Change starts here

Small farmers with a big message for the world

Invest more in smallholder agriculture.

That's the message a group of farmers and villagers from Kasama, Zambia – a landlocked country in Southern Africa – set out to tell the world when they created an investment report like no other.

Carved into the very land that farmers use to feed their communities, the Field Report shows just how important investment in smallholder agriculture can be in reducing poverty in Africa and feeding a hungry planet.

The report is a series of graphs the farmers tilled into the soil and represent four broader issues:

1. Sub-Saharan Africa has a quarter of the world’s arable land but only produces 10 per cent of its agricultural output.

2. Year after year, rural poverty is driving people to leave the countryside in search of a better life in the city. Overcrowded cities put vulnerable youth at risk and causes forced migration.

3. By 2050 there will be more than 9 billion people on earth. That means two billion more mouths to feed by mid-century.

4. In sub-Saharan Africa, economic growth from agriculture is 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty than any other sector.

Take a look at the report and video below and learn more about these four important issues and the role that agriculture can play in addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Agriculture could be the world's
most vital investment

Fact: sub-Saharan Africa has a quarter of the world’s arable land but only produces 10% of the world’s agricultural output.

Source: Jayaram, K., J. Riese, and S. Sanghvi. Agriculture: Abundant opportunities. McKinsey Quarterly. 2010.

"When the drought hit,
my crops did not have enough water.
I had low yields and a shortage of food.
Farmers in Africa need more support.
We need plows, fertilizers and good quality seeds."

Augustine Chilumba, 60, bean and maize farmer from Kasama, Zambia.

"Before, farming was very laborious,
and seeds were too expensive.
We never had enough to eat.
I could not afford to send all my children to school.
The older ones went, but the smaller ones were left out."

Christine Samba, 54, seed grower and cassava and maize farmer from Kasama, Zambia.

Agriculture holds great promise for Africa. More than half of the Earth’s arable land – roughly 600 million hectares – is located in Africa.

And while other parts of the world are reaching the limits to the amount they grow per hectare of land, Africa can still substantially increase yields with currently available technology.

Yet, Africa is a net importer of food. Despite an abundance of uncultivated farmland, countries in the region spend US $35 billion importing food rather than creating the conditions to grow more food locally.

A lack of political will, supportive agricultural policies, and investment, coupled with a focus on short-term development solutions, have left large tracts of agricultural land underutilized, smallholder farmers poor and food insecurity on the rise in some places.

In Africa, there are an estimated 33 million smallholder farms, and the farmers that live on them contribute up to 70 per cent of the food supply.

With greater investment in smallholder agriculture, many countries have the potential to increase food production and reduce poverty.

Zambia is one of those places.

With large expanses of arable land and an abundance of water in the north, Zambia has all the ingredients to be the breadbasket of Africa.

But bringing farming into the 21st century and dealing with rural poverty remain massive hurdles.

Although agriculture accounts for about 20 per cent of Zambia's GDP, agricultural productivity in the country is low by global standards and more than 60 per cent of Zambians live below the poverty line.

Droughts and floods have increased in frequency and intensity over the last two decades and have had an adverse impact on food and water security, energy generation and livelihoods.

“Zambian smallholder agriculture is facing a lot of challenges,” says Martin Liywalii, the programme manager of the IFAD-supported Smallholder Productivity Promotion Programme (S3P), from his office in Lusaka, Zambia.

“Low yields and production levels, and a lack of access to quality seeds are some of the biggest issues,” he says, noting that these challenges combined with changing weather patterns are contributing to rural poverty and hunger.

According to Robert Delve, IFAD’s senior technical specialist in agronomy, African countries like Zambia have an immense potential for improving agricultural outputs and reducing rural poverty.

But he says governments need to focus on intensifying agricultural production rather than on expanding into environmentally sensitive ecosystems.

“We must produce more food on the land we have without degrading the soil, cutting down trees and moving into environmentally sensitive areas,” says Delve.

“We need to support smallholder farmers so that they can stay in agriculture and see farming as a business while using good agricultural practices that allow them to increase production without causing large-scale deforestation.”
Photo credits: IFAD

A mother's struggle

With her granddaughter by her side, Ruth Stephen Chileshe proudly shows off the large iron-roofed brick house she recently built selling maize, cassava, beans and ground nuts from her small farm in rural Zambia.

Only 10 meters down the pathway stand the remnants of her old and much smaller home. The roofless structure serves as a poignant reminder of the life of extreme poverty that Chileshe and her seven children have left behind.

“When my husband passed away I could not take care of my family. There was no income,” says Chileshe, 56, surveying the farmland behind her home in Lwabwa village.

“I was trying very hard to send my seven children to school but it was very difficult to pay the school fees. We did not have enough food to eat and I had to rely on handouts from other families."

