Saturday, November 30, 2013

Diantha Hodges Mission Letter November/December 2013 South Sudan
Dear Friends and Supporters,
There are many challenges to living and working here. I know that this work cannot be done by myself alone. Thank you for the support all have been giving me: the financial support, the prayer support and the personal support, and prayer for Steve's transition to his agricultural risk management work. As Partners in Mission, I want to alert you to a special opportunity through the United Methodist Church. Tuesday, December 3 is a special day of giving, called # Giving Tuesday (after good response last year to Thanksgiving time donations). All on-line gifts given to UMC Advance Special offerings on this day will be matched dollar for dollar. If you are able to help out, there are instructions below. Finances for my programs come from the Advance Special S Sudan HEAL, and My personal support also comes through Advance Special for Volunteers in Mission. Thank you!!
Living here provides many examples of the stark reality of challenges and devastation within human lives: I have not met a person who does not have a story of struggle or tragedy, in the present or recent past. And many of them are not directly war related, but perhaps partly a result of disrupted families and communities. Besides the tragedies of families being broken up by death, multiple marriages that don't work out which leave children and women without support, there is poverty, the challenges of lack of access to education, terrible roads and communication systems, poor health care . Where are these people not vulnerable?
The story of Jesus' birth is also a story of vulnerability: this baby was born to a young woman who became pregnant before marriage and a poor unnoticed carpenter; in a stable, at a time of political unrest. The first announcements were to traveling foreigners and to the shepherds, people who were most looked down on. During his life, Jesus reached out to and healed every kind of outcast or sick, suffering person. Consider the conditions of his death: abandonment, not being understood by those he discipled, little evidence of people understanding him at the time, and the most torturous death. Because of the great vulnerability in the story of Jesus birth, life and death, we know that we cannot have a story of greater vulnerability. God is really with us. There could be no greater story of God's love for us, of Jesus love for us.
It is through the birth of a baby, that we experience the miracle of God creating life: that our love is stirred to care for vulnerable ones. Here in South Sudan, during birth, mothers and babies are the most vulnerable to dying. South Sudan has the some of the worst health statistics in the world, especially for the number of deaths of mothers and babies during birth, and children under 5. Most of the causes of these deaths are prevented in other countries, but there are so many challenges here to even get the basics.
For 2 ½ years I have been training the local midwives (Traditional Birth Attendants or TBAs) who receive little to no compensation for attending births in the mud huts, sometimes called late to a birth after the family cannot cope with a complication. They tell stories of intervening at births when husband and mother-in-law refuse to get transport for emergency (their ancestors did not have these things). They enter the house with prayer. They receive the baby with praise to God for its life. They sing the songs of praise they have learned that so they can discern the pace of a healthy baby's heart and breathing. Is this not teaching and showing love? They bring UMCOR provided birth kits: with baby blanket to dry and keep the baby warm, plastic sheet, soap and gloves to protect from infection, cord tie and clean razor blade to protect the baby from dying of tetanus from a dirty cord. They bring the bulb syringe I have taught them to use which saves lives by suctioning mucous from the baby's mouth if it is born without breathing. They know how to screen for possible complications, to feel for the position of the unborn baby and listen to its heartbeat and to take the mother to the clinic or hospital for greater care. Because they now bring something visible to the birth (birth kits and equipment), people regard them with more respect. My nurse friend cared for a baby in Yei dying of tetanus in the hospital: the young mother lives near a clinic, but gave birth at home alone, and did not know that cutting the cord with a clean blade and not putting dung or other things on the cord could have saved its life. But now more women are listening to the TBAs and getting prenatal care, and asking them to attend the births and more lives are being saved.
Through their actions the TBAs are calling the community to value their skills and leadership as women, and listen to their advice as birth attendants. They are demonstrating hope and valuing lives of mothers and babies. They are facilitating a relationship with the father, teaching the attitudes and actions needed to take the steps for improved health in the family. They are using the church and its community as a center for showing love, service to reach out to others who are isolated and at most risk. They are conducting the teachings in the church community (using the Birth Book I wrote, which they can also soon listen to on a digital player when there is no one to read). The men are being encouraged to support their wives with nutritious food, with access to prenatal care (providing appropriate clothing for them to wear), to provide resources to prepare for the birth, and support emergency transportation to the hospital if necessary. The mother-in-law, in whose home the couple are probably living is also learning about the importance of call a TBA and clean cord care. Church is the best place for people to look at their cultural beliefs together, open communication and find a new way towards improved health. The goal for next year is to strengthen TBA learning and support groups and connecting them to their nearest health units, so that they may continue improving their skills without relying on the missionary's teaching and guidance.
To give you an idea of the impact, I am training 100 TBAs who conduct an average of 60 births per year, making a combined total 6,000 births per year. This training will last the TBAs life time, (plus she will also train others.) If each one practices another 10 years, the program could impact a potential 60,000 births. We are close to the end of our money to conduct our programs, so more is needed to carry this program on in 2014 (Through S Sudan HEAL).
SANITATION AND HYGIENE: When people wash their hands, use a latrine (outhouse) and have clean water they can prevent many of the childhood deaths from severe diarrhea. This year, the communities have initiated digging pits to build latrines at most of the 18 church/nursery school sites (the majority of people do not have latrines). HEAL has a program to increase the strength (and longevity) of the mud/grass buildings by adding a metal roof, doors and cement floor. But the current donations are not enough to help each church. We will need help for 4 more at $600 each.
New IMAGINE NO MALARIA Grant: Fighting malaria requires simultaneous actions throughout a community. We are hopeful that we can lower the spread of malaria in an area by making sure the government clinics have enough malaria medicine, by making sure everyone knows that mosquito bites cause malaria, how to prevent the disease and how to use the bed nets that UMCOR will be distributing. We are so thankful for the contributions and efforts of so many that have made this possible. Dr. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman, part of the UMC Health Team, are heading up this effort.
STEVE'S WORK: He has been building his network of contacts for his consulting work in Agriculture Risk Management. There are several promising possibilities for next year in Uganda, including part-time teaching in 2 universities and working with an organization impacting several thousand farmers. He has done some work in South Sudan, but the economy and agriculture isn't at the level to be able to use his services yet so travels between the 2 countries, as I am based in S Sudan.
GRACE HOME FOR CHILDREN: has been opened,(headed by Libby Dearing, with excellent management by Justus, housing 21 children, in 4 housing units. Some trees are being planted, a bit of gardening and the kids are being tutored until the new school semester and they can attend a nearby primary school.
HOW TO HELP: Please continue to pray, and consider supporting this work. To give on-line for Dec 3 #Giving Day go to Use the search bar at the top to enter #3021298 for S Sudan HEAL (health projects) or #982465 (Volunteers in Mission for my personal support but you HAVE to use the drop down box and click my name). Use the Give Now box. Of course you can give any time, or give by telephone or mail.
THANKS SO MUCH. Please keep in touch with me by email ( or facebook. It means a lot to me to receive words of encouragement. I will be putting up some photo highlights from this year on my facebook page. I recently put up a new photo album of TBA training October 2013 and some videos of using demonstrations to train the TBAs. Love, Diantha Hodges

