Alice Nasambu, Kenyan smallholder farmer
Alice Nasambu always has money on her mind. Most of her children are still young, and she is determined that all five of them receive a good education, which means building up her savings now.
The desire to save for the future is what first prompted Alice to plant trees. To her village neighbors—who regularly struggle with hunger—planting an inedible crop seemed illogical. But with the nearest savings bank more than hour's walk from her home in rural Kenya, growing a crop with the intention of selling it several years later presented a unique opportunity.
“Trees are the closest bank I have,” Alice says. “With trees, one is generating money from an investment. Eventually when they are tall, one can sell the trees and get a lot of money in return.”
Alice first started planting trees years ago, inspired by the profit she heard was possible from selling mature trees. At first, she planted Eucalyptus trees, which worked well the first year. However, in subsequent years, she noticed her other crops were not doing very well.
“Even the texture of the soil in my field changed. The soil was very dry and brown in color,” Alice says. She later learned that Eucalyptus trees require significant amounts of water and nutrients to grow, and were robbing her crops and soil of both.
Disappointed with her trees and in search of new investment opportunities, Alice joined One Acre Fund, purchasing a variety of farming products on credit. One of those products was Grevillea tree seeds.
Alice and her son Abel (6) stand alongside one of their young Grevillea trees
Alice had learned about Grevillea trees from a One Acre Fund field officer. Similar to Eucalyptus, Grevillea trees grow quickly and grow straight, which makes them marketable as timber for building houses and furniture. Unlike Eucalyptus trees, however, Grevillea tree leaves are nutrient-rich and contribute to soil fertility when they fall around the trees. Alice realized that by planting Grevillea trees, she could get the financial benefits she hoped for from Eucalyptus without her compromising her harvest yield.
Grevillea trees, which are worth less than $1 USD as saplings, become worth roughly $15 USD a piece after six years. For smallholder farmers like Alice, this is an incredible return on investment. In Western Kenya, the profits from just 10 six-year-old trees could cover an entire term of a child’s high school tuition—and the trees rapidly increase in value each year after that.
“This is a lot of money for poor farmers like me," Alice says, standing next to one of her young Grevillea trees. "My children will be in high school by the time my trees mature, and I use that money for their school fees."
Alice with her sons Abel (6) and Bednego (8)
Since joining One Acre Fund in 2011, Alice has planted Grevillea trees every year. After talking with her field officer, Alice chose to plant her trees around her house and the perimeter of her farm, so that they wouldn’t take up valuable space for edible crops in her field. In total, she has roughly 65 Grevillea trees scattered about her property, growing tall and strong.
With a few of her trees already approaching the six-year mark, Alice feels she can rest assured that her dreams of educating her children will come to be. Her 14-year-old daughter Wendy will start secondary school next year, when Alice’s first round of trees reach maturity.
“Wendy hopes to be a doctor someday,” Alice says. Her smile is the smile of a woman on track to accomplish her goals.
Alice and her son Abel, standing near one of their Grevillea trees (tallest tree to their left)
I joined One Acre Fund in October 2015, as a recruiter on the people operations team. I am based in New York, but my job as a recruiter is to find highly skilled individuals to serve smallholder farmers in East Africa. You may be wondering: how is a recruiter based in New York supposed to fully grasp the staffing needs of teams based in East Africa?
To ensure every staffer understands the mission and feels connected to the farmers we serve, One Acre Fund sends non-field-based staff on extended field visits. These field visits help staff understand One Acre Fund’s operational context just a little bit better, which allows us to hire the right people, and provide farmers with the service they deserve.
For my first visit to the field, I planned to spend six weeks observing One Acre Fund’s operations in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. My goal was to meet with as many colleagues and farmers as possible, and soak up all I could about One Acre Fund’s field operations, so that I could come back and paint a clear and compelling picture of life in the field for stellar job candidates who would then join One Acre Fund’s family of leaders. I was on a mission.
