Investing in women farmers is a powerful way to improve nutrition. In many African countries and throughout the developing world, women cultivate the staple crops like corn and beans that make up the daily meals. But it is all too common that they fail to produce enough food to feed their families throughout the year.
A lack of access to land, seeds, financing, and markets leads to meager harvests and a descent into an annual hunger season, the period between harvests when food stocks dwindle and disappear. It is a time of profound deprivation when meals shrink from three a day, to two, to one, to sometimes none.
It is a cruel irony that the world’s hungriest people are smallholder farmers, and most often those farmers are women. “When you, as a parent, see your child not eating enough to be satisfied, you are hurt, but you are not in a position to control the situation,” Zipporah Biketi, a farmer in western Kenya, lamented.
Declining nutrition and health
Her family was deep into the hunger season. Her youngest child, a two-year-old son, was manifestly malnourished, and the three older children were becoming thinner by the day. Zipporah agonized over their declining nutrition and health. She felt she was failing on two fronts: as a farmer with low crop yields and as a mother unable to properly nourish her children. But later that season, when the new harvest came in, Zipporah experienced a remarkable transformation in her family’s life.
She had joined One Acre Fund, a social enterprise organization working to end the hunger season. For the first time she received access to better quality seeds, microdosing levels of fertilizer, technical training, and the financing to pay for it all.
Zipporah and her husband Sanet were astonished when their maize harvest increased tenfold. Not only did they have enough food to conquer the hunger season, they had a surplus of maize they could sell to raise money to build a new, sturdier house and to plant a second season of crops—a rich variety of vegetables—that diversified their diets and knocked back malnutrition. Zipporah was finally in a position to control her family’s well-being and to proudly declare herself a success as both farmer and mother.