Emily and her husband grow maize and vegetables to eat and sell. But this isn’t enough to feed their family. So, they walk miles each day under a baking sun, often on an empty stomach, to find paid manual labour.
When drought struck the Kitui region of Kenya, Emily Mbithuka faced a terrible decision: “I managed to feed my family by eating very little,” she says. “We stored some maize to make sure we could feed the small ones, but the older children accepted hunger and skipped lunch. It really disturbed me to see them hungry.”
“If we were given a project to work on to raise money and grow vegetables, with training to start a small business, that would help us,” she says.
Emily’s not alone. Most people who go hungry are like her, living, day in, day out, unsure where the next meal is coming from. But this silent crisis rarely hits the headlines.
Emily’s frustrated because, despite her hard work, the amount she grows is too small to attract traders. Instead she sells to a shopkeeper, who sells her crop on at triple the price. “This isn’t fair. I feel exploited,” she says. “We don’t have an option of where to take our produce. It’s like we are being cheated.”
Low and unpredictable prices and poor storage facilities make it hard for small-scale farmers to sell their crops at a fair price. The climate in Kenya is also becoming more unpredictable, with increasingly frequent droughts affecting farmers’ ability to grow food.
The vast majority of Africa’s people get the food they need from small-scale farmers like Emily, not from supermarkets or global food companies.
The potential of these farmers is immense – the tomatoes that Emily grows can feed a hundred families – but they receive little support.
To prevent food crises happening again and again, we need to tackle the root causes of hunger. Global food companies need to be open and accountable for their part in our food system. Small-scale farmers like Emily need support to improve their income, access markets and boost their bargaining power.
Emily’s community survives because of sharing. When one person does not have enough, others in the community step in to help, knowing that their neighbours will help them. “Sharing is part of my faith,” she explains simply. “Sharing takes us through hard times.”