Ruth Stephen Chileshe, a smallholder farmer from Kasama, Zambia.

Desperate to feed her family, Chileshe turned to small-scale farming to earn more income. She started to grow small amounts of maize on the land behind her house using traditional tilling techniques such as ridging to plant the seeds.

However, clearing and preparing the soil was incredibly time and labour intensive to do alone and with only a hand hoe.

“When I first started I could only plant a few square meters of crops because it was so much work to prepare the soil,” she says.

“After all that work, I would harvest the crops but there would be problems with termites. I would lose almost all of my crops because of the pests and I would lose money,” says Chileshe, who at the time was earning an annual income of 800 kwachas (approximately US$80 a year).

Chileshe lives in a remote rural farming community outside the northern capital of Kasama.

For the past few years, farmers and villagers have battled extreme poverty and malnutrition due to low crop yields brought about by difficulties in tilling the land, depleted soils, and deforestation.

The community is highly reliant on smallholder agriculture and grows crops such as maize, cassava, and beans – staples in the Zambian diet.

However, the high cost of farming inputs (fertilizers and seeds), and the lack of farming tools and machinery such as tractors, means that the majority of farmers cannot afford to cultivate large areas of land.

Since farming by hand is so arduous, Chileshe and her fellow farmers resorted to the timeless tradition of chitemene – slash and burn agriculture – to quickly clear the land. This led to deforestation and poor soil quality, hampering local food production and putting an already hungry community into peril.

Conserving labour, renewing the soil

Life began to improve for Chileshe when she received support and training in conservation agriculture - a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil's structure, composition, and natural biodiversity.

These climate-friendly and low-cost techniques are part of the IFAD-supported Smallholder Productivity Promotion Programme. They help farmers increase their yields, decrease their labour and improve their livelihoods.

The research-based initiative, which began in 2014, has been steadily improving income levels, and the food and nutrition security of over 38,000 rural households in the Luapula, Northern and Muchinga provinces of Zambia.

Building a better life

Chileshe is proud of the new life she has been able to build for her children and grandchildren.

The new agricultural techniques have helped her drastically increase her yields, from 15 to 32 bags of maize. This means her profits have grown from 800 kwachas a year (US$80) to over 6,000 kwachas a year (US$670).

Chileshe is not the only farmer to see a change in her life.

The programme has seen a number of farmers in the community dramatically increase yields, while reducing rates of malnutrition and enabling more children to go to the local school.

Song lyrics: The solution to hunger is farming. When a child is crying, you can feed them through farming.

"Before it was hard for me to cultivate the land every season. The old way of farming was too hard and took too much time,” she admits.

There is less labour needed with the new way of farming, says Chileshe, so she can spend more time doing business, selling goods at the market and spending time with her family.

"Now I am able to feed my children. I am healthy and my family is healthy. The children are going to school. We don't have to worry about hunger or poor nutrition anymore," she says.

She says that she encourages other women in her community to try conservation agriculture because it is easy to maintain.

“Even someone who is a widow or who is alone can manage their farms and their lives. If the soil is kept well, it becomes rich.”

Fact: African cities are growing rapidly.
Just over one-quarter of Africans lived in cities 30 years ago. By 2030 it will jump to half of all Africans.

Source: Grain Fish Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolution. Africa Progress Report. 2014.

"Some young people think:
Farming is only for old people.
That is not good and that is not true.
Farming is for everyone: no farming means no food and no future."

Kennedy Mpingu, 40, potato, maize and bean farmer from Kasama, Zambia.

No part of the planet is urbanizing faster than sub-Saharan Africa. And rates of population growth are also extremely high.

The continent’s population of roughly 1.1 billion is expected to double by 2050. Africa’s youth population (15-24 years) is growing faster than any other region. About 70 per cent of the continent is under 30.

The fast pace of urbanization, combined with a growing “youth bulge” – especially the high proportion of young people with few job prospects – is a major risk factor for instability in the region.

In rural areas, the challenges for Africa’s young women and men are particularly complex.

Constraints on access to land, natural resources, finance, technology, knowledge, information and education make it difficult for young rural people to make a living and contribute to the local economy.

Hunger, poverty, youth unemployment and forced migration — all have deep roots in rural areas.

Since agriculture is seen as laborious and poorly paid, few young people aspire to remain in rural areas and make a living from farming.

Too often, this means that their only option is to migrate, either to urban areas or overseas.

An estimated 440 million young people will enter the labour market by 2030 in Africa alone. Demand for rural labour services will be essential for absorbing these new entrants into the workforce.

Hunger, poverty, youth unemployment and forced migration — all have deep roots in rural areas; and all can be vastly improved through investing in small-scale agriculture and inclusive rural development.

Download the latest IFAD and World Bank Rural Youth Employment paper to learn more about which investments can create jobs for rural youth.

