BLOG Archive: March 2016


10 Things You Need to Know about Pulses

image description
Mar 30, 2016 Category: Core Program Research Sustainability Tags: legumes pulses resilience

pulse fact about women and children

What’s brown and orange and black and spotted and green all over? If you’re having trouble guessing the answer, think about a common alternative to animal protein. Still stumped? Then check out the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s chosen theme for 2016 (it’s the International Year of Pulses!)

Pulses are a subgroup of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Dried beans, lentils and peas are the most commonly known and consumed types of pulses. The United Nations designated 2016 the International Year of Pulses in recognition of this critical, yet often overlooked crop. Pulses come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and there are hundreds of varieties grown throughout the world. This diversity and adaptability makes pulses a critical tool in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and bolster the resilience of food systems worldwide.

Pulses contain high levels of protein and essential nutrients such as fiber, folate, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. This means they’re excellent for human health (particularly pregnant mothers), but pulses are also good for soil health. The ability of pulses to fix nitrogen boosts the productivity of farmland long term. Many pulses promote higher rates of accumulation of soil carbon than cereals or grasses, and have been used by farmers in intercropping for centuries.

Smallholder farmers in particular stand to gain from the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses. In developing countries, pulses make up 75 percent of the average diet, compared to 25 percent in industrialized countries.  They are an affordable alternative to animal protein, and can be found in dishes like falafel, daal, chili, and even baked beans. Pulses can be stored for months on end without losing their high nutritional value. This trait is particularly valuable for smallholder farmers who depend on the food they store between harvests

More fun facts about this resilient super food:

1. The word pulse originates directly from the Latin puls meaning "thick gruel, porridge, mush.”
2. Humans have relied on pulses for centuries. Archaeological remains found in modern day Turkey indicate that farmers grew chickpeas and lentils as far back as 7000 - 8000 B.C.
3. The most widely cultivated pulses in Africa include common beans, pigeon pea, cowpea, groundnuts, chickpea and soybean.
4. It takes just 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses, compared with 216 for soybeans and 368 for peanuts.
5. As nitrogen-fixing crops, pulses actually enrich soils rather than deplete them of nutrients during the growing process.
6. Pulses help to improve food security because as dried seeds, they can be stored for a long period of time without a decrease in nutrition.
7. Pulses are drought-tolerant and hardy under frost conditions, making them suitable to a wide range of environments.
8. Pulses are good sources of protein, fiber, and folate as well as calcium, iron, lysine, and vitamin C.
9. Pulses contribute about 10 percent of protein intake and 5 percent of energy intake in low-income countries.
10. Pulses are extremely beneficial for women and children because folate is a key nutrient during periods of rapid growth, such as pregnancy and infancy.

Want to learn more about pulses? Explore #IYP2016 on Twitter, or visit the Food and Agricultural Organization’s pulse webpage.


 


One Acre Fund Reports on Progress, Projections for 2016

image description
Mar 28, 2016 Category: Core Program Metrics Operations Tags: analyst call kpis march 2016

sofia auma kenya

On Monday, March 28, 2016, One Acre Fund hosted its first bi-annual open analyst call in 2016. During these calls, One Acre Fund founder Andrew Youn discusses the organization’s progress towards achieving key performance indicators, announces country-specific milestones, and shares plans for the future.

Youn began the call with a report on program scale. Thus far in 2016, One Acre Fund has already grown by more than 30 percent from 2015, and is currently serving over 400,000 farm families. Excitingly, we saw our largest ever enrollment in Kenya this year, crossing 200,000 farmer threshold! We expect to meet or surpass our 2016 target of 420,000 farmers with upcoming enrollment for the next season in Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. We also anticipate reaching an additional 700,000 clients through systems change work.

In terms of program impact, we are aiming for $140 USD of impact per-farmer in 2016, up from $137 USD in 2015. The slight increase is likely to result from higher adoption of add-on products as well as improved maize seed.

