Back when members of the Network for Africa team were at school, none of us believed we would one day be calculating how much wood was needed to make a pig shed. Nor did we think we’d require intimate knowledge of irrigation systems.
Yet, here we are, trudging up terraced hills in Rwanda to admire banana plants; and sitting in the shade of shea nut trees in northern Uganda, discussing crop yields with former child soldiers.
You will have heard sophisticated theories about how to tackle poverty in the developing world. Yet, in our experience, improving agricultural skills delivers rewards in a way that is sustainable. Training people to make the best use of what little land they have also tackles the most pressing problem faced by millions of families: hunger.
This isn’t just a theory: as The Economist reports, “The magic ingredient in China’s poverty reduction formula since the 1980s has not been its factories but its highly productive small farms. Much the same is true for other Asian countries.”
Four-fifths of the world’s extremely poor people live in rural areas, and just over half of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. Even in countries now enjoying peace, African agriculture is comparatively inefficient. That is why Network for Africa’s partners are equipping survivors of conflict with the skills needed to make the most of their land, either as individuals, or in cooperatives.
This month in Rwanda we saw the progress made by a group of women whom the Rwandan authorities had classed as vulnerable, so great were their everyday challenges. In the remote hills of Rutunga we witnessed how they have transformed barren land into a highly productive resource, providing bananas and tamarillos, potatoes and beans, all part of the staple diet of Africa’s most beautiful country.
We are proud that our partners have taught members of the cooperative literacy, health, hygiene, nutrition, first aid, family planning and their legal rights. This is an essential part of the holistic approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. But on a daily basis, the agricultural training they received means they can feed their children, and sell the surplus to pay for medical insurance and education. This has a profound effect on the life chances of children. It is both a quick fix for hunger, and a means of equipping parents to take control of their lives.
We salute our friends in Rwanda and Uganda, thankful that they are improving the lives of hundreds of people, one step at a time. We also thank our supporters who make this work possible. To contribute to Network for Africa’s work, please click the arrow on the right of the screen.