ALEC Policies Sell ‘Snake Oil to the States’

By Sharon Ward, Third and States

Three national organizations offered a scathing criticism of policies endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, in a conference call with reporters last week. Their findings strike a stake in the heart of ALEC claims that its view of the world – lower taxes, fewer workplace protections, and diminished public investments – is good for the public. 

Pennsylvania state lawmakers who look to ALEC for guidance on economic policy should stand up and take notice. 

Iowa Policy Project research director Peter Fisher discussed a recent report he co-authored with researchers from Good Jobs First, concluding that the tax, budget, and economic prescriptions put forth by ALEC simply don’t work.

Selling Snake Oil to the States took a look at ALEC’s annual Rich States, Poor States report, which ranks states based on their “economic outlooks” as defined by ALEC. The factors should come as no surprise: states with low taxes and right-to-work laws rank high by ALEC; those with progressive taxes, corporate income taxes, and worker protections rank far behind.

Fisher compared the ALEC rankings with actual state performance on real economic indicators over a four-year period. Do ALEC’s policy prescriptions improve state economies? The answer is no.

Between 2007 and 2011, researchers found no relationship between a high ALEC ranking and employment. They did find a correlation on personal incomes and poverty rates among states ranked high by ALEC, but it was a negative one – the better a state fared on the ALEC scale, the worse it did in real life. As Fisher said during the conference call:

It should be hardly surprising that policies to keep wages low have the effect of lowering the state’s income. … The ALEC policy prescriptions for states will not lead to growth and prosperity but to further inequality and lower incomes.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examined sweeping tax and budget policies that ALEC is currently lobbying for in the states. The policies largely encompass deep tax cuts for wealthy individuals, investors, and corporations that will leave middle- and lower-income families paying more.

Both reports note that the ALEC agenda promotes low wage growth for families, fewer workplace protections, and strategies to starve public investments in education, health care, and other priorities – all of which reputable economists agree are critical to job creation and economic growth.

It is an article of faith among Pennsylvania lawmakers that ALEC policies are good for the economy. These reports provide clear and convincing evidence to the contrary: the arguments that the ALEC agenda are good for real people are nothing but snake oil. The policies are good for the businesses that pour millions into ALEC to promote this agenda. 

Governor Tom Corbett has hidden large expensive new tax cuts to profitable corporations in his budget proposal released this month. This and other ALEC agenda items won’t create jobs, but they will lead to greater inequality, slower income growth, and continued starvation of our public schools, transit systems, and other priorities.

Bailouts for the Banks and Cake for the 99%

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

What is good for the financial sector is good for the 1%.

For the financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis. Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the ‘outrage constraint’ that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviews employment law in Pennsylvania and notes that there are two sets of rules, the rules for the rest of us (we are employed at will and rarely get a severance) and the rules for top executives.

A severance package is typically offered to executives in exchange for a promise not to sue over anything that happened during the time of employment. Of course, the severance package has a much-maligned cousin in the ‘golden parachute,’ which can send fat-cat executives on their way with multi-million-dollar paydays and the ill will of the masses. Earlier this month, Bank of America Corp. announced it would send wealth-management division head Sallie Krawcheck off with $6 million. And when Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd resigned after allegations he had an inappropriate affair with a contractor, the news that he’d leave with millions wasn’t exactly a public relations coup.

Speaking of top executives, Nancy Folbre, after walking us through what we know about the rise in inequality, spots a curious new consumer product, let’s just call it the Louis Vuitton of commodes.

Another, more discursive poster described the ideals of the ‘solidarity economy,’ starting with: ‘I don’t have a boss. I’m a worker-owner in a cooperative business,’ and ending with, ‘I joined a credit union so my money stays in the community.’ What seems to be emerging is what the historian Gar Alperowitz described as a process of ‘evolutionary reconstruction.’ It might start by making capitalism more distinct from feudalism. This idea came to me while reading about a great new product that just hit the market: a $6,400 toilet with its own remote control for water spray and drying fan. Marie Antoinette would have loved it for Versailles.

Who would pay $6,400 for a toilet with a remote control, you ask?

