BLOG Archive: January 2016

Dreaming of Bananas in Rwanda

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Jan 28, 2016 Category: Core Program Farmer Profile Tags: bananas investment rwanda

A version of this blog was originally published by FoodTank. To view the original piece, click here.

Bananas have always been a big part of Japhet Bizimungu’s life. As a young man growing up in Karongi, Rwanda, Japhet harvested local Kayinja bananas alongside his parents each year. However, the Kayinja variety often resulted in disappointingly yields, low in both volume and quality. Unfit for fresh consumption, it was common for farmers in Japhet’s village to use the bananas they grew to brew beer.

banana plantlet Rwanda

Japhet Bizimungu holds two of the FHIA 17 banana plantlets he purchased on credit from One Acre Fund.

When Japhet inherited his parents’ land, he continued to plant the same local banana variety. Like his parents and many of his neighbors, he always wound up using the bananas to brew beer. But the amount of money he earned from selling the beer would never cover the cost of manure he needed to fertilize his bananas, let alone the cost of hiring casual workers to help him harvest the bananas.

“After all my expenses, the money I was earning was so little. That’s why I decided to completely remove these local bananas from my field, and plant new ones,” Japhet says.

After five years, Japhet decided he was tired of never earning enough from his bananas. He had farmed with One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise, since 2009, purchasing fertilizer, solar lamps, and harvest storage bags on credit from the organization. But in 2014, Japhet decided to try something new. That year, he purchased a new banana variety as part of his One Acre Fund loan package.

The new banana variety Japhet purchased was called FHIA 17. The FHIA 17 banana variety is more multi-purpose than it’s local cousin Kayinja. It can be cooked, brewed for beer, made into juice, or eaten when it’s ripe. FHIA 17 is also more productive than the local banana variety. With the local variety, farmers can expect to harvest 10-20 kilograms of bananas per tree. With FHIA 17, farmers can anticipate upwards of 50 kilograms of bananas per tree. Excited by the prospect of an increased yield and bananas that could be put to multiple uses, Japhet purchased five FIA 17 plantlets on credit.

planting bananas

Japhet prepares for planting his bananas by digging holes for his plantlets.

Banana plants take two years to bear fruit, so Japhet has yet to see his first harvest with the new variety. This fact hasn’t tempered his excitement in the least.

“I have had great harvests with beans and maize, so I expect a good harvest for bananas too. My dreams are to harvest one banana that can weight more than one hundred pounds, and never run out of bananas at home.” Japhet explains.

In the years since learning improved planting techniques from One Acre Fund, Japhet has seen his maize and bean harvest increase substantially. With the increased yields of several harvests, he has been able to invest his surplus in his family’s future. He recently built a new home, and is now able to afford the school fees for the three of his sons who are currently in school.

Because of his confidence in One Acre Fund’s loan offerings, Japhet chose to purchase ten additional banana plantlets this season. He sees his future banana harvests as yet another investment in achieving his dreams. Right now, his biggest dream is to see his children graduate.

“I am getting old, so I take great comfort knowing my bananas will help my children complete their studies,” Japhet says. 

One Acre Fund staff live and work alongside farmers like Japhet, helping them improve their harvests and grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Apply now to join One Acre Fund’s family of leaders today.

3 Nutritious Farm-to-Table Recipes from East Africa

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Jan 25, 2016 Category: Farmer Profile Tags: farm-to-table recipe smallholder

A version of this blog was originally published on FoodTank. To view the original piece, click here.


Imvange, a Rwandan dish containing beans, maize and cassava.

Food insecurity remains a reality for many smallholder farmers in East Africa. Seventy percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. These farmers and their families lack access to the right tools and techniques to improve their harvests, and are highly susceptible to environmental shocks. They can suffer months of hunger and meal-skipping if their harvest is poor.

When you depend entirely on what you grow to sustain your family, the phrase "farm-to-table" takes on a whole new significance. Here, three smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania tell us in their own words what it’s like to grapple with food insecurity, and share their favorite nutritious farm-to-table dishes.

Imelda Nyongesa from Kenya

Imelda Nyongesa, Kenya

“My grandmother always told me that the best way to make my family happy and strong is by providing them with delicious meals every day,” Imelda says.

Now a mother of seven, Imelda Nyongesa frequently prepares pumpkin leaves, a family favorite and a traditional dish in Kenya. Pumpkins are nutritious, cheap, and easy to grow, so Imelda has pumpkin patches scattered throughout her land.

“I make sure I cook a lot before they arrive home for lunch during the school day.” Imelda says. In the evenings, Imelda often serves pumpkin leaves alongside ugali, a maize porridge dish that is firmly rooted in Kenyan culture.

Before enrolling with One Acre Fund in 2012, “I had given up on farming.” Imelda says. “I saw no need to waste my time and energy every season only to come out empty handed.” Since enrolling with One Acre Fund, Imelda has consistently harvested enough to feed her children for the whole year, and even purchase three solar lamps that allow her children to continue studying at night.

