Ever since the UN declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, a number of interesting facts and figures have surfaced about how pulses and legumes are excellent for human and soil health. However, less is known about the critical role of one pulse in combatting a parasitic weed threatening farmers’ harvests in Kenya and Uganda.
Striga is a parasitic weed native to Africa that attacks the root systems of maize, sorghum, rice, and other staple grains, often resulting in total crop failure. Striga seeds exploit an ancient biochemical root communication system, which means they germinate in the presence of roots they can parasitize and use as a host.
Striga is very difficult to control. One plant can produce over 50,000 seeds that can be viable in the ground for decades. The crop disease is estimated to affect over 350 million smallholder farmers across Africa and contribute to $14 billion in lost productivity every year.
Scientists from ICIPE, led by entomologist Professor Zeyaur Khan, have discovered and pioneered a unique and innovative Striga control system called “Push-Pull.” In the Push-Pull system, species of perennial legumes from the genus Desmodium are intercropped with maize and other crops affected by striga. Desmodium roots produce the same biochemical signal required to germinate Striga seeds, but since Desmodium is not a host of Striga, the seedlings die before they can attack the vulnerable crops. Within the first season, Striga can be reduced by 50 percent, and after several seasons it can be totally eliminated from farmers’ fields.
A long-term research project has been conducted for thirteen years in Kenya to determine the impact of desmodium.
Besides its ability to combat striga, Desmodium is also extremely beneficial for farmers’ soils. As a perennial legume, Desmodium improves soil fertility by adding nitrogen and organic matter. It serves as living mulch that forms a protective cover over the soil, preventing erosion and conserving water. Desmodium also produces a natural chemical that repels insect pests.
Professor Khan discusses the effect of desmodium on striga.
The exciting discovery of Push-Pull is transforming the farms and lives of many smallholder farmers. One of these farmers is Mama Sarah Obama, the grandmother to US President Barak Obama. One Acre Fund staff from Kenya and Uganda recently visited the ICIPE’s research stations to learn more about the Push-Pull system, and had the opportunity to sit down with Mama Sarah and hear about her experiences combatting striga on her own farm.
Mama Sarah sits in the reception center at Kogelo, her home village.
A scientific discovery like the Push Pull system is only impactful if it makes its way from the lab to the field, and into the hands of smallholder farmers. One Acre Fund and ICIPE researchers have committed a joint collaborative effort to investigate methods for scaling the Push-Pull system to smallholder farmers throughout Uganda and Kenya. We are optimistic about opportunities to adapt and disseminate this exciting discovery to local contexts and help farmers protect their harvests and livelihoods.
Apply to become a One Acre Fund agriculture innovations manager in Burundi and help us investigate and spread new, impactful planting techniques to smallholder farmers!
Click here to learn more about the book Harnessing the Power of Collective Learning: Feedback, accountability and constituent voice in rural development.
One Acre Fund was recently asked to contribute to a book on constituent voice. The idea behind constituent voice is that people who are meant to benefit from socially-minded projects should play an active role in implementing and evaluating those projects. The new book presents eleven case studies of organizations trying to embed the perspectives and preferences of smallholder farmers into their work.
Participating in this effort got us thinking: what are the key mechanisms One Acre Fund has in place to ensure that we’re constantly learning from the farmers we serve?
Method 1: Farmers as staff
Famer perspectives are embedded into our program structure by virtue of the fact that farmers make up the majority of our staff. Farmers comprise roughly 90 percent of our 3,000 field operations staff. We also rely on a large volunteer network of 20,000+ farmer ‘group leaders’ to help arrange farmer meetings and lead groups in activities like planting and harvest. Field officers and group leaders spend their days in the fields of the farmers they serve gathering both formal and informal feedback. Input is then communicated upwards through weekly meetings with their managers. This staffing model forms a powerful feedback mechanism: farmers make up a majority of our staff, which boosts their influence on how One Acre Fund operates.
