It all started with a church mission trip. I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to give back — still do. In the past six years, I’ve spent time in 10 developing countries and worked with smallholder farmers from Panama, Peru and parts of Mexico to Vietnam, Thailand and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
What strikes me is that what we consider “common practice” or “basic knowledge” here in the United States can make a tremendous impact in other parts of the world; the difference is scale and staple crops. They are farming two- to four-acre plots of potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, rice, maize and peanuts.
I believe we have a moral responsibility to help others, and I started trying to wrap my head around the question: “How can we at ABM help feed the world?” We can’t feed the world from our backyards. We have to teach others and help them understand basic agronomic principles and the tools that are available, and the difference they can make.
Our church, along with three other churches, local businesses and area farmers raised enough money to send a tractor, plow, disc and four-row planter to a group of smallholder farmers in the DRC. At this time the DRC was emerging from a period of great political conflict. The DRC had been a country that exported food, and now the country imports 90 percent of its food supply.
The government had given a group of men and women ground to farm, and it was free as long as they started farming it. The challenge, they told us, was that it had never been farmed (since the beginning of creation). My son and I went on location, and this ground was equal to anything you would see in Iowa. It was up on a plateau, received favorable rainfall and could grow crops year round. It is a phenomenal area.
In the DRC, farmers grow white corn, which is ground up for meals, and cassava, a root crop that takes a year to grow, among others.
In marrying my passion of ministry with my business expertise and scientific knowledge, I knew our products could make a difference and started introducing them — what they are, how they work and how to use them. The smiles on the faces of these farmers when they harvested their crops was extremely gratifying. Not only could they feed their family, but they also had enough to sell at the market. It’s changing lives, and that’s incredibly rewarding.
We’ve continued to partner with our church and other non-governmental organizations to work in other areas, and we’ve made some wonderful relationships over the years. However, it can be overwhelming when you first visit a country because you see that so much needs to be done. You feel like you can’t do enough, fast enough.
But I know that we, as a whole, can get this accomplished. There’s no reason why anyone in this world should go hungry.