Archives for September 2011

Henry Red Cloud wins 2011 Glynwood Harvest Award

Henry Red Cloud, Buffalo Hump Sanctuary

Village Earth is proud to announce that our long-time partner, Henry Red Cloud, has won the 2011 Glynwood Harvest Award for Connecting Communities, Farmers and Food, and in particular, for his work restoring buffalo for families on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Henry’s bison project, “Buffalo Hump Sanctuary” is an affiliate of Village Earth.

Glynwood is an agricultural non-profit whose mission is to save farming, has announced the winners of its annual Harvest Awards.  The Harvest Awards were created by Glynwood in order to highlight innovative work being done on a community level to increase access to fresh, locally-produced food and to recognize leaders across the country whose exemplary work support their regional food systems.

This year the winners will participate in a panel discussion open to the public to take place on Monday, October 24 at the 92YTRIBECA in downtown Manhattan.  Moderated by Glynwood President Judith LaBelle, the winners will discuss their work, their challenges and the models they’ve created to increase their community’s access to locally produced foods.

Buffalo Hump Sanctuary is the result of Henry Red Cloud’s father’s vision of reclaiming the land of their Lakota tribe (which for generations had been leased out to non-indigenous people and businesses), and building a successful bison ranching operation that would better support their family economically and culturally.  The work was started in 2000, beginning with the complex process of identifying and reclaiming the land, then restoring the overgrazed land to fertility.  With the help of Village Earth, an organization that helps communities reconnect with resources that promote human well-being through empowerment and community self-reliance, Henry implemented an “Adopt a Buffalo” program; this enabled the release of over 100 head of buffalo onto the reservation, helping native bison ranchers to start or expand their ranching operations.  By 2005 Henry, along with two other families on the reservation, formed the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative, composed of Lakota ranchers who agree to comply with strict ethical standards for the care of the animals. Participating producers are then able to market their meat under the Coop’s label.  To further assist in distributing the Coop’s pasture-raised and field-harvested bison, Henry and Village Earth partnered with a local entrepreneur who markets the products online and sells throughout northern Colorado.  Today, even the smallest producer can find a market for their meat through the Cooperative.

The financial and cultural implications of this work for the Lakota families cannot be underestimated.  About two-thirds of the reservation’s lands have been leased for generations, stripping the families of their connection to their land as well as economic opportunity – leasing the land brings only one-third of the potential profit that working the land can offer.  Additionally, the reservation has been identified as “food insecure,” with little access to fresh, healthy food and a history of related medical issues that result. The production of fresh bison meat has given members of the Lakota access to nutritious protein. To further the goal of supplying fresh healthy food to its community, the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative recently created the Tatanka Talo project to help the elderly members of the reservation by distributing fresh meat to them.

Microfinance: Possibilities & Challenges

By Cortney Berry, M.A.

Photo: Kamala Parekh, Village Earth’s Microfinance Course Instructor

Twenty-two cents. That was the sum of money that Sufiya Begum lacked access to when Dr. Yunus interviewed her in 1976. To eke out a living, she bought material for bamboo stools on credit and then she sold the stools back to the very people who loaned her the money to purchase the materials in the first place. What profit did she make? After working all day, she earned only two cents. She was unable to borrow money from the moneylenders, because they charged up to ten percent per day. She was stuck with the middlemen, who kept her trapped in subsistence living conditions, constantly having to run but getting nowhere.

Dr. Yunus was dumbfounded by the situation—he was used to working with problems whose price tags soared into the millions, but Sufiya was living on the edge for want of a sum that most people lose in their couch (Yunus, 2003). It was this interaction that sparked the chain of events that eventually led to the creation of Grameen Bank, an institution which went on to win the Nobel Peace prize in 2006. Since its creation it has disbursed $11 billion dollars with an impressive recovery rate of almost 97%. In Bangladesh, a study concluded that more than half of the reduction in poverty was directly attributed to microfinance (McCarter 2006). Grameen Bank stands as one example among many of the impressive results microfinance can achieve. Today, microfinance is a mainstream development strategy which plays an integral role in the U.N. Development Goals and forms the backbone of many development plans large and small. Online, popular sites such as Kiva connect would-be-borrowers with lenders, many of whom are drawn by the sustainability of a model in which the same dollars flow from borrower-to-borrower as loans are repaid and disbursed, over-and-over again. The idea that a $100 loan could allow a woman to break out of a cycle of poverty is incredible and the ability to act as a lender and see a business succeed as a result is a powerful experience for donors.

The positive impacts of microfinance do vary, however, and much depends upon an understanding of the financial and business needs of a local culture so that program design can be carefully approached. It is certainly no panacea and like any development strategy it is best implemented in ways that would-be business owners and communities feel are culturally appropriate. The indiscriminate application of microfinance has at times yielded less than ideal results, proving once again that even the most effective programs cannot be generically implemented.

Loans and financial packages should be individualized as much as possible and lending groups should not merely provide collateral, but should be coached on how to increase knowledge and business savvy amongst their members (Mayoux 1998). Microfinance goes beyond simply disbursing a loan- successful programs include the community and make lending groups, which provide support and guidance. Within such a community-driven program, microfinance continues to be an impressive force for alleviating poverty. In the 35 years since microfinance hit the development world as an exciting new strategy, its popularity and prevalence continue to grow.

Whether online or in the field, the power of connecting lenders to borrowers and providing much needed capital proves again-and-again to be transformative in the lives of millions.

Village Earth offers a five-week online course on the topic of microfinance. If you are interested in participating in the session starting September 30th, please read more here.

Mayoux, Linda. 1998. Women’s Empowerment and Microfinance Programmes: Strategies for Increasing Impact. Development in Practice 8 (2): 235-241.

Yunus, Muhammad. 2003. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. New York: Public Affairs.

McCarter, Elissa. 2006. Women and Microfinance: Why We Should Do More. University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class. 6 (2): 353-366.

4th Annual Albertson Medal Gala a Success

Each year, on the last Saturday in August Village Earth celebrates the legacy and birthday of one of its founders, the late Dr. Maurice Albertson by honoring a person who exemplifies Maury’s lifelong dedication to sustainability and social justice. This year, Village Earth’s Board of Directors awarded the honor to Judith Kimerling, for her defense of the Amazon rainforest and the human communities that depend on it for their culture and survival. Kimerling received the medal in front of an audience of Village Earth supporters, CSU administration and faculty, local businesses and a host of people from across the region interested in sustainable development. Entertainment included local African dance troupe “Fale” and a live auction featuring items from various locations around the world where Village Earth works. The dinner, prepared by Colorado State University catering service, featured delicious grassfed and field harvested buffalo ribeye steaks sourced from the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a grassroots affiliate of Village Earth. The highlight of the evening was slide show presentation given by Kimerling, tracing her 30 years of work in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the pressing issues that still remain to be addressed. All proceeds from the event will go to support Village Earth as it expands its Global Affiliate Program – a support network for grassroots organizations working on some of the most critical issues around the globe.