JDC Launches Tikkun Olam Ventures, Empowering Africa’s Smallholder Farmers

A TOV farming site, equipped with Israeli drip irrigation technology; courtesy JDC.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has launched Tikkun Olam Ventures (TOV), an innovative new program addressing poverty among Africa’s smallholder farmers by leveraging Israeli agricultural technology and training, Jewish philanthropy and private capital, and access to new markets for crops.

The water reservoir system feeding the Israeli drip irrigation system on a TOV farming site; courtesy JDC.

Initiated with a two-year pilot in Ethiopia, TOV currently has seven demonstration sites growing vegetables in the country’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). Inspired by Seth Merrin – founder and CEO of the fintech company Liquidnet, which provided the anchor grant for TOV through its corporate impact program, Liquidnet for Good – JDC partnered with other leading American Jewish philanthropists and Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry to bring TOV to fruition.

A local farmer tends to his TOV-supported site that has been equipped with the Israeli drip irrigation system; courtesy JDC.

TOV’s operating model is based around a philanthropic loan fund – created with lead support from Seth Merrin and Liquidnet for Good, Laura Gurwin Flug, and Danielle Flug Capalino – leveraging monies from a local bank. Loans to farmer cooperative unions and agribusinesses at reasonable terms allow smallholder farmers to purchase Israeli AgTech and receive training and support from Israeli and local experts. Their higher quality crops are then sold to new markets at fair pricing. Repaid loans feed back into the philanthropic loan fund for use in catalyzing new markets in TOV locations in the future.

TOV team members and local farmers engaging in a learning session of the Israeli drip irrigation equipment; courtesy JDC.

“The power of TOV is its unique ability to match the passion of the Jewish community for tikkun olam with a unique philanthropic model and Israel’s critical expertise in transforming rural economies through technology. Right now we are focused on lifting the lives of these farmers and their communities, but we also want to take what we have learned, share it, and scale it for global good,” said Merrin. “TOV is a promising model for mobilizing private capital for the public good.”

A local farmer harvests hot peppers on his TOV-supported farming site; courtesy JDC.

During the pilot, TOV will invest in 5-10 agricultural enterprises, supporting more than 300 smallholder farmers. Pilot sites will include Israeli drip irrigation equipment and other technology, hybrid seeds, and specialized training in new technology and improved agricultural practices.In the first five years, the program aims to reach 5,000 farmers and aid 22,000 of their family and community members.

One of these farmers is Mudin Makaria, whose wife and seven children rely on his small farm for income. Calling the Israeli technology and expertise “significantly different compared to what I did before,” Makuria now intends to use it in all his fields, citing effective methods for irrigation and fertilization. Many of his neighbors have visited his farm, where he grows tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers, and would like to join the project. Makuria hopes TOV can expand this knowledge, and its ability to fight poverty, beyond his community.

TOV is a program of JDC GRID, the organization’s platform for deploying disaster response and development interventions around the world, utilizing Israeli expertise, and encouraging Jewish community engagement in humanitarian efforts locally and globally. JDC has a decades-long presence in Ethiopia providing health, education, and water projects for poor and rural populations.