September 16, 2014

Roger Thurow - The Expanding Possibilities of Family Farmers

This post by senior fellow Roger Thurow originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog. 



Zipporah Biketi was living in a shrinking world when I first met her back in 2011. Her imagination rarely stretched beyond the boundaries of her small family farm in western Kenya. She could barely think beyond the next hour and the next meal, if there was to be one. She and her family were in the midst of the hunger season – the food from the previous meager harvest had run out and the next harvest was still months away. How could anyone have grand thoughts of thriving when struggling so mightily to merely survive?

Now three years later, Zipporah is thinking big. Her imagination stretches around the world, out into the future, beyond her own farm, beyond the next meal.

She thinks so big, in fact, that she proclaims with confidence that Africa’s family farmers “can feed the world.”

What happened to change Zipporah’s perspective so vastly? In 2011, she finally realized the potential of her small family farm and discovered the possibilities for an entire continent. She had joined a social enterprise organization, One Acre Fund, that was reversing the long-entrenched negligence of Africa’s smallholder farmers; rather than ignoring the farmers as too poor, too remote and too insignificant, One Acre embraced them as worthy customers for the essential elements of farming. With access to better quality seeds, soil nutrients, extension advice and the financing to pay for it all, Zipporah and her husband Sanet multiplied their maize harvest by 10-fold. For the first time, there would be enough food for all for the entire year.

Freed from the confinement of the hunger season, Zipporah and Sanet began planning for the future rather than dreading it. At the end of 2011, with her harvest stored in their bedroom, the Biketis showed me a blueprint of a new house they wanted to build to replace their old house of mud walls and thatched roof that leaked in the rain. Another year and another good harvest later, that house was being built with solid bricks and a metal roof. The next year, Zipporah was mastering diversification, tending all manner of vegetables on her one acre plot and talking about plans to hatch a poultry business. Her four children, so weak when I first met them, were now healthy, robust and doing well in school. Zipporah and Sanet had opened a savings account to ensure there would be enough to send them to high school.

Zipporah is one of the central characters in my book, The Last Hunger Season, along with three fellow farmers in western Kenya: Leonida Wanyama, Rasoa Wasike, and Francis Mamati. They are also at the heart of the United Nations 2014 International Year of Family Farming. For on their farms you can see the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, and the 500 million-plus family farmers around the world. Family farmers already produce the majority of the world’s food – but they can do so much more.

Yes, they can contribute greatly to feeding the world and its increasing population when they have the access to the essential elements of farming and access to storage and markets. And, as I found in western Kenya, they are also diligent stewards of the earth. Their land and their harvests are all they have. The last thing they want to do is to harm that which provides their sustenance, their livelihood, their health, the education for their children.

Investments in these family farmers will unleash the possibilities, as we see with the farmers of The Last Hunger Season.

“You should never neglect the small beginnings of somebody, “ Zipporah says, “because with that little knowledge and small start, that somebody can go very far and accomplish things that you cannot believe.”

This was the message of the book, published in 2012. Now, we see it come to life in a series of short films about The Last Hunger Season farmers from filmmakers Josh Courter and Giulia Longo Courter. We hear the farmers’ voices, see their shambas, witness their exodus, as Leonida Wanyama says, from the misery of the hunger season to Canaan, the Promised Land, of improved harvests and better lives.

Beginning with today’s episode – an introduction to the farmers and their role in the global food chain – please watch, enjoy, and spread the message.

 

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

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Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

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WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

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