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Paper: Agricultural Risk Management Services: A Key to Increasing Financial Inclusion of Farmers

Some of you may be interested in this paper about Agricultural Risk Management (the focus of my new social business) which I presented recently at a workshop sponsored by the Makerere University Business School Microfinance Centre:

Agricultural Risk Management Services: A Key to Increasing Financial Inclusion of Farmers

By Steve Hodges, African Agriculture Risk Management Services

25 February 2013

Agriculture is an economic activity involving many complex risks; thus most institutions providing financial services consider agriculture-related enterprises among the most risky and difficult target populations for loans and other financial services. Agriculture represents the largest segment of the Ugandan economy, yet farmers and operators of agriculture-related enterprises represent the largest segment of the population unreached by business loans and financial services. Government and NGO programs providing supplementary agricultural loan funds or partial guarantees of agricultural loans have been only modestly successful at best in overcoming the difficulties and risks of agricultural lending in Uganda. This paper proposes that a more comprehensive and strategic approach to assessing the risks of agricultural enterprises, followed by the development and implementation of an agricultural risk management plan to address the highest priority risks identified by such an assessment, provide an important market-based and sustainable response to this problem by increasing the chances of success of the agricultural enterprise, thereby increasing the likely loan repayment rate of agricultural enterprises and correspondingly the willingness of financial service providers to lend to this population which is as yet largely unserved by the banking system.


