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Restoring land and lives in rural communities in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In Burundi and DRC, Plant With Purpose reverses cycles of deforestation and poverty, leading to peace, prosperity, and a restored planet.

Photo of Ellen Davis

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Plant With Purpose equips farmers in Burundi and the DRC to restore their land, access financial tools, become leaders, and promote peace. Through VSLAs, tree planting, and training, farmers thrive.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Plant With Purpose reverses deforestation and poverty by transforming the lives of the rural poor.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

Plant With Purpose began partnering with farmers in Burundi in 2008 and in the DRC in 2015. While we currently empower 8,600 partner families in these countries to restore their land, save for the future, and improve their communities, there is still more work to be done.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Plant With Purpose’s proven model addresses the problems of poverty, environmental degradation, and broken relationships. Farming families in Burundi and the DRC face these issues on a daily basis. Degraded land and a lack of crops leave them with little hope for a prosperous or peaceful future.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

In FY2018, Plant With Purpose aims to achieve the following: Burundi: -Mobilize community members to plant 1,000,000 trees -Host agroecology workshops with a combined attendance of 2,400 -Establish 48 new VSLA groups, while strengthening 268 groups DRC: -Mobilize community members to plant 300,000 trees -Host agroecology workshops with a combined attendance of 1,800 -Establish 20 new VSLA groups, while strengthening 21 groups Additional program growth will occur in future years.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

In Burundi and DRC we partner with Floresta Burundi and Ebenezer ministries. Our U.S.-based staff consists of 20 members who support in-country staff. Plant With Purpose U.S. serves as a fundraising and technical support arm, while the local teams are the primary on-the-ground program implementers.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Financial Business Model

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get feedback from experts

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Quarterly data collection allows for regular evaluation of performance and for revision of program targets and outputs. Long-term impact is gauged through impact evaluations conducted triennially with the next one occurring in FY2018. These evaluations measure success through formal surveys. We survey a significant sampling of participant and nonparticipant households, and analyze results in order to determine program aspects that are successful versus those that need improvement.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

The feedback we received confirms the effectiveness of our program and the change that is taking root in the DRC and Burundi. Through the feedback process, we were reminded of how much our work contributes to women’s empowerment. Our next version of the user experience map would include more emphasis on women’s empowerment, agriculture training, caring for community forests, and knowledge sharing.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

Below are some of the questions Plant With Purpose is currently addressing: 1. How can we accommodate the rising demand for our programs in a successful, sustainable manner? 2. Where are the most strategic, feasible areas to expand our programs? 3. How can we even better align the way we present our program methodology with how our beneficiaries experience it?

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

As seen in the Dynamics of Growth graph, when Plant With Purpose began to intentionally apply all three core program components (environmental restoration, economic empowerment, and spiritual renewal) in a unified model, we saw effectiveness across almost all indicators skyrocket, while costs remained stable. This dropped our cost per beneficiary from just over $62 in 2008 to $22 today. The Dynamics of Growth graph shows growth in outcomes. We’ve seen similar momentum in impact as well. Additionally, based on the expert feedback we received regarding tree planting, we decided to interview Plant With Purpose Tanzania’s Country Director, Richard Mhina, since the Tanzania program has provided proof of concept and helped launch our Burundi and DRC programs. Richard explains that tree planting in Tanzania has been highly successful, and that he sees program participants motivated by tree planting competitions and by engaging in something larger than themselves.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

We are grateful for the expert feedback which has allowed us to consider our program model and elaborate on our methodology. Please see our full responses in the comments section below. Key topics we highlighted include: -The innovation that results from our three-part holistic model for environmental restoration and community development. -Our incorporation of FMNR into our program activities. -The success of tree planting when coupled with community-based change. -Our recent growth and the opportunities we have had to partner with other organizations as we continue to expand.

Some of the world’s poorest rural populations live in Burundi and the DRC. For many living in these countries, land degradation and poverty lead to hopelessness.

Burundi: Burundi is ranked 184th out of 188 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, indicating extreme poverty and a lack of infrastructure. And sadly, poverty is on the rise. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “The estimated number of people affected by food insecurity increased from 2.1 million to 3 million between October 2016 and January 2017, which represents one quarter of the total population of 11 million Burundians.” 

