This post by senior fellow Roger Thurow originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.
Rasoa Wasike delivers the good news with a broad smile:
“We are controlling the diseases of malnutrition, like kwashiorkor, marasmus,” she says on her small farm in the western Kenyan village of Kabuchai. “In this community of ours, we don’t have these diseases any more. People are working harder to improve their farms.”
This is indeed the good news out of Africa on World Food Day: Where the continent’s smallholder family farmers are succeeding in improving their harvests – where the shameful neglect of agricultural development is being reversed – chronic hunger and micronutrient deficiencies are on the run.
Rasoa is one of the farmers at the heart of my book, The Last Hunger Season. When I visited her again last month, she was more buoyant than usual.
“I no longer have hunger in my house,” she triumphantly said. “I have maize, millet and sorghum. I’m having potatoes, I’m having beans.” She also has tomatoes and cabbage and kale growing in her fields. And avocado and banana trees. There are chickens, several goats and two cows (with another calf soon to be born). A look around her shamba, her farm, reveals the importance of increasing both the quantity and the nutritious quality of her harvests.
“There is no reason,” she says confidently, “for me to cry that in my family we have hunger.”
This is a far cry from when I first met Rasoa in 2011. She and her neighbors were enduring a deep hunger season; the period between the time when the food from the previous harvest ran out and the new harvest would come in was stretching on for months. Absenteeism at the nearby primary school was endemic; going to school was too much effort in the hunger season. Rasoa mourned a nephew who had died from the one-two punch of malaria and malnutrition.
But the harvest that year also marked the turnaround of her family’s fortune. She, along with many of her neighbors, had joined the One Acre Fund, a social enterprise organization bringing new thinking and energy to agricultural development in Africa. One Acre provided access to the essential elements of farming – namely, better quality seeds, soil nutrients and the financing to pay for it all, along with training, improved storage methods and market strategy – that had for many decades been out of the reach of the continent’s smallholder farmers.
Rasoa and her neighbors discovered that in just one season they could double and triple their harvest yields. If they could sustain that, they would have enough production to feed their families throughout the year and surpluses to sell to improve their farms and their lives.
“If you have enough food for yourself, you can decide to sell some of it at a good price and then you can invest in something else,” says Rasoa, who is as much a business woman as a farmer. If the hunger season is conquered, if diversified cropping leads to better nutrition, a farmer “can use the money to do something else rather than treating their children” for illnesses, she concludes.
Her life is now filled with “ands.” She has banished hunger from her farm AND she has built a sturdy new house with real bricks AND she has diversified her crops AND she has bought more livestock AND she has begun saving for the high school fees she will begin paying in another year when her oldest son begins secondary school.
This is the potential, the success, of Africa’s smallholder family farmers. They are the backbone of the continent. These farmers, tilling just an acre or two of land, are the majority of the population in many countries. They produce most of the continent’s food. Agriculture is the leading livelihood in Africa.
So, it only adds up that if they double and triple their harvests, they can feed their families, feed Africa and help feed the world.
“When farmers like me put on more effort and work hard, keep our minds on farming,” Rasoa says, “I think Africa will have enough food and it can come up with assisting other countries.”
Now wouldn’t that be the best news.