My first stop was Kenya, One Acre Fund’s first-ever country operation. After meeting with my recruiter colleague Wangari Mungai in Nairobi, I traveled to Bungoma, where One Acre Fund Kenya is headquartered. In Bungoma, I had the opportunity to attend a district-level farmer meeting, visit our tree nursery, and check out our livestock and poultry trial center. I even had the opportunity to plant maize with farmers!
I also met with colleagues who run our field operations, to gain a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of things like input delivery. One colleague took me on a tour of our very recently emptied warehouses, which gave me a very real sense of the scale of our input distribution operation in Kenya.
In Uganda, I arrived at One Acre Fund’s headquarters in Jinja just in time to observe a candidate selection process. There were over 30 applicants who showed up! First we administered written tests, and then invited the top 10 performers for an in-person interview in the afternoon. The top three performers were then invited to an all-day, in-person interview the following Monday. I had heard about One Acre Fund’s unique, in-person candidate selection process for field-based roles, but it was really useful to see it in-person.
My field visit concluded in beautiful, hilly Rwanda. I am the recruiter for the finance team, and One Acre Fund’s finance team recently centralized operations in Rubengera, so I was able to spend a lot of time meeting with finance team members, learning about their needs and discussing strategies for attracting top candidates. I was even able to interview some candidates applying for finance roles in Rubengera.
Before I knew it, the six weeks were over, and I was back at my desk in New York. However, I returned with a new sense of confidence representing One Acre Fund’s model and organizational culture in interviews, and found myself more prepared to answer candidates’ questions about what it’s like to live and work in a rural area.
Overall, my visit to the field helped me gain a more nuanced understanding of One Acre Fund’s mission and impact, which has in turn helped me be a better recruiter.
Interested in joining the One Acre Fund recruitment team? Apply to become a recruitment coordinator today!
This blog was written by Hilda Poulson, senior analyst at One Acre Fund, and originally published by Devex. To view the original post, click here.
Jake and Jennie Calhoun met in the summer of 2009, when they were both interning for a small NGO in Phenom Penh, Cambodia. Just one year later, the development neophytes moved to Bungoma, Kenya to work for One Acre Fund, where they spent three and half years before re-locating to New York City.
Now, seven years after that summer in Cambodia, Jake, 32, and Jennie, 34, have joined the ranks of One Acre Fund’s senior leadership. They’ve also become parents to daughter Cassie, 2, and son Noah, 6 months. Their professional advancement and the growth of their family has coincided with a period of explosive growth for One Acre Fund, which has grown from 23,000 farmers served in 2010 to over 400,000 farmers served in 2016.
With so much change at work and at home, many people would be content to just stay the course. But not this couple, who recently made the bold decision to move their young family to Rwanda. Here, Jake and Jennie share how they got to where they are today (Chief Financial Officer and Director of Global Recruitment respectively), and why mid-career professionals with kids at home can still build long and happy careers in international development.
1. Jake, you started with One Acre Fund in 2010, and Jennie in 2011. Can you tell us how you came to work for the same organization?
Jake: I started my career as a systems engineer at the nonprofit Finance Fund. That role taught me the importance of back-office and finance roles at nonprofits. I knew I wanted to transition out of engineering though, so I went to Columbia Business School to make it happen, and landed a job as a finance manager at One Acre Fund in 2010. I was based in Bungoma, my first experience in rural Africa, for three and half years. Looking back, it was very critical to my career that I was within walking distance to One Acre Fund clients.
Jennie: My career in international development started in a fairly unlikely place – Chicago! I started my career in international development at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was my first job after college, and it was a fantastic experience, but I wanted to get experience in the private sector early in my career to develop strong project management skills. Deliberate networking landed me a referral at Accenture, a management-consulting firm, where I worked for four years consulting for different Fortune 500 companies.
I enjoyed management consulting, but I realized I wanted to have more of a social impact. So I went back to graduate school in 2008 and got my Masters in International Affairs. Jake and I actually met in Cambodia, while I was interning at various NGOs as part of my masters program.
2. You’ve both been with One Acre Fund for a long time now. What made you ultimately decide, “yes, this is the place to build my career long-term?”
Jennie: I think strong employees who are committed to the mission and their team is really important. Working with great people can mean the difference between a marginally satisfying job and a career that knocks it out of the park. I absolutely love the team that I work with and find real fulfillment and joy in getting other awesome people from all over the world to join One Acre Fund and help us serve farmers.
Jake: I agree with Jennie—I joined One Acre Fund because it was a fast-growing organization with a strong leadership team and a very impactful business model. But I’ve stayed for 5+ years because of the people I work with. I can’t overstate how inspiring it is to work in a place where you’re surrounded by smart, passionate, and fun people.
3. Jake, you’re One Acre Fund’s Chief Financial Officer, and Jennie, you’re the Director of Global Development. What is your absolute favorite thing about your job?
Jennie: I think my favorite thing is that my current role combines all of the things I enjoyed about consulting with the social impact I always wanted to make. What first caught my attention about One Acre Fund was the mission, and the fact that I would get to work in the field, close to the client. Once I started, everything just “clicked” for me: I was really excited by the organization’s business approach, and the emphasis on using analytics to make decisions and generate social impact. That excitement is still a big part of what I love about coming to work every day.
Jake: It’s probably the chance to imagine providing life-changing products to over 1 million smallholder farmers. While the finance team focuses on details and keeps day-to-day operations running, we also get the chance to step back and think about the big-picture stuff, like how we can build a team to serve 1 million clients by 2020. Over the last five years, we’ve transformed from a scrappy start-up to an established organization, and it’s really awesome to dream about what the next five years will look like.
4. You guys are married, and you both serve in leadership roles at the same organization. What’s the secret to keeping work and home life separate?
Jake: The main thing is to create boundaries and actively avoid the trap of talking work while at home, or out with friends…but luckily friends don’t ask too much about our jobs, so…
Jennie: Well, to be honest, we don’t have a strict “no talking about work outside of the office” policy! That wouldn’t work for us, but there is an upside — we can talk about work without having to explain context, and can use each other as sounding boards and support systems.
Jake: Obviously we talk work at times, but I think it’s more like how partners talk about work (celebrating accomplishments, complaining about random things, etc.) and less how colleagues would talk work.
I think having other things in our lives (kids, friends, family, etc.) is also important to maintaining a good balance. We have a lot of shared experiences that are not related to work, and these experiences are more interesting to talk about and joke about.
5. You guys also have two kids under three years old. How do you balance making time for your family with pursuing your careers?
Jennie: It’s not easy, and there is a lot less sleep now! I think one of the key things for us is making sure there is equal support for one another as individuals, parents, colleagues and partners. We try to make sure that each of us has equal opportunity in pursuing work and personal opportunities – even though it might not happen simultaneously.
For example, Jake’s job works better when he’s based the field, closer to all of the people that he manages. But we spent a few years back in the states for family reasons, where it was harder for him and meant tons of early morning calls each week. Now that we’re headed back to the field, it will be a bit harder for me since most of my team is in the US. But we support each other and realize at times, we each must make a bit of a sacrifice for each other or our family.
Jake: It’s been a process, but I can say we’ve identified a few specific things that really work for us in terms of maintaining a healthy balance.
The first this is to put family first. While we make macro decisions (like moving to Kigali) that are career focused, the day-to-day time and devotion to family is the top priority. It makes sense to orient big decisions around careers, but than if all the little decisions are family focused, you actually end up with a nice family-centric balance.
The second big thing is making, and sticking to, schedules. Kids force you to be home at specific times, so we’ve developed a nice system for sharing the child-care responsibilities, and we always stick to our agreed-upon schedules.
Finally, I have to admit that the privilege of having secure and flexible jobs is really the biggest factor.
Jennie: We definitely have a great support system at work, of people who understand the challenges of having young kids, and this helps me be honest when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need additional time to complete things.
6. Raising kids is tough enough, yet you recently decided to relocate your family from New York City to Rwanda. What led you to make this big change?
