Chacha’s Road: Hunger, Extreme Poverty and Agriculture
Nuru International’s Agriculture Program focuses on addressing the need of hunger in communities that live in situations of extreme poverty. How does Nuru International Agriculture Program address the need of hunger? To take a closer look at this question, let’s discuss a hypothetical example of one farmer.
Chacha, a farmer in Kuria West, Kenya, has a family of five. His main livelihood is subsistence farming from two acres of land. He mainly plants his farm to maize, from seed saved from the previous harvest. He uses some manure and green waste to fertilize his plot, but it’s not nearly enough for proper crop development. He manages the plot casually, broadcasting seed instead of laborious tilling, weeding infrequently, and resultantly he gets a poor harvest.
Chacha’s family experiences regular food deficits from February to May. This “hunger season” is the hardest time of the year for them. During the hunger season, Chacha’s food stores have run low or out completely from the last long rains harvest the previous August. Chacha is almost always exhausted, and rarely feels full. This same time of year is when Chacha has to plant his farm – a capital and labor intensive activity. So just when Chacha could most use labor (energy from food) and capital to invest in farming is when he is least able to do so.
Chacha sees one of his better off neighbors planting with oxen and with hoes, but he doesn’t have the money to rent oxen nor does he have the energy to plant with hoes. So he casts the seed over the land with minimal preparation. Chacha sees his better off neighbors fertilizing and weeding, but he doesn’t have the money for fertilizer. He spends some time weeding, but he tires quickly. The maize plants may succumb to disease anyways, as they are thin and lack nutrients, and Chacha didn’t invest that much to begin with. Instead of meticulously weeding, he manages his crops casually.
Unfortunately, Chacha’s yield doesn’t pay off much at the end of the season. He didn’t invest very much money into his crops, and he doesn’t have a surplus to sell after harvest. He’ll save some seed to use next year. He invested some labor in his crops, expending precious energy reserves when he was hungriest, and he got a small yield which will help tide over his family for another year.
In this example, Chacha was barely making ends meet from year to year. Chacha’s crop management was casual. He made a low investment and got a low return. When an economic shock, like a drought, crop disease or family sickness comes along, it exacts a heavy toll on Chacha and his highly vulnerable family.
Nuru International’s Agriculture Program helps change the equation for farmers like Chacha by offering them choices where few existed before. So where Chacha saw casual crop management as a reasonable strategy for his situation, there is a lost opportunity for Chacha to begin to lift himself and his family out of extreme poverty.
The Nuru Kenya Agriculture Program comes to Chacha’s area, and Chacha chooses to participate. Nuru Kenya’s Agriculture Program offers Chacha the opportunity to take a loan for farm inputs of fertilizers and improved hybrid seed. Chacha attends technical trainings, and learns how to work his farm more effectively. By investing more capital and labor during land preparation, he spends less time weeding later. Chacha quickly sees the results of his investment in the form of strong maize plants. He becomes more willing to invest his precious energy reserves in maintaining his now bountiful crops.
At the season’s end, the reward of Chacha’s investment pays off with more than double the yields he used to get. He now has surplus maize to sell and repays his loan. He has enough food in his stores for the entire next year. Now his family won’t have to endure another tough hunger season.
When it comes time for the following long rains cropping season, Chacha is even more resilient to economic shocks and better prepared to invest in his land. He can take a loan, even on his whole two acres. He has the energy to work his land, and does so willingly now that he has the opportunity.
This story reveals how Nuru International’s Agriculture Program works in Kenya to implement a program where local people, equipped with the right tools and knowledge, lift themselves out of extreme poverty by first addressing the basic need of hunger.
About Matt Lineal
Chief Program Officer — Matt received his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and a MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, and began his international service career in rural Honduras, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later with The Nature Conservancy. Over several years punctuated by severe challenges for Hondurans, his experiences were eye opening as to how people navigate the complexities of rural life. Matt was drawn to Nuru International in 2011 with the resolve to take on tough challenges and has been humbled and amazed to be part of the transformational impact of local leaders. As Nuru’s Chief Program Officer, Matt continues to promote the agency of rural communities as the foundation of meaningful positive change.Read More Stories of Hope