Agricultural enterprises, and farming in particular – by farming I mean the primary production of crops and animals as distinguished from processing and other activities of the agricultural value chain – tend to have two major drawbacks that discourage provision of financial services and in particular, lending. One is that the payback period for loans is usually longer than lenders prefer since the borrower must wait until harvest to have the money to pay back the loan. And the second drawback is that farming is an enterprise with many risks, more risks than most enterprises lenders are accustomed to serving.

Types of Agricultural Risks

The risk issues of farming are commonly classified under several categoriesi:

Production Risks. These can include, in no particular order:
- seed selection for pest and disease resistance, for drought/water resistance, for yield, for comparative advantage (unique crop to area, etc.)
- raising crops/livestock appropriate to the local soil/environment
- water availability and management, including erosion prevention
- basic farming best practices: timing, cultivation, disease & pest prevention, maintaining soil fertility
- diversification of farming operation including specialty crops, livestock
- storage: facility of good construction, well managed (drying, monitoring) to reduce loss during storage
- access to sufficient land of sufficient quality
- access to and cost of machinery and other technology: fuel, repair, parts, sharing, rental/ownership

In other words, farming is riskier unless good production choices are made about seeds, about better farming practices, about water usage, about diversification or specialization, about storage, machinery and technology, and so on.

Price and Marketing Risks. These can include:
- the farmer's lack of understanding of and lack of ability to analyze markets and pricing
- inability to do a breakeven analysis of each crop
- lack of access to group marketing
- lack of arrangement with a purchasing partner (e.g. a pre-production sales contract)

In other words, farming is riskier if there is not good understanding of markets and pricing, if good marketing practices are not implemented, and access to marketing arrangements are not available or not utilized

Financial and Credit Risks. These can include:
- not having adequate business/financial management planning of farm enterprise, including these planning elements:
- overall financial analysis, including production costs
- market analysis and pre-planning
- strategic planning, including planning for crises
- adequate record-keeping
- asset accumulation, assessment and management, including land costs: rental, maintenance
- analysis of credit and indebtedness including credit risk reduction planning
- appropriate business organization
- not having access to adequate and appropriate financing for farm enterprises
- not having other income-producing enterprises besides farming enterprise
- not having access to and use of savings groups, banks or other saving schemes, or not utilizing these savings opportunities

In other words, farming is riskier without adequate business planning, financial management, credit and asset management.

Human Risks. These can include:
- adequate personnel management
- adequate personnel skill/training opportunity
- damage/theft of equipment
- health of key operators of farm
- family issues: conflict, understanding of farming operation, ownership
- safety on farm

In other words, farming is riskier if there is not good personnel management, training of workers, safety practices on farm, health of key operators, and so on.

Legal Risks These can include:
- understanding of contracts and leases, or and access to legal review of contracts and leases
- contract default by other party
- business structure defined well or poorly
- bankruptcy
- liability for on-farm accidents, for safety of food sold, for contract default if cannot deliver as agreed
- tax issues

In other words, farming is riskier if there is not good understanding of or assistance with contracts and other legal matters

Policy Risks These might include:
- policy and programs of government agricultural extension on-farm and marketing advice and help
- price policies and subsidy programs
- trade policies
- government programs/subsidies for crop insurance including catastrophic insurance

In other words, farming is riskier if government policies don't help, or if government polices actually obstruct, farm success

To these categories already mentioned, I would add two categories that are worth special focus:

Catastrophic Risks This is mainly a recognition that weather risks place a very large part of agricultural risks, especially with the increasing unpredictability of weather. These risks include:
- too little or too much rain or poorly timed rain, flood, wind
- access to adequate and sufficient weather prediction information
- access to on-farm extension assistance
- access to crop insurance, including weather indexed insurance

In other words, farming is riskier if there is not some on-farm preparation or insurance or other risk-sharing for catastrophes of weather, pests, disease, and so on

Value-Chain Risks Even if everything goes well on the farm, that is, on the primary production level, if there are problems anywhere else in the whole chain of relationships necessary to put food on the table for consumers, it can affect the farmer. These risks include:
- input cost/availability
- markets beyond the one the farmer sells to (downstream)
- transport constraints and costs, and other logistic risks including storage

