Jaconda Chengula, Tanzania
This blog was co-written by Perin L. Saint Ange, Associate Vice-President and Head of the Programme Management Department of IFAD, and Tony Kalm, One Acre Fund's President in USA. The article was originally published by This is Africa.
Climate change is threatening to become the biggest crisis humanity has faced in generations.
Millions of the world’s poorest people are already paying a terrible toll.
Smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather. The problems they are already beset with are expected to get a lot worse.
Severe droughts have wreaked havoc on crops across sub-Saharan Africa, home to millions of people living on less than $2 a day. Many of them depend on maize as staple food.
This crop is so susceptible to shifts in climate that the World Bank warns that if temperatures rise by just 1.5 degrees, 40 percent of crop areas may no longer be viable to grow it by 2030.
Smallholders are on the front lines of the climate change fight, and they are not adequately prepared for future risks. Even small financial setbacks or slight decreases in crop production can have a big impact on a family’s ability to feed itself.
Yet farmers also present one of our most compelling opportunities to mitigate climate change. They are stewards of the land, managing more than 80 percent of the world’s 500 million small farms.
Land use is a huge driver of climate change. If this group collectively adopts certain climate-smart farming techniques, such as sustainable intensification or planting more trees, it could help alleviate poverty and mitigate climate change at the same time.
There are 50 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa alone who could help the world make measurable progress in our fight against climate change, according to the nonprofit One Acre Fund. The organisation works directly with more than 400,000 farmers and offers a number of climate-resilience solutions.
But how can we get farmers the resources they need to put climate-smart farming into practice?
Luckily, a huge pot of money already exists to spend on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), the world’s largest initiative with about $10b to spend, has a stated purpose of forcing a “paradigm shift” in environmental arenas.
The United Nations-backed fund wants to spend $100bn a year by 2020 — a staggering sum that could go a long way toward solving the climate problem.
Mobilising a large amount of money is, in itself, already a fantastic accomplishment. THe fund has received funding pledges from more than 40 different countries.
It has also begun the arduous process of deploying those funds by giving accreditation to a number of institutions with clear climate strategies. These include the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which manages the largest global financing source dedicated to supporting the adaptation of poor smallholder farmers to climate change.
With large sums of money still left to dispense, the fund now has a great opportunity to focus its resources on innovative, cost-effective programmes that will make the biggest difference to the dual problems of climate change and extreme poverty.
Research shows that money spent on agriculture is at least four times more effective at reducing poverty in low-income countries than funding in other sectors.
Coupled with the potential impact that widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices could have on the environment, an effective strategy for Green Climate Fund would be to support programs that target smallholder farmers in developing countries.
However GCF decides to deploy its resources, time is of the essence. Global temperatures keep climbing, breaking new heat records year after year.
If we do not do something now, there could be catastrophic repercussions on the world’s ability to feed itself. Both poor countries and rich countries will feel the blow.
Feb 17, 2017
One Acre Fund and the Global Innovation Fund are working together to build customized solutions for boosting crop productivity and fighting hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa
The world has seen massive increases in crop yields since the 1960s, when modern farming techniques became ubiquitous across much of Asia and the Americas. Humanity has made large strides toward reducing hunger on a global scale.
But in Sub-Saharan Africa, millions of smallholder farmers are still locked in annual cycles of deprivation and hunger because they’re not able to harvest enough crops to feed and support their families throughout the year. Low rural population density, large variations in agro-ecological conditions, political and trade barriers, infrastructure challenges, a spectrum of cultural differences, and changing climates have all made it difficult to increase widespread farm productivity and lift populations out of poverty.
This complex atmosphere means that there may not be a single, blanket solution to Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger problem. But that doesn’t mean that a new revolution of ample harvests and widespread food security isn’t possible. By customizing agricultural systems to each region’s unique working environment, we can still unlock the yield gains that have eluded millions of smallholder farmers thus far.
Now, One Acre Fund and the Global Innovation Fund are beginning a new partnership that will build out tailor-made regional solutions for smallholders across six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Global Innovation Fund, a nonprofit investor that supports scalable, innovative solutions for some of the developing world’s biggest problems, has awarded One Acre Fund with a $15 million grant to carry out this work over the next four years. We expect this collaboration to create $37 million in new income for farmers over four years, with another $65 million generated in subsequent seasons as more and more smallholders adopt new farming methods and the impact of our program spreads.
We already know from practice that farmers base their decisions about what crops to grow and what techniques to use on their environments—what works in a mountainous region of Rwanda may be completely inappropriate for the lowlands of Malawi. Now, we’ll take a deeper dive into how localized differences can affect food production. One Acre Fund’s product innovations team is running hundreds of trials to find out “what works” at the local and regional level—what crop varieties grow best in certain areas, which products farmers are most likely to adopt based on local customs and markets, and how we can make customized recommendations that fit farmers’ varying needs.
After each trial is proven effective, we’ll then scale it up to reach as many of the farmers in One Acre Fund’s program as possible. We’re also planning to extend our impact beyond the organization’s network of clients. As One Acre Fund grows, we’ll use its position as a market creator to partner with seed and fertilizer companies, government extension services, and other entities to help promote the best tools and practices across each region—both for farmers enrolled in its program and others who aren’t. Ultimately, we could help drive changes in farming across entire countries.