While preliminary 2015 program sustainability is calculated to be 80 percent, we anticipate our sustainability number in 2016 to dip slightly. This is due to a methodology change and the inclusion of Malawi and Uganda country operations, which are much newer and therefore much less sustainable, as part of our sustainability calculations going forward.

The second half of the call was dedicated to a discussion of Social Return on Investment, or SROI. This investment framework allows us to unify two of our core metrics— impact and sustainability —and is something One Acre Fund has begun using internally to compare various programming options. SROI can be used to set a minimum hurdle rate to commence new work, and helps leadership make resource-allocation decisions for projects that are already in-process. One Acre Fund’s Kenya core program and Zambia pilot were given as two examples of where SROI has helped inform decision-making around resource allocation. 

After calculating the SROI of our core model in 2015, Youn shared how One Acre Fund has increased its SROI over time, largely driven by improved net costs per farmer. While we are still honing the framework, One Acre Fund hopes to use SROI externally as well as internally, in discussions with results-oriented donors, investors, and other champions, as well as with peer organizations for benchmarking purposes and goal setting.

The call also featured an inspiring “mission moment,” in which participants heard the story of Ugandan smallholder Sofia Katende. A mother of four, Sofia Katende could never afford improved seed and fertilizer for her one-acre farm in Kasambira, Uganda.  Her harvests were always poor, and each season she faced the same dilemma: store her maize after harvest to sell at a higher price, but risk major losses from pests and rodents, or sell her maize immediately after harvest at a throw-away price.

smallholder farmer uganda

Sofia Katende of Kasambira, Uganda

Then, in 2014, she planted a small demonstration plot with One Acre Fund. Her yield, 350 kg of maize from 1 kg of seed, was three times her usual harvest from the same amount of seed. In 2015, she planted half of her one-acre plot with One Acre Fund. That half acre yielded 1600 kgs, twice her usual yield from planting a full acre.

Sofia had always hoped to protect her harvest from pests long enough to fetch a higher price at market. One Acre Fund’s program enabled her to do this for the first time.

After selling her surplus at a much higher price, Sofia used part of the proceeds to open a mobile money shop. Now, with her new sources of income, she hopes to send her eldest son, George, to university next year.

Keep an eye out for our next analyst call six months from now, when we will provide new program updates and scale projections.

One Acre Fund is hiring for over 60 new positions. Visit our jobs page and apply today to join our family of leaders!
 


Legumes as a Tool to Fight Poverty

image description
Mar 23, 2016 Category: Policy Research Sustainability Tags: investment iyp2016 legumes pulses

This blog was written by David Guerena, One Acre Fund agriculture innovations manager, and originally published on Agrilinks.

Pulse crops are critically important to human nutrition, soil health, and agricultural productivity. These edible seeds of the legume family of plants are one of the main dietary staples for approximately two billion of the world’s poor, many of whom live in remote areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The symbiotic partnership between legumes and soil bacteria, which imparts the ability of legumes to biologically fix nitrogen from nitrogen gas in the air, is critical to combating poverty, environmental degradation, and improving soil health.

beans and pulses

Pulse crops are hugely beneficial to human and soil health.

The first great civilizations all knew about the importance of legumes. In the millions of years before the invention of the Haber-Bosch process in the early 20th century, most of the earth’s biologically available nitrogen came from legumes. The inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent (modern day Israel, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq) cultivated peas, lentils, and chickpeas along with wheat. Inhabitants of the ancient Americas (modern day Mexico and the United States) cultivated beans with maize, while the ancient Chinese cultivated soybean and rice. Today, we know that soybeans contain almost twice the amount of protein and seven times more calcium than rice. Similar differences are apparent between most legumes and other staple grains. Legumes are also a critical source of folic acid, a necessary nutrient for prenatal and early childhood health. Several studies estimate that grain legumes may be a potent tool to fight childhood stunting (Tharanathan and Mahadevamma, 2003; Bevis, 2015; Smith and Hadad, 2014).

