At Small Foundation, we focus our efforts on the hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty and chronic hunger in rural sub-Saharan Africa. We do this in the belief that the economic conditions of extremely poor people in rural Africa, mainly small-scale subsistence farmers, are not only unacceptable in a world of plenty but can be permanently transformed by the people themselves.
The deepening challenge
Despite impressive economic growth rates in many African economies, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of rural people living in extreme poverty is still increasing. Africa has the highest proportion of its population living in rural areas of any region in world, and is the only region in the world where the rural population will continue to increase for the next 30 to 40 years, despite also having the highest urban growth rates.1
The depth of poverty in which so many people in rural Africa live is grinding, degrading and self-perpetuating. Lacking the access to the knowledge, finance, technology and markets which they need to generate a sustainable income from their farms, smallholder farmers struggle to grow enough food on their small plots of land to feed their families, with many enduring chronic hunger every year. In addition to the unacceptable cost in human suffering, this chronic hunger permanently stunts their children’s physical and mental development, and, combined with the lack of money to pay school fees, robs the next generation of a productive and bright future, trapping them in the vicious cycle of extreme poverty.
And conditions are already becoming even more challenging. Climate change is severely affecting weather patterns in sub-Saharan Africa and, along with it, people’s ability to rely on rain-fed agriculture to meet their food and income needs. Already vulnerable, small-scale producers can no longer accurately predict when to plant their crops, leaving them in urgent need of climate-risk mitigating knowledge and technologies, like drought-resistant seeds and irrigation.
The growing opportunity
At the same time, African farmers have an enormous and growing market opportunity which has the potential to sustainably transform their livelihoods and the rural economies in which they live. Local, regional and global demand for food are all rising, with many looking to increased African agricultural productivity to feed an estimated 9 billion world population by 2050.2 Rapid urbanisation and the growing middle class in Africa mean there are attractive market opportunities for agribusinesses to meet local and regional demand for high-quality, safe food and thereby reduce sub-Saharan Africa’s soaring food import bill.
The World Bank estimates that Africa has the potential to create a trillion dollar food market by 2030,3 if African farmers can increase their productivity, improve value chain efficiency and link formal and informal markets. With up to 90 per cent of production in some sub-Saharan African countries coming from farms of two hectares or less,4 smallholder farmers are absolutely central to the meeting the region’s demand for food and the potential exists to turn this demand into inclusive economic growth for rural Africans across the continent.
 MDG 2013 Progress Chart: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2013/Progress_E.pdf