Imelda’s special recipe for pumpkin leaves:

1. Peel the leaves to remove the outer string-like layer.

2. Wash and cut the peeled leaves into small pieces.

3. Boil the pumpkin leaves for about seven minutes.

4. Fry the boiled leaves with onions, tomatoes, or any other ingredient of your choice.

5. Add fresh or fermented milk to improve the taste (optional).

6. Add salt to taste.

Emerithe Mukabaruta in Rwanda

Emerithe Mukabaruta, Rwanda

Like other farmers in her village, Emerithe’s family largely eats what she grows, which includes beans, maize, cassava, and sweet potatoes. She says that providing her four children with nutritious meals is one of her primary responsibilities. “I cook for my children’s health!” she says.

Several times a week, Emerithe makes a mixture of beans, maize, and cassava. This traditional combination, or imvange in Kinyarwanda, is her absolute favorite meal because it reminds her of childhood. “When I was ten years old, I used to sit around the fire and watch while my mother was cooking.” Emerithe says.  “Then, when I was twelve, I started cooking by myself, imitating my mother.”

Emerithe has been farming with One Acre Fund since 2012. Before joining One Acre Fund, her bean harvest would feed her family for only a month or two. Now, Emerithe’s improved harvests provide food year-round and she’s even been able to purchase medical insurance for her children.  In the future, Emerithe plans to educate all of her children.

“To cook beans, maize, and cassava, it’s a process,” says Emerithe. Preparation can take over four hours, but Emerithe says it’s worth it.  “It’s a delicious food!"

Emerithe’s recipe for imvange:

1. Put water and maize in a pot, then bring to a boil.

2. After 30 minutes, add the beans and boil for 90 minutes.

3. Add salt and wait ten minutes.

4. Peel cassava and add to pot.  Boil together for an additional 90 minutes.

5. Drain the water and serve, adding salt to taste.

Farm Family eating ugali in Tanzania

Jerida Kikoti, Tanzania

As Jerida’s children return home from school at midday, they crowd the table in anticipation of their ugali lunch.  Ugali is a maize-based porridge that is a staple in East Africa. “When my children eat ugali at lunch, they can stay strong until late in the evening,” she explains.

Providing her children with the sustenance they need to focus in school is part of Jerida’s long-term plan to give her children the education they deserve. However, Jerida wasn’t always able to plan for the future. Before enrolling with One Acre Fund in 2012, her harvest would not last through the year, and having ugali at every meal was not a guarantee.

Having learned to make ugali with her mother as a young girl, the process is very special to her. “My mother used to tell me to watch when she was cooking,” she says. “Ugali is the food that touches my heart.”

Jerida’s ugali recipe:

1. Heat half a liter of water until the water boils.

2. Add a handful of maize flour to the boiling water.

3. After the water reaches a boil again, add more maize flour, stirring slowly.

4. Pause the stirring for 10-20 seconds to allow the ugali to cook.

5. Repeat stirring and pausing until a thick consistent mixture is formed.

6. Let the ugali rest on fire for about three minutes—or until the smell of baking ugali fills the air.

7. Turn the ugali onto a serving plate.

8. Serve the ugali while hot. Ugali is commonly eaten with stews of vegetables, fish, beef, or chicken.

If these recipes inspired you, imagine what a career in the field would do! Apply today to become a One Acre Fund program associate!

One Acre Fund Honors Dr. Rajiv Shah

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Jan 08, 2016 Category: News Policy Tags: chicago gala dr. rajiv shah global food security

On Wednesday, December 9, 2015, One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that serves smallholder farmers in East Africa, honored Dr. Rajiv Shah during their 9th annual gala in Chicago for his work in promoting global food security.

Speaking to gala attendees via video, Dr. Shah expressed his admiration for the work that One Acre Fund does to support smallholder farmers.

“Your model of focusing on smallholder farmers, listening to and learning what they need and being responsive to their needs in a humble and practical way, is essentially the model for addressing hunger and poverty all around the world.” Shah said.

Dr. Rajiv Shah received One Acre Fund award

Tony Kalm, President, One Acre Fund U.S., presents Dr. Raj Shah with his award.

Dr. Shah has devoted his career to alleviating global hunger and poverty.  During his eight years at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Shah worked to improve areas of global health, agriculture, and financial services in addition to founding the International Finance Facility for Immunization.  Dr. Shah has also served as undersecretary and chief scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

In his speech, Dr. Shah spoke about the challenges farmers face. “I have met so many of these wonderful small scale farmers, most are women, and they are working every day from sun up to sun down simply to provide basic opportunities for their children and families,” Dr. Shah said.