Despite their proven importance, aggregate investment in legume breeding and cropping systems research is estimated to be only one quarter of the investment in maize. Additionally, within aggregate legume investment, the majority (60 percent) is dedicated to soybean, while the multitude of other legume species (e.g. common beans, pigeon peas, fava beans, cowpeas) get the remaining 40 percent. Over the years, systematically low investment has resulted in yields that fall far short of the yield potential for these alternative legume species, despite their low requirement for fertilizer. 

common beans

Comparatively low investment in alternative legume species such as common bean (above) has resulted in low yields.

The phenomenon of low yields has dire consequences for smallholder farming communities where many alternative legume species are commonly grown. For example, common beans, grown in the humid highland systems of eastern and central Africa, routinely yield below one metric tonne per hectare (t/ha), yet the yield potential is above two t/ha for bush cultivars and above four t/ha for climbing cultivars. Pigeon peas, common to the dry lowlands of eastern and southern Africa, often yield below 500 kg/ha, despite yield potentials well above one t/ha. In many cases, pests, disease, and incorrect planting, spacing, and weeding techniques are some of the main yield limitations.

While aggregate farmer legume yields are low, the methods for achieving high yields are known: utilization of improved genetic resources (better varieties) and good agronomic practices (fertilizers, spacing, weeding, etc.). Improved varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases can also be a first line to close the yield gap.

In many cases, where improved varieties exist they often have other characteristics (e.g. seed color, cooking time) that are not in sync with local preferences. Introducing black-seeded beans in an area with strong preferences for green or a pigeon pea variety that requires six hours of cooking in areas with only four hours of available cooking fuel will limit adoption. In addition, most legumes are grown in intricate intercropping systems. There is often contradictory information on the most efficient recommended intercropping agronomic practices.

burundi bean harvest

Many smallholder farmers rely on alternative legume varieties to feed and nourish their families.

While additional research is needed to harness the power of legumes to serve the needs of the world’s poor, there are several research programs doing excellent work on legume breeding and agronomy. These include the Tropical Legume III program led by the CGIAR (TL-III), which focuses on breeding and seed delivery mechanisms; N2Africa led by Wageningen University focuses on mechanisms to increase nitrogen fixation; and the Legume Innovation Lab housed at Michigan State University focuses on breeding, agronomy, and value chains.

While part of the challenge lays in re-focusing research efforts, getting that research into the hands of farmers is another part of the challenge. One Acre Fund, a direct-service agricultural nonprofit I work with, has partnered with several of these organizations to deliver valuable research findings to hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers in eastern and southern Africa. These interventions are still being evaluated and contextualized to local demands and preferences, but initial results are promising. In Rwanda, we have used the microbial soil inoculants developed by N2Africa to maintain high soybean yields, while reducing the fertilizer input by 50 percent. In both Rwanda and Kenya, we have worked with the TL-III program and plant breeders from the national agricultural research system to bring improved bean seeds to tens of thousands of farmers. The Rwandan bean seeds are naturally fortified with high levels of iron, a critical nutrient for human nutrition. In Kenya, the bean variety was developed locally to be highly resistant to root diseases.

These innovations are examples of the existing potential to bring legumes out of obscurity and to the forefront of the fight against poverty and malnutrition. The world’s population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, with more than half the growth in Africa. To meet increased food demands, it is essential that we bolster the productivity, resilience, and nutrition of smallholder farming communities. As the United Nations celebrates the International Year of Pulses in 2016, the timing has never been better for the development community to invest in legumes. Our collective global future depends on it.

One Acre Fund staff live and work alongside the farmers we serve, helping them improve their harvests and grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Apply to join our family of leaders.


