Poverty First


There are thousands of important problems in the world, summarized and characterized into the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Those goals are not ordered by importance, except that many of the other goals can’t be reached until 1 No Poverty is solved, or at least mostly solved.

This unvoiced prioritization shows up quite often in the questions of impact investors.

For example three recent questions from our existing investors: Are all of the Africa Eats 100,000+ smallholder farmers using sustainable, organic farming practices? Are all the farmers using restorative agricultural processes to improve their land? Are all the trucks you are planning are buying electric instead of polluting the atmosphere burning diesel?

We wish the answers were all yes, but the answers are all no.

Purposefully no, as the mission of Africa Eats is to eliminate hunger and poverty in Africa. Adding on missions for sustainable, restorative agriculture using carbon-free energy would not just mean slowing down the successes toward lowering hunger and poverty but very likely creating a net gain in both of those issues.

To understand why, put aside the well-meaning goals and put yourself in the shoes of the smallholder farmers. A farmer growing maize, beans, and bananas. In a good season, the family will eat all of the maize and beans and some of the bananas, selling the surplus bananas to one of the Africa Eats aggregators. One day this farmer finds holes in the banana leaves. Whether due to an insect or a fungus or whatnot, the farmer has a choice of either losing their income from the bananas, and giving up a dozen meals so that their children are not hungry this month, or buying an insecticide or herbicide, treating the bananas, and not just not being hungry, but having an income.

These farmers are poor, but they are just as rational as you or me, and they choose to not be hungry and they choose the path that gives them an income.

With that income, and similar incomes from the next few seasons they can break the cycle of poverty they grew up in. Their children get to eat every day. Their children get to go to school. They can save up to buy a few chickens, add eggs to their diets, and their children won’t have the protein deficiency issues they’ve dealt with all their life. With enough chickens they can buy a solar light for their house, and have light after dinner that doesn’t shorten their lives like kerosene lanterns do. They can save up for a clean cookstove, stop cooking on three stones, save half of the time or money on fuel, and eliminate 80% of the smoke that kills millions of women and children each year.

And once started up this path from subsistence farming to middle class, they can then make the decision on when it is best for them to switch to more organic, sustainable, restorative farming practices, rather than investors insisting they do that now, while the farmers are still struggling to feed their families every day.

This is why Africa Eats’s mission is eliminating hunger and poverty. Do that first. Do that for millions of farmers. And the rest of the SDGs are far easier to accomplish.

To see what life is like as a subsistence farmer, visit Gapminder’s Dollar Street

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