Before it was the bankers turn to wreck the economy, you might remember there were some scandals at companies like Enron, Arthur Andersen and Tyco International.

Here is a story from 2002.  

You might wonder how former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski could have spent thousands of dollars on stuff most of us could get at Bed, Bath & Beyond for, at most, a few hundred. Interior designers to the rich and famous say it’s easy. But really, it’s in awfully bad taste. An SEC filing last week from Tyco alleges that Kozlowski spent company funds on unauthorized purchases including $15,000 for a dog-shaped umbrella stand, $6,300 for a sewing basket, $17,000 for a traveling toilette box, $2,200 for a gold-plated wastebasket, $2,900 on coat hangers, $1,650 for an appointment book, $5,900 for sheets, $445 for a pincushion, and $6,000 on a shower curtain.

Speaking of Marie Antoinette, let me introduce you to her long lost German cousin Andreas Schmitz.

But some bankers and others in the protesters’ sights sought to spread the blame. Andreas Schmitz, head of the German banking federation and chief executive of HSBC Trinkaus, told the Financial Times on Sunday that protests against banks were ‘a diversion from the fundamental problem: that we can no longer finance our welfare states.’

One of the factors that is widely thought to have hurt job growth around the world in the past few months is the continued instability in financial markets from the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. Andreas Schmitz fails to note that it was German and French banks that made what turned out to be really bad loans to the Greek government. Those same banks are about to get a big bailout. Socialism for you bad, socialism for the banks good.

There is an upside to all of this, we all are probably gonna get some cake!

Census Data: For Record Number of Americans, Recession Is Far From Over

National poverty rate hit 15.1% last year, the highest level since 1993

As the recession took its toll last year, more Americans fell into poverty, saw their incomes decline and joined the ranks of the uninsured, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau released the results of its annual Current Population Survey today in a new report – the first to include a full year of data from the Great Recession.


Poverty has been rising for much of the last decade
View more charts
from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interpreting the Census data


During 2010, the poverty rate increased to 15.1%, the highest level since 1993, with a record-breaking 46.2 million American adults and children living in poverty. Median household income also declined, and the number of individuals without health insurance increased again, now approaching 50 million.

Public programs continued to play an important role in blunting the full force of the economic downturn. An estimated 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty through unemployment insurance coverage, while public health programs such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) helped to fill the gap as employment-based coverage declined once again.

One bit of good news: more young adults had health insurance coverage in 2010 than the year before thanks to a provision of the Affordable Care Act allowing young adults up to age 25 to remain on their parents’ health insurance. The proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds with insurance rose from 70.7% in 2009 to 72.8% in 2010.

The Current Population Survey is most appropriate for national level data, but its sample sizes are not as reliable for state-level data. The American Community Survey (ACS), which will be released on September 22, has the most accurate data for states and localities. We have included some Pennsylvania results below, although we average data over two years for greater accuracy. While it is tempting to compare state numbers from 2009 to 2010, the ACS will provide better year-to-year comparisons.

The National Highlights

Poverty is up. The poverty rate grew from 14.3% in 2009 to 15.1% in 2010, while the number of people in poverty grew by 2.6 million, from 43.6 million to 46.2 million. The poverty rate is the highest since 1993, and the number of people in poverty is the largest recorded in 52 years.

More children are in poverty. The share of children in poverty nationally rose from 20.7% in 2009 to 22% in 2010. The number of children in poverty grew by 950,000, from 15.5 million to 16.4 million.

Children are more likely to be poor than adults. The share of children in poverty (22%) is higher than the share of working-age adults (13.7%) or seniors (9.0%). In 2010, children were over four times more likely to be living in poverty than seniors.

Income is down. Median household income in 2010 declined from 2009 by $1,154, or 2.3%.

Public benefits work. Public benefit programs such as unemployment insurance, Food Stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit on household income played an important role in making up for reduced jobs, wages and         hours in the private sector. In 2010, 3.9 million Americans, including 1.9 million children, were lifted out of poverty because of Food Stamps, while 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty by unemployment insurance benefits.

More people are uninsured.  The number of Americans without health insurance increased from 49 million to 49.9 million, although the share of people without insurance remains statistically unchanged at 16.1%.