Field staff, many of whom are farmers themselves, offer instruction to One Acre Fund farmers about planting techniques.
Method 2: Farmers as paying clients
Finally, we believe that treating farmers as clients and asking them for partial payment for our services is a useful tool for strengthening their say in how we operate. If the quality of our service in a particular area drops, we immediately see a drop in repayment levels, which sends a clear signal to us that something needs to be fixed. And the next season, farmers can “vote with their feet” and choose not to enroll if they find that One Acre Fund’s offerings are not worth their cost.
Farmers purchase seed, fertilizer, and other add-on products on credit from One Acre Fund. Because farmers take out loans with us, we refer to them as clients.
Method 3: Farmers as co-innovators
We also try to ensure that farmers play an active role in our product R&D process. We experienced some early failures with products like passion fruit and mushrooms, which, although quite appealing on paper, were not actually attractive to our farmer network. This taught us a vital lesson: we needed to include farmers in every stage of our innovation process. Now, after some initial research, we quickly move to the field, where farmers test new products through hands-on trials. We ask farmers at each stage of the process for their feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Incorporating farmer opinions in our innovations process has led us to think about the adoptability and simplicity of products, rather than just their theoretical impact.
A great example of this process in action is our rollout of trees throughout the One Acre Fund program. We first learned that grevillea trees could be a great product addition because farmers told us so. And as we developed a tree product, participation by farmers ultimately pointed us to an affordable and simple method for planting trees on a large scale. Farmer feedback was critical in scaling our grevillea tree offering to where it is today.
Before new products ever make their way to farmers for purchase during enrollment, we ask farmers to test them and solicit farmer feedback.
One Acre Fund’s mission is to generate meaningful, long-term impact for the smallholder farmers we serve. Genuinely listening to and learning from farmers is a key ingredient in fulfilling that mission. We have found time and again that listening to farmers pays dividends in terms of driving overall impact.
At a more basic level, seeking farmer input is simply the right thing to do. Farmers have the right to weigh in on products and services targeted to them. The mechanisms One Acre Fund has established for seeking and incorporating farmer feedback into our program have transformed farmers from passive beneficiaries to engaged participants who are actively shaping solutions to end hunger and poverty in their homes and communities.
One Acre Fund is hiring for 50+ new positions. Apply today and help more smallholder farmers improve their productivity, increase their incomes, and grow their way out of hunger and poverty.
Global agriculture coalition Farming First and the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers have joined forces to highlight the powerful impact that investments in science and innovation can make on global development. A new interactive essay compiled by the partnership demonstrates how these investments can go beyond simply meeting food security needs, but contribute to broader interlinked goals such as natural resource management, improved nutrition, and resilient rural livelihoods.
“Scientific discoveries and innovations are helping farmers make breakthroughs every day,” comments Robert Hunter, Farming First Co-Chair, “helping them feed their families, earn a better living, and look after the natural resources we all rely on. This collection of case studies illustrates how science and technology can help lift a farmer from poverty, to prosperity”.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 793 million people in the world are still undernourished. Despite reductions in poverty levels in recent years, World Bank research estimates that 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty due to climate change. Farming First and CGIAR intend for the interactive essay to demonstrate how effective investments in scientific research and innovation for agriculture can be in meeting these challenges.
“Studies have demonstrated for decades that agricultural research is the most cost-effective investment that exists for development,” comments Frank Rijsberman, CEO of CGIAR Consortium. “Our planet is under unprecedented pressure to simultaneously ensure healthy diets for all, boost rural incomes and employment as well as protect vital natural resources. As we begin our path towards the Sustainable Development Goals, agricultural research for development must play a central role”.