The extreme poverty of Burundi is linked to a violent history of ethnic conflict and genocide. In addition, farming families in Burundi rely heavily on the land for their livelihood. In fact, agriculture employs 90 percent of the population in Burundi (Source: World Bank). Yet due to environmental degradation, the land does not produce well, causing these individuals to suffer tremendously.

DRC: Many family farms in the Kakumba watershed in the DRC have steep hillsides with very little topsoil. Deforestation is a serious problem, and each rainfall leads to further erosion and decline in farm productivity. Eighty-four percent of the families in our partnering communities in the DRC have no source of income beyond agriculture. Furthermore, Plant With Purpose’s baseline study shows that the average family in this area eats 1.3 meals per day, and 95 percent reported that they went at least one entire day in the past month without eating. 

Yet there is hope to empower farming families in the DRC and Burundi to transform their lives and their land, as well as promote peace in their communities. The Plant With Purpose model ( has been tested and refined for more than 30 years in deforested watershed areas around the world. We work at the intersection of economic empowerment, environmental restoration, and spiritual renewal. Through Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) groups, farmers save money and take out loans that allow them to invest in small business, their children’s education, or their farms. Through sustainable agriculture training, tree planting, and Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) initiatives, farmers learn to better care for their land and produce higher yields. Finally, through partnering with local churches, community members grow in their faith, learn to serve their neighbors, and address pressing community needs. Together, these components create a synergistic model of community development that leads to lasting transformation.

As farmers come together to restore the planet, and increase their crop production and thus their prosperity, they are also planting peace in their communities. By working alongside one another, Hutu and Tutsi populations, as well as other ethnic tribes, are sowing peace and reconciliation for future generations. Former refugees are discovering the dignity that comes through restoring and working the land. As land is restored and as food security increases, poverty decreases. Plant With Purpose farmers are creating a more peaceful and prosperous future for their families and their country. 

Renathe is an example of one of the farmers that Plant With Purpose works alongside: 

Renathe Ntacobakimvuna is a farmer and mother of three in Burundi. She and her husband rely on their small plot of land to survive. Since partnering with Plant With Purpose six years ago, her family eats more nutritiously and can afford basic necessities. “I lacked seeds for planting and I had hunger,” she remembers. “Now I can overcome that.” Planting trees on her plot has also equipped her to spend less money on food and firewood. 

Renathe shares that she has grown in dignity since joining a VSLA group. Her involvement allows her to better provide for her family and gives her more of a voice in the household, something Burundian women are not guaranteed. “I get respect and value from my family because I contribute to our day-to-day survival,” she says. Families in my village truly do live day-to-day, but VSLA groups increase financial stability for the future.

Today, Renathe and her family eat well and even have enough savings left over to afford education for the children. “My family can go to the hospital as well without problems thanks to the money I get from [crop] production,” she says. VLSA groups foster accountability and support within the community, and members of the group  are learning to live in peace and rely on one another for support. “We have cultivated together and help each other if we have problems,” says Renathe.

Explain your idea

Plant With Purpose teaches a simple, cost-effective, innovative solution to groups of 20 to 30 farmers, equipping them with the financial tools and agricultural techniques needed to restore their land, create economic opportunities, and promote peace in their communities. First, farmers learn to build financial safety nets and access fair loans through the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model. Members take out loans to develop small businesses, invest in their farms, and send their children to school. Second, farmers receive sustainable agricultural training on such topics as agroforestry, composting, crop diversification, and water management. They also learn to plant trees and implement FMNR initiatives in their communities. We view agriculture training and tree planting not merely as program activities, but as outcomes that occur as communities are transformed and as farmers gain a deeper desire to care for the environment. These strategic techniques allow farmers to restore degraded land and increase crop yields, thus improving farm income and family nutrition. Third, Plant With Purpose invests in the whole person through partnerships with local churches. We believe that local churches understand the needs of their communities and can create lasting change. We thus train churches to mobilize their communities to meet needs using local resources. Currently, Plant With Purpose partners with 7,463 farming families in Burundi and 750 families in the DRC, equipping them to renew their land, gain economic opportunity, and promote peace in their communities. In fiscal year 2018, Plant With Purpose aims to achieve the following objectives: Burundi: -Mobilize community members to plant 1,000,000 trees to restore the land and reverse the effects of deforestation. -Host agroecology training with a combined attendance of 2,400, teaching participants sustainable techniques such as composting, watershed restoration, and agroforestry. -Establish 48 new VSLA groups, while strengthening 268 groups, providing economic empowerment to community members. DRC: -Mobilize community members to plant 300,000 trees to restore the land and reverse the effects of deforestation. -Host agroecology training with a combined attendance of 1,800, teaching participants sustainable techniques such as composting, watershed restoration, and agroforestry. -Establish 20 new VSLA groups, while strengthening 21 groups, providing economic empowerment to community members.

