At John Deere, the importance of power isn’t limited to measuring the output of our machines. It also explains why the John Deere Foundation engages passionate employee volunteers and non-profit development experts to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. “The more work we can do together, the more power we can create,” says Nate Clark, vice president, John Deere Foundation.
There’s no better example of the impact of power than the John Deere Foundation’s unique collaboration with Mercy Corps in Indonesia.
The foundation began its work with Mercy Corps in 2014, exploring ways to improve the lives of smallholder rice farmers in Indonesia. At nearly 260 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country. Its residents consume approximately 140 kilograms – or 300 pounds – of rice per person annually. “Looking ahead, Indonesian rice farmers face the challenge of meeting the demands of an Indonesian population projected to grow to as much as 360 million by 2050,” says Clark. “For this reason, the John Deere Foundation sees the success of smallholder rice farmers in Indonesia as a key to helping feed the world.”
Since its very beginning, the most unique aspect of the John Deere Foundation and Mercy Corps partnership has been the power created through the close collaboration of John Deere volunteers and Mercy Corps staff. ”
—Nate Clark, vice president, John Deere Foundation
Clark says the John Deere Foundation selected Mercy Corps because of its impressive track record of connecting smallholder farmers across the globe to the wide array of resources they need to grow more food, earn more money, and strengthen their communities.
The groups’ initial work involved an immersive community needs assessment designed by Mercy Corps and through which 19 John Deere volunteers experienced firsthand the challenges faced by Indonesian rice farmers, working alongside the farmers in their fields.
From this experience, the John Deere volunteers collaborated with Mercy Corps experts to create a three-year program that would increase farmer incomes by enhancing their access to agronomic and financial services and strengthening the capacity of farmer groups to broadly support their farmer members. The two groups named the program “Promoting Organizations that Work to Empower Rice Farmers” – or “POWER” for short. Little did they know how appropriate the name POWER would be.
As part of the program, a team of John Deere volunteers has returned to Indonesia the past two years, assisting Mercy Corps staff in providing training and other support. Neither the John Deere Foundation nor Mercy Corps has ever been part of a multi-year program that integrated active skills-based volunteerism. The power of collaboration between the two groups was on full display in East Java, Indonesia, during the most recent volunteer trip in early March 2017. Fourteen John Deere employees joined a team of eight Mercy Corps experts to help train smallholder rice farmers and farmer group unions. Through the stories of Yue Qi Ge (“Yuki”), Jürgen Sieber, and Tri Ismono (“Mono”), it’s easy to see what power can be created when volunteers and development experts work together.
Power In Action
Meet Yuki Ge
Yuki Ge is a communication specialist with John Deere, based in Singapore.
“I have worked for John Deere for nine years, but had never had the opportunity to learn firsthand what challenges rice farmers faced. At John Deere, our higher purpose is to serve those linked to the land, and this trip demonstrated that for us very well.
“The trip was a wonderful experience. The farmers were warm and happy, content, and very proud of what they do. They really welcomed us as visitors. I felt the training we delivered had value for the farmers, which was very satisfying after all of the work we did ahead of the trip!
“Working with the farmers in their fields meant a lot to me, especially realizing the physical hardships of manual farming. There is a deep power in knowledge and the farmers have an appetite to learn. They are ready!
“We see a great opportunity for farmers to increase their productivity through better knowledge of inputs. We also see opportunities for government and non-governmental organizations to provide more expertise and guidance. The farmers need more consistent, available resources to guide and support their efforts. Perhaps this can happen through the farmer group unions.
“The week was a mind-blowing experience. I never thought working so closely with farmers could change my perspective on my daily work. I am proud of our John Deere volunteers. This experience delivered on our core values so well!”
Meet Jürgen Sieber
Jürgen Sieber is John Deere’s director, sales & marketing – Asia, based out of Bangkok.
“Our job at John Deere is to help people feed the world, especially as it relates to rice. This is so deeply a part of the culture here. Rice is much more than a crop. If we can support this, we are giving people more opportunity to make a high contribution to farming and to the country. We need to offer solutions, not just products. Investments in training are just as important as the tools themselves. We need to look at the full picture.
“It’s very important for us to understand how these farmers are working. Once you do it yourself, you understand! For example, I was surprised by the farmers’ priorities around mechanization. I was deeply convinced they may want a combine harvester.
“However, most farmers wanted mechanization of plowing and primary tillage. It’s been eye opening to understand the complicated tasks and systems the farmers are working with.
“It was also nice to see the farmer group unions working well together. This was Europe 50 years ago when they started mechanization rings to share machines. We need to understand from a commercial business what these farmers need and what makes sense. The younger generation is not as interested in farming. It’s perceived as painful, with not much money associated with it. But it’s not true. It doesn’t have to be. We can help make farming more attractive.”
Meet Tri Ismono (Mono)
Tri Ismono (Mono) is POWER Program Manager, Mercy Corps Indonesia, based in Jakarta.
“The enthusiasm from the John Deere volunteers throughout the week was amazing! They took their work seriously and were well prepared to deliver the training.
“We now need to leverage the impact of the POWER program. We believe there will be more and more farmers who will know about Mercy Corps and John Deere. We look forward to sharing the success of our work together and our partnership with government actors, as well as farmers from other villages. They will now know about our work, our name, and our mission to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Indonesia. For the final year of POWER, we’ll be running faster than before, especially with reaching more farmers who want to participate.”