Employment-based health coverage continues to decline. The share of Americans receiving health insurance through an employer declined again, going from 56.1% in 2009 to 55.3% in 2010, while public coverage increased from 30.6% to 31%. Coverage through Medicaid, at 15.9%, was statistically unchanged.

The Pennsylvania Story

The story of the recession is very similar in Pennsylvania. Compared to before the recession (2006-2007), the current two-year period (2009-2010) is marked by lower incomes, higher poverty and reduced employment-based coverage for adults and children.

Median income has declined through the recession. Median household income in Pennsylvania fell by $2,965, or 5.7%, since the beginning of the recession, dropping from $51,679 in 2006-2007 to $48,714 during 2009-2010. During the same period, median income in the U.S. dropped by 4.7%.

Poverty is statistically unchanged. At 11.8%, total poverty in Pennsylvania is statistically unchanged since the recession began. Poverty is significantly higher in Pennsylvania and nationally since the last economic expansion, rising from 9% in 1999-2000 to 11.7% in 2009-2010. Poverty rose by 3.1% nationwide during that time period.

Pennsylvanians are losing employer-sponsored health insurance at a faster rate than the nation. In the last decade, the percentage of non-elderly Pennsylvanians who received health coverage through work decreased from 76.3% to 66.4%. While this is still a larger share than in the nation as a whole, the decrease of 9.9 percentage points was larger in Pennsylvania.

More Pennsylvanians are relying on public health insurance. Over 1.7 million, or about one in six, non-elderly Pennsylvanians rely on public health care, largely through Medicaid. This has increased by 791,000 in the last decade. Slightly fewer than 250,000 Pennsylvanians have been added since the start of the recession in 2007-2008.

Almost one in three children in Pennsylvania have government health coverage through programs like CHIP. This amounts to 875,000 children, or 31.2% of the population under 18. The share of children with this type of coverage has nearly doubled in the last decade, increasing from 17.6% in 1999-2000 to 31.4% in 2009-2010.

The number of non-elderly Pennsylvanians who are uninsured increased from 10.9% in 2007-2008 to 12.8% in 2009-2010. This represents an additional 214,000 people without health coverage. However, the number and share of children who are uninsured is unchanged during this same period, likely due to public health coverage options.

More Americans Drawing Income from Unemployment, Social Security

A blog post from Emma Lowenberg, originally published on Third and State.

The fact that the economy is still struggling is not news to anyone. The national unemployment rate has increased steadily since February. Now, at 9.2%, it is not too far from its peak of 9.9% in December 2009.

Nationally, the personal income of 20% of Americans comes from the government through programs like Social Security and unemployment benefits, according to a report in The New York Times. The percentage is even higher in the economically worst-off states – like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona.

Those who depend on this assistance are running out of luck, though, and so is the economy at large. Extended jobless benefits are set to expire at the end of the year, leaving nearly 7.5 million unemployed Americans without an important lifeline and risking greater damage to an all too fragile recovery. The still tentative agreement in Washington, D.C. to raise the debt limit appears to rule out any additional extensions of unemployment insurance for workers in 2012.

The ratio of job growth to job seekers remains dismally low. In Arizona, for example, there are 10 job seekers for every job opening. According to economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, the amount of transfer dollars being paid out has increased by 35% since 2007.

Some cash-strapped states are shortening the length of unemployment benefits by as much as 20 weeks. To counter the effects of benefit cutoffs, we would need to see massive job creation, but that’s just not on the horizon.

The data below show the change in percentage of income comprised of transfer payments by county in Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2009 (the data is sorted by the percent change in transfers). While some of this change can be attributed to naturally aging populations, much is undoubtedly the result of higher unemployment rates.