Announcing Propagate: A Coalition of Smallholder Finance Practitioners

image description
Mar 15, 2016 Category: Microfinance News Tags: microcredit summit propagate smallholder finance

propagate logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
                                                                                             
PROPAGATE: A COALITION OF SMALLHOLDER FINANCE PRACTITIONERS LAUNCHES TO ADVANCE FINANCIAL INCLUSION OF SMALLHOLDER FARMERS WORLDWIDE

 

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, March 16, 2016 — Propagate: A Coalition of Smallholder Finance Practitioners, today announced its formation and formal launch of activities at the 18th Microcredit Summit. The coalition includes representatives from some of the largest and most innovative organizations engaged in smallholder finance, including Agora Microfinance, BRAC, Juhudi Kilimo, One Acre Fund, Opportunity International, and VisionFund. The group will collaborate to increase the quality and availability of financial services tailored to meet the unique needs of smallholder farmers.

Smallholder farmers represent more than 70 percent of people living in poverty around the world. Yet only 3 percent of smallholder demand for financing is currently being met, presenting one of the greatest—and most urgent—opportunities for scale and impact in financial inclusion today.

“The sheer magnitude of the existence of poverty amongst smallholder farmers makes it one of the biggest economic challenges of our times. As we know, finance is an integral part of any solution that is attempted,” said Tanmay Chetan, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Agora Microfinance. “The group comprises institutions with serious responses to the issue. It can bring together diverse approaches and encourage synergy for larger scale solutions to the issue of agrifinance. It can also become a relevant voice on the issue.”

Going forward, coalition members will develop and adopt common principles to enhance financial services accessible to smallholder farmers. Through outreach to key sector stakeholders, they hope to influence the availability and structure of wholesale financing to attract appropriate investment and better support the growth of smallholder financial services. Among their own organizations, coalition members will develop commercial and operational partnerships that drive product development and innovation in smallholder finance and create stronger value chains for farmers.

“We know that when smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have access to production credit, savings accounts, cash flow management tools, and quality extension services, they can significantly increase their productivity and yields and receive fair prices for their crops,” said Simona Haiduc, Vice President of International Business Development at Opportunity International.

Propagate coalition representatives include:

  • Tanmay Chetan, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Agora Microfinance
  • Shameran Abed, Microfinance Director, BRAC
  • Bernard Kivava, CEO, Juhudi Kilimo
  • Mike Warmington, Microfinance Partnerships Manager, One Acre Fund
  • Simona Haiduc, Vice President of International Business Development at Opportunity International
  • Scott Brown, President and CEO, VisionFund International

For more information, visit http://www.propagatecoalition.org or email info@propagatecoalition.org.     

Press Inquiries: media@oneacrefund.org


Hope After Dark

image description
Mar 14, 2016 Category: Core Program Farmer Profile Tags: education rwanda smallholder solar lamp

This blog was written by Evariste Bagambiki, and was originally published by FoodTank. To view the original blog, click here.

In Kabuga, Rwanda, as twilight settles in, farmers return home from their fields. While others go to the nearby evening market, Vital Mucyo Irasubiza, a 16-year-old student and son of a smallholder farmer, arrives home from school. Still wearing his school uniform, Vital immediately sits down in the living room and opens his notebook to study for the Rwandan national exams.

Vital studies after dark with his solar light

Vital studies at home with his solar lamp after dark.

Studying after sunset was not always part of Vital’s routine. He started secondary school in 2012, and quickly realized that studying after school was going to be a major challenge.

“Teachers would often give more than two tests per day, and the probability was that I would only succeed on one of them, since there was just not enough light to review my lessons each day,” Vital says.

Each day, Vital had to make a tough choice. His classes would last until dusk, until there was barely enough remaining daylight to complete his hour-long walk home. Torn between reviewing his lessons and getting home safely, Vital would stay at school and study for as long as he could before it became too dark.  But he never had enough time to fully review his lessons, and wasn’t doing well as a result.

Part of the problem lay in the fact that Vital often couldn’t find light to study by at home. To light their home, his mother, Josephine Nyinawumuntu, would use either candles or a kerosene lamp. Purchasing candles and kerosene for a week would cost her the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, which is enough to buy both lunch and dinner for most Rwandan smallholder farmers.

Vital and his mother Josephine

Vital and his mother, Josephine Nyinawumuntu.