The interactive essay explores, through photographs and videos, the scientific advances that are transforming rural lives all over the world today. The 28 case studies sourced from Farming First supporters and CGIAR centers are organized into five themes: natural resource management, agricultural extension, improved inputs, resilience, and market access. They include:
• Drones and satellite mapping systems that are tracking plant health and land use change
• Improved crop varieties that are more nutritious, resilient to disease and able to survive under extreme weather conditions
• Innovative extension models that are delivering training via mobile, video and radio to farmers in remote locations
• Faster, more efficient electronic systems that digitise tracking and payment information for small to mid-sized agribusinesses
The infographic is the latest in Farming First's multi award-winning creative products in support of sustainable agriculture around the world. View the full series here.
About Farming First
Farming First is a multi-stakeholder coalition of than 180 organisations operating around the world. The coalition exists to articulate, endorse and promote practical, actionable programmes and activities to further sustainable agricultural development worldwide. Farming First organisations represent the world's farmers, scientists, engineers and industry as well as leading agricultural development organisations. With one shared voice, Farming First highlights the importance of improving farmers' livelihoods and agriculture's potential contribution to global issues such as food security, climate change and biodiversity.
About CGIAR Consortium
CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. CGIAR is the only worldwide partnership addressing agricultural research for development, whose work contributes to the global effort to tackle poverty, hunger and major nutrition imbalances, and environmental degradation. Research is carried out by the 15 Centers, members of the CGIAR Consortium, in close collaboration with hundreds of partners, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, development organizations and the private sector.
Written statement of David Hong, Global Senior Policy Analyst, One Acre Fund
Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
Hearing: Subcommittee Hearing: Food Security and Nutrition Programs in Africa October 7, 2015
Feeding a population of nine billion people by 2050 is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – challenge facing humanity. We will need to produce at least 60 percent more food than we do today. Most of that increased production will need to come from the 2.5 billion people that work on small farms around the world. Today, these smallholder farmers are the single largest group of the world’s population living in poverty. They live in remote areas, and do not have access to basic agricultural tools and trainings. As a result, they struggle to grow enough to feed their families and face an annual “hunger season” of meal skipping and meal substitution.
In the future, these hungry farmers have the potential to dramatically increase their yields, not just to feed themselves and their families, but to feed the world. Agriculture yields in Africa for most staple food crops could be 2-4 times what they are today. And best of all, we know exactly what we need to do to help smallholder farmers achieve these yield increases.
One Acre Fund is an agriculture organization that has developed an operating model to help smallholder farmers run profitable businesses. We are unique in several ways. First, we only serve smallholder farmers – primarily in East Africa – who typically farm on one acre of land or less. Second, we’re technically a nonprofit, but we operate like a business. Farmers pay for our products and services. Third, we’ve intentionally built a scalable model and we’re growing fast. We serve over 300,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania – and we plan to serve one million farmers by 2020.
We offer farmers a simple four-part operating model:
First, we offer financing for farm inputs such as hybrid seed and fertilizer. We only finance productive assets. Farmers organize themselves into groups and are jointly liable to repay their loans, similar to microfinance.
Second, we distribute seed, fertilizer, and other products such as tree seeds and solar lights within walking distance. Smallholder farmers live in remote and isolated areas, so getting products and services close to where they live is critical.
Third, we offer training on modern agricultural techniques. Many farmers don’t know how to apply fertilizer, or how to plant in rows with the correct spacing. We offer interactive, in-person trainings throughout the agriculture season.
Fourth, we offer market facilitation to help farmers maximize their profits from harvest sales. Just after harvest, the market is flooded with crop surpluses, driving prices down.
With proper training on safe storage, farmers can wait to sell their crops until market prices increase.
This operating model has proven impact. On average, farmers working with One Acre Fund increase their profits on supported activities by 57 percent, or about $128. For a farmer living on less than USD $2 a day, this is a significant amount of money. According to our data, farmers invest their income gains in new businesses, productive assets for the farm such as livestock, and school fees for their children.
An important aspect of our model is our flexible repayment system. Farmers can repay their loan, at any time, in any amount throughout the entire growing season, as long as they repay in full by harvest. In 2014, I’m pleased to report that the average repayment rate was 99 percent – and in two countries, 100 percent of clients repaid their loans.
