October 13, 2013 | By Roger Thurow

Africa's Good News

Rasoa Wasike serves lunch to her family.

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.


| By Roger Thurow

A Wondrous Journey

Cruising down I-80 in the summer is one of the most wondrous, and paradoxical, drives in the country.

| By Roger Thurow

1,000 Days and Migrant Stress

The first 1,000 days of a child's life is a critical time for development, where nutrition--and stability--lay the foundation for a lifetime. 

| By Roger Thurow

Outrage and Inspire with Roger Thurow - Am I About to Lose My Second Child, Too?

The latest podcast in our ongoing series with Roger Thurow. Hear how even the best nutrition projects can be undermined by bad water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lousy infrastructure.  From northern Uganda, we hear a mother’s agony when her healthy, robust child suddenly falls ill after a few sips of water…unclean water, it turned out.

Roger Thurow on SDG 2.2

Roger Thurow sat down with Farming First to talk about the individual and societal consequences of malnutrition. 




Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Learn more »


Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »