What if you wanted to help these farmers grow more and earn more? What would you do? Some people, Jeffrey Sachs perhaps most vocally, want to supply farmers with needed materials such as seeds and fertilizers either for free or at a highly subsidized rate.
Here's a story about a different approach: Martin Fisher and his NGO, KickStart, sell portable water pumps to farmers in Africa. Dependence on rain is one of the many reasons why African farmers are so unproductive. If farmers are able to irrigate their fields they are able to grow more (assuming other factors remain constant) and may be able to scale up production and sell some of their crop in the market -- earning more for themselves and their families.
The catch here is that KickStart does not give the pumps away -- the company sells them at hundreds of retail stores. KickStart has been in business since 1996 and has sold pumps to thousands of Kenyan farmers claiming to have helped them generate millions of dollars a year in profits and wages. Here is some more information about claimed impact.
Farmers "vote" for this approach with their hard-earned Kenyan schillings. These sales give Kickstart resources to meet their mission of reducing poverty. It's a very different approach from the traditional aid paradigm -- and it seems to be working.
(The photo is from the Kickstart website.)