Agros International: End rural poverty through land ownership and holistic development

Agros International: End rural poverty through land ownership and holistic development

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Agros makes change by empowering the most remote, impoverished families to lift themselves out of poverty within ten years. Families become land owners through long-term land loans, enterprise loans and training, and holistic development support.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Nicaragua has widespread underemployment, one of the highest degrees of income inequality in the world, and the third lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere; nearly half of Nicaragua’s population survives on less than one dollar per day. Central America urgently needs a solution to rural poverty. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “almost 64% of the rural population in Latin America and the Caribbean live below the poverty line and, over the last two decades, the number of poor people in rural areas has increased in both absolute and relative terms.” In more than two decades of development work in Central America, Agros International has learned that simple land ownership – or the long-term loans that make land ownership possible – is not enough to finally alleviate poverty for the families we support; by using land ownership as the fundamental element in a holistic program of support, we empower men and women with the ability to repay their land loans and succeed as generations of land-owners through training, credit and enterprise.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Throughout the world, many organizations tackle poverty through micro-credit, food distribution, legal advocacy, or short-term education programs. However, it takes more than a day’s worth of food or a small loan for the rural poor to rise out of extreme poverty. Agros combines the groundbreaking work of land ownership for the rural poor with a full accompaniment of development support. In essence, Agros is land ownership: every man and woman in an Agros village earns their own land title. Agros brings together landless families on arable land (purchased upfront by Agros) and gives them long-term land loans. Agros ensures their ability to pay the loan over seven to ten years through technical assistance, enterprise loans and training, and women’s initiatives. After repayment, each man or woman gains legal title to their land and has the tools to advocate for their rights and to cultivate a sustainable livelihood. In 2011, Agros will launch a new large village in the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua to empower 150 rural, landless families to become land owners and agents of development for the entire region; 600 surrounding families will receive economic development, leveraging opportunities for the village of new land-owners. The project is underpinned by regional environmental projects of reforestation and clean water, benefitting the entire region. In recognition of its innovation, Agros was just 1 out of 22 organizations (and 1,800 applicants) to receive a World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2008 for rural village development with indigenous Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Agros International has assisted more than 9,000 men, women and children in some of the most remote regions of Central America and Mexico to walk their way out of poverty, in 41 separate villages. Through the long-term Agros development model, 100% of Agros families become legal owners of their own land. In addition, 100% go from subsistence farming to participating in at least 3 year-round, income-generating projects; on average, 85% of children attend school through at least 6th grade. Education and training is key to Agros’ model; participants are empowered to advocate for their rights with the government, ensuring a lasting legacy of family land ownership, and to secure market access and contracts for their livelihood. Feliz and Martha live with their two young children in the first Agros village in Nicaragua, Futuro Del Manana (established 1999). Their family is proud to have fully repaid their land loan. “It’s hard to believe that it’s true—that we’ve accomplished our goal of owning our own land!” exclaims Martha. She is thrilled that they own land and a house, her children are able to go to school and they no longer have to move from place to place looking for work. Feliz laughs, “It wasn’t easy—our whole family had to make sacrifices. At times it was overwhelming and difficult, but not impossible. We worked, we learned how to save, and we paid for our land. My name means ‘Happiness,’ and now I am truly happy.”
About You
Agros International
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, WA, King County

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Organization Name

Agros International

Organization Phone

(206) 528-1066

Organization Address

2225 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

Organization Country

, WA, King County

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, MT

Do you have a patent for this idea?


Agros International will launch a 150-family village in the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua (Agros villages previously have been 30 families on average).To leverage opportunities for this village of new landowners and spread economic development throughout the region, an additional 600 surrounding families will benefit from reforestation, community banking and educational workshops.

1. Select 150 landless families to participate in village through workshops in Matagalpa (prioritized based on need)
2. Locate, survey and purchase land
3. Full support (community organization, economic development, health and education, and infrastructure) over 7 years, plus 3 years to complete land loans
4. Families receive land titles upon repaying their loan payments

Success can be slowed by natural disasters like droughts or tropical storms. Because Agros is committed to long-term development, the repayment schedule of loans is recalculated in the case of natural disasters. Long-term development empowers families to be more prepared for disasters.


The final outcome of the project over ten years is that 150 families become self-sustaining landowners.

150 landless families selected
Agriculture production begins (basic grains, coffee production, and crop diversification)
First two groups of families (60 families) receive materials and construct housing
Initial infrastructure, including water system and composting latrines
Tree nurseries established
Health trainings for community
Regional families selected to participate

Crop diversification continues; women’s enterprises grow new businesses
Women’s Community Bank
Animal husbandry projects
Third group of families construct housing
Families construct efficient cook stoves to improve family health and fuel efficiency
Ongoing work to improve soil
Families learn to conduct mid-year and annual evaluations
Health promoters selected and receive training
Loan repayments begin
Regional work continues

Income diversification continues
Ongoing work to improve soil
Ongoing health trainings by health promoters
Families conduct evaluations
Loan repayments continue
Regional work continues

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?

If so, how?

Approximately 250 words left (2000 characters).

What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation.

Partnerships are a critical piece of how Agros empowers families to have a sustainable solution to poverty, as they provide additional elements of support, leverage the resources Agros can provide, and offer long-term sustainability to the villagers after Agros ends direct support.

