Ending Africa’s Hungry Season for Smallholder Farmers

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By Jameson Spivack

Every year, in parts of rural sub-Saharan Africa, residents experience what is known as the hungry season. This is when people run out of food before the next harvest season and cannot afford to buy food. During this period of time, in which many experience malnutrition, the most vulnerable, including the young, the elderly, and the sick, are even more at risk of illness and death.

During the “hungry season,” yields from the harvest season die out, and many face starvation. (Image credit: partnership-africa.org)

Many projects have attempted to provide assistance to Africa’s struggling agriculture and development sectors. Sometimes the approaches are top-down instead of bottom-up, or political and economic considerations interfere with the proper implementation of the project.

But Andrew Youn, founder of the One Acre Fund (OAF), believes using business models that support small-scale farmers, as opposed to large-scale, donation-heavy projects, is a more effective way to develop a sustainable solution to the agricultural difficulties people in sub-Saharan Africa face. “We are going to build the largest network of small holding farmers in Africa,” he projects.

OAF supports smallholder farmers by providing affordable “bundles” of goods and services to those in need of assistance. These “bundles” include fertilizer, seed, agricultural training, credit, and access to markets. By designing the organization with business principles in mind, instead of operating as a charity, OAF intends to develop a sense of independence and self-sufficiency among the farmers the organization is supporting. “I really believe in charging for a service, so that we know that farmers actually want it,” says Youn.

OAF’s market-based sensibilities also help it remain viable and growing, instead of dependent on donations and grants. “Because we’re charging them for the good or service it means we can [ensure financial] sustainability as an organization,” says Stephanie Hanson, director of policy and outreach, and an author in Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2011.

By allowing farmers, on average, to triple their initial harvest, OAF helps farmers provide enough food for their families and those in their communities, while doubling their profits. It also allows farmers to purchase crop insurance, which serves as a safety net in times when poor weather conditions can destroy crops and harm any investments farmers may have made. OAF aims to tackle the hungry season by revitalizing local agricultural economies. In doing so, it hopes to allow farmers to produce more, increase economic activity in the area, and help lift the burden of hunger.

OAF hopes to increase accessibility to agricultural resources in rural sub-Saharan Africa. “You can get a Coca-Cola, often cold, in nearly any rural village in Kenya,” says Youn. “We want to make basic agriculture technologies, finance, and training every bit as ubiquitous.”

Jameson Spivack is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about the hungry season and the One Acre Fund see: Ending the Hunger Season, One Acre Fund: Serving Rural Smallholder Farmers, Supporting Rural Communities, One Acre at a Time: An Interview with Margaret Vernon, and Gilbert and Edith Dream of the Future.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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