Food Heroes

We like to introduce some of our food heroes. From Colombia, Uganda and Cambodia. They belong to the more than 500 million smallholder farmers around the globe who are important agents in improving food security and income for their families. Meet them and listen to their stories, plans and dreams. 

South, East and Central Africa

Edwin Oyirwot, 28, cassava enterprise, Nebbi district in Uganda

COVID-19 Stopped My Education, Not My Passion for Business

I started farming in 2016 with the aim of financing my education. In 2019, I made 7 million UGX from 5 acres of cassava so I was optimistic that if I planted the entire 10 acres in 2020, I could use the profits to invest in value addition. However, when the COVID-19 crisis set in, my mentor advised me to use the time away from school to focus on my farm, and stay within 5 acres to avoid over-producing without an adequate market. Since the start of the crisis I have sold one acre of cassava for 1.2 million and now am preparing to sell the second acre.

Although this was a reduction of 300,000 from the price before, I still was able to make money. I discussed with my mentor and the only way to resolve this loss is to add value to the product, so in my business plan, I am trying to seek capital for machines that I can use to add value to my cassava and make flour, which I can package and sell by December 2022. I also plan to train farmers on proper farming practices so that they can produce good quality and sell to me so that I can have enough to grind from my farm and build a strong cassava brand.

Norah Nambozo, 25, tomato grower, Nebbi municipality in Uganda

Learning to Bounce Back in Critical Times

I am a wildlife officer working in the Nebbi local government. I have always had green thumbs, and so it was easy for me to start growing tomatoes in my small backyard just for my own consumption when I got here. Before long, I noticed many people coming to buy from my garden, and when I asked around, I learned that the tomatoes on the market were imported from outside the district and were priced expensively. I automatically knew that this was my chance to benefit, and so I invested in a divided garden, half an acre in the municipality and another half acre on the outskirts, in Onjiku village.

The training from the High Flyers project in business planning, financial management and record keeping inspired me to create long-term goals for my business. Through the project I met a mentor, who is much more knowledgeable in the field of agriculture than I am and he inspires me to keep pushing forward towards my business goals. During the COVID-19 lockdown early in 2020, I remember that my tomato nursery bed was ready for transplanting and I had to walk long distances to my gardens daily to check on them. It was so difficult, given the curfew, and when the rains came, I remember losing produce four times to floods. I had almost lost hope when my mentor advised me to dig trenches to redirect the floods away from the farm. He also advised me to buy another nursery bed nearby, which we are using to fill in the gaps in my garden created when seedlings were washed away by flood water. So we are back on track to achieve my planned profit.

Lydia Akethowanga, 30, 2 children, agro input dealership, Nebbi municipality in Uganda

Better Marketing Techniques Made My Shop Popular

Before I started my input dealership in 2018, input dealers were cheating farmers and selling affordable products to them at exorbitant prices. I knew that this was an opportunity for me and so I set up a shop in the middle of town to sell seeds and other agro inputs to them at a lower price and snatch their market space.

Through the High Flyers project, I learnt key business principles like record keeping and financial management, which I easily translated into my business plan. I started getting involved in negotiations with suppliers and demanding for receipts after purchase, and since then I was able to see profits. By the time COVID-19 struck and we were forced into a lockdown, I could see opportunities despite the challenges. Agriculture was declared an essential service by the government, so  the need for inputs increased.

My High Flyers mentor advised me on better marketing techniques, which made my shop popular, not only for inputs, but for training in the best ways of using them, especially for those starting agriculture for the first time. This strategy increased my monthly sales from UGX 500,000 before COVID-19 to about UGX 900,000. My mentor also advised me to apportion time in the week for consultations and alert my clients accordingly, so now I am able to balance my busy work schedule with my family time.

Latin America

Reyna Laj Caj from Guatemala

Rescuing Traditional Foods

I am Reyna Laj Caj. Since I was little I have liked cultivating, rescuing traditional plants and processing the crops that one has on hand, vegetables, plants, trees. My family has always been dedicated to agricultural production; they have always planted a variety of products, like corn, coffee, cassava, for a living.

I joined a youth group to rescue the historical memory of San Cristóbal and that’s how I met the YMCA and ICCO. I participated in the workshops they were developing, there I learned about entrepreneurship and how to start my own business, producing organic and traditional plants at my nursery garden.

Reyna is a young rural leader that contributes to the rescue of traditional Guatemalan foods from an indigenous worldview.

Emerson Narvaéz from Colombia

With Our Special Coffee We Hope to Live at Peace

My name is Emerson Narvaéz, I am a coffee producer and taster in Policarpa Nariño. This municipality, on the western mountain range, has several thermal floors and we manage many crops such as peanuts, coffee, cocoa, and bananas. My municipality also has been affected and stigmatized by violence and illicit crops.

With my association, we produce specialty coffees, which have the touch of the mountain range with aromas and sweet and sour notes that are unique in the market; our process is agroecological, and the use of water is minimal. We also have complementary crops such as bananas, which are an economic and food supplement. We want to build a sustainable countryside, commercializing coffee and other products from this region at a national and international level.