“Sometimes my mother would not be able to find the money for the fuel, so we would pass the whole week without light because we had to choose eating instead of lighting. Also, because my mother had to pay school fees for me, most of the time there was no light at home in the first days of the trimester, after fees were due,” Vital says.

In 2013, Josephine happened to meet a One Acre Fund field officer. She learned that if she enrolled with One Acre Fund, she would have access to agriculture trainings and high-quality fertilizer and seed on credit. She also learned that she would have the option to purchase additional add-on products on credit, and that solar lamps were one of the available add-on products.

Josephine enrolled with One Acre Fund that same year, purchasing her first solar lamp just as Vital began his second year of secondary school.

“I started that academic year full of joy. My target was to make great improvements at school since I would have light to study at home. My mother had to make sure the lamp was fully charged during the day, and then it was up to me to decide how long I needed to take for reviewing,” Vital says.

That year, Vital performed well at school and graduated to the next class in 2015.  Buoyed by her son’s success, Josephine bought a second solar lamp.

November of 2015 proved a special time for Vital. Like all Rwandan students his age, he had to take national exams to qualify for continued study in his field of choice. His plan was to study mechanical engineering, but he needed high scores to qualify.

Vital was confident going into the test. “The solar lamps helped us a lot. I can review my lessons whenever it is dark, and my mother no longer buys kerosene or candles. The money that she would use for fuel is now saved for buying seed,” Vital says.

Vital with his school book

Having a solar lamp at home allowed Vital to study after dark and achieve high marks on his exam.

When the results came in, Vital’s score was high enough to do mechanical engineering, but he was instead selected to study carpentry at a Technical Secondary School.

"I felt happy with the results, and I am so proud. I wouldn't have gotten this higher score if I hadn't had a chance to review my lessons at night," Vital says.

With a solar lamp at home, studying is no longer a problem, but school fees are another matter. Vital is worried about his parents being able to afford the school fees to keep three children in secondary school.  In spite of his worries, he’s focusing hard on his studies and staying hopeful, even after dark.

Investing in farmers pays dividends for future generations. Visit our jobs page to learn about new career opportunities with One Acre Fund, and help us invest in more smallholder farmers.
 


What I Learned Leading a Team of 1,300 in Rural Kenya

image description
Mar 10, 2016 Category: Staff Profile Tags: field operations director jobs kenya

alex hasbach one acre fundAlex Hasbach joined One Acre Fund Kenya in 2012 because she was eager to get practical, on-the-ground experience working with farmers. A trip to Kenya at age 15 had exposed her to the devastating effects of food insecurity in rural communities, and inspired her pursue a career in agriculture development. When she arrived in Bungoma, Kenya, however, Alex realized that she had stumbled upon much more than just your average development job.

Now, four and half years later, Alex tells us how working for One Acre Fund transformed her most basic assumptions about about workplace culture, and the surprising things she learned leading a team of 1,300 in rural Kenya.

How did you know that you wanted to work in international agriculture development?
Growing up, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in conservation biology. I loved playing outside and studying the natural world, and I wanted to help protect our environment. The more I learned about ecology and conservation, however, the more I realized the pressure that our human need for food security places on the planet’s natural ecosystems. This realization, coupled with a visit to Kenya at age 15 where I witnessed a drought and the effects of food insecurity firsthand, are what got me interested in studying agriculture and international development.

Why did you decide to work for One Acre Fund?
I was in graduate school, studying land management and climate science at Stanford, and I knew I wanted to work on the issues of food production and food security for vulnerable populations. I had spent a bit of time in Kenya and Tanzania in the past, and knew I wanted to do something in the field. I attend a presentation on One Acre Fund, and was immediately excited. I saw One Acre Fund as an excellent opportunity to get practical, “on-the-ground” experience.

Once you started with One Acre Fund, what surprised you the most about your work?
Well, I came to One Acre Fund wanting to learn more about “the field” and the “program” side of implementation work. I didn’t expect to learn so much about what it takes to grow and manage an organization, but that has also been a huge part of my experience. I’ve learned a lot of skills that could be transferable to many different management and leadership situations around the world—not just here in Kenya, or even in the field of international development.

