3.20.2014 | printed in the Winter 2014 issue of VITAL magazine
It felt like time travel. I’ve seen pictures of corn fields that looked like this in the early 1900s – black and white, dusty pictures. Not something you see today. But it wasn’t time travel. It was Kenya.
As our bus drove to our mission trip site, I gazed at the corn fields that passed by my window. I don’t even know if you could call them fields. Corn was planted in ditches along the side of the road – two to three rows here, a few more plants there. It was squeezed in between houses and grown sporadically in backyards with not one plant that probably even reached my shoulder.
My family and I were in Tawa, Kenya with our church to help build a school for deaf kids. In our time there, I became more aware of the food situation. In conversations with the farmers we were staying with that week, they told me that most families struggle to grow enough food for their families.
There was a crop failure while we were there. The farmer’s wife told me, “There will be a famine. The government will feed us or people will die.”
There will be a famine.
She said it in a way that seemed so ordinary to her. With all of the U.S. advancements in agriculture, I knew there had to be something we could do to help. If we’ve been able to increase our yields six-fold in the last 70 years, we should certainly be able to help Africa increase their yields.
When we arrived back on U.S. soil, I started conversations with seed companies. Dupont Africa put us in touch with a company called Farm Input Productions (FIPS). Their mission coincides directly with my family’s foundation. Our motto follows the quote, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” FIPS also believes that it’s better to build an entrepreneurial agricultural environment than to give out free food. We have much in common with their mission.
So we started teaching by way of Village-based Advisors (VBAs). We’ll help educate these advisors who will then train others in their area on agricultural best practices – from increased yields for corn, edible beans and cassava to vaccinating livestock to increase survival rates significantly.
It’ll take some time to spread the education, but even just in the initial phase, this 4-year program will help bring 126,000 people out of poverty.
I’m planning to take more trips back to the area to assess the program. And each time I go, I hope to witness a change that is truly inspiring in the lives of those less fortunate than us.
Other Stories in this collection:
In Sight: Time Travel
by Jeff Broin, Executive Chairman and Founder of POET