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Partner spotlight: How One Acre Fund supports Africa’s smallest farmers

One Acre Fund helped this widowed Rwandan farmer more than double her harvests.
One Acre Fund helped this widowed Rwandan farmer more than double her harvests.
It sounds counterintuitive that farmers could be food insecure but small subsistence farmers often maintain just a single acre of land and struggle to produce enough food or earn enough income to feed their families. One Acre Fund was formed in 2006 to support these very small farmers in Africa, who are often based in hard-to-reach remote areas. Last year, OPIC committed a $10 million loan to One Acre Fund to help it reach more farmers in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Here, One Acre managing Director Matt Forti discusses the challenges and strategies for supporting some of the world’s smallest farmers

Explain the concept behind the name One Acre Fund

Andrew Youn, our CEO, was working on his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He visited western Africa and spent the night at the home of a smallholder farmer during a season known as Wanjala, the hunger season.  He did not know much about farming but he did know that with agricultural advances occurring in some cases over a hundred years ago in other parts of the world, there should be no reason why a farmer in Africa goes hungry.  He founded One Acre as a social enterprise to address this problem. One Acre Fund is a non-profit that runs itself like a business.

What is the nature of the farming sector in Africa?

The farming sector in Sub-Saharan Africa is comprised of millions of smallholder farmers who generally farm on less than a single acre of land and who in or near extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 per day. The majority of these people – about 70 percent – are engaged in farming.

A typical farmer supported by One Acre Fund is a woman who lives in a house that lacks electricity and running water. The “farm” is typically a plot of land less than the size of a football field and from this land the family needs to grow enough food to last a whole year. She and her husband may work, but their income is not sufficient to buy enough food to feed their family. The family cooks its meals over fires and children study by kerosene lights.

Explain why so many farmers in Africa are also food insecure.

Smallholder farmers are unable to grow enough food to feed their families throughout the year because they use outdated techniques and lack access to quality inputs, finance and technical knowledge. The main barrier has been access to improved varieties of seeds and fertilizers. It’s staggering when you think about it. Farmers often skip meals during certain times of the year (Wanjala) because the harvests are insufficient. This is an imminently solvable problem. The tools have been developed; One Acre Fund is focused on delivering these tools to everyone, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to providing valuable tools such as seeds and fertilizer to help farmers increase their yields, you provide a lot of employment in Africa. Can you share the numbers of people you employ in Africa and talk a bit about how this organizational structure works?

One Acre Fund had 4,300 employees as of March 2016, and 95 percent of them are East African nationals. Nearly 70% of our employees work directly with farmers in roles such as field officer or district manager and 25% of our employees perform support functions such as logistics and communications directly related to the field operations. We recently commenced a career accelerator program to progress high performing support staff into leadership positions.

How did you initially connect with OPIC and how has OPIC helped you advance your mission?

OPIC first visited One Acre Fund in Kenya in 2011 and over time both One Acre Fund and our relationship with OPIC blossomed into the lending partnership we have today.

This loan from OPIC is vital to our overall growth. It will help ensure that more than a hundred thousand farmers in East Africa will have the resources they need to grow their way out of hunger and poverty.  It is incredible to see OPIC deploying its capital toward the highest-impact organizations and showing the world that agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is an investable market.

One Acre has helped hundreds of thousands of farmers. Can you share the stories of one or two of them and how your support has made a difference?

Conrad Barasa, a small farmer in Kenya, used to only harvest 450 kg of maize from his one acre of land. Now in his third season with One Acre Fund, he harvests double that – roughly one metric ton. The first benefit of this was that all of his six children started eating properly.  Conrad’s first harvest with One Acre Fund came at a critical time for the family. It enabled his wife Eunice to obtain her teaching degree. She is now a primary school teacher. Conrad also started raising chickens for income and growing tomatoes.

This story from illustrates the drive of the farmers we work with

Beatrice Musabyimana, is a widowed farmer from the Karongi district in Western Rwanda who has six children between the ages of 8 and 18. She first enrolled in One Acre Fund in 2010 and used her half acre of land to farm beans, maize, sweet potatoes, cassava and bananas. Beatrice had struggled to grow enough to feed her family, owing to a lack of agricultural inputs and know-how.

In her first season with One Acre Fund, Beatrice received training and critical inputs like fertilizer that enabled her to double her bean harvest and tripled her maize harvest. With her extra income she purchased a calf. Her first cow soon gave birth to a second calf and in subsequent seasons she purchased two bullocks. She sees her cows as evidence of her success. Her two oldest sons joined One Acre Fund in 2013. In 2014 Beatrice sold her eldest calf and used the $175 income to purchase a new piece of land which allowed her to expand her planting with One Acre Fund.

Learn more about this project:

Supporting the world’s smallest, poorest farmers: One Acre Fund


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