pak choi picked from the same garden, from an article provided by Episcopal News Service.

SPI aims to always have a chinese cabbage available to our partners, but it is not always the pak choi type. Right now we have in stock seed for a napa cabbage type. It grows a tighter, upright head which is pale green. It looks a little different, but the use is about the same. Look for pak choi to come into our catalog later in 2017.


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Seed Programs International (SPI)

Seed Programs InternationalSeed Programs International (SPI) is a non-profit, tax exempt, non-governmental humanitarian organization.

We work thorough other humanitarian organizations, church groups, service clubs and individual donors, to provide quality seed to impoverished communities in developing countries enabling them to grow some of their own food. In addition to seed, SPI provides critical seed expertise and experience operating seed based self help programs.”

SPI is operated by individuals with over 50 years seed industry experience plus over 20 years experience in vegetable research and production. We also have 15 years experience operating programs that have successfully shipped seed to over 70 countries on five continents. SPI has shipped enough seed to plant over 1,000,000 vegetable gardens, providing more than 20 kinds of vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals often missing in people’s diets.