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This wartime photograph was published in a 1916 issue of National Geographic with a caption referring to Adam, Eve, and the apple. Afghan women share a meal of flatbread, goat, lamb, and fruit in the Women’s Garden, a refuge for conversation and confidences outside the city of Bamian.
After World War I, roadside eateries like the California snack bar at right became popular. In this 1894 photograph of an outing in the Maine woods, watermelon slices resemble oversize grins. A shared meal binds people together, whether they’re a family saying grace (left), patients in a Croatian clinic (above, top), young men tucking into fried chicken in Accra, Ghana, or Buddhist priests near Shanghai supping on noodles in 1931. The Sisters of the Visitation near Beirut, Lebanon, use a paste of almonds and sugar to make marzipan sweets, typically eaten around Easter.
The magazine thanks The Rockefeller Foundation and members of the National Geographic Society for their generous support of this series of articles.
Using hand tools and draft animals, a family harvests wheat in Ethiopia’s famine-prone highlands. Small Farmers, Big Questions Large agriculture companies are taking an interest in Africa’s arable land. Humanitarian groups that deal with global hunger and peasants’ rights call corporate land deals neocolonialism and agri-imperialism.
This land outside Maputo provides a snapshot of Africa’s agricultural choices: Will its food be produced on giant, leveled plantations like Bananalandia (at left) or on small farms, called machambas?
Fertile land, skyrocketing demand for soybeans and rice, and a government willing to cut big land deals have put the former Portuguese colony at the center of the land rush sweeping the continent. At left, Mary Mukarukaka, 36, peels and ties maize husks with her children on their farm in Rwanda.
With the right policies, small farmers can be extremely productive, Kuyek says, pointing to the rice farmers of Vietnam or the small dairy farmers in Kenya, who supply more than 70 percent of the nation’s milk. Ajiem Ogalla, 11, scavenges for awieo, an edible shrub, amid corn planted by the Indian firm Karuturi Global, which holds part of a large agricultural lease in Ethiopia’s remote Gambela region.
A few miles down a washboard dirt road from Hoyo Hoyo, a soybean farm run by a retired schoolteacher is an example of a productive middle path. Gouws believes in a mix of big and little farms, with small farmers raising cattle and tending plots of land as a safety net and source of pride, and big farms like his bringing in roads, power, and infrastructure that the government does not provide.
The key is leveraging that investment to yield benefits for all, ensuring secure land rights, thriving markets, and increased productivity on all farms, big and small. Berbera (left), where these sheep and goats are being led to the ship bound for Saudi Arabia, has been a key port for Arab traders since the second century. Berbera, where these sheep and goats are being led to the ship bound for Saudi Arabia, has been a key port for Arab traders since the second century. Workers herd livestock aboard a ship in Berbera, Somaliland, that is headed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. On a long road in the heart of the proposed ProSavana project, I stop at a mud-brick hut to talk with Costa Ernesto, a 35-year-old farmer, and his wife, Cecilia Luis. Two other men walk up during the conversation, and I ask if they would give up their small farms for a job on a big farm. Whether Mozambique’s future farmers will look more like industrial farmers in Iowa or the small but productive rice farmers of Vietnam remains to be seen. Esther Nyirahabimana winnows soybeans on a small farm in Rwanda, having been given seeds, fertilizer, and training by the nonprofit One Acre Fund.
Unlike the cucumbers we like to put over our eyes and into our salads, the sea cucumber is incredibly flexible due to its collagen levels. But more germane is how the image evokes an idyllic British landscape and the childhood pleasure of a snack after play.A. The garden and surrounding park were created to promote leisure activities for women and families­. Foodstuffs are often a source of income for holy orders; the Trappists, for example, sell beer and cheese. At the wedding feast of an Armenian couple in Nagorno-Karabakh, the meat dish khorovats is served along with song and dance. Education has helped small farmers become more efficient, but wheat yields are still a third below the world’s average. Thailand currently exports more agricultural products than all sub-Saharan countries combined, and the specter of climate change threatens to hammer Africa’s yields.
