TOV (Tikkun Olam Ventures), JDC’s new development assistance project, leverages Jewish philanthropy and mobilizes Israel’s innovative agricultural technology (AgTech) and expertise to transform the lives of smallholder farmers in developing societies.
JDC’s decades of experience working in Ethiopia and Israel make us perfectly positioned to match Israeli AgTech and know-how with the needs of Ethiopia’s millions of smallholder farmers, who struggle to increase their crop yields and improve their well-being, part of the 1.5 billion people worldwide who still practice traditional farming methods. Without adopting AgTech, one of Israel’s strengths, traditional farmers will not break out of the cycle of poverty.
Launched with a two-year pilot program in Ethiopia, TOV started with seven demonstration sites — and will expand to provide loans to agricultural enterprises supporting 300-400 farmers growing tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers using Israeli drip irrigation and fertilization systems, hybrid seeds designed to enhance productivity, and training in new agricultural practices. The goal is to reach 4,000-5,000 Ethiopian farmers over a five-year period, benefiting more than 25,000 people overall.
Developed and managed by JDC’s GRID—our global disaster response and innovative development arm—TOV was inspired by noted philanthropist Seth Merrin, founder and CEO of the fintech company Liquidnet, which provided the anchor grant for TOV through its corporate impact program, Liquidnet for Good. They were joined by Laura Gurwin Flug and Danielle Flug Capalino, two leading New York City-based Jewish leaders – in creating the philanthropic loan fund at the core of the TOV initiative.
It leverages additional funding from an Ethiopian bank to provide loans that enable the farmers to purchase the AgTech seeds, equipment, and technical support they need to increase their yields. Local farmers’ unions and agribusinesses will also help the farmers get fair prices for their produce in previously untapped markets. Repaid loans will go back into the loan fund, to be used by farmers taking part in similar programs in additional locations.
TOV also forged a five-year strategic partnership with the Israel Economic Ministry’s Foreign Trade Administration, which is actively seeking to deepen Israel’s impact on the “base of the pyramid” in Africa.
With a wife and seven children under the age of 18 to support by working his small farm in Ethiopia’s arid south, Mudin Mekuria jumped at the chance to take part in a new agricultural initiative that will help him stabilize and expand his income — and move his family beyond subsistence farming.
Embodying the Jewish imperative to engage in efforts to “repair the world,” TOV aims to help farmers lift themselves out of poverty, empower women and young people in rural communities, and bolster their overall economic growth. It showcases Israel’s ability to be a “light unto the nations,” while carrying forward a JDC tradition of nonsectarian assistance that dates back to 1921, when JDC partnered with the U.S. government to respond to a prolonged and devastating famine in Ukraine.
Calling the Israeli AgTech system “significantly different compared to what I did before,” Mekuria now intends to use it in all his fields, claiming it reduces labor costs and makes irrigation and fertilization both simpler and more effective.
“A proof of how amazing this technology is,” he said, “is that I see that all of the tomato plots in the area are heavily infected with viruses, but in my plot, despite that problem, I succeed in producing salable tomatoes thanks to these new methods.”
Mekuria says he wants to use this new system to grow other “high-quality products that will be good for exporting.” That way he will no longer have to “base my income only on the local market” and can achieve the dreams he has for his family.
Many of his neighbors have visited his farm and would like to join the project, and Mekuria “truly hopes TOV can expand this knowledge to everybody.” He is grateful to “the TOV people, and especially the Israelis” who have come to support him and are “even helping in the field. They are sitting with us on the ground and working with us in the mud, all to improve our society’s life and stop the poverty. I really appreciate that amazing help!”