Giving rural Kenya’s smallholder farmers—many of whom are women—the resources they need to improve crop yields, increase profits, and transform their lives.

The Challenge

Across Africa, the majority of farmers are smallholders who oversee small plots of land and rarely produce a surplus beyond their own household consumption. Many of the world’s estimated 500 million smallholder farmers can barely feed their own families, let alone make a profit from their crops.

For the past 50 years, these farmers have been struggling to grow more and healthier food for their families and earn more income from their farms. They face significant challenges that have led to lower yields, including climate change, outdated seeds that are not adapted to withstand today’s pests and tough growing conditions, and a lack of access to new technologies and crop information. These farmers also lack access to finance, and because they live in rural areas, they have trouble getting modern seeds and fertilizers that are usually sold in the cities.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) seeks to address these challenges by investing in programs such as Farm Input Promotions Africa.

Farm Input Promotions Africa supports smallholder farmers by bringing high-quality, modern seeds to rural areas, educating farmers about how to use improved seeds, and selling seeds in smaller packages that farmers can afford. The program also employs agricultural advisors who live in rural villages and serve as a resource for local famers. Not only does this approach help farmers increase their yields and income, it helps create jobs and improve living standards in rural areas.

Impact: Lydia Wambui Karumba and Hellen Wanjuki Nyagah’s Story

Women smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to poverty and hunger, as they often lack equal access to agricultural information, financing, and decision-making power.

Lydia Wambui Karumba of rural Kenya was one of those women. Karumba was farming tomatoes and French beans, but she could not make her farm productive, and the water supply in her village was dangerously low. She struggled to make ends meet for her three children. Desperate, she switched to farming a local variety of maize. Unfortunately, that also proved unfruitful.

Then Hellen Wanjuki Nyagah, a Farm Input Promotions Africa advisor, came to her village and provided improved maize seeds and information on how best to plant them. That year, Karumba had a productive harvest—so productive, in fact, that she was able to build a foundation for a new house. Encouraged by the success of her crop, she used the new seeds that Nyagah brought the next season. “I kept on working hard,” Karumba explained.

After two seasons, she had earned enough to complete her house. The additional income has also helped her children thrive. Her oldest daughter finished secondary school, went to college, and got a job. Karumba’s younger children are following in their sister’s footsteps.

Before she met Nyagah, Karumba didn’t earn any income from maize. Now she earns Kes 69,000 (US$662) per year from maize alone. In addition to maize, she sells tree seedlings, goat milk, and surplus vegetables from her garden. Nyagah was such an instrumental part of helping Karumba and her neighbors that they fondly refer to her as “Mama Caro”, a term of respect that acknowledges her close relationship with the villagers she has helped.

Nyagah said the program has also helped her. “This sustains me, and I am able to continue supporting my farmers,” she said. “Through my work with [Farm Input Promotions Africa], I have been able to buy dairy goats and a water tank.”

The Farm Input Promotions Africa program is employing more than 1,500 advisors in East Africa, and aiming to reach 310,000 smallholder farm families. As a result of this work, and similar programs supported by AGRA, success stories like these will soon be found across Africa.