Who Benefits?

Rural farming families facing extreme poverty, deforestation, and environmental degradation will benefit from our holistic and sustainable solution. Presently, our interventions impact more than 56,900 adults and children in Burundi and the DRC.

How is your idea unique?

Plant With Purpose is unique in that we understand the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and rural poverty, and the importance of addressing these problems together through a holistic model. We’ve also seen that it works best when the local church takes an integral role in development. We have been fine-tuning our solution to rural poverty and environmental degradation over the past 30+ years, and we know that it leads to lasting transformation within seven to ten years. We are seeing that partnering farmers can cut their level of poverty in half and can grow up to 80 percent more crops. Participants are planting 2.3 times more trees than nonparticipants and are 83 percent more likely to plant indigenous species. In turn, communities can increase up to one percent vegetation cover every 18 months. Furthermore, partnering farmers have an average of three income sources, and are twice as likely as nonparticipants to save and have six months worth of emergency reserves.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

Plant With Purpose is a family of organizations that act as one large organization. We hire only national staff in the field offices and keep a lean management team in the headquarters office in San Diego, California. Each country program has its own local board of directors, but also complies with a Plant With Purpose internal governance system. Plant With Purpose also partners with a wide variety of churches, nonprofits, and research institutions. In Burundi, for example, a partnership agreement with the Jane Goodall Institute was recently signed. We greatly value these mutually beneficial collaborations and will rely on them as we continue to scale our programs. Furthermore, partnering participants are not just beneficiaries of a handout program, they are essential members of the team. Only with their initiative, commitment, and action can we succeed.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Ellen,

I look forward to seeing your response to the expert feedback. The deadline for responses is Friday 11.59 pm.

I am just pulling out some key pieces of information from your attachments, in Burundi in 2015 you planted 623,330 trees benefitting 6,482 families and 18 Farmer Field School participants learned sustainable farming
technique despite a high level of political unrest.

Are there any specific types of organisations in terms of sector and geography that you are keen to reach out to for this project and in general?

Photo of Ellen Davis

Hi Kate,

Thanks! We just posted responses to the expert feedback.

You are correct about our outcomes in Burundi. We are excited that farming families are experiencing transformation through our programs in the midst of political unrest and economic uncertainty.

Plant With Purpose could not implement this transformational work alone, and we are grateful for partnerships with local schools, churches, government agencies, and other nonprofits. In Burundi, for example, we have partnerships with World Food Programme and Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO).

We are always eager to connect with more organizations in Burundi and the DRC, or in the international development, environment, or philanthropic sectors. For example, Plant With Purpose would love to connect with World Wildlife Fund, as we know they are dedicated to environmental restoration efforts in the DRC and are working in the forest that borders our work. We would also like to connect with Children in Crisis since they implement VSLA groups but in a different region of the DRC. Finally, we would love the opportunity to connect with leading philanthropic organizations such as Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Ellen,

You might want to check out Dylan Mathews project Gold production as a pathway to peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo They are doing a lot of on-the-ground peace/conflict resolution with their on-the-ground partner.

Photo of Ellen Davis

Hi Kate,

Thanks for the great connection. We will be sure to check it out!


Photo of Dylan Mathews

Hi Kate

Thanks for the link. Ellen, the work you do sounds great. We support work in DRC which also adopts the VSLA model, and our partners have a lot of experience in conflict resolution, so if you think it's useful to connect, then do let me know. We're also working with a network of peacebuilding organizations across Burundi, which could be another interesting link.


Photo of Ellen Davis

Hi Dylan,

Thanks for reaching out. Your work sounds really great too. Our Program Officer Jared White works closely with our DRC and Burundi programs and would love to connect with you. His email is Looking forward to talking more!


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