Yet veterans of agricultural development say the massive infusion of private cash, infrastructure, and technology that such deals may bring to poor rural areas could be a catalyst for desperately needed development—if big projects and small farmers can work together. In 2013 the nation was the third poorest on the planet, with almost half its children under five stunted by malnutrition.


A return to civil unrest is the only thing that could upset the river of cash flowing into Mozambique. Getting a massive corporate farm up and running and turning a profit in the midst of often hostile neighbors is something else entirely.
At right, also in Rwanda, 60-year-old farmer Joseph Nindekwet shells beans from this season’s harvest. In 2009 the government signed an agreement with Brazil and Japan to develop an agricultural megaproject dubbed ProSavana, which would make almost 35 million acres of northern Mozambique available for industrial-scale soybean production, possibly the largest such land deal ever reported. After displacing villagers and cutting down native forests, the company is deeply in debt and struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Armando Afonso Catxava began growing vegetables in his spare time on a small plot of land and over the years has cobbled together about 64 acres.
Farmers each get seven visits a season from the company’s extension agents, who teach them the basics of conservation agriculture and the use of inexpensive seed treatments, instead of expensive fertilizer, to boost yields. Dries Gouws, a former surgeon in Zambia, planted 30 acres of banana trees on a bankrupt citrus farm outside of Maputo 14 years ago. A recent conference for agricultural investors in New York drew some 800 financial leaders from around the globe who manage nearly three trillion dollars in investments. In the three years after Saudi Arabia ended its ban on Somali livestock, imports grew fivefold, to three million animals in 2012.
Given their ragged clothing, their swollen bellies, their sod houses, their obvious poverty, the question seems almost unfair. Small farmers can produce as much per acre as large farms if seeds and fertilizer are affordable.
Lacking a true brain and any semblance of sensory organs, the sea cucumber is endowed with the same mental capacity as the food for which it is named. For instance, if the sea cucumber needs to wedge itself into a tiny crevice, its collagen will loosen and the sea cucumber will effectively liquify itself to seep into its desired locale. With more than a third of Ethiopians malnourished, the government is courting industrial farms to help close the gap.
Since 2007 the near-record prices of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice have set off a global land rush by corporate investors eager to lease or buy land in countries where acreage is cheap, governments are amenable, and property rights often ignored.
Recent discoveries of world-class coal and natural gas deposits in the north as well as other mining and forestry concessions are slowly changing its fortunes. After riots over food prices broke out in Maputo in 2010, President Guebuza fired his agriculture minister and replaced him with Interior Minister José Pacheco, an agronomist, who has continued courting investors at conferences around the world. Only about 40 men got low-paying jobs as watchmen on the farm, while hundreds were displaced. The key to corporate farms winning over local communities, he says, is simple: Keep your word. These included giant pension funds, life insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and sovereign-wealth funds, which currently have about 5 percent of their combined assets allocated to investments in agriculture. Both are crucial for the continent to be able to feed its own growing population—much less the rest of the world. Workers herd livestock aboard a ship (right) in Berbera, Somaliland, that is headed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. They are simply trying to feed their family on two and a half acres of corn, and selling bamboo poles for thatched roofs on the side. Simply giving women the same access to loans, land, seeds, and fertilizers as men could increase food production by as much as 30 percent. And detailed practical travel information provides all the ingredients you'll need to cook up a truly delicious experience for even the most demanding of traveling gourmets. Nevertheless, the colorful cuke constitutes a vital part of the oceanic ecosystem, as it breaks down detritus and recycles any and all nutrients that come its way. When situations get truly dire, sea cucumbers can also engage in self mutilation by violently contracting their muscles and expelling some of their internal organs out through their anus to ward off predators. From Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv comes evidence of ancient meals prepared at a 300,000-year-old hearth, the oldest ever found, where diners gathered to eat together. Those who managed to get jobs on the giant farm are working seven days a week with no overtime pay. Most land deals have occurred in Africa, one of the few regions on the planet that still have millions of acres of fallow land and plentiful water available for irrigation.
