Which Foods at Your Thanksgiving Table Can Fight Poverty Around the World?

This November, many of us in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, sharing gratitude and a good meal. But we may not know the connection between many food items on our plates and the work of farmers around the world to build a better life for their own families.

Sauda Ilomo (wife of Asajile Mwambande) in cacao plantation surrounding their home, Mabubu Farmer Business Group, Matema Ward, Kyela District, Mbeya Region, Tanzania Photo by Nile Sprague

Did you know that much of the food on your Thanksgiving plate may come from smallholder farmers? These hard-working women and men produce 80% of the world’s food, but often struggle to escape poverty.

TechnoServe works with thousands of these farmers to improve their skills, market connections, and incomes – helping turn the crops they may provide to your Thanksgiving table into a brighter future for their families.

What’s your connection to smallholder farmers this Thanksgiving?

Read more about the foods on your table:

Do you use cashews in your turkey stuffing? How about your side dishes or desserts? This popular enhancement to Thanksgiving dishes is also a lifeline out of poverty for millions of farmers.

In Benin, roughly 200,000 farming families depend on cashews for their incomes. The country’s second-most valuable export, only about 4% of cashews were being processed locally when TechnoServe began work in 2015. After helping Benin’s cashew processors build their capacity – and improving farmer training at scale through remote imaging and machine learninglocal processing is now up to 18% and rising.

Watch: Mozambique's Thriving Cashew Sector

And in Mozambique, TechnoServe helped the people of the country’s cashew sector execute a remarkable comeback after years of decline. Building on 20 years of work in the country’s cashew industry, a recent TechnoServe project helped farmers improve their income by an average of 66% and local processors to grow their exports by 55%.

What would Thanksgiving be without butter on your rolls and mashed potatoes, and cheese…well, anywhere? The world’s small-scale dairy farmers work hard to tend their cows and produce the dairy products so many of us love.

In Nigeria, TechnoServe is helping smallholder dairy farmers to overcome challenges from climate change, local conflicts, and food insecurity. In this challenging environment, milk can nourish families and provide economic security in times of crisis.

We work particularly hard to support women in Nigeria’s dairy sector, since men often own the cows and claim most of the income they generate – even though women tend to do most of the milking. TechnoServe works with many women dairy farmers to help them cultivate additional income sources and improve their economic independence.

If you’re enjoying a berry pie or any other fruit-based dessert this Thanksgiving, you might just thank a farmer like José García Martínez. José grows strawberries in the rugged, coastal state of Michoacán, Mexico, where more than a third of the state’s people live in poverty.

A father of four, he once struggled to earn enough money to care for his family – until he learned better farming techniques from TechnoServe. Today, he is one of thousands of farmers growing produce like berries, oranges, lemons, avocados, and watermelons that TechnoServe is helping to grow their incomes and connect to better markets.

“I feel proud and very happy to have crops that I never thought I would have,” reports José, who doesn’t worry now about where he’ll find the money to support his family.

“Having certainty is a life-changing experience.” 

If you have a chocolate dessert on your Thanksgiving table, you likely have a direct connection to a small-scale farmer. Roughly 90% of the world’s cocoa is produced by smallholder farmers – and TechnoServe is working to help them gain more income and opportunity from this valuable crop.

In Africa and Latin America, TechnoServe has helped thousands of farmers improve their business skills, agricultural management, and access to finance. But TechnoServe takes special care to help women claim their part of the profits.

In many cases, we train men and women together, helping them build both knowledge and a shared sense of household responsibility. We also help women improve their financial literacy and savings, and support many to undertake leadership roles in farmer business cooperatives.

“I have the qualities of a good leader,” says Crize Kisungu, a woman cooperative leader in Tanzania. “I am confident, I am hard-working, I am able to cooperate with other members and be proactive.”

In Peru, cocoa farming training helped Dara Obispo start a path to a better future as a young single mother. After learning better farming techniques from TechnoServe, she improved her cocoa production eight-fold – providing a much better income to help achieve her goals in life.

“Cocoa is what supports me and my son,” she says. “I want him to be a professional. Even if I don’t have much, I want to give him that…I want him to remember that his mom set him on the right path.”

What better way to digest a big meal than with a good cup of coffee?

That post-dinner drink can also be one of the best chances for millions of smallholder farmers to build a path out of poverty.

TechnoServe helps farmers around the world apply better farming techniques that vastly improve the quality of their coffee. Then it helps them strengthen or create business groups and sell this coffee to buyers who pay them much higher prices.

The results can be astounding. A 23-fold increase in a small farm’s coffee production. Income doubling or even tripling. Farmers using coffee production to overcome challenges from the drug trade, climate change, violent conflict, and natural disasters.

And the results can change the next generation. “Because of my mother’s involvement with the [coffee] cooperative, she doesn’t make me work in the field. She always advises me to focus on my education because she wants a better future for me,” says Mohammed Jamal, the 19-year-old son of Lubaba Mekonnen. A single mother in Ethiopia, Lubaba worked with TechnoServe nine years ago to improve her coffee farming. She increased her income by 200%.

Today, her son plans to attend university and study to be a doctor. “My mother sacrificed a lot for me,” he says. “In the future, I will handle all of her roles and responsibilities. I want her to take a break and help her live a better life.” 

Giving Thanks – and Taking Action

As we count our blessings this Thanksgiving, we can also be thankful for the hardworking, smallholder farmers of the world – many of whom may have helped bring our favorite dishes to the Thanksgiving table.

But in a world of climate change, inequitable market systems, and many other challenges, these farmers need support to leave poverty behind.

Your support can make an immediate – and lasting – difference in their lives. Donate today to give thanks to a smallholder farmer.