The cycle of poverty can sometimes mean you have what you need right in front of you, but the complications—of global market forces, of information and access, of food security—keep it out of reach.

Adesuwa Ifedi, Heifer International’s Senior Vice President of Africa Programs, should know. She is an economist by training and works across the nine countries in Africa where Heifer operates. A global development organization, Heifer has been on a mission to end poverty and hunger through agriculture in a sustainable way for the last 78 years.

One example, Ifedi says, is cassava, a nutritious staple crop grown across countries in Africa, particularly West Africa and Nigeria. But right now, most farmers are being motivated by subsidies to grow a strain that can’t be consumed as food and is used to produce biofuel instead.

“So imagine what happens when a farmer makes a choice to grow cassava for biofuel, and then opts out of cassava for food,” says Ifedi. “And in a continent where we are exporting a cash crop we can’t eat, we’re also importing food in the billions of dollars.”

While Africa is large exporter of cash crops like cocoa, cassava, and coffee, they are also importing a large amount of food grown outside the continent. The average imports for food in Africa total $43 billion every year. Ifedi sees a major gap between the production of local food and the demands of a global market. This dependency on global food chains, she says, keeps farmers from providing local food that will feed their own communities.

Read the full article about Heifer International by Amber Cortes at Global Washington.