You've been with the organization for four years now. How has your job evolved since you started?
I began as a program associate on the Kenya Field Operations team at the beginning of 2012. Our program was a lot smaller then, so our team was smaller and everyone did a bit of everything. Some of my early projects included training staff and farmers on our new funeral insurance product, running a trial on dewormers, developing professional development training materials for our top field leaders, and re-working our packaged of trainings and services to respond to a maize virus that forced us to offer alternative crops two seasons. I became a program manager in 2013 and took the lead on coordinating all field activities for one of the two provinces where we operate.

Now, I’m the director of field operations, and I oversee team of about 1,300 staff—the majority of whom are based in one of our 28 district operating units in Kenya. Obviously, I’ve been able to take on a lot of responsibility quite quickly, which has made the job challenging but also very exciting.

What is the most challenging thing about your work? What is the most rewarding thing?
One of our biggest challenges is that there is so much work that we aspire to do, but not enough time to fit it all in! I occasionally have say “no” to a new project or trial idea, which is always a bit frustrating since I know those ideas could help us learn more and improve our program.... but I need to balance that desire with the responsibility to support my team in maintaining a sustainable workload of projects and making sure that we only make plans that we can execute well in the field.

The most inspiring part of my job is definitely seeing individual people dream big and achieve their goals with One Acre Fund’s support. Some of the most inspiring stories, for me, are those examples among our current field leadership team where a staff member who started as a farmer or group leader is now overseeing a regional operation that serves more than 20,000 farmers. I am very proud of the role that I played in helping those staff to develop their careers, and I think that their leadership makes our organization uniquely well placed to continue putting Farmers First, even as we grow larger and more complex.

You’ve been living in Bungoma, Kenya for four years now. What do you like best about living in a rural area?
One of the things I appreciate most about living in a rural area like Bungoma, where everyone is a farmer, is that it forces you to pay attention to things we tend to take for granted at home. For example, I pay much closer attention to the rains now than I ever did living in a city back in the U.S. At home, I used to check the forecast on my phone to know whether to bring an umbrella, but never really thought much beyond that. Here, the timing and volume of the rains can make the difference between hunger and surplus—so rains are a regular topic of conversation, and a source of much anxiety, speculation, and celebration. I like this because it’s a reminder of our basic humanity and vulnerability, and also prompts us to be grateful for what we do receive.

What do you think One Acre Fund’s biggest challenge will be three to five years from now?
We have set a very ambitious 2020 vision and targets that will require us to stretch and continue to evolve. I think one our biggest management and resource-allocation challenges will be continuing to build stronger systems that enable us to do repeatable work at scale, while also staying nimble, flexible and innovative so that we continue to provide the best available services to both our present and future clients.

After almost half a decade, you’re now leaving One Acre Fund to pursue other professional opportunities.  What’s the most important thing this experience has taught you?
I’ve certainly learned a ton of valuable skills professionally, but perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was the unparalleled value of an inspiring work environment.  One-Acre Fund is a place where everyone is constantly pushing themselves to keep growing, dream bigger, and deliver better results for farmers—it’s a lot more than just a job. I know I will need to look very hard to find another team of people who puts this much of themselves into their everyday work.

From your perspective, what are the three biggest traits or skills that the new field director must possess?
The most important quality we are looking for in a new director is someone who can be a humble leader. A leader in this position needs to be able to listen to farmers and the field staff team, and advocate for their needs (and limitations) at all times. We’re also looking for someone who will bring out the best in others as a manager and collaborator, and who enjoys managing a complex and evolving operation. To be happy in this role, a new director will need to be patient, flexible, and be committed to simultaneously supporting innovation and experimentation, as well as core execution and getting the basics right for the farmers we serve each week.

