A seed planted in poverty


Photo courtesy of LIEZL VAN RIPER

Liezl Van Riper (right) with Fatourmata Koubale, a farmer from Mali who now grows enough food to feed her family year-round, after working with MyAgro.

Christina Liu, Staff Writer

In developing countries where gender inequality and poverty persist, few are addressing the situation head on. However, class of 1994 Diamond Bar High School alumna Liezl Van Riper has made it her job to reduce the disparity in those areas.        

The goal of myAgro, a nonprofit organization, is to move smallholder farms out of poverty. Van Riper, who has worked for myAgro for two years, is currently the vice president of development, and is responsible for obtaining grants that will continue to fund the program so that the organization can continue helping the poor farmers survive on anything less than $1.90 a day.

“I play matchmaker between my organization that helps farmers grow a lot more food and make money, and identify all the donors in the world who really care about that kind of motto,” Van Riper said.

myAgro developed a mobile layaway system based on smallholder’s everyday habits. Farmers can buy a myAgro card, instead of purchasing $100 for seeds and fertilizer in bulk sum. Through this system, farmers are gradually able to save up money for a prepayment for a package of myAgro seeds and fertilizer for their planting season.

“[In America], there are people who cater to us because they recognize us as paying customers,” Van Riper said.

Although Van Riper visits Africa every four months to reconnect with the mission, she spends most of her time interacting with donors.

“Trying to get money in the door and make sure we have enough money to run our organization, that’s stressful,” Van Riper said. “But what keeps me going is when we do get that big grant.”

MyAgro has been named this year’s winner of the Skoll Award, an award granted by a private foundation that identifies the most promising solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

Along with this, MyAgro will receive a $1.25 million grant.

“It validates all the work, all the stress, that everyone at the organization worked so hard for,” Van Riper said. “We are doing this because we know we are changing the lives for farmers across sub-Saharan Africa, and this really important prestigious foundation agrees.”

Van Riper’s original career plans consisted of being involved in government work after studying political science at UCI. However, after seeing an on-campus march against Proposition 187, which would have left immigrants without access to healthcare or education, Van Riper realized that what she really wanted to do was to balance out inequality in the world.

“After graduating from UCI, I moved to Japan to become an English teacher,” Van Riper said. “Although Japan was so much fun, but it didn’t fulfill me in a social way—I didn’t feel like I was making a social impact in helping people”

From her time in DBHS, Van Riper recalls being apart of USB and the interactions that took place outside of the classroom as aspects that shape her to this day.

“Those interactions with the classmates in that regard, out of the classroom, that’s where I developed a stronger emotional quotient.” Van Riper said. “There were opportunities outside of the classroom to just be a better human being.”