Jake: Raising kids in New York is challenging! But seriously, I do think that having lived in rural Kenya for more than three years, and having traveled with the kids to East Africa multiple times — we do feel like we know what we’re getting in to.
Jennie and I also just love travelling— we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to explore different parts of the globe while working abroad. We started dating in Cambodia, got married in Kenya, and honeymooned in Malaysia. We think it’s important to expose our kids to the world, and to show them what we are passionate about.
Jennie: When we were talking about this decision, our previous experience living in Kenya was very much in our minds. In many ways, this wasn’t a choice to move, but to move back. We have a rich community of colleagues and friends in East Africa, and we are excited to get back.
In terms of actually deciding on Kigali, we knew we wanted to be somewhere where the kids would have access to quality healthcare and educational opportunities. Given recent changes to organizational structure, the most logical place for Jake to work is probably Kigali, and I can do my job from there too fairly easily. With Kigali, everything just seemed to line up.
7. What would you say to the skeptics out there who may think it’s a crazy idea to move two little kids to Rwanda?
Jake: It’s going to be amazing! We have already found a wonderful Montessori school for our daughter, where she’ll learn French and make friends with Rwandan, European, and American children. Our son will spend his days in the sun, playing with neighbors’ kids in our yard… a yard! Imagine that in New York City!
Jennie: While I’m excited, I think I’m a bit more circumspect than Jake. Every big change seems daunting at first, but we are moving because it’s the best opportunity for our family. The kids will get a wonderful cultural experience, and will live in the kind of tight-knit community that is sometimes difficult to create in a place like New York. They will get to go to schools with kids from all over the world, and see their parents doing jobs they really love. We hope they’ll draw inspiration from that, and from getting out into the field and meeting farmers. We want them to develop a wider and more compassionate worldview.
The biggest downside we see is being far away from our extended family, and the logistics of moving a family of four — but everything else is really promising for us!
8. Where do you see yourselves in 10 years, both in terms of career and family?
Jake: Hiding from my teenage daughter.
Jennie: Wow. I hadn’t really imagined our kids at 10 and 12 years old, or as teenagers – you just made me feel really old! I imagine our family thriving – a little unit that will do well wherever we are. For our careers, I see us continuing to do well, taking on more strategic and management projects within the organization and supporting each other as we do so. I see us focused less on position growth, and concentrating more on how we can help grow and improve our teams and the organization as whole.
9. Looking to the future, what most excites you about where One Acre Fund is going as an organization?
Jennie: I am so excited by One Acre Fund’s ability to learn from the successes in our program, and apply those learnings to new contexts. I am also really excited to see the evolution of our strategic partnerships with other microfinance organizations, governments, and research institutions. These are opportunities that can help us reach hundreds of thousands more farmers and generate even more impact.
10. What advice do you have for established professionals who may be interested in moving to the field, but who aren’t sure they’re ready to take the leap?
Jake: My advice would be to think about why you aren’t making the leap, and to then really consider what you’re getting into. If you play it out, committing to a modest amount of time, like two years, in the “field” is not really a big deal. So many things change in two years, the fact that you are physically located somewhere else is probably of minimal influence on your personal life and satisfaction. The upside to moving abroad is a better career and a new and interesting experience. The downside may seem insurmountable, but the things you imagine going poorly or being difficult abroad are just as likely to happen where you are today.
By David Guerena, One Acre Fund agriculture innovations manager
Before the advent of synthetic fertilizers in the early 20th century, pulses were the principal source of agricultural nitrogen for farmers. Today, pulses are still one of the main dietary staples for approximately two billion of the world’s poor, yet they receive a fraction of the investment that maize and other cereals receive.
As a soil scientist, I have spent the last 10 years working at the intersection between agriculture and poverty in the developing world. It has never been clearer to me that beans and other pulses are some of the most important— and underappreciated— tools in the fight against global poverty.
With the United Nations declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulses, our perception of pulses may be changing. I recently sat down with one of the leading global voices in the use of pulses to fight poverty, Dr. Jeff Ehlers of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to discuss why these plants are a potential game-changer, and what actions the development community can take to harness the power of pulses.
