Achieving the SDGs: Fighting Poverty and Improving Environmental Sustainability with TechnoServe

Smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs in the developing world are among those most affected by climate change -- yet they are often the least equipped to protect against it.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide humanity with a universal global framework to improve peace and prosperity by 2030. The goals are interconnected, but center around challenges such as poverty, climate change, and gender inequality.

Environmental sustainability is a focus of many of the goals, and critical to the fight against poverty. Below we explain some of the main SDGs concerned with environmental sustainability, and how TechnoServe’s work fighting poverty is also promoting the achievement of these environmental SDGs.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 objectives adopted by the United Nations to achieve global peace and prosperity by 2030. They were adopted by every United Nations Member State in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and cover poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean energy, climate change, biodiversity, and justice.

The 17 SDGs: 

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life On Land
  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

Why are the SDGs Important?

The SDGs are a crucial vision for our planet and its communities. They:

  • Provide a framework for action and cooperation among countries, organizations, and individuals to achieve a sustainable future. 
  • Recognize that economic, social, and environmental factors depend on each other.
  • Provide a roadmap for achieving a sustainable future. 

The SDGs are designed to be measurable, meaning that progress toward achieving each goal can be tracked and evaluated. This provides a framework for monitoring progress and identifying areas where further action is needed.

Many governments have integrated the SDGs into their national strategies, and the framework also informs the goals and planning of many civil society organizations.

Environmental Sustainability SDGs and the Fight Against Poverty

Environmental sustainability is a core principle of the SDGs. It is defined as, “the ability to maintain an ecological balance in our world’s natural environment and conserve natural resources to support the well-being of current and future generations.” Environmental sustainability is essential for achieving the SDGs, since anything needed for the survival of our planet and its communities depends, in different ways, on the earth’s environment. 

Smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs in the developing world are among those most affected by climate change — yet they are often the least equipped to protect against it. Without resources to combat threats like volatile weather patterns, worsening natural disasters, and crop and livestock diseases, these small-scale producers face lower incomes and higher risks as they struggle to earn a good living. 

Smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs in the developing world are among those most affected by climate change — yet they are often the least equipped to protect against it.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can significantly improve the environment and ensure that human activities are carried out in a way that harms the environment the least. 

For instance, SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) promotes using renewable energy. This is important since using solar, wind, and hydropower can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and lead to cleaner air and healthier ecosystems. Similarly, SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) aims to promote sustainable production practices and reduce waste and pollution, which can help minimize human activities’ environmental impact.

Highlights from TechnoServe’s Work Promoting Environmental Sustainability and Anti-Poverty SDGs

While environmentally sustainable development involves many of the SDGs, below are some of the main ones related to TechnoServe’s work promoting better livelihoods and environmental sustainability around the world:

SDG 1: No Poverty

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

SDG 13: Climate Action

SDG 14: Life Below Water

SDG 15: Life on Land

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can significantly improve the environment and ensure that human activities are carried out in a way that harms the environment the least.

A Closer Look at the SDGs

SDG 1: No Poverty 

SDG 1 aims to end poverty in every form, including extreme poverty, by 2030. Achieving SDG 1 is crucial since poverty is not only a social issue but also an environmental one. Poor communities often lack access to essential services, including clean water, sanitation, and healthcare, which can lead to environmental degradation and pollution. Poverty also increases the risk of ecological disasters, as poor communities often live in vulnerable areas such as floodplains or steep hillsides. By ending poverty, we can reduce the environmental impact of human activities and promote more sustainable practices.

Jaime Cortés is one small-scale producer trying to balance his livelihood with environmental sustainability. He and his father run a dairy farm with in Jalisco, Mexico, and are among the small-scale farmers who supply nearly half of the country’s milk. 

Small-scale producers like him often struggle to escape poverty, contending with unreliable markets and, increasingly, the effects of climate change. 

In 2010, TechnoServe partnered with the global food company Danone’s Ecosystem Fund as well as UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) on the Margarita Project. Over this decade-plus partnership, TechnoServe has helped more than 500 dairy farmers to improve their incomes through more productive, sustainable dairy farming practices and better business management.

small-scale producer with cow
Jaime Cortés with one of his dairy cows

Environmental sustainability is a key part of the program. Mexico now faces climate change challenges like water shortages, rising temperatures, and lower yields. So TechnoServe–working with local NGO Nuup–is applying a regenerative business approach to this program, aiming to rejuvenate, rather than degrade, nature, so that people and markets can prosper in the long term. 

With guidance from TechnoServe, the Cortés family installed solar panels on their roof–an investment that reduces energy-related emissions but also benefits them financially. “We haven’t paid an electric bill in four years,” says Jaime. Such economic incentives to reduce emissions have encouraged farmers to take up these environmental practices. As a result, the carbon emissions produced by farmers in the program have decreased by 13% in two years–while average farmer dairy income has tripled.

