Alex Petroff / Working Villages
Fellows work to maximize the impact of their ideas through design. They work through a systematic process driven by the five elements of scalability: real impact, big bang for the buck, lasting behavior change, easy replication, and the right path to scale. Fellows participate in the program for two years, working through several design iterations.
THE IDEA: Working Villages
A profitable farm as a vocational school for farmers: employees learn agricultural techniques and oxen power and are established with their own 10 acre farm
HOW IT WORKS
- Establish profitable large farms on under-utilized land, as in the Congo
- Recruit unemployed rural people as day laborers
- Train the best day laborers in 10-acre farming
- Give graduates 10-acre trust plots to farm
- Aggregate farmers’ crops, then process and market
THE PERSON: Alex Petroff
Alex Petroff is a farm boy from Maine who finds it more interesting to farm in the most dangerous part of the Congo
Alex’s boyhood in rural Maine - and a bleeding-heart education at Hampshire College - left him determined to do something useful for African farmers. Finding Uganda too comfortable, he wound up in Eastern Congo, where he runs a teaching farm that has thrived amidst continual warfare.
Africa’s two models of farming - the plantation and the one acre farm - will never get rural people out of poverty. In 2005, Alex Petroff started Working Villages International to build a new model of farming that would get people out of poverty. His idea was to reconfigure the family farm as a ten acre plot that would allow high-productivity techniques and draft power provided by oxen. Congo provided a unique opportunity to develop the idea: as people crept back into fertile war-torn areas, the authorities were delighted to get land back into production. Alex and his crew have now built a large profitable farm that is acting as a vocational school for farmers, showing them how to apply this new model of farming. Profits from the farm are used to set up farmers on their own 10 acre farms, increasing the annual family income 10 to 20-fold. The Working Village model may be pointing a new way for Africa.