Farmer repayment enables us to move toward financial sustainability in our field operations. 74 percent of our field expenses were covered by farmer repayment in 2014 and the nature of our business model stretches donor dollars to achieve more impact. Every dollar in grant funding that we receive generates approximately USD $3 in additional farmer income.
In a constrained budget environment, it’s even more critical for development organizations to maximize efficiency and impact. We’re working hard to achieve financial sustainability in our field operations so that we can use donor resources to leverage even greater impact at a global scale. For example, in 2012 USAID Kenya awarded One Acre Fund with USD $3.5 million to significantly scale up our Kenya operations. Over a three-year period we delivered agriculture loans to nearly 277,000 farm families, the majority of whom were women. We achieved repayment rates of 99 percent.
One Acre Fund has demonstrated that it’s possible to help hungry farmers become successful businesspeople, with surplus production that they can bring to local markets. Smallholder farmers are the answer to our global food security challenge. When they have access to basic tools and technologies, they thrive.
Thank you Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and subcommittee members for the opportunity to discuss our work and for putting global food security high on the development agenda. As you know, making progress on agriculture, food security, and nutrition is imperative to the health and wellbeing of future generations – may we not let them down.
One Acre Fund believes in partnering with African governments on strategic projects to help smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Help us operationalize these partnerships by applying for our government services associate/manager role today!
Meet Victor Matianyi, an IT Manager from Kenya who has been working for One Acre Fund since 2013. After meeting a One Acre Fund team member at a local career fair, Victor was inspired by the opportunity to help farm families like his own. Victor was soon hired as an IT Officer and was later promoted to associate, then manager. We had the opportunity to sit down with Victor and hear about his work, and why he's committed to a longterm career at One Acre Fund.
Victor Matianyi, Kenya IT Manager, discusses his work experiences with One Acre Fund.
What are your largest responsibilities in your current position?
I coordinate between the support and network teams and work on many projects, including network and laptop maintenance. I think there were around 100 computers to oversee when I started and now there are around 300! Everything has grown exponentially. We have a very big network with four different connections just in Bungoma alone.
How do you feel you’ve grown in your time with One Acre Fund?
I’ve grown a lot professionally and personally. I recently traveled for work- it was the first time I ever boarded a plane, so I was nervous but it was great! When I got to Rwanda, it was a different culture and I got to interact at the workplace and also outside of work, which really taught me things.
In terms of my career, I am getting the real life experience of dealing with networks that people depend on as well as the responsibility of support and standardization of software for a whole organization. I think I’ve also learned better how to interact with people because of the unique family we have here. Everyone cares about my development as a person and a professional. I have been given the chance to learn and explore while having so much trust placed in me.
Overall, how do you feel about working for One Acre Fund?
I really like working for One Acre Fund. It’s a very friendly and easy environment to work in. There’s a lot of respect vertically and horizontally, which is so unique. The other thing I like about working here is where it’s located. It’s not in a big city. I don’t have to be far from my family and can see them at lunch time. I also know that I’m not just working for the sake of working- my work is impacting a farmer somewhere. Everywhere in the country, there’s impact.
What part of your job makes you the most proud?
I’m always very proud when I’m working with the field staff to solve challenges they have and knowing they are working directly with our farmers. It makes me feel I am solving the farmers’ problems first hand. I love that I can help all the other departments, and by helping teams do their work I’m helping to serve farmers better, and that makes me really proud. Everyday I work knowing that I’m working in a community that I’m actually helping and the job I’m doing directly impacts and improves someone’s life. It’s not just about me getting a salary; it’s about the community. The small things I do here could impact the whole country because agriculture is the backbone of Kenya.
Do you feel your job at One Acre Fund has impacted your family in any way?
I think it’s having a very positive influence on my family. My mom farms, and when I joined One Acre Fund, she enrolled. She just got inputs this year and her yields are already improving. I also earn a salary and can better support my parents My dad gets sick sometimes and I can access an emergency loan and get him to the hospital for treatment, so that has been very positive.