As dairy farmers like the Cortés family meet higher quality standards, they can sell their milk at better prices to more reliable buyers. One of those buyers is Danone itself, which started sourcing milk from these farmers as a result of the project. The company now buys 24% of its milk in Mexico from these small-scale producers.

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

SDG 2 aims to end hunger, improve food security and nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Achieving SDG 2 is essential for several reasons. Hunger and malnutrition are significant global challenges that affect not only the health and well-being of individuals but also the social and economic development of entire communities and countries. 

Unsustainable agricultural practices can also lead to environmental degradation, including deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution, harming the ecosystem and human health. Promoting sustainable agriculture can protect natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure that future generations have access to healthy and nutritious food.

TechnoServe is working to transform food systems because food security — having adequate availability, access, and means to consume safe enough, nutritious food — is critical for a healthy, productive life. For billions of people living in poverty worldwide, hunger and malnutrition pose severe daily threats to their health, well-being, and livelihoods.

In Ethiopia, for instance, installing vetiver wetlands around coffee processing facilities cleans the resulting wastewater and enables local coffee farmers to improve the quality of their coffee through processing, without harming local water systems.

In Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries where dairy and beef make up a large portion of national exports, silvopastoral systems, which incorporate trees, grasses, and bushes into pasture land, help to reduce deforestation, encourage rotational grazing, and improve the overall health cattle ranchers’ land. 

Around the world, the potential of regenerative businesses to improve lives and protect the planet is immense. Together with our partners, TechnoServe is helping millions of people implement regenerative business practices that allow them to sustainably increase their incomes.

A group of women who are a part of Technoserve's kitchen garden program, pose for a group portrait in a kitchen garden in Bamanwali village, Bikaner, Rajasthan, India on October 24th, 2016. Non-profit organisation Technoserve works with farmer's wives in Bikaner, providing technical support and training for edible gardening, to improve the nutritional quality of their food and relieve financial stress on farming communities. Photograph by Suzanne Lee for Technoserve

SDG 13: Climate Action

SDG 13 recognizes the urgent need to combat climate change and its impacts. Achieving SDG 13 is critical to reducing the effects of climate change and acknowledges the need for climate adaptation measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations and ecosystems. This includes implementing measures to improve water management, enhance agricultural productivity, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

As part of TechnoServe’s business approach to environmental sustainability, we work not only to strengthen the resilience of the farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses that operate within a market system but also contribute to the overall sustainability of that system.

The need is especially acute in Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America. In addition to challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is battling climate change threats like never before. In November 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota ravaged several departments across Nicaragua. Rain, landslides, and flooding tore through infrastructure, farms, and homes – leaving over 8,400 acres of coffee farms damaged. 

Gladys González took over the family cattle ranch in Nicaragua following the sudden death of her father-in-law. At the time, she was somewhat familiar with cattle, having grown up on a farm, but had limited knowledge of everything that goes into successful ranch management. 

As a result, her cows were not producing much milk, and her production costs outweighed her profits. So in 2018, Gladys joined a TechnoServe program that worked with over 800 ranchers in two departments of Nicaragua, helping them implement silvopastoral systems that would improve their environmental sustainability and resilience to climate threats while also increasing farm production and income. 

“Before, from 30 cows, we used to get 60 liters of milk,” Gladys recalls. “Now we are getting 80 liters of milk from 16 cows, which makes our production profitable. We also have not had any animal deaths in the last year.” 

Gladys is one of the many clients that TechnoServe has worked with whose income now has the potential to increase exponentially. By leaning into environmentally sustainable practices, she has benefited herself financially.

Cows stand under the shade of trees. Planting trees helps reduce the environmental impact of cattle ranching

SDG 14: Life Below Water

SDG 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. The health of our oceans is critical to our planet’s overall health. In addition, oceans are essential for regulating the earth’s climate, providing food and livelihoods, and supporting a wide range of marine species and ecosystems. By achieving SDG 14, we can ensure the long-term sustainability of our oceans and protect the livelihoods and well-being of coastal communities.

In Kenya, more than 2 million people work in the fishing sector alone–and over 62% of the coastal population lives below the poverty line. In partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature Eastern and Southern Africa, TechnoServe conducted a market analysis to determine Kenya’s most promising ways to protect its oceans while ensuring reliable livelihoods for low-income people. 

The result–the Blue Entrepreneurship Scoping Study–identifies “win-win” solutions that provide a roadmap for Kenya’s “blue economy“–and a framework for other countries hoping to combine conservation with local economic development.

In the fishing community of Karonga district, Malawi, people have long relied on Lake Malawi for their livelihoods. Africa’s third-largest lake and a UNESCO World Heritage Center, Lake Malawi is known for its rich biodiversity, boasting more distinct fish species than any other lake in the world. But today, nearly 10% of those fish are at high risk of extinction thanks to overfishing, increased agricultural activity around the lake, and environmental degradation. 

Malawian fishers are already some of the poorest in the country and rely heavily on the lake for their livelihoods. Cutting back on their fishing activity will hurt their incomes – but continuing to fish at the current rate will deplete the lake and harm their livelihoods all the same.