What would you say to people who are thinking of applying to the field operations director role?  
Apply to the field operations director role if you have a passion for teamwork, experience in operations management and the leadership skills described above. One Acre Fund is a dynamic professional environment where you can truly “study at the feet of the farmer,” grow your career, and leverage your skills to create lasting change in farmers’ lives. 

Think you have what it takes to lead a committed, passionate team working to help Kenya's smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and poverty? Apply to become our new Kenya field operations director!


Q&A with Jourdan McGinn, One Acre Fund Kenya Field Ops Manager

image description
Mar 01, 2016 Category: Staff Profile Tags: kenya professional development staff

Jourdan McGinn one acre fund KenyaThree years ago, if you told Jourdan McGinn, a field operations manager at One Acre Fund, that she would be working in agriculture development, she would have laughed and called you crazy. With early dreams of working as a teacher, followed by a prestigious post-undergraduate fellowship in global health, Jourdan's path to serving smallholder farmers in rural Kenya has been anything but predictable. Here, Jourdan shares how her upbringing shaped her interest in international development, and why working with One Acre Fund has been hugely impactful for her both personally and professionally.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think for a long time when I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. But then from a very early age, I had an interest in working in development or advocacy of some kind. I come from a Jewish family, and so a history of oppression, disruption and diaspora was always a part of my family history and conversations, and so that was instilled in me from an early age. My mom was also very involved in our community, and so I volunteered starting when I was quite young. I guess in some ways, I’m not surprised that I ended up where I am today.

Is there anything about what you’re doing now that does surprise you?

Working in agriculture—that really surprises me! I think I had always thought of development in terms of people as opposed to thematic areas or focus areas. If you would’ve asked me even three years ago if I ever thought I would work in agriculture, I would’ve said, ‘No, I can’t even keep a basil plant alive!’ It is just very far from my reality growing up in a suburban, non-agricultural area. So, I think that’s probably the most surprising thing.

So how did you find out about One Acre Fund and why did you choose to work here?

I heard about One Acre Fund through Global Health Corp (GHC). There were a lot of GHC alums that were working at One Acre Fund when I was a fellow. So I heard about the organization through them, but I think the thing that attracted me more than anything was the social enterprise approach. I had historically only worked at traditionally structured NGOs, and I think at the end of the day, I didn’t always find incentives aligning in terms of where resources were coming from, how we were expending them, and who was benefitting.

At One Acre Fund, when we say, ‘Farmers First,’ we really mean farmers come first. They’re our bottom line. They’re driving every single decision we make—big or small. And when I was looking at One Acre Fund, I heard that echoed in everyone I talked to. There was this fundamental shared belief in everyone who worked for One Acre Fund, that that’s why we exist and who we exist for. I thought that was unique compared to the way other organizations talk about what they do and why they do it.

What does your typical workday look like?

I’ll use today as an example. In the mornings, at least one day per week, I try to go to the field. So today, I went along with one of our senior field directors, Isaac, who has worked with us for nine years, which is amazing; and went to see what major field activity was happening, how our trainings are being implemented, and how a lot of the high-level strategies we talk about are actually being disseminated and realized on the ground.

So, we walked around for two or three hours talking with farmers, observing group planting, talking through some of the challenges they’re facing and the approaches they’re taking to overcome those challenges. Then after a field visit, I will type up a bunch of notes and send them to people to make sure that all of what we’re experiencing in the field is being heard at the decision-making level.

A lot of times, I’ll also participate in meetings with our finance team and other departments/teams to help coordinate some of our big upcoming activities, like our future expansion plans and making sure that all people are prepared. Then I check in with members of my team to see how they’re doing, how they’re progressing on projects, and talk about professional development.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

We recently did a density analysis where we looked at how many farmers we are serving in our addressable market in a given area in Kenya, and it’s still relatively low. Realizing that we are serving the very tip of the iceberg, and that there are so many more people who could benefit from our program, and then thinking about how to build the systems, teams, the departments—really, how do we build an entire program that’s scalable so that we can ultimately serve that many people… it’s super exciting to think about, but it’s also incredibly daunting!

What do you feel your work here has taught you?