DG: You currently work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, leading their work on legumes. What drove your decision to pursue a career working with pulses?
JE: Surprisingly, growing up as a suburban kid in California, my first passion was actually farming. This developed from summer visits to my uncle’s farm in southeast Minnesota. I went on to do my undergraduate work at the nearby University of California, Riverside, where I was exposed to breeding and genetics and worked with sorghum and potato breeding programs. I became hooked, and soon found myself in a PhD program at the University of California, Davis working on cowpea (a pulse crop) as part of a project with partners in Senegal. I basically fell in love with the cowpea and all its morphological diversity. As a breeder-agronomist in training, I was especially drawn to the challenge of how to harness the diversity of this unique crop and put it to good use, in the service of mankind.
DG: Many people may not know what a pulse or legume is. Can you provide a definition?
JE: Legumes are a major family of plants that includes trees (such as Acacia and Jacaranda) forages (such as alfalfa and clovers), but also peas and beans. All of these plants have the rare ability of forming a beneficial association with soil bacteria (rhizobium) on their roots. These bacteria form nodules on the roots that are able to take inert nitrogen from the air (our air is 80% nitrogen) and convert it into a form plants can use for their growth. Hence we say legumes are ‘N-fixers’ that contribute to the fertility of the soil to the benefit of crops grown in rotation with them.
Pulses are a type of legume where the seeds are used as human food, such as peas, lentils and beans. The seeds or grains are typically 2 to 3 times higher in protein (23-27%) than cereals such as maize and rice and have good levels of vitamins and minerals.
DG: The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, to highlight the importance of pulses and legumes to achieving our Sustainable Development Goals. For the agriculture novices out there, what about legumes make them such an important tool in the fight to end global poverty?
JE: Legumes, and particularly the pulse subgroup, provide multiple benefits: they improve soil fertility, boost health and nutrition, and can provide stable income for smallholder farmers.
Possibly the most unique thing about the pulse crops is that they require little if any input of nitrogen fertilizers, due to their ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. All legumes have the rare ability to form a beneficial association with soil bacteria on their roots, which boosts soil fertility. Additionally, the plants provide nitrogen to the next crop when they decompose in the soil. When grown in rotation with other crops, pulses help improve staple crop (e.g. rice/wheat/maize) yields by breaking soil-borne pest and disease cycles that afflict these crops.
From an economic perspective, pulses diversify smallholder income streams and mitigate risks associated with staple crop price fluctuations. Over time, staple crop prices can be volatile, having multiple crops to sell helps bring income stability. When farmers grow pulses in addition to crops like maize, it helps buffer the farm from catastrophic disease and pest infestations and climate-related production disruptions.
From a nutritional and dietary diversity perspective, the leaves and immature pods of these crops can be consumed as high-value nutritious vegetables, and the grain is an important source of vitamins, minerals and protein for rural smallholder families. Additionally, the non-grain portion of the plant provides an important component of livestock food that can dramatically boost livestock yields and health.
DG: The Gates Foundation’s global development objective is to “help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.” How do the foundation’s investments in pulses help to achieve this objective?
JE: I believe we as a society have a moral imperative to reduce the unacceptably high levels of childhood stunting that exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, which hover at about 40 percent in both regions. Income growth and increased dietary diversity have been cited as the two most powerful levers to impact childhood stunting, and legumes can play a powerful role contributing to both. Women smallholders in particular stand to gain substantially from investments into legume productivity, production and profitability because in many farming communities in developing countries, women are often in charge of pulse growing.
Examples of the pulses the foundation invests in include cowpea, common bean and chickpea. Because pulses contain protein levels that are two to four times greater than cereal crops such as rice, maize and wheat, and much higher than low-protein roots and tuber crops (cassava, sweet potato, yam, bananas, etc.) they provide a nutritional punch not available in other staples.
DG: Can you highlight some of the foundation’s specific strategic investments in legumes and highlight the important outputs and positive social outcomes from these projects?
