The following series of posts are excerpts and adaptations from Roger Thurow’s new book, The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.
The book follows the lives of four smallholder farmers in western Kenya. These farmers are all enrolled in One Acre Fund, an innovative agriculture organization that provides seed and fertilizer, financing, training, and market facilitation to 130,000 farmers in East Africa.
RASOA WASIKE – Thirty-year-old mother of three young boys. Her bright smile provides a welcoming embrace to all she meets, but I found her ambitious plans for her small farm to be equally radiant. Her goal was to turn her major asset, her maize harvest, into an investment for the future. The more maize she can grow, the more money she will have to diversify her farm and her family’s diet, and to provide a better education for her children. She was not only a smallholder farmer but a businesswoman with big dreams.
Excerpt (adapted from pages 32 to 35):
Rasoa had harvested ten bags of maize on a half-acre in her first year with One Acre. It was more than double her previous best harvest. She rejoiced that for once she might have enough maize to stretch through the year, sustaining her husband, herself and their three boys: Timothy, 11; Arnest, nine; and, David, six. In the post-harvest months she was storing her maize in a corner of their bedroom. By the beginning of the year, they had consumed one-and-half bags of maize, alternating maize meals with bananas, cassava, and vegetables. At that rate, Rasoa calculated the remaining bags would last them until the next August harvest.
But in the second week of January, she received a tantalizing offer. A neighbor was desperate to sell a calf for 8,500 shillings, which Rasoa thought to be a very good price. Rasoa and her husband, Cyrus, huddled in their mud-and-sticks house and pondered the decision. ….
RELATED: Francis’ story
Rasoa and Cyrus wanted each of their boys to have a high school education and the chance for a future beyond subsistence farming. Like most farmers, they didn’t have a formal savings account in a bank. There was no such thing as a 529 education savings plan, no 401(k) saving strategies. But Rasoa and Cyrus were now thinking of a 401(Cow) plan. The calf would grow like an investment account. In two years, when their oldest son would be entering high school, the calf would be bigger, a full-grown dairy cow, and it would sell for twice the price. That would go a long way toward covering a year of tuition. In the meantime, as the calf matured, it would begin to produce milk. That would be the accumulating interest. The cow would be both a longer-term investment and a true liquid asset. ….
So they decided to sell the maize. And by the third week of January, a young black-and-white calf of the premium milk-producing breed stood in the middle of their shamba, picking at the grass. It was tethered to a rope anchored to a wooden stake hammered deep into the ground. Rasoa named the calf “One Acre” so it would remind the family of the benefits that had come from using better inputs, following up-to-date farming advice, and reaping a harvest that gave them choices.
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow will be released on May 29.
Roger Thurow is a journalist and author. He was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal for 30 years, 20 of them as a foreign correspondent. He is now a senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. His Outrage and Inspire column appears on the Council’s Global Food For Thought blog. His first book, ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, was published in 2009.