How to solve this vicious cycle? One member of the community – Victoria Mwafulirwa – had an idea.

Victoria is the founder and owner of Homes Industries, a social enterprise – a for-profit business with social and environmental benefits – that works with communities in Karonga to help them diversify their livelihoods so they don’t deplete the resources of Lake Malawi, allowing it to recover from overfishing and degradation.

TechnoServe, through the Restoring Fisheries for Livelihoods in Lake Malawi (REFRESH) project, is supporting social enterprises like Victoria’s that work with shoreline communities to prevent the overfishing and loss of biodiversity – including plant and animal life – in the lake. 

Throughout the program, Victoria and her Homes Industries employees were trained on:

  • How to develop a business plan that can be easily funded
  • Good financial management practices
  • How to improve their marketing through social and print media  

“Through the technical support we have received, we have been able to fine-tune our business model and refocus our implementation,” Victoria says. “We have now directly engaged shoreline communities at the Chibondo lagoon and Mlale areas, sensitizing them to the problems coming from overfishing currently happening in the area.”  

Seeing her organization improve sharpened Victoria’s commitment to her mission. More than ever now, Victoria says she is “able to appreciate the need to work with the communities to conserve biodiversity and reduce overfishing, which is high along the lake.”

Inspection of the fish farm cages in the Western Indian Ocean off the Southern Kenyan coast

SDG 15: Life on Land

SDG 15 aims to protect, restore, and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss. It is crucial because land-based ecosystems provide soil formation, nutrient cycling, water regulation, and climate regulation. By achieving SDG 15, we can secure the long-term sustainability of our land-based ecosystems and safeguard the vital services they provide.

Since 2013, TechnoServe has partnered with Nespresso in Ethiopia and Kenya to develop and more sustainable and inclusive coffee sector, resulting in:

  • $7.1 million in annual incremental income for coffee farmers
  • 1.1 million indigenous trees planted
  • Over 55,845 acres of coffee land under regenerative practices
  • 56,000 cubic meters per year of contaminated wastewater prevented from entering rivers

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

The SDGs are an ambitious agenda that requires collective action from many different organizations, governments, businesses, and individuals to achieve. Some of the creative partnerships that have helped TechnoServe promote environmental sustainability and fight poverty include:

Nespresso (AAA project)

TechnoServe worked with Nespresso to source high-quality coffee from Kenya and Ethiopia while reducing poverty and improving resilience to climate change for approximately 57,000 households by the end of 2020. As of December 2019, 87,143 farmers have been registered across Kenya and Ethiopia through the AAA Academy since 2013, and the program has also delivered quality and sustainability training to 266 wet mills.

Danone (Margarita)

In 2010, TechnoServe partnered with the global food company Danone’s Ecosystem Fund as well as UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) on the Margarita Project. Over this decade-plus partnership, TechnoServe has helped more than 500 dairy farmers to improve their incomes through more productive, sustainable dairy farming practices and better business management. 

TechnoServe Mexico works together with Danone in the implementation of the company’s regenerative agriculture practices and provides on-the-ground business, agronomic and climate-smart training to support smallholder farmers to achieve high environmental, safety, and quality standards. 


The five-year Sustainable Agriculture Improvement Project (MAS 2.0 in Spanish) aims to improve the competitiveness of 32,000 small and medium coffee and bean producers by increasing agricultural productivity and quality, access to information and high-value markets, developing the capacity of producer organizations and strengthening local, regional, and international market. 

Sida (Majang)

TechnoServe is working to improve the livelihoods of smallholder coffee, honey, and spice farmers in Ethiopia’s Majang Zone while enhancing forest conservation. TechnoServe reached approximately 4,000 individuals in the Majang Zone and increased the number of members in cooperatives from 117 to 1,027 while increasing female membership by 53%. In the program’s second phase, TechnoServe is establishing links between coffee, honey, and spice cooperatives and buyers, financiers, and other key supporting functions to facilitate stronger, more sustainable markets for non-timber forest products, helping to protect against deforestation in the region.

Walmart Foundation (Smallholder Market Access Project)

Across Central America, smallholders in fresh produce supply chains encounter multiple production- and market-related challenges that prevent them from achieving sustainable livelihoods through their farms. By working with farmers to improve their production and integrate them into more inclusive and profitable market systems, the Smallholder Market Access Program in Central America, funded by the Walmart Foundation has:

  • Helped 82% of participating farmers adopt regenerative agricultural practices
  • Ensured 5,196 farmers completed the agronomy training program
  • Supported farmers to improve their yields by an average of 11%
  • Strengthened operations at 22 farmer-producer organizations
  • Facilitated sales from 3,714 farmers to commercial exporters
  • Boosted farmer incomes by an average of $422, representing an increase of 17%

The SDGs are a visionary agenda for transforming our world by 2030. They are interconnected, universal, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable–and they require collective action from all stakeholders at all levels. Everyone can play a role in supporting the SDGs and environmental sustainability in their daily lives. 

Join us today to play your part.