How we help keep families on the farm - and why it matters

For centuries people have been steadily moving from the rural areas of Africa into its cities, a trend that has accelerated in the last few decades.

These people come looking for work and better education opportunities, but the problem is they’re often moving into a more difficult situation than the one they’re trying to escape.

The biggest cities in Africa may not be household names but they are full of slums and are miserable places to live for most vulnerable - yet rural people continue to migrate to them seeking a “better life”.

So how does World Vision slow the migration of rural people to these overcrowded urban slums? The answer in short is to make life in rural areas better - so much better that people do not want to move to the city.

Creating better opportunities in rural areas

Economic development is an important part of World Vision’s work because we want to create long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty. It’s also what people want. In fact,studies have shown that the number one interest of people living in poverty is economic development. They don’t want to just get by; they want the opportunity of a better life and greater opportunities for themselves and their children.

It is not enough to have enough food – for farming families to get ahead, they need to make money by selling excess food in order to pay for their different needs. This is why World Vision seeks to provide farm families with more profitable crops and enterprises.

Making money from the farm isn’t always easy.

When I was managing agriculture projects in Africa over a decade ago, the World Vision economist at the time walked into my office with some depressing news: “Brian, I have crunched all the numbers and farming just doesn’t make money,” he told me. “We have to get farm families into buying and selling goods.” 

It was sad news to me on that day, but fortunately since then things have changed. While the Global Food Crisis, which caused worldwide food shortages and high food prices, has been hard on the urban poor it actually helps most rural poor because growing food makes them more money – sometimes lots of money. Even so, we must help farmers plan for a time when the price of crops might fall.

Strength in numbers: encouraging farmers to band together

World Vision’s approach to supporting farmers and making farming more profitable usually starts with forming a farmers group. People in rural villages have a great sense of community and these groups rely on people supporting one another.

Having caring and capable group leaders is important so they can help others, especially as groups in Africa often contain people with disabilities and social disadvantages, such as older people, widows and orphans. Sometimes the group leaders are also the only ones in the community who speak the national language and can translate for the other members.

World Vision runs training for farming groups on how to develop their group, establish procedures, organise, hold meetings and run farming projects.

Treating farming as a business

Many poor families treat farming as a lifestyle rather than a business, but training on the output and profits from different crops can change their attitudes. World Vision helps farmers to learn about high value crops by encouraging farming groups to test new techniques and crop varieties next to their and by providing the initial seeds to plant.

Supporting farmers to start growing vegetables is a top priority. Originally World Vision health workers promoted vegetables as a way to improve and vary diets but due to urbanisation many affluent Africans are now demanding more vegetables. Some of the most successful crops with high value are soybeans, sesame, pineapple and banana – and, happily, these are usually more nutritious as well.

When farmers are trained to see farming as a business they are better prepared in case food prices should drop again. World Vision’s training helps to make farmers less vulnerable to changes in the market and more capable to use those changes to their advantage.

World Vision’s work in rural areas is helping to make migration less attractive to farm families as their life and income improves.

 

By Brian Hilton, Food Security Advisor for World Vision Australia

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