We have these One Acre Fund values, like hard work and humility and dreaming big, and I think those are core to the way that everyone here interacts with each other and approaches their work. I get to work with people who have a great sense of humility, and everyone is open to learning and has such a willingness to dream big and think radically and creatively. So I’ve learned to approach work on a daily basis like that.

But then there are also hard skills, like project management, Excel, growth modeling, expansion modeling, how to transfer things I learned from my degree to a bottom-of-the-pyramid type clientele…I get to do these things from the earliest, most theoretical stages of project planning, all the way through to the implementation stage.

How long have you lived in East Africa now, and what do you like best about it?

I’ve lived here for 3 years now. I think East Africa pushes me in all the right directions. The thing I like most about living here is the sense of community. When you walk down the street, you greet everybody – stopping and having conversations with people is an expectation as opposed to an inconvenience. People make eye contact with each other and talk to strangers. They engage on a very interpersonal level—I think that is probably my favorite part. And then it’s just beautiful. There’s so much to do. There’s everything from hiking to safaris, and just a lot of exploring to be done.

What do you feel are the hardest parts about living and working abroad?

I think being an environment so radically different from what I’m used to is tough. I think it is common to feel discomfort or some sort of uncertainty, and you can never take anything for granted because a lot of the assumptions you might make don’t apply here. I think there’s tons to be gained from having to constantly discern and sort through the discomfort, but it is also hard and sometimes tiring.

Can you share one of your favorite experiences working for One Acre Fund?

One great memory I have is from last year when I was working on our enrollment and marketing strategies. We did something we never had before, which was using a lot of bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing strategies, like a typical business would, to attract farmers to our program. We didn’t know how it was going to go, so it was a big gamble. We invested months and months of time and energy into thinking about this. Then when the first week contract signing opened, we enrolled almost 100,000 clients in just that week, which was more than we had served in the previous year! That moment felt incredible. 

What do you think One Acre Fund’s biggest challenge will be three to five years from now?

I think that what a farmer looks like today is going to be very different from what a farmer looks like in the future. Their land sizes are continually getting smaller because where we work, parents split their land between their male children, and so the competition for land is going to be increasingly high. Land will be quite a scarce resource, and family sizes still continue to grow, so I think we already need to be thinking through, ‘How do we set up this generation so that they aren’t just subsisting but thriving, and then how do we set up the next generation to do so too, in a world and environment that looks significantly different than the one we’re operating in today?”

I also think One Acre Fund can’t do it alone. The world is much too big, and the addressable market of smallholder farmers who could benefit from our program is so significant that our biggest possible success as an organization is proving that this model works, proving that farmers should be first, and that we can radically impact their livelihoods, health, and communities. Then we need to encourage other organizations to adopt similar structures and operating models so that it is not just us alone forging ahead on this, but that it’s a collective group of people all committed to a shared mission with a shared vision using a model we know works. Right now, in spite of our success, One Acre Fund is just at the tip of the iceberg.

Any thoughts for people thinking of applying to One Acre Fund?

For young professionals, working at One Acre Fund means working in an environment full of creativity and innovation. For example, on a given work day, you may stumble upon colleagues chatting casually about questions as big as, ‘How do we restructure our field program to serve three times as many farmers?’ Everyone at every level of the organization is having these kinds of conversations, from senior leaders to new hires—which is exciting and rare in many organizations.

You’re also given responsibility very early on, and you have opportunities to innovate on existing systems and products while also building entirely new ones. At One Acre Fund, senior managers are invested in your professional development—not only making sure you have stretch opportunities, but that you have the support structures to learn how to build the skills needed to successfully complete challenging projects. 

It is a workplace for people willing to take on challenges, get their boots muddy, and help tackle some of the world's most pressing problems. It's not for the faint of heart, but for someone looking for a rigorous professional opportunity with tremendous amount of growth and potential to create change, I would recommend submitting an application!

Do you have what is takes to be a leader in the field of agriculture development? If so, apply to our new field operations director role today!


inner