JE: We are investing primarily in three areas that help smallholders grow and store pulses more productively and profitably. The first area is our Tropical Legumes III project, where we are investing in breeding and genetic improvement to provide smallholders with varieties of cowpea, common bean, chickpea and groundnut that resist key diseases and pests. We are working with international agriculture research centers, the national agricultural research institutions of seven African countries, and the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh. Our role at the foundation is really focused on enabling the adoption of modern genomic and digital tools, combined with operational and management ‘best practices’ that speed the delivery of these varieties.
Through our N2Africa investment, we’re helping develop inoculants with strains of bacteria that fix more nitrogen than ones present naturally in the soil. Led by Wageningen University in the Netherlands, this work brings together researchers from nine African countries, all of which are focused on developing improved agronomic recommendations to help smallholders achieve higher pulse and legume yields. Part of this project also involves incubating the private sector delivery of these improved inoculants, so the research actually makes its way to farmers in their fields.
Our Purdue Improved Crops Storage (PICS) project is helping to get hermetic storage bags into the hands of hundreds of thousands of farmers using a sustainable public-private delivery model. PICS bags were developed by Purdue University professor Larry Murdock, as a way to reduce post-harvest losses of cowpea grain resulting from insect infestation. The numbers indicate that if 50 percent of cowpea grain at the farm level were put into airtight storage, overall annual income in the region would increase by $255 million USD. PICS technology also opens another economic opportunity — PICS bag production and distribution. PICS project staff are working with local manufacturers to produce PICS bags and with entrepreneurs to distribute them throughout West and Central Africa.
DG: One thing I find interesting is that hundreds of millions of US dollars are invested globally in agronomy and genetic improvement of maize, wheat, and rice, yet only a small fraction of this amount is allocated to legumes. Besides the International Year of Pulses, what do you think has to happen for more investment to flow towards legumes research?
JE: I think we have to advocate for more pulse research and policies that favor (or at least don’t discriminate against) increased pulse production. Historically, governments pretty much everywhere have favored staples by implementing policies and programs (such as subsidized crop insurance, market price supports, and fertilizer subsidies) that have not been offered to pulse producers. These types of policies have often caused pulses to be less profitable and relegated to more marginal lands. The low yields obtained in these circumstances only fuel the mistaken notion that pulse crops are inherently low- yielding. In addition, because staple cereals have been receiving greater investments over the last several decades, we’ve seen small annual productivity gains from breeding in these crops that we have not seen in legumes, so now these cereals do in fact have higher levels of yield potential and pest and disease resistance. You can see how this puts pulses at a further disadvantage. More research dollars are needed to improve the productivity of these environmentally friendly nutritious crops to help them catch up.
DG: That’s a really good point, and it reminds me of something else I’ve been thinking about. Right now, most of the global research for legumes is dedicated to commercial soybean production, with less focus on cowpeas, pigeon peas, and other indigenous legumes species and traditional cropping systems. What steps can the global development community take to prioritize investments in these “alternative” legume species and cropping systems, which are more commonly grown in impoverished rural communities.
JE: The grain legume and pulse community is small and fragmented across a number of warm and cool season crops, and across the developed and developing world, each with different perspectives and aims. The Year of Pulses presents an opportunity to bring this community together, so we can make a united case for more favorable treatment of pulses as a global nutrition and environmental opportunity.
There are also opportunities for organizations to coalesce around certain technical areas— solutions to disease threats are relevant to all of us. And in in some cases, it might be worthwhile to encourage food companies to develop products from some of these less common crops, in order to create space for initial production and aggregation at sufficient scale.
DG: What are the geographic, agronomic, or economic areas you believe the international development community should be focusing on to improve pulse and legume productivity?
JE: These crops are grown in a multitude of agro-ecologies and cropping systems, so more breeding and seed delivery is definitely needed to bring more productive varieties to more farmers. Also, in some areas with poor soil fertility, research is needed to overcome soil constraints, either through specialized fertilizers or genetics. At the same time, improved national commitment to multiplying and disseminating seed of the improved varieties is needed, and this will likely require a mix of both public and private investments. Because these legumes are self-replicating, farmers can save money in the short-term by saving their own seed. This is an advantage for farmers on the one hand, but also means the legume seed market size is several fold smaller than it would otherwise be and it is difficult for private seed producers to operate at cost-effective scales.