Also, learn more about how IFAD-supported projects are working to support and employ youth in rural areas from this recent blog post.

“Since agriculture is seen as laborious and poorly paid, few young people aspire to remain in rural areas and make a living from farming. Many are migrating, either to urban areas or overseas.”

Mattia Prayer Galletti, IFAD’s lead technical specialist for rural youth

Photo credits: IFAD

Fact: By 2050, the global population will exceed 9 billion. That is two billion more people to feed.

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Population Prospects. New York: United Nations. 2015.

"Farming is very important to feed my country.
We can't only depend on importing food;
we need to produce and export."

Felix Kangwa, 55, cassava, maize and bean farmerin Kasama, Zambia.

In order to meet the world’s growing food needs, agricultural production must double by 2050, food waste must be reduced and food systems have to become sustainable and efficient.

Feeding a growing population without putting an already fragile planet at risk is the challenge.

One way to do this is by investing in sustainable and climate-friendly farming approaches driven by the world’s largest group of local food producers – smallholder farmers.

Smallholder farmers need our support

An estimated 3 billion people – around 40 per cent of the global population – live in rural areas of developing countries.

Most depend on small, family farms for their income and sustenance.

Smallholder farmers grow the food that feeds their nations, accounting for up to 80 per cent of production in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.

These farmers understand firsthand the challenges of growing food in a changing climate and can offer the world independent diversified farms and food products.But these farmers are also often extremely poor.

Eighty per cent of the women, children and men living in extreme poverty live in rural areas, not cities.

The cruel irony is that the people producing the world’s food often go hungry themselves and are bearing the brunt of climate change and the degradation of natural resources.

With greater support and investment, smallholder farmers have an important role to play in feeding their communities and future populations.

Photo credits: IFAD

"Now, more people can
build houses, thanks to farming.
The community earns more money,
and the children are better off."

Nancy Mukuka, 16, new farmer in Kasama, Zambia.

"We need more children
educated in rural areas.
Governments need to continue
investing in agriculture.
It has a long-term impact
and makes a real difference."

Daka Tailani, 35, teacher at Lwabwe Primary School in Kasama, Zambia.

Fact: Growth from agriculture is 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty than any other sector.*

Source: FAO. The State of Food Insecurity in the World. 2015. *In sub-Saharan Africa.

"My life is better now.
I can feed my family.
I would advise other women
to work hard on cultivating the land.
Through farming, they can get anything they want:
more food, a house or send their children to school."

Faides Nachela, 59, ground nut and maize farmer in Kasama, Zambia.

The world has reached the last mile in the race to end poverty.

More than 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty since 1990. But today there are still more than 793 million extremely poor children, women and men who go to sleep hungry or chronically undernourished every evening.

And nearly all - 98 per cent - live in developing countries. For many, the situation is dire. Famine threatens at least 30 million people in Africa and the Near East. And some 108 million people in 48 countries face severe, acute food insecurity.

Governments and international organizations have agreed to the ambitious goals of ending poverty and hunger by 2030 – the first and second of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
These two goals alone will alleviate much of the world’s suffering.

We can be the first generation to end extreme poverty, the most determined generation in history to end injustice and inequality, and the last generation to be threatened by climate change.

The world’s 500 million small farms produce as much as 80 per cent of food in some areas of developing countries and support the lives and livelihoods of up to 2.5 billion people.

In some countries – particularly those most at risk of famine – the main cause of hunger is conflict. But for hundreds of thousands of food insecure people, hunger is a result of poverty and inequality.

It is a result of the exclusion of small-scale producers from larger food systems.

Only inclusive rural transformation can lift people out of poverty, revitalize isolated communities, offer opportunities to all and slow the flight of economic migrants to cities and countries further afield.

In sub-Saharan Africa, growth from agriculture can be as much as 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty than any other sector.


Because successful small farms provide jobs and support off-farm activities. Small family farms generate income that is spent in rural communities and stimulates rural economies, which in turn contribute to peace and security and lift families, communities and countries out of poverty.

And small farms grow the food that feeds us all.

Photo credits: IFAD

"Farming is critical to good nutrition.
Before, we used to receive
many malnutrition cases at the clinic.
As the farmers' yields and incomes improved,
the community's overall health has improved."

Bertha Chishiki, 49, nurse at Nkolemfumu Clinic in Kasama, Zambia.

"I am proud to be a farmer:
This allows me to take care of my family.
We can always access food now,
and I can afford to send my children to school."

Abel Bwalya, 46, cassava and maize farmer from Kasama, Zambia.

About IFAD

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience.

We work where poverty and hunger are deepest: in the most remote regions of developing countries and fragile situations.
Since 1978, we have provided US$18.5 billion in grants and low-interest loans to small-scale agricultural projects that have reached about 464 million people.

Our work helps people change their lives and communities, and contributes directly to the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Learn more at