In other words, farming is riskier if any actors on the value chain from input providers to markets beyond the immediate buyer are weak in any way

Basic Criteria for Evaluating and Managing Risks

Within the internationally recognized field of agricultural risk assessment and management, all of these risks of these many categories can be evaluated according to three basic criteriaii:
1. Impact: In other words, how severe will the risk event be if it actually happens? Some risks can destroy the whole year's farm income and even destroy assets; other risks are milder in impact.
2. Likelihood How likely is this risk to come about? Some risks are rare and unpredictable, others are more likely to happen.
3. Manageability Independent of how severe or how likely a risk is, some risks are out of the control of the farmer, others can be handled to a large or small degree. It makes sense to prioritize scarce resources on risks which can actually be managed

In the actual process of prioritization, these criteria are combined to evaluate various risks in order to focus a risk management plan strategically. For example, in rural Uganda and South Sudan, fires set by neighbors to burn brush can threaten to destroy some or all crops planted. In some places, the likelihood of this happening is very high, and the severity of impact on loss of crops can also be high. But this risk is easily reduced by clearing a sufficiently large area around the field. So this risk ranks high in likelihood, severity, and manageability and thus would be a key part of a risk management plan. Likewise, if the farmer does not understand how markets work and how prices change, the risk of getting a disastrously low price for his or her crops or livestock, may also be likely and severe. However, this risk too is manageable if the farmer receives training in understanding markets and prices and in careful planning to reach markets at the right time that give the best price. Other risks, like unpredictable rainfall, may also be a risk of severe impact but of limited manageability; yet taking some action to mitigate this risk with conservation farming methods that retain water in the soil, or in irrigation schemes, or in production methods that can drain the excess water from too much rainfall may be worth including in a risk management plan depending on the cost of implementing them.

In the field of agricultural risk management, there are three basic approaches to managing riskiii:
1. Mitigation Most agricultural risk management will happened my mitigating risks, that is, reducing the likelihood or impact of risk before it happens through practices by the individual farmer
2. Transfer This reduces the impact of the risk if it happens by sharing risks with others. Until farmers have access to crop insurance of some kind, most transfer of risk will be by sharing it with other farmers such as in group transport and marketing schemes.
3. Coping Farmers can cope with risks when they materialized, if they have the capacity to survive financially the impact of the risk because of savings, other sources of income such as other businesses, and so on. This can also mean they have the capacity to pay back agricultural loans using non-agricultural income.

Assessing Agricultural Risks

In order to develop an effective plan for agricultural risk management, including risk management education, the best possible assessment of risks should be done. Since few tools – much less quantitative tools – are available to assess these risks, until such tools are developed I suggest using something like the following process in the context of agriculture in Uganda and South Sudan to do agricultural risk assessment which is as comprehensive as possible.

1. Define clearly the target farmer population, or other agricultural related enterprise (ARE) population, which is the focus of the risk assessment process.

2. Decide for the sake of the risk assessment process what “failure” of agricultural activity means. For example, from the lender's perspective “failure” may be inability to repay a loan; from the farmer/ARE perspective “failure” may be a sufficiently poor result to their agricultural effort so that it discourages them from continuing agricultural activity. For the purpose of this risk assessment process it may end up being some combination of these and others factors, determined in part by the goals of the assessment as set by the party(s) sponsoring it. It may also be partly determined and quantified by the responses of actors surveyed during the comprehensive agricultural risk assessment – for example, from the farmer/ARE perspective, how bad must a poor agricultural result be before the farmer/ARE operator is discouraged from further agricultural activity?

