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Restoring land and lives in rural communities in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

We equip farming families to reverse the interconnected cycles of deforestation and poverty leading to prosperity and a restored planet.

Photo of Ellen Davis
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Plant With Purpose partners with 1,318 farming families in South Kivu, DRC, equipping them to restore their land and prosper. We do so through a holistic model of community development focused on economic empowerment, environmental restoration, and spiritual renewal. Next fiscal year, we will train and equip 12 new Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), where farmers save money and take out loans that allow them to invest in small business, their children’s education, and their farms. We will host sustainable agriculture workshops with a combined total attendance of 3,780, teaching participants techniques such as composting, watershed restoration, and agroforestry, which they can test through Farmer Field Schools. These techniques allow farmers to replenish their land and grow more crops. We will also mobilize partnering farmers to plant 160,000 trees on their farms and common areas as well as promote Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) initiatives. Finally, through partnering with local churches, community members will grow spiritually and address pressing community needs.

Our pilot program in South Kivu, launched in 2015, is the first time we have used and tested our full model from the very beginning of a program. Impact results from 2017 show that all families in the Kakumba watershed where we work:

-Are growing a diversity of crops, including 82% more varieties than in 2015.
-Have 2.5 months of emergency cash savings set aside. Families in the comparison watershed have enough savings set aside to cover only two days’ expenses.
-Send eligible secondary school girls to school 2.6 times more frequently than in 2015.

Also in Kakumba:
-95% of families were able to sell some of their crops, compared with only 66% in the comparison group.
-15% of women hold leadership positions compared with only 4% in the comparison group.

We are now ready to replicate and scale our model to new watersheds and the country of Ethiopia this year.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Rural farming families facing extreme poverty and environmental degradation in South Kivu (like Monika and Kamuno) benefit from our idea.

Monika and Kamuno have eight kids. They live in a simple mud brick house with a thatched roof, and rely on their land for their livelihood. Due to poverty and land degradation, they struggle to eat. Monika says that her kids have gone full days only eating cassava leaves.

Thanks to Plant With Purpose, Monika and Kamuno are planting trees and learning about soil conservation techniques. They also participate in a VSLA group called Umoja Wetu (Our Unity), where they have access to entrepreneurship and basic business skills workshops.

Kamuno shares, “Before…we often just felt hopeless. After joining, we thought maybe if we just really work hard and work together, we can live a better life.” He adds, “Today my kids are eating well. With the new techniques, we get more than we did before. I am easily paying the school fees for my children."

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Plant With Purpose is unique in that we understand the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and rural poverty, and we address these problems together. We’ve also seen that it works best when the local church and local leaders take an integral role in development. We have been fine-tuning our solution to rural poverty and environmental degradation over the past 30+ years, and now, for the first time ever, we have been able to implement this newly-refined, holistic model starting on Day 1 of a new country program. In doing so, we are successfully bridging “planet and prosperity” in South Kivu, DRC.
Plant With Purpose is also unique in that we rely on local leadership and have many strategic partners in South Kivu, including our partner organization Eben-Ezer Ministries. Pilot Project Manager Birori Dieudonne Gaparani and his local team of 13, including Pastor Sibomana, are all native to the DRC. Local leadership garners trust and promotes long-term sustainability and success.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Plant With Purpose ( reverses poverty and deforestation by partnering with farming families and empowering them through sustainable agriculture training, tree planting initiatives, Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), and church and school partnerships.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Prior to working in South Kivu, DRC, we had been working in neighboring areas and saw a pressing need for expansion to this region. We held relationships with local leaders in South Kivu who were eager for us to come and work. We also saw that the critical Itombwe rainforest was at risk, and that we needed to act quickly. Finally, we were excited that this would be the first region in which we could implement all parts of our holistic model from the very beginning of the program.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

“Prosperity” in South Kivu is impacted by a lack of economic opportunity. 86% of the families in our partnering communities in the DRC have no source of income beyond agriculture and fishing. Furthermore, roads in the area where we work are scarce. Families walk long distances on difficult terrain to reach markets or other resources. They have little access to fertilizers or imported goods. Our baseline study shows that the average family in this area eats 1.3 meals per day. Finally, a decades-long civil conflict has impeded food security, market access, and poverty reduction.
“Planet” is influenced by local land degradation including erosion, deforestation, and loss of water resources. Many family farms have steep hillsides with very little topsoil. Deforestation in the DRC is a serious problem and only 3% of the land is arable (Source: World Bank). With each rainfall, there is further erosion that leads to a decline in farm productivity.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our DRC project is a joint project of Plant With Purpose and Eben-Ezer Ministries International. Pilot Project Manager Birori Dieudonne Gaparani, who directs our project and is our immediate contact, legally works for Eben-Ezer. Our program thrives largely because of our locally-led staff and the beneficial partnerships that we have established in South Kivu.
In addition to Eben-Ezer Ministries, we maintain strategic partnerships with churches, schools, and government authorities in the area, which allow our programs to be more effective and sustainable. In the DRC, Plant With Purpose currently partners with 20 local churches. These churches provide a platform through which we can better serve the community and show farmers that they have a purpose in tending to their land.
In Tanzania, we partner with CARE to implement a Go Green project focused on making clean energy technologies available to women. We are open to engaging in similar strategic partnerships in South Kivu.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

-Farmers in South Kivu are eager. Farmers in this region have a tremendous amount of capacity, but historically few economic opportunities.

-The faith community is willing to take action and speak up about vocation and the care of the planet.

-South Kivu has been overlooked by other NGOs. Many tend to work in North Kivu and Katanga to the south because of their mineral wealth. There is therefore both space and need for Plant With Purpose in South Kivu.

Geographic Focus

This idea targets South Kivu, DRC. We work in rural communities facing land degradation and poverty.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

12 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

Last year we submitted an idea to BridgeBuilder Challenge, but it was slightly different than this year’s idea. Last year we focused on “peace, prosperity, and planet” in both Burundi and the DRC. This year, we have narrowed our idea to just “prosperity and planet” in South Kivu, DRC.

We have done so because the DRC is where we have been able to implement our newly-refined program model from the very beginning of the pilot program. It is also where we are seeing rapid yet sustainable economic growth and environmental restoration, leading to improved livelihoods, restored ecosystems, and climate resilience.

At this time last year we were partnering with 775 families in South Kivu, DRC, whereas now we are partnering with 1,318. Last year we had trained and equipped 21 VSLAs with a total combined member equity of $6,824 USD and a 4% return on savings. Now, we have trained and equipped 50 VSLAs with a combined member equity of more than $20,190 and a 9% return on savings. The number of VSLAs has more than doubled and member equity has nearly tripled in just one year. Additionally, last year farmers had planted a total of 165,000 trees since the beginning of the DRC program, whereas now they have planted more than 459,300.

Focusing our entire holistic model on just one region has allowed us to test very clearly the impact of our model and ensure that our idea is both scalable and replicable. We are now poised to scale this model to new countries and regions (such as Ethiopia and an adjacent watershed in the DRC) starting July 1, 2018.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ezra Jay

Hi Ellen,
Good project and lots of trees. I love Plant with Purpose as well.
How do you track the short and long-term success of your tree plantings?

Photo of Ellen Davis

Hi Ezra,

Thanks for reaching out. We track the number of trees that farmers plant across all country programs on a quarterly basis. Long-term, we use Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to measure increases in vegetation density. We also conduct triennial impact evaluations, which show us how engaged program participants are in tree planting efforts compared to nonparticipants.

I was interested to read about GreenStand's good idea too!


Photo of Ezra Jay

Hi Ellen,
This is super exciting. I would love to connect with you as I am interested to see what ways we can help support your project.

We are setting up GreenStand to create a scalable system that answers the question, "who planted what where and how long is it surviving." We intend to use this data to create an ongoing support system for the people responsible for keeping these trees alive. Our focus is on areas of poverty that have already been deforested.

At the moment, we can offer you a way to accurately track and map each of your trees which could help you measure the engagement levels as well. We have also been partnering with organizations that fundraise for trees and are currently linking "verified planting" to funding.

Our system is in early stages of development and we need some help perfecting virious aspects of ideas, such as our user signup process. Tying this data directly into the NDVI index is on the horizon but we are not there yet.

If you're interested, I can be reached via email: or phone: 1-907-342-2624

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