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In the long-term, the foremost perhaps negative outcome of the present global financial crisis will have been to have desensitized us to the use value of money. When the daily headlines are bogged down by debates over billions, or even trillions, it is easy to forget what a dollar or a Euro is worth.

Leonida is a smallholder farmer in Kenya. She is one of four farmers whose story Roger Thurow tells in his book The Last Hunger Season (Public Affairs, 2012). She owns an acre of land and her annual agricultural output used to be five bags of maize, her annual revenues around sixty dollars. She has four children and her biggest dream is to see them educated so that they have at least a chance to escape poverty—that is to say, assuming they survive to make it into adulthood. The education fees for her oldest son amount to two hundred dollars a year. Hunger has been a recurrent element of their lives, like holidays are in ours.

Organizations like One Acre Fund are working hard to change this situation. The motto of their founder, Andrew Youn is that ‘we can do better than that.’ One Acre Fund has developed a microcredit system targeting smallholder farmers, which includes the supply of environmentally sensitive seeds and training in good agricultural practice. The model works. Already during their first year after joining One Acre Fund, most farmers manage to double their output and income. This does not yet represent a definite exit from the poverty trap, but it is a start.

What’s more, the operation is not expensive. In 2011, One Acre Fund had 75,000 members. Its budget did not exceed 8.3 million US dollars. The repayment rate was above 90 per cent.

Roger Thurow’s book is an eye-opener and a must-read. The full review for The New York Journal of Books can be read here.

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