TRANSFERS AS A SHARE OF TOTAL PERSONAL INCOME 2007 TO 2009
County 2007 2009 Change % Change
Fulton 20% 27% 7.6 38%
Cameron 28% 37% 9.9 36%
Adams 16% 22% 5.5 33%
Elk 23% 30% 7.2 31%
Huntingdon 24% 30% 6.1 25%
Bucks 11% 14% 2.7 25%
Lancaster 15% 19% 3.7 25%
Franklin 17% 21% 4.0 24%
Columbia 22% 27% 5.1 24%
York 15% 18% 3.5 23%
Juniata 20% 25% 4.7 23%
Montgomery 9% 11% 2.1 23%
Berks 17% 21% 3.8 23%
Monroe 17% 20% 3.6 22%
Cumberland 13% 16% 2.9 22%
Erie 22% 26% 4.6 21%
Bedford 24% 29% 5.1 21%
Wayne 23% 28% 4.9 21%
Perry 17% 21% 3.6 21%
Dauphin 16% 19% 3.2 21%
Lehigh 17% 20% 3.3 20%
Wyoming 21% 26% 4.3 20%
Mifflin 26% 32% 5.3 20%
Union 17% 21% 3.4 19%
Crawford 26% 30% 4.8 19%
Northampton 17% 20% 3.1 19%
Jefferson 26% 31% 4.9 19%
Centre 14% 16% 2.5 18%
Lebanon 17% 20% 3.2 18%
Carbon 23% 28% 4.2 18%
Snyder 26% 30% 4.6 18%
Potter 25% 29% 4.5 18%
Armstrong 24% 28% 4.3 18%
Mercer 26% 30% 4.6 18%
Butler 16% 19% 2.8 17%
Clearfield 27% 31% 4.6 17%
Clarion 26% 30% 4.4 17%
Lycoming 22% 25% 3.6 17%
McKean 25% 29% 4.1 16%
Lawrence 27% 31% 4.4 16%
Warren 24% 28% 3.9 16%
Tioga 26% 31% 4.2 16%
Schuylkill 25% 29% 4.0 16%
Luzerne 23% 26% 3.5 15%
Pike 17% 19% 2.6 15%
Indiana 22% 25% 3.3 15%
Northumberland 24% 28% 3.7 15%
Bradford 23% 26% 3.4 15%
Delaware 14% 16% 2.1 15%
Blair 25% 28% 3.7 15%
Allegheny 17% 19% 2.4 14%
Lackawanna 22% 25% 3.1 14%
Clinton 24% 28% 3.4 14%
Washington 20% 22% 2.7 14%
Westmoreland 20% 23% 2.8 14%
Fayette 30% 34% 3.9 13%
Somerset 26% 29% 3.2 12%
Beaver 24% 27% 2.9 12%
Sullivan 30% 34% 3.6 12%
Susquehanna 22% 24% 2.5 11%
Montour 19% 21% 2.0 11%
Cambria 28% 31% 3.0 10%
Venango 32% 35% 2.9 9%
Philadelphia 26% 28% 2.3 9%
Chester 8% 9% 0.5 6%
Greene 28% 30% 1.4 5%
Forest 38% 39% 1.6 4%

Source. Keystone Research Center analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis Data

Using the Market to Create Resilient Agriculture Practices

Cross posted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Care International’s work in Zambia has two main goals: increase the production of staple crops and improve farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers. But instead of giving away bags of seed and fertilizers to farmers, Care is “creating input access through a business approach,” not a subsidy approach, according to Steve Power, Assistant Country Director for Zambia.

One way they’re doing this is by creating a network of agro-dealers who can sell inputs to their neighbors as well as educate them about how to use hybrid seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs. At the same time, “we are mindful” of the benefits of local varieties of seeds, says Harry Ngoma, Agriculture Advisor for the Consortium for Food Security, Agriculture and Nutrition, AIDS, Resiliency and Markets (C-FAARM). Care and C-FAARM are working with farmers to combine high- and low-technology practices.

Care thinks that this “business approach” will help farmers get the right inputs at the right time, unlike subsidy approaches that give farmers fertilizer for free, but often at the wrong time of year, making the nutrients unavailable to crops. And Care’s focus on training agro-dealers and giving them start-up grants allows the organization to remain invisible to farmers. Power says that Care wants to be a “catalyst to the market” and help transfer resources, without distorting the basic pricing structure.

Another component of Care’s work is improving the production of sorghum and cassava. “Zambia is as addicted to maize as we are to Starbucks coffee,” says Power. But by encouraging the growth of other crops, including sorghum, which is indigenous to Africa, Care can help farms diversify local diets as well as build resilience to price fluctuations and drought.