National debts are declining, and peaceful elections are being held with increasing frequency. Will it be poor farmers like Chirime working one-acre plots, who make up roughly 70 percent of the continent’s labor force? The rush to tap these hydrocarbons has ignited Mozambique’s economy, which grew by an estimated 7 percent in 2013.


Only about 2.2 million acres are currently unutilized, and those are the worst lands for farming. Though food production by small farmers has improved over the past few years, 37 percent of the population is undernourished, and the country’s southern region is plagued by droughts and floods. In return he sells his soybeans to the company at an agreed-on price, minus the cost of the services provided. Now Mozambique’s farmers are starting to raise soybeans for feed to supply the booming chicken industry. To help build their nation’s economy, Liberian officials asked the Malaysian company Sime Darby to replant a portion of a nearly 544,000-acre lease with palm and rubber trees, as well as another 109,000 acres that will be managed by small farmers. Retrieved from the ashes of Vesuvius: a circular loaf of bread with scoring marks, baked to be divided. Within a few, dusty minutes the one-acre plot near Xai-Xai, Mozambique, which had fed Flora Chirime and her five children for years, was consumed by a Chinese corporation building a 50,000-acre farm, a green-and-brown checkerboard of fields covering a broad stretch of the Limpopo River Delta. A spokesman for Wanbao denied such allegations and stressed that it’s training local farmers to grow rice. More than one in three sub-Saharan Africans now own cell phones and use them for mobile banking, to run small businesses, or send money to relatives in rural areas. Or will it be giant corporations like Wanbao, operating industrial farms modeled on those of the American Midwest? Massive infrastructure projects are springing up, many financed largely by loans from nations eager to curry favor with political leaders and get in on the action.
In 2009 Mozambican officials leased the nearly 25,000 acres of an abandoned state farm to a Portuguese company with ties to the government.
But when a group of Brazilian farmers toured the region in 2013, they had a rude awakening. During that time Gouws’s farm helped turn Mozambique from a banana importer into a banana exporter. Such a massive infusion of private cash, technology, and infrastructure is exactly what global agriculture needs, according to FAO experts, who estimate we’ll need to invest $83 billion a year in agriculture in developing countries to feed two billion more people by 2050. The eldest, a shy girl named Esvalta, is pounding corn with a wooden pestle as tall as she is, just as her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother did before her.
After 25 years of virtually no investment in African agriculture, the World Bank and donor countries have stepped up.
I meet the 52-year-old farmer at a threshing party just outside the Hoyo Hoyo boundary, where two dozen men from the local Roman Catholic church are beating piles of soybeans with wooden clubs. As the farm grew, Gouws paved roads, built a school and a clinic, dug wells, and ran 34 miles of electrical lines that not only power his irrigation but also supply the surrounding villages where his employees live. My guide, who has worked in agricultural development for 20 years, says the children and parents appear to be stunted from malnutrition. Children make mud pies, have tea parties, trade snacks to make friends, and mimic the rituals of adults.
The continent is emerging as a laboratory for testing new approaches to boosting food production. When the Portuguese managers came in, they met with village leaders and promised them double the amount of land to farm elsewhere as well as a school, a clinic, and new wells.
His lowest paid workers make 10 percent more than minimum wage; his tractor drivers and plantation managers make more than double that. They celebrate with sweets from the time of their first birthday, and the association of food with love will continue throughout life—and in some belief systems, into the afterlife.
China has already built a new airport, the parliament building, the national soccer stadium, and even the new presidential palace overlooking the broad bay in the capital, Maputo. The seven-acre plot, for the moment still controlled by the church, is next to Hoyo Hoyo’s wide-open fields, which stretch toward the green mountains in the distance. Consider the cultures that leave delicacies graveside to let the departed know they are not forgotten. In 2013 President Armando Guebuza spent a week visiting the new Chinese president with a ten-billion-dollar wish list of new construction projects in hand. In the Antarctic in 1902, during Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition, the men prepared a fancy meal for Midwinter Day, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Forty-five live sheep were slaughtered and hung from the rigging, frozen by the elements until it was time to feast.



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