Do you see a future for yourself at One Acre Fund or in the career track you’re currently in?
I definitely want to continue growing at One Acre Fund long-term. I want to be in a position where I can serve One Acre Fund in the best way possible. I know One Acre Fund is trying to grow in other countries, so if I can help to standardize the growth in Kenya and into new countries it would be an exciting adventure for me. I’ve seen changes at One Acre Fund, building systems and standards, and I want to help other countries do this.
Inspired by Victor's career growth? Apply today to join One Acre Fund's family of leaders!
Maximize your potential and help farmers just like Wilbroda access the tools they need to grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Apply today to join our family of leaders!
When you enter Wilbroda Nafula’s living room in rural western Kenya, you might be surprised to see three solar lamps, all charging cell phones. Wilbroda, a Kenyan farmer and mother of three, doesn’t advertise her business with a sign outside her home. She doesn’t even live close to other shops or at the village center. But word has spread among her neighbors that she has a cell phone charging business, and there is plenty of demand for her services.
“I tell you, in this mobile phone business, I eat well!” says Wilbroda, laughing aloud.
Just four years ago, Wilbroda wasn’t eating well, and neither was her family. Her only source of income was the maize she harvested from a half acre of land, and she was never able to harvest enough maize to feed the family through to the next harvest.
In 2011, she decided to take a seed-and-fertilizer loan to try to improve the production on her land. Along with the loan, she received training on correct agriculture practices, including food storage and market price fluctuations. That year, she produced an excellent harvest, stored enough food to feed her family, and started saving money to replace the roof on her house. By 2013, she had replaced her roof, invested in chickens, and purchased her first solar light. By 2014, she had a calf, a second solar light, and enough money to put her children in private primary school. This year she purchased her third solar light, and she’s planning to expand her poultry business.
With access to microfinance, Wilbroda can support her family through agriculture and her solar lamp business.
Wilbroda is like hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers all over the world, with one critical difference: the agriculture loan she received in 2011 changed the trajectory of her life. She is now part of the tiny percentage of smallholder farmers who have access to finance.
Smallholder farmers are the largest group of people living in poverty, and they are also the most financially excluded. Roughly 70 percent of the world’s poor are farmers, and the majority of them are unbanked. These 500 million farmers are in turn supporting as many as 2.5 billion people. Although most smallholder farmers are struggling to produce enough food, they have the potential to produce dramatically more. The Global Yield Gap and Productivity Atlas, developed by the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, estimates that crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa are 70–90 percent below their potential, the largest yield gap in the world.
Reducing the yield gap in Africa will boost global food production, but it will also have a dramatic effect on the continent’s poverty levels. Agriculture growth has been demonstrated to be as much as 3.2 times more effective than non agriculture growth at reducing extreme poverty in low-income countries.When farmers increase their incomes, they spend it locally. Agrodealers, seamstresses, furniture makers, motorbike drivers, and health workers all benefit. These individuals then spend their increased incomes, perpetuating a cycle of consumption that benefits all actors in the rural economy.
If we seek to end hunger by 2030, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals, if we seek to reach global financial inclusion by 2020, or if we seek to make significant gains in economic growth in developing countries, we must target smallholder farmers. They sit at the intersection of our ambitious global food security, financial inclusion, and economic growth targets. If smallholder farmers are able to unlock their potential, they will be a “triple threat,” collectively driving progress on global food security, financial inclusion, and economic growth. If they remain neglected, progress will stall. Given the strategic importance of smallholder farmers, the world should be laser-focused on how to provide them with the tools they need to move from subsistence farming to sustainable livelihoods. Therefore, the single most important tool we can offer them is farm finance.
This blog is an excerpt from The Case for Farm Finance, an article written by Stephanie Hanson for the MIT Innovations Journal's issue on financial inclusion. Click here to read the full piece.