Care is promoting conservation farming in Zambia as well. The organization has been working in six districts since 2007, reaching 24,000 households. In addition to promoting minimum tillage practices and the use of manure and compost, Care is helping to train government extension officers about conservation farming so that eventually they’ll be responsible-instead of Care-for training farmers.

According to Power, the key to Care’s work is promoting business-like approaches to agriculture alongside more traditional ones, so farmers don’t become dependent on the organization for gifts of fertilizer or seed. These sorts of programs, according to Care, will be more effective at feeding people and increasing incomes than traditional food-aid projects that rely on long-term donor support. This is a big challenge in a country-and a region-facing the impacts of both climate change and the global economic crisis.

Stay tuned for more blogs about how farmers are linking to the private sector.

To learn more about Care’s work in Zambia, visit www.care.org/zambia.

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, on Agricultural Development in Zimbabwe

This is the first in a series of blogs where we’ll be asking policy makers, politicians, non-profit and organizational leaders, journalists, celebrities, chefs, musicians, and farmers to share their thoughts-and hopes-for agricultural development in Africa. Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting with the new U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray. Ambassador Ray was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions about agricultural development in a country facing political turmoil, high unemployment, and high food prices.

What do you think is needed in Zimbabwe to both improve food security and farmers incomes?

Over the past decade, Zimbabwean small holder farmers have endured a litany of economic, political, and social shocks as well as several droughts and floods resulting in the loss of their livelihoods and food security. Poverty for small holder farmers has greatly increased throughout the country.

In order to restore farmers’ livelihoods they need to be supported in a process of sustainable private sector-driven agricultural recovery to achieve tangible household-level impact in food security and generate more household income, as well to promote more rural employment.

The U.S. government through USAID is doing this by supporting programs that provide effective rural extension, trainings and demonstration farms in order to improve farm management by small holder producers. The programs also include support for inputs and market linkages between the farmers and agro-processers, exporters and buyers. These programs are broad-based and cover all communal small holder farmers throughout the country.

The result of this work is increased production, and productivity, lowered crop production costs and losses, improved product quality, and production mix and increasing on-farm value-adding. Together these programs are increasing food security and farmer’s incomes as well as generating more farmer income and rural employment of agro-business.

At present, the U.S. is the largest provider of direct food aid in Zimbabwe. We are working with our partners to move from food aid to food security assistance which will use more market oriented approaches and combine livelihoods programs as noted above, which will reduce the need for food distribution.

Do you think Zimbabwe needs more private sector investment? If so, what are ways the U.S. government and other donors can help encourage both domestic and foreign investment?

Zimbabwe certainly needs more foreign direct investment. There is little chance that the country can internally generate the investments required to promote the economic growth it needs without it. But it is the government of Zimbabwe that is responsible for creating the business enabling environment to attract investment including both foreign and national.

At present, much more needs to be done in policy and the legal and regulatory framework and in the rhetoric and actions by the government in order to create the environment conducive to attract investment. Without the clear will of the government to be FDI-friendly there is not much that the donors can do.

Creating a Well-Rounded Food Revolution

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Check out the most recent issue of the journal Science which takes a look at ways to improve food security as the world’s population is expected to top 9 billion by 2050. To best nourish both people and the planet, the journal suggests a rounded approach to a worldwide agricultural revolution by encouraging diets and policies that emphasize local and sustainable food production, along with the implementation of agricultural techniques that utilize biotechnology and ecologically friendly farming solutions.

Breeding Respect for Indigenous Seeds

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Today, farmers and breeders alike have a greater respect for Mozambique's indigenous seed varieties. (Photo by Jose Gonzalez de Tanago)Jessica Milgroom isn’t your typical graduate student. Rather than spending her days in the library of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, her research is done in the field-literally. Since 2006, Jessica has been working with farming communities living inside Limpopo National Park, in southern Mozambique.

When the park was established in 2001, it was essentially “parked on top of 27,000 people,” says Jessica. Some 7,000 of the residents needed to be resettled to other areas, including within the park, which affected their access to food and farmland. Jessica’s job is to see what can be done to improve resettlement food security.