NGO partnerships—such as an emerging partnership with PATH—provide families with additional health and technical assistance trainings.

From the beginning, the villagers will be connected to their municipal and national government to ensure legal recognition of the village. To facilitate, Agros in-country staff give presentations to government officials on Agros’ development model. Staff continue to facilitate government partnership through village education workshops, such as proposal writing for infrastructure like roads, schools or clinics.

Business partnerships have formed in other villages for marketing and production contracts; in Matagalpa, we will create region-wide impact by pursuing business partnerships and contracts for Tabasco chilies and coffee produced by the Agros villagers.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Agros International, a nonprofit organization, is privately funded through a mixed revenue model of individual, foundation, and business support. Currently, the majority of financial support is through individuals that commit five year pledges in support of a village. Pledge revenue provides continuity for the growth of a new village. Forty percent of funds raised support land purchases and enterprise loans for agricultural production; as participants repay their long-term land loans and enterprise loans, these funds are recycled to support new land purchases and enterprise loans.

Agros has a dedicated fund for land purchase called the Noemi Fund, innovative because the repayments of the formerly poor actually fund the purchase of land for other rural poor families, completing a cycle of dignity and empowerment. For the Matagalpa village, the total land purchase was $829,500 USD.

This project in Matagalpa has full funding committed to its success.

An immediate, critical step in supporting families once they are on the land is to provide education and leadership development, so that each man and woman has the tools to advocate on their own behalf for their rights, and is empowered to succeed. As Agros begins community organization (and continuing through the first years of village development), staff train families to negotiate with municipal government; and facilitate workshops on community organization to establish a strong, healthy village leadership structure, encourage equal gender participation, and conduct progress evaluations of annual development plans that villages create for themselves. For the Matagalpa village, the total cost for the first three years of this community organization, education and training program is $26,250 USD; if Agros is nominated as a winner for the Changemakers competition, the award money would provide this training for two new large villages already planned.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

In early 2010, the Agros international country and program staff, met to discuss the long range vision and plans for their work with the rural poor. With the entire staff engaged, Laurie Werner, Director of International Program, led a process to explore lessons learned around the organization’s history, improvements made over the last 10 years in program delivery, and to identify best practices that have led to improved outcomes. The team also walked through a visioning process that explored ways Agros could extend its program benefits to exponentially more families, while improving the efficiency of its work.

Emerging from this intensive process were two innovations to increase the reach of Agros:
--Launching large villages (from Agros’ traditional size 25-30 families to 150-200 families);
--Expanding regionally through enterprise loans, environmental projects, market contracts, and Women’s Community Banking

In the Ixil region of Guatemala—our first country of operation—these two components (large villages and regional work) had gradually evolved and shown initial success for participants. Now, Agros is intentionally expanding the de facto pilot of the Ixil region to other regions. The project in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, will be the first transplant of this successful new strategy to empower ever more families with land, hope and life.

Agros’ vision for the next three years is to end rural poverty for more families in Central America and around the world. In addition to the Matagalpa village, Agros has planned three large villages in Guatemala and regional components around village clusters in Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. With this as proof of concept, Agros will transplant the model to other areas of the world through implementation partners. The millions of people living in rural poverty are in urgent need and there is consensus around the importance of land ownership. This is the time for Agros.

Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.

Laurie Werner, Director of International Program, joined Agros International in June 2003 and serves in the Seattle headquarters. Her participative approach to leadership has cultivated a responsive model of development in diverse cultures and contexts. Laurie actively seeks input from the five countries of operation to ensure the Agros model is effective in each context it is applied: from excluded indigenous peoples to refugees, from resettling urban migrants to rural natives. Laurie carefully searches out internal best practices to coordinate effective implementation among country directors.

In 2009, Laurie recognized an opportunity to bring a greater margin of income to rural women and their families by expanding a Women’s Community Banking project that had developed in Agros Guatemala. She worked with the Guatemala country staff to identify key factors of project success and to position the banks for launch in the other four countries. Her advocacy on behalf of women is strengthened by inclusive decision-making and has been well received by both staff and village families. The project has successfully expanded to all countries of operation and offered entrepreneurial support to more than 100 women in the last year. Agros is confident with Laurie at the helm of the Matagalpa project, as she is committed to a participatory process and has demonstrated skillful leadership of pilots like the Women’s Community Banks.

Laurie’s previous experience includes working with orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras through Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos and consulting for a microcredit program in El Salvador through Global Partnerships. Laurie has a Bachelors Degree from Whitworth College (1994) in Sociology and Religion and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs (2002), focusing on nonprofit management and international development. She sits on the board of the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship. In her spare time, Laurie can be found playing in the mountains surrounding Seattle.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Personal contact at Changemakers

If through another source, please provide the information.

Approximately 50 words left (400 characters).

Which (if any) of the following strategies apply to your organization or company (check as many as apply)

Formalizing and documenting property rights (i.e. titling, leasing or certification), Developing/applying technology for surveying, mapping and documenting property rights, Other.

Please explain how your work furthers one or many of the above strategies (if you selected “other”, please explain your strategy)

Agros contracts local survey experts for initial purchase of land. As families repay land loans, they gain legal title to their own land—large enough to sustain income-generating initiatives. Agros supports families with a full accompaniment of training, advice and credit to ensure they are sustainable in the long term.