3. Conduct a comprehensive agricultural risk assessment surveyiv (CARAS) which includes key informants like the ones listed below, to assess risk at both the farmer/ARE level and the value-chain level. In order to assess risk at the farmer/ARE level, it is important to have information from those providing financial services – whether banks, SACCOs, microfinance institutions – on the financial situation of the farmer/ARE including indebtedness, credit performance, and financial management capacity of the farmer/ARE. It is also important to have information from agricultural extension (NAADS), cooperatives or associations of farmers/AREs, and others on the agricultural production ability, capacity and situation of the farmer/ARE. In addition its important to have information from the target farmers themselves and their fellow farmers and neighbors; but good information from these latter sources will depend on building trust with farmers and their communities, so that the information gathered is as accurate and as complete as possible. It will never be possible to include all the informants listed below, but the best risk assessment resulting in the best risk management plan will include as many of these key informants as possible:
a. farmers/operators of agriculture related enterprises
b. officers/staff of groups of farmers/agriculture related enterprises
c. neighbors of farmers/operators of agriculture related enterprises
d. NAADS/extension staff
e. bankers/SACCO staff/MFI staff
f. traders, purchasing partners/companies, other buyers
h. staff of CBOs, CSOs, national NGOs, international NGOs involved with the farmer/ARE

4. After the best possible comprehensive agricultural risk assessment survey is conducted, the information collected needs to be analyzed for accuracy, for truthfulness, for the perspective/bias of the informants, for gaps in information, and for gaps in understanding which key informants may have. In addition, there must be recognition of risks which have not been identified in the survey, for example weather/climate change risks. Also, in addition to market/prices risks, other value-chain risks that may not be mentioned in the survey should be identified and assessed by means of research, by observing market and price and other industry trends, by knowledge of potential or actual official policy developments, and by knowledge of potential or actual infrastructure developments.

6. Once all relevant risks have been assessed, for the purpose of developing a concrete risk management plan these risks should be prioritized according to three main considerations: the severity of the risks, the likelihood of risks, and the manageability of the risks. It may be possible to develop a quantitative rating of the priority of each relevant risk based on these considerations.

7. Once the relevant risks are prioritized, it is possible to identify the best responses to each of the prioritized risks, up to the limits of resources available for these responses. Clearly where risks can be mitigated by action taken prior to the risk becoming reality, there should be a plan to do that. Some risks can be transferred by sharing them with other farmers/AREs (e.g. marketing together with others), or by sharing them with insurance companies once crop insurance becomes available. And in some cases, the capacity of the farmer/ARE to cope with risks can be increased (e.g. by developing other income-generating activities or savings accounts) so that if the risks become reality they have more resources with which to cope. Some elements of this customized Risk Management Plan will inevitably include Risk Management Education (RME). RME could include, for example, education on improved production practices, eduction on markets and prices, and education on improved financial management practices. The Risk Management Plan could also include risk management responses other than education, such as increasing access to adequate storage. It is best if the Plan can be adjusted during the implementation period as the situation changes or becomes better understood.

Risk Management Education

Risk Management Education (RME) of farmers and other actors in agriculture-related enterprises plays the largest part of any risk management plan or strategy to mitigate, transfer, or increase the capacity to cope with the risks of, agricultural enterprises. To give a few of many possible examples:
- Production risks related to drought and soil infertility can be mitigated through training farmers in conservation farming methods that retain more water in the soil and increase soil fertility gradually; or through training in use of mobile phone technology to access agricultural extension information and weather information
- Production, price and marketing risks can be transferred by educating them on the possibility of sharing risks with other farmers through shared transport or marketing schemes, or with insurance companies by participating in crop insurance
- The ability of farmers to cope with risks which actually take place can be increased by educating them on developing other non-farm enterprises or participation in savings schemes that they can rely on, in case of crop failure or other farming disasters

In summary, utilizing the agricultural risk management services of comprehensive assessment of risks, including analyzing and prioritizing risks; development of an agricultural risk management plan to address these priority risks; and risk management education as a primary strategy for implementing a risk management plan, provide a significant opportunity to increase the success of the farming operation. And if farming success is increased, so is the likelihood of farmers repaying loans and the corresponding likelihood of financial service providers being willing to provide more financial services to more farmers. This then could contribute not only to increasing financial inclusion among a segment of the population currently under-served by financial services, but also provide a market-driven solution to enabling more farmers to use increased financing and technical assistance to scale up their agricultural enterprises into commercial farming, thus accelerating the growth of a key sector of the economy of Uganda.

i.“Risk Management In Agriculture, A Holistic Approach”, from Jesús Antón , Managing Risk in Agriculture: A Holistic Approach , OECD, 2009, pp. 16ff
ii.Carlos Enrique Arce, “Towards an Agricultural Risk Management Framework”, World Bank Agriculture and Rural Development Department, 2010, pp. 11-13
iii.Ibid, p. 9
iv.“Risk Management Checklist”, United States Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency ( and “Building a Risk Management Plan”, United States Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency, 1998

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Dear Friends and Supporters: It's been a long time since we took the time to write to you about our mission work in South Sudan; much has been happening, as we describe below! And there's about to be an important change in Steve's status (though not Diantha's) so please read this newsletter to the end to find out.