But rather than simply recommending intensified agriculture in the park to make better use of less land, Jessica worked with the local community to collect and identify local seed varieties. One of the major problems in Mozambique, as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of seed. As a result, farmers are forced to buy low-quality seed because nothing else is available.

In addition to identifying and collecting seeds, Jessica is working with a farmer’s association on seed trials, testing varieties to see what people like best. In addition, farmers are learning how to purify and store seeds (see Innovation of the Week: Investing in Better Food Storage in Africa).

Weevils, the farmers tell Jessica, are worse than ever, destroying both the seed and crops they store in traditional open-air, granaries. But the farmers are now building newer granaries that are more tightly sealed and help prevent not only weevils but also mold and aflatoxins from damaging crops.

Today, farmers and breeders alike have a greater respect for Mozambique’s indigenous seed varieties. According to Jessica, one of the biggest accomplishments of the project has been getting breeders and farmers to talk to each other. “It’s been interesting for both groups,” says Jessica, “and it needs to be a regular discussion” between them.

Cooperating for a Profit: Winrock International and Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

The story of Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited (KCGL), Malawi’s second biggest sugar farmer cooperative with 282 farmers, is just one of many examples of innovative business models made available to farmers, entrepreneurs, and NGOs by Winrock International. Emphasizing the use of environmentally sustainable production methods, Winrock collects examples of innovative Community Food Enterprises from around the world. 

The partnership between KCGL and the Shire Valley Cane Growers Trust is just one example of Winrock’s featured innovations. The two organizations, with support from the government, partnered in 1997 to become a sugarcane farmer cooperative. Despite perpetual drought, and flooding when there is rain, sugar is Malawi’s third largest export. The Trust owns ninety-five percent of the corporation and Illove, one of the largest sugar cane producers in the world, owns the remaining five percent. The Trust leases 755 hectares of sugarcane land that KCGL maintains, guaranteeing farmers—about one-third of whom are women—nearly 3 hectares of land for 25 years. The farmers produce non-organic, fair-trade certified sugar, and the profits are divided equally among the members of the cooperative. All of the sugar produced by the farmers is sold internationally by Illove, connecting the farmers and the cooperative to the global market.

KCGL, in cooperation with Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, have also developed a plan to direct fair trade premiums towards community investments, company infrastructure and building materials for the farmers. They have built a well for the community, brought electricity to small villages, and are opening their medical clinic to the community for HIV/AIDS education and treatment.  

As part of a collective, the farmers are given a voice in an industry where they otherwise might not be competitive. In addition to increased incomes through fair-trade certification and access to the world market, the farmers who are members of KCGL receive the support and stability they need to lift their families out of poverty.

Innovation of the Week: Winrock International and Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Sylvia Banda started Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited in 1986, even though just 30 years ago women weren’t allowed to own businesses-or even eligible for loans-in Zambia. She began her business by serving people food she cooked and brought from home on what she calls, a “standing buffet,” because she didn’t have enough money for tables and chairs.

Not having furniture didn’t stop Sylvia’s business from taking off; she made almost a hundred dollars after a few days. And with her husband listed as the proprietor of her business because land rights are limited if not inaccessible to women in Zambia, Sylvia was able to grow her small “standing buffet” into three subsidiary businesses.

Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited is dedicated to creating, selling and serving nutritious foods, made from indigenous and traditional products that are purchased from local farmers and merchants. Sylvia provides work for 73 people and has developed partnerships with local development organizations, using her financial and popular success to become a proponent of farmer and employee training. She calls it “economic emancipation.”  

Sylvia’s success has benefited not just her own family, but the wider community as well. And Winrock International, an organization that collects examples of projects focused on sustainable food, improving livelihoods and preserving local food traditions, hopes to extend her positive impact even further still by making her case study available as a resource and model for potential entrepreneurs-and for policy makers and NGOs who support potential entrepreneurs-around the world.

For more information about Sylvia’s work and other projects that are focusing on sustainable food, improving livelihoods and preserving local food traditions, see Winrock International’s site on Community Food Enterprises.