Growing Rwanda Out of Poverty
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
For the last few years, development wonks and international organizations have had the “Green Revolution for Africa” on their radars. Leaders in Africa have recognized that the first Green Revolution (spurred by the work of agronomist Norman Borlaug) resulted in massive improvements in health and productivity around the world, and are now looking to do the same on the so-called “Dark Continent”. While so far agricultural success has been limited in Africa, the increasing need is indisputable. One of the most visible and promising people working on the scene in Rwanda (but with eyes for continental expansion) is Steve Jones, a jovial, 60-something successful businessman from Tennessee.
“I have a talent for taking something complicated and breaking it down into a simple science,” Steve Jones says as he examines a plastic bag stuffed with pineapple seedlings in his Kigali office.
Jones, a horticulturalist by training and entrepreneur by nature, made his way from Tennessee to Rwanda with an idea that he believes will revolutionize farming in Africa. He founded a company that uses a tissue culture process to extract pieces of healthy plants chosen by natural selection, and reproduce them by the thousands, allowing farmers to get 200 to 400 percent more production out of their land.
Jones started Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) in 2007 after an eye-opening visit to Madagascar with the United States Department of Agriculture. He surveyed the lush island off the coast of Eastern Africa and realized that too much time, energy and land dedicated to farming were overwhelmingly producing disease-prone crops. Farmers tried to be creative with their limited resources: for example, by placing crops closely together to save space, but these techniques often exacerbated the problem.
When Jones returned from Madagascar and began discussing his observations with his wife Cheryl, they looked back on their lifetime of plant management experience. They had supported their family of five by running a Tennessee plant nursery for thirty years and wanted to use their expertise to help improve the livelihoods of subsistence farmers in Africa.