Most recently, Dr. Shah served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he led President Obama’s landmark Feed the Future initiative, and encouraged the collaboration of public and private sector leaders to find anti-poverty solutions with initiatives like the U.S. Global Development Lab. He is currently serving as a senior advisor to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and is a distinguished service professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Dr. Shah concluded his keynote address by thanking One Acre Fund for its work serving the underserved, specifically women and those living in deep rural areas. “In my mind, One Acre Fund is the future of the fight on poverty and the fight for human equity and justice,” he said.

One Acre Fund served 305,000 African farm families in 2015, and with the generous support of Gala attendees, is on track to reach 1 million smallholder farmers by 2020.  To hear Dr. Shah’s full speech, be sure to watch the video above.

How Seed Systems Affect Smallholder Farmers

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Jan 05, 2016 Category: Market Access Policy Tags: east africa seed systems smallholder

We are seeking exceptional professionals with experience in and a passion for procurement and supply chain. Apply to become a One Acre Fund regional procurement lead!

In East Africa, food insecurity remains high. The issue is complex, with many contributing factors across production and distribution.  For smallholder farmers living in the most remote regions of East Africa, the issue is often directly related to their lack of access to farming supplies or inefficient agricultural processes. 

Seed systems are critical to decreasing the prevalence of hunger within many East African farming communities. A “seed system” is the entire value chain of seed, from R&D all the way to planting. It means the breeding and release of new varieties, distribution and sale networks, and best planting practices for optimal yields. 

Increased access to seed leads to optimal yields of crops like maize. 

Seed systems work differently in the different places where One Acre Fund operates. For example, in Rwanda, seed is sold through a subsidy program. Each year, the Rwandan ministry of agriculture (MINAGRI) sets the subsidy level, then decides how much seed should be imported by agro-dealers and distributors like One Acre Fund. In contrast to Rwanda, private seed companies in Kenya and Tanzania play a much larger role seed production and sales. In all countries where we work, however, it takes at least 2-3 years for a new seed variety to be released for commercial sale.

Providing farmers with access to improved seed is a key aspect of One Acre Fund’s core program, and one of the best ways to increase farm yields.  The quality of the seed system directly affects smallholders’ ability to access improved seed. Some key seed system barriers include:

  • Inefficient distribution and quality assurance. For most smallholder farmers, purchasing seed means a multi-kilometer walk or drive to the nearest town center to visit an agro-dealer. If the agro-dealer doesn’t have the farmer’s preferred seed variety available on that day, the farmer will purchase the next best variety, which may be less suitable for her region. Most likely, the agro-dealer has not tested the seed, or stored it in a way that prevents quality degradation. This means that by the time the farmer purchases that seed, the high moisture content could result in significantly lower germination levels.
  • Seed production issues. Since most companies produce seed under natural environmental pressures, there are risks each season that seed production can be impacted by drought, flooding, or disease. For example, maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND) is a serious threat to maize seed production. MLND and other pathogens can wipe out an entire crop of seed and cause hunger and starvation throughout whole regions.
  • System bottlenecks. The extensive seed certification process, prolonged variety release process, and lack of clarity on the seed release process are all things which dis-incentivize seed companies to innovate and produce new, promising varieties since they know it will take more than 3 years before those new varieties become profitable. Additionally, seed regulatory bodies can be limited by their financial and personnel bandwidth to increase capacity and improve controls. 
  • Inadequate access to financing. Agro dealers do not typically sell seed on credit, which limits farmers’ purchasing decisions to the most affordable varieties. While this tends to be a bigger issue for fertilizer, which is more expensive, for the poorest farmers, price point across varieties can be a deciding factor rather than the suitability of the variety for their region.

One Acre Fund’s core program is designed to overcome many of these seed system barriers. Before offering seed to farmers, One Acre Fund’s KEPHIS-trained lab technicians test it in our very own lab to ensure quality. Once quality is proven, we deliver the seed to drop sites within walking distance of farmers’ homes, so they don’t have to incur high transport costs. We offer farmers access to credit, a flexible loan repayment schedule, and information about seed varieties that are optimal for the region and climate. This gives One Acre Fund farmers the tools, information and flexibility they need to choose the seed that is right for them.

Improved seed systems allow farmers to make important farming decisions including crop choice.

Beyond what we’re able to offer farmers through our core program, we’ve come to realize that good government regulations and policies can help address some of the barriers above. Very clear release processes, effective subsidies and promotion of improved hybrid varieties, effective demand forecasting, and seed company compliance with national regulators are all helpful ways to improve seed system functionality. Wherever we work, we’re always careful to follow all government regulations and policies for seed.

Seed security and food security are inextricably linked. Access to quality seed can mean the difference between hunger and plenty for people who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Improving seed systems, especially in agriculture-focused regions of Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa, is key to ending global hunger.

We are seeking exceptional professionals with experience in and a passion for procurement and supply chain. Apply to become a One Acre Fund regional procurement lead!