Diantha's work has continued to focus on saving lives of both mothers and babies at birth, as South Sudan has the greatest numbers of deaths in the world. Many if not most women prefer to give birth at home alone. If they seek help outside the family, they call the local untrained Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA). A few go to government clinics scattered throughout the region. People have little understanding of the causes of complications or what to do; if they seek help it is sometimes too late, or distances/road conditions/costs too much. Our efforts are trying to change this situation!! We now have a team including Joice and Monica, two South Sudanese, and Dr. Lynn and Dr. Sharon Fogleman (who joined the United Methodist team last March).
We are focusing the ongoing training for the TBAs on life saving skills. In August volunteer Elizabeth Heft and her sister raised funds for training materials and the first equipment for the TBAs: fetascopes to listen to the baby's heart beat, (which is the same rate as their favorite praise song!!) and bulb syringes to suction the mucous out of the baby's mouth. They practiced their birth skills and how to stimulate the baby's breathing. The very next week we received the first of several reports: the baby was born and only began breathing after the TBA used the bulb syringe!! The TBAs are turning in birth reports to us, and receiving UMCOR's clean birth kits (helping to prevent deadly newborn tetanus). The TBAs gaining trust in their communities and turned to more often, as they have more training and new skills. We have received a praises from family members, and thanks from TBAs. One woman delivered the baby of a health department official, using her equipment and supplies. Now he is much more understanding of our work and supportive of training TBAs!!

All of the UMC churches are now using Diantha's newly printed training manual, “Learning Together About Safe and Healthy Birth” to hold their own classes several times a month in their communities. The manual is written in their local language and addresses key issues in an effort to save more lives. Some harmful cultural practices are addressed (such as putting dung on the baby's cord, which can cause the baby to die from tetanus). Child spacing is discussed so women don't suffer from the problems of having too many babies close together. Fathers also need to understand their role to help provide food, and allow her to avoid heavy labor and not prevent her from seeking health care. The classes which are held in the churches are the best way to bring the issues to everyone's attention to learn and discuss. This is the way cultural practices can be changed! Those mothers who have been to the clinic for prenatal care are given infant clothes (UMCOR layette kits).The response has been wonderful. We immediately began receiving reports of weekly classes with 20 pregnant women attending plus additional community members.

Next steps: Our next training will focus on saving the mothers, by controlling bleeding after the birth. We will be working to strengthen the connection to the rural government health clinics and to build an organization led by the TBAs that can be ongoing beyond the help of the missionaries. We have about 65 TBAs who have been coming regularly to our trainings, and new ones wanting to join at each training!! The Episcopal Church of S Sudan has raised some donations so we can also train some TBAs among their churches!

Drs. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman are taking major responsibility in heading up a 6 month HIV/AIDS awareness project in our churches (with South Sudanese managers and trainers, from Holston Conference HIV/AIDS grant), educating about malaria and distributing mosquito nets, starting a Community Health Evangelism project in one church (3-5 year program), and helping the Yei hospital with a new center for people with severe malnutrition. We have a new South Sudan District Health Board organized through UMCOR as an avenue with local ownership to be able to use Imagine No Malaria funds not only to fight malaria, but also other killer diseases.
The health projects in the UMC churches need ongoing financial support through the Sudan HEAL Advance Special.

Steve and Libby Dearing, with the help of Alex Lupayi and 2 pastors, monitored the 256 farmers in 18 villages we had trained in Farming God's Way (conservation farming.) We were pleased that about 110 of them (43%) practiced the methods throughout the long rainy season, a larger percentage than most trainings done here. After evaluating the short rainy season too, we have targeted several village UMC churches where the people have successfully applied the principles we have already taught them, in order to move away from continued dependence on us. In these village churches we want to do refresher trainings; one is ready for a new pilot project in nutrition garden; and one or two might be ready by August to pilot a project in using a simple chisel plow (just makes a furrow) to try mechanizing larger plots but still keeping to the principles of conservation farming (not turning over soil, keeping the soil covered with mulch, etc.) Steve and Libby hope that 2 or 3 village plots might be good enough examples that there can be Field Days in July to bring farmers from other villages to see the successful results of faithfully following the methods. We have been splitting the cost of these efforts using funds from the South Sudan REAP Advance (Renewing Environment and Agriculture for People) and Seeds for Sprouts.