One Acre Fund’s goal is to directly enroll more than 1 million farmers by 2020, with many more experiencing the impact of its program indirectly through partnerships and extension work. The collaboration with the Global Innovation Fund is just one step toward eliminating hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa. But by rigorously tailoring “what works” in each country, using farmer networks to drive new technologies and practices, and proactively encouraging rest-of-market adoption, we can together play an anchor role in bringing more farmers the tools they need to grow their way out of hunger and poverty.
In partnership with One Acre Fund, ONE will follow a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season.
A sense of anxiety looms large in Luucho village. A months-long drought wiped out more than half of this year’s crops, leaving many homes in desperate need of food.
Like most villages in western Kenya, Luucho plants two times a year. Farmers who lost their crops during the first season, when rains failed to arrive between May and June, banked their hopes on the second harvest. But another wave of drought has struck again since last October, dashing all their expectations. Now, withering plants covered in brown dust dance lazily in the light wind, thirsting for the return of rain. There is not much hope to save them – farmers normally harvest their second-season crops in December, and the damage has already been done.
“This has been the strangest year of my life,” says Mary Nekesa, a 55-year-old mother of five. “I depend on farming, but now how am I going to feed my family?”
At the start of the season, Mary had huge expectations. She planted a half-acre plot of maize, and like in the past, she hoped to harvest at least 12 bags of grain. Thinking she’d have plenty of food for her family, she had even planned to sell a few extra bags of maize to buy a dairy cow, which she had been longing after for years. But because of the drought, she only harvested two bags—hardly enough to feed her children for two months, let alone buy a cow.
On this morning, Mary is standing in the shallows of Khalaba River, half a mile away from her home. The Khalaba flows between two deeply eroded banks covered in thick vegetation. It’s a tributary to the River Nzoia, which pours its waters into Lake Victoria. The river is Mary’s last lifeline. She swings a small bucket in and out of the water, spewing a blast of wet sand on the river bank with each wave.
“I couldn’t sit and watch my children starve,” Mary says. “The only other way I could provide food for them is by harvesting sand."
Sand is used for all kinds of things in Kenya’s construction industry, including making bricks and concrete to build houses, bridges, and roads. Drawing sand from the river is backbreaking work for Mary, who needs to fill up a whole truck in order to find customers. She usually sells each load to a middleman for a throw-away price of $10. It’s a lucrative business, but not for Mary. Those middlemen can resell what she has collected for $40 to $50 per truckload.
Harvesting sand is a difficult job, especially in drought. During the rainy season, the waters usually swell up and sweep sand down the river, so that it only takes about a day to draw enough out to fill a truck. With this year’s dry weather, it now takes Mary three days, working from morning until evening.
“I’m not able to sleep much nowadays,” says Mary, who rises as early as 3 a.m. each day, because the thought of her hungry children disturbs her sleep. “Every evening at dinner, I sit and watch as my children eat. The thought that if I don’t work harder the following day my children might sleep hungry fills me with fear. I will do anything to make sure my children have food.”
Sand harvesting is an activity mostly carried out by men, and as the only female sand harvester in Luucho, Mary has raised mixed reactions in the village. While some men respect her courage and strength, others feel she is competing for a man’s job, or that her body will soon fail from exertion. However, most women in Luucho are motivated by Mary’s willingness to take up this kind of work.
“We were all shocked when we saw Mary harvesting sand. She is like a man!” says Felistus Nanjala, Mary’s friend and neighbor. “I feel very encouraged by her commitment to take up this work in order to take care of her family.”
Mary says she won’t stop her work, even when the rains return. With her children in school, she is in need of money all year round, and she hopes her new job will provide enough to supplement her income from farming.
After a full day at the river, Mary walks along a narrow dirt path to her home. She picks up a hoe and starts clearing weeds from her farm. Although it is still some time before her next planting season, Mary wants to be ready when the next drop of rain lands in Luucho.
After decades of farming, the soil on Edouard Munyankindi’s small plot of land in southwest Rwanda had failed him.
Edouard, 61, remembers a time when his half-acre farm could produce enough maize and beans to feed his wife and the oldest of their seven children, but those days were a distant memory by the time he first heard about One Acre Fund in 2010. Degraded soils, a lack of fertilizer, and outdated planting techniques meant that by that time, Edouard typically only harvested enough food to last his family for two months.
Edouard and his wife Leotaria only signed up a small portion of their land with One Acre Fund that first year—but they still saw a big jump in their harvest. The organization delivered fertilizer to a location a 10-minute walk from their house—unlike before, when the nearest supplier was an impossible two hours away. They learned how to plant their crops in rows, properly space seeds, and apply fertilizer in small doses. In their second year with One Acre Fund, they enrolled nearly all of their land.
“That year was the last year of hunger in my house,” Leotaria says, recalling that their harvest of maize, beans, and eggplants was larger than ever before. “I was no longer worried about hunger after that, since I never run out of food.”
The family not only has plenty to eat now, but they’ve also able to invest their extra income in new ways to help pull themselves further out of poverty.
After their first two harvests, Edouard and Leotaria had saved enough money to buy a young bull, which they raised and later sold for a profit. With that additional income, Edouard was able to open a small shop, where he sells items including salt, soap, and clothing. Leotaria still maintains the farm throughout most of the year, but Edouard works in the fields with her during planting seasons and other busy times.
Since joining One Acre Fund, the family’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. Edouard bought a solar light from the organization, helping the family reduce spending on kerosene. They’re also able to afford health insurance and school fees for their youngest children, Rachel and Aaron. There’s even some left over to spend on their 13 grandchildren, Edouard says.
“Schooling is providing the children with a base for their life,” Leotaria says. “I would like to see Rachel and Aaron finish their studies up to university.”