THE BLOG

Feeding 1 Billion People Through Agriculture Finance

10/11/2013 04:46 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

If feeding a continent were a simple equation, no one in Africa would go hungry.

Its landmass exceeds that of China, Western Europe, India, Argentina and the continental U.S. combined, with enough arable land to feed 2.5 billion people.

With a population of 1 billion, Africa should have plenty of food to spare. It should be the largest exporter of food in the world.

Unfortunately there are many factors disrupting this equation in Africa, preventing it from functioning efficiently and leaving millions of people hungry.

At Opportunity International, we believe agriculture finance is the missing link to bridge the gap from food scarcity to security.

Most farmers in Africa are smallholder producers who raise one crop per year and have little to sell beyond what feeds their family, if that. They operate at just 40 percent efficiency because they can't afford quality seed or reach reliable markets. Lack of irrigation leaves farmers at the mercy of an unpredictable climate. And so the cycle of poverty continues.

I met Betty Mulooki, an Opportunity International client, earlier this year during a trip to Uganda. The mother of three started tending four acres of sugarcane in 2012 after a processing plant opened in her village. A local growers' association connected Betty with Opportunity International, which offered her a loan to expand her plot to six acres. Betty is now able to send her children to school, and she says her life is forever changed for the better. I am inspired by Betty's passion and entrepreneurial commitment to providing for her family and community. One loan opened the door for Betty to become a leader.

And Betty is not alone. This year, Opportunity International's agriculture finance products have enabled an estimated 80,000 farmers in Africa to buy seed, irrigate land and fertilize crops. We have also trained farmers in modern techniques and connected them with trustworthy markets so they make the most of our financial support.

The result: Farmers who could barely feed their families now cultivate a sustainable business that allows them to save for lean times, send their kids to school and season-by-season lift themselves out of poverty -- all while producing more food for a hungry continent.

Hunger is an issue we can tackle, but it requires solutions that empower communities to leverage resources from multiple angles. As the former CEO of Feeding America and now as I lead an organization pioneering agriculture finance, I understand the link between hunger and poverty. And I am not alone. Leaders like Howard Buffet have shown a significant commitment to ending global hunger by investing in new approaches to help the world's most vulnerable people. On October 28th I am joining Mr. Buffet for an event in Chicago called "40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World." The program will certainly be impressive, and I am honored to be part of the collaboration between organizations and individuals who understand the dedication and hard work it will take to end extreme poverty.

I urge you to join Opportunity International as we work toward a solution to end global hunger and move one step closer to eradicating extreme poverty. As partners, we can unlock the potential of farmers in Africa to each day put food on 1 billion plates.