When Steve and (his South Sudanese assistant) Joice Jaka began offering the same training in small business record-keeping and management to women in the UM churches that we offered to 34 pastors and assistant pastors, we discovered over 3/4 of the women could not read, write or use numbers, (as they had been denied education because of the war, poverty and culture which prefers to educate men) . So far we have trained 130 women from 15 churches in numeracy and small business and helped the women form group businesses with a business plan and small loan (for projects such as growing and selling vegetables, or reselling dried beans). Several of these group businesses are already paying back their loan, and as they successfully accomplish their business plan as a group and pay off their loan they will be eligible for a larger loan and bigger business project. We hope they continue to grow in their capacity for business and for functioning as a group, to take on larger and larger projects. Under Joice's supervision, Monica Ajonye is currently training 30 more women from 4 churches on the Congo Road, and plan to reach the final 3 churches in Lainya County by July. Six pastors have come back for second loans after successfully paying off their first loan.

Steve and Joice have also started training the first UMC Village Savings and Loan Association at Ligitolo UMC (though it includes many of their village neighbors.) We are using a great model developed by World Vision that raises the loan capital from the people themselves, who also elect their own officers and make all the decisions about the savings and loan association. We are able to do this thanks to funding from the Sudan COME (Congregations Organized for Microfinance Empowerment) Advance. Now all three elements of reducing poverty have been started in our UM mission work: increasing income, improving the management of income, and saving income/creating wealth. Having conservation farming underway as the primary method for people to increase income (it multiplies maize yields by 3-4 times), and training in record-keeping as a method for people to manage this income better, now the village savings project will provide the ability to save some of this income for school and medical costs and larger business projects.

You may have noticed that in all the work Steve does, he has colleagues doing a great deal of the work. From the beginning he has had the goal of gradually turning his work over to others in a way that the work can be sustained without him. With God's help, the work has progressed to the point that this is the year it can be turned over, though with Steve close enough to be consulted when needed . The work will be carried on by others, and still receive funding from the COME and REAP Advance Specials. Meanwhile, he feels the next step in responding to God's call to mission is to establish a way of helping farmers increase success, and to do this as a project not dependent in the long run on donor or grant funds but with long-term financial sustainability. In other words, establishing a business with a social cause: reducing the risks of farming so that farmers can grow their income. Steve is starting a business in agricultural risk assessment and management; having to survive in the marketplace means it will have to be efficient and effective. There is already some demand for this business in South Sudan and Uganda. It also means Steve needs to end his official status as an Independent Volunteer in Mission (IVIM) with the UMC so there is no conflict of interest in running a business, though he plans to continue to being available on a volunteer basis to UMCOR and to respond as requested to those involved in the transition of his work with the South Sudan District UMC. To learn more, see or email Steve.

We have discovered that this change will be happening February 28. IVIM will close our joint account for donations, and begin a new account for Diantha alone. Though Steve's part of our living expenses will no longer be covered through the IVIM system, we are hoping that many churches and individuals will continue supporting Diantha through IVIM so that her living expenses can be covered as she continues to carry out her mission work as she has been. Beginning March 1 donations to IVIM must carry Diantha's name alone, of course in addition to the IVIM Advance number #982465, otherwise IVIM will have to contact the donors and request them to redesignate their donation. If donors do not want to support Diantha alone, we would encourage you to consider donating money to the Advance Special projects: Sudan REAP #3021296 for agriculture, Sudan COME #3021289 for microfinance and savings programs, Sudan HEAL #3021298 for health programs.

Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and support. Your prayers are part of what is helping us to keep moving forward and are especially needed for this period of transition. We also appreciate getting messages by email or Facebook from our supporters!! Contact Steve at and Diantha at or either one on Facebook.

In Christ, Steve and Diantha Hodges