Thanks to the coffee, we are increasing our income. Now we have hope to live at peace, providing better food for our families and social security, justice, and dignity, without depending on illicit crops. I dream that the taste of Policarpa’s coffee will make people around the world sigh.

Gabriel Vargas from Bolivia

Creating a Authentic Cuisine

Bearer of tradition and guardian of ancestral techniques and knowledge, Gabriel Vargas is part of the Manq’a Restaurant kitchen team. His passion for gastronomy has led him to include his culture in the preparation of food recipes.

“I come from the tradition of the markets of La Paz and I have learned that in a dish we can make people remember the moments they have shared with their grandmother or their mother…” Gabriel Vargas, Chef of Manq’a Restaurant.

The revaluation of techniques, customs and ancestral dishes help to promote the Regional Food Heritage in Bolivia. Cooks like Gabriel are guardians of ancestral knowledge, traditions and utensils that promote a gastronomic identity. “As Manqa cooks we want to do that, make a traditional ancestral dish… give people that experience… we are making and creating a cultural and authentic cuisine”.

South and Central Asia

Laila Begum from Bangladesh

The Better the Yield, the Higher the Income

Laila Begum (55) lives inTeknaf in Southern Bangladesh with her husband and youngest son. By profession, both Laila and her husband are farmers. They mostly practice traditional methods and have indegeneous knowledge on cultivation. She received training from the Resilient Ecosystem and Alternative Livelihood (REAL) project funded by ACT Alliance on modern cultivation techniques, seed selection and land preparation. Laila said, “I never knew the differences between good seeds and bad seeds. In the training, I have learned about good seed selection and I could not imagine the difference until I have been using them. Using good quality seed increased the yield, making a huge difference in my earning. I bought my son a scooter worth BDT 80,000 with the savings from extra income.”

Zainab Bibi from Bangladesh

Zainab Bibi (28), lives with her two daughters in Teknaf in Southern Bangladesh. She is the head of the family and the only earning member after her husband left her. She has some knowledge producing dry fish. Zainab received training from the Resilient Ecosystem and Alternative Livelihood (REAL) project funded by ACT Alliance on producing dry fish in a clean and hygienic method.

“Previously, I only sold a small amount to my neighboring households at a very low price. Now that I produce dry-fish in a hygienic method in market standard quality, I can sell it in shops at a higher price. Back then after investing BDT 5,000 I could make a profit of BDT 1,100-12,00 only. Now, following the new technique with the same amount of investment the profit has increased to BDT 2,500-2,700. I also bought a new sewing machine with this profit. I plan to be a big and regular supplier of dry-fish in our local market in the future” said Zainab.

(photo: Emdadul Islam Bitu)

South East Asia

Channath, A Mushroom Grower from Cambodia

Mushroom Cultivation for a Decent Income

Channath, a committee member of Cheap Santepheap Strey Klahan in Kampong Chhnang Province in Cambodia, is one of the beneficiaries of the Cooperation for Women’s Economic Development (CWEDII) project. Aside from his chicken business and vegetable farming, Channath also owns a mushroom farm which allows him and his family to earn a decent amount of additional income. Packed with valuable nutrients mushrooms are relatively easy to grow and only require a small space. It is an investment and a great opportunity for smallholder farmers to earn additional income beside their vegetable and/or rice farming.

Channath started his mushroom business in 2014 after attending courses on mushroom cultivation the previous year. Between 2016-2017, the net profit for his mushroom business was around 14 million Khmer riels (around 3,500 USD). Through the CWEDII project he participated in a number of training sessions including business and marketing skills and finance.

While his mushroom farms allow Channath to earn additional income, this business also allows him to hire other people in the village who also want to earn more income. As a committee member of CWEDII’s target cooperatives, Channath was inspired to share farming techniques and knowledge gained from our project to help his community.


Ko Zaw Zaw Naing from Myanmar

Ko Zaw Zaw Naing, a 27-year-old young farmer who lives in U Phaw Lone Village in Khayan township, Yangon division. He tends to grow mung bean and paddy in his own land. Being a young farmer, he is active and happy to learn new improved technology. In the past, he does conventional farming and had changed to follow GAP after receiving GAP training. Also, he realized that food safety is critical and it can be tackled by the following GAP. He is strongly committed to complying GAP and does pooling and educatiing to others related to GAP and food safety topic. Farmers to farmer approach are a really effective way of the extension method. Because of his efforts, many farmers are getting familiar GAP and adopt it. Due to the fact that he was also elected as associated secretary of Yangon Regional Farmer Development Association which is organized of 10000 member farmers. He is now shouldering the hope of all members and supporting them in terms of transferring technical know-how and creating an enabling environment for mung bean industry.

As of 1st January 2021 ICCO has joined forces with Cordaid and continues as one organization under the name Cordaid.

ICCO’s international website will remain online for the time being and can be visited here or go to Cordaid: