Emiliana Aligaesha, Venture Capitalist

Photo: Brett Eloff/Oxfam America

Tanzanian farmer Emiliana Aligaesha is leveraging a tiny investment of US foreign aid to ensure the success of an early-stage, high-potential start-up.

I grew up in rural Nebraska and my father, a farmer, would always look out the window at the fields of grain as we drove down the roads. (Don't worry – there weren't so many cars that this was dangerous.) I would ask him what he was looking at and the response was always, "I'm seeing how straight the rows are."

I didn't understand then what he meant. Now as an adult, I can appreciate what he was looking for. He was looking for stewardship and the relationship between the farmer and the land they tended. Any farmer worth his or her salt would have straight rows, showing their skills and the pride they had in their craft and their livelihoods.

Emiliana Aligaesha also feels that same pride. I knew it when she said,

"My mother told me, 'If one goes to the farm and finds weeds choking the banana trees, then harvests a banana and proceeds with cooking, one should consider herself a thief.' I have always remembered this principle."

Any farmer worth their salt in Tanzania would ensure that their banana trees were well-tended, free from weeds. This was the sign of a good farmer to Emiliana's mother, the same way straight rows were to my father in Nebraska. You do not take from the land, unless you have upheld your responsibility to it.

Emiliana Aligaesha and her fellow community members know this principle well. They are part of a local group of farmers that formed a successful private company selling coffee and beans in the northwest Karagwe district of Tanzania in 2007, known as Kaderes Peasant Development Ltd. The World Food Programme has been a customer and USAID has been helping them to guarantee better prices.

As well as growing coffee, bananas, beans and maize, Aligaesha owns six cows, operates her own irrigation systems, and also supplies quality seedlings to other villagers. But her efforts were recognized before she was named a Female Food Hero runner-up this year. Even though she has had little formal agricultural training, local leaders declare Aligaesha's farm to be an exemplary one – well-kept and with rich produce. In addition to her encouragement of women to be more involved in agriculture, Aligaesha has become a kind of researcher in the village, testing out new agricultural techniques for others to follow.

Aligaesha is a former teacher. Most important to her is that her eight children have all been put through college as a result of her hard work.

In recent years, the US government launched policy reforms that make US foreign aid more accountable to you and local leaders like Emiliana Aligaesha.

Aid works best when it supports local actors to take action and change the circumstances which place or keep them or their fellow citizens in poverty—supporting them to build a dream, build a business, support their family, or help their community.

That's why Oxfam America is working to deepen the US government's commitment to making aid more effective. They can do so by putting more US aid dollars directly in the hands of people like Emiliana Aligaesha.

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Note: Oxfam America doesn't take federal funds, but we do support effective development programs. In 2012, the Aid Effectiveness Team conducted research to highlight effective uses of the 1% of foreign aid the U.S. government spends on poverty reduction and other life-saving assistance. The people featured in this series are not necessarily receiving direct assistance from Oxfam.

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