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How a Kenyan village tripled its corn harvest

The Millennium Villages Project is pricey. But it may hold answers to tackling the global food crisis.

By Eliza BarclayContributor / June 18, 2008

A SMARTER FARMER: Agre Ranyondo in Sauri, Kenya, quintupled his corn crop. Now he's planting other crops.

Eliza Barclay

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Sauri, Kenya

The dry months of April, May, and June were once equated with hunger for Agre Ranyondo and his neighbors in this community of 55,000 people.

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Mr. Ranyondo, a farmer, waited for the rains to come before he could plant corn on his six-acre plot. Often the 10 bags of corn he harvested through two planting seasons weren't enough to feed his family of eight.

But the cycle of hunger was broken last year.

The change began in 2005, when Ranyondo met with agricultural extension workers dispatched by the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an international organization conceived by economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute. He was given seeds better suited to the region, fertilizers, and was taught how to use them.

By 2007, Ranyondo had quintupled his annual output to 50 bags of corn, 20 of which he sold for cash and the other 30 he used to feed his family.

"We used to starve for these months, but now we are through starving," Ranyondo says. "The technical know-how in our farming is much improved."

Sauri is one of 80 Millennium Villages in 10 countries in Africa, where proven technologies, funded by donors, governments, and the community itself, are deployed to lift villagers in "hunger hot spots" out of poverty.

The project is not cheap. Each village operates on a budget of $110 per person per year over five years. The total cost: at least $1.5 million, a higher expenditure of aid than most development projects.

But increasingly these villages look to be oases of food security in Africa within the larger context of the global food crisis, which is hitting developing countries hard. Increasingly, the strategy for dealing with this crisis is to help small-scale farmers.

"No one is arguing anymore whether you can double production through input subsidies to small-holder farmers in most agricultural environments across Africa," says Glenn Denning, director of the Millennium Development Goals Center in Kenya. "We now have the evidence from the Millennium Villages that Africa holds tremendous potential to actually be the supply response to the global food crisis."

Since 2005, the prices of staples such corn, rice, and wheat have jumped 80 percent around the world. Yet, per capita food production has declined in Africa for the past 30 years and farm productivity is just one-quarter the global average, according to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Here in Kenya, corn production dropped by 6.1 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to Kenya's 2008 Economic Survey. This year, experts predict a shortfall of 10 million bags – about a third of the country's consumption.