DG: You’ve now spent a career devoting yourself to promoting legumes. After all these years, what is one thing that still surprises or delights you about legumes?
JE: I do remain delighted by the possibility of helping pulse farmers grow more pulses with less cost and effort, especially by creating a more perfect pulse variety that resists drought, is nutritious and tastes great and resists all the pests and diseases that attack it. Another thing that still delights me is the beautiful array of seed colors, patterns, shapes and sizes that give us a clue to the diversity we can harness and share with the farmers who produce and consume these marvelous crops in multiple forms.
I’ve been more of a researcher seeking solutions, but now I hope I am someone who can help bring the social, agro-ecological, and health benefits that come with increased legume availably in the developing world.
DG: 2016 is the International Year of Pulses. If it were up to you, what would you ask the UN to declare 2017 to be the year of?
JE: I think 2017 should be the International Year of Underexploited or Future Big Crops. I’m thinking of perennial grains, such as quinoa, hemp seed, bambarra groundnut, or fonio, to name just a few. Our food system is overly reliant on a few major food grains, and we are headed towards less diversity globally. At the same time, dietary and cropping system diversity are key elements of healthy diets and sustainable systems. Maybe it doesn’t have the same ring to it as Year of Pulses, but I think highlighting underexploited crops would be huge.
Dr. Jeffrey Ehlers is a plant breeder and geneticist, with a research focus on the genetic improvement of cowpea. He currently serves as a program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
David Guerena is a soil scientist and agriculture innovations manager at One Acre Fund. He is based in Kisumu.
Sustainability is an indicator of the efficiency of our operating model. We calculate sustainability by measuring the percentage of our direct service model and agrodealer program costs that is covered by farmer repayments.
The more sustainable we become, the fewer donor dollars we need per farmer to support our operations. It also means we generate more impact for every dollar invested, which improves our Social Return on Investment (SROI).
With the exception of 2013, when a devastating maize virus in Kenya affected farmer enrollment and revenue, our financial sustainability has been steadily increasing each year. In 2015, our financial sustainability was at 79 percent, up from 74 percent in 2014.
To improve sustainability, we focus on levers like transaction size per farmer and farmer loan repayment rate, as well as staffing ratios like clients per field officer. Each country’s path to sustainability depends on its operational context. For example, because Tanzania has a much lower population density than Rwanda, field officers in Tanzania are responsible for fewer clients. On average, farmers in Tanzania also have more land than Rwandan smallholder farmers. As a result, to improve sustainability, Tanzania will focus on increasing transaction size per farmer.
TOTAL FARMER LOAN REPAYMENTS (USD)
We continue to have strong repayment performance across our operations, so we’re focusing our efforts on increasing transaction size and impact per farmer, and clients per field officer. The scale innovations team trials operational modifications to improve those metrics, while the finance team suggests areas for cost efficiency.
Sustainability is an important organizational goal, but achieving sustainability at the expense of customer service or farmer impact is not something we’re willing to consider. Our operations have dedicated customer engagement teams to ensure that we provide quality customer service year-round. We remain as committed as ever to developing country operations that achieve financial sustainability objectives while maintaining operational excellence.
Note: As of May 1, 2016, our financial sustainability number was updated to reflect audited figures. Additionally, revenues from previous years have been adjusted to more accurately reflect our core and farm input sales business results.
There are a number of reasons why pulses have the potential to generate significant impact for smallholder farmers. First, they have a high concentration of protein and essential nutrients such as iron, folate, and calcium, making them a nutritious dietary choice for farmers and their families. Additionally, their nitrogen-fixing capabilities mean pulses deliver essential nutrients to farmers’ soil, keeping it healthy and making it more productive long-term. Finally, the long-term storage potential of certain pulse crops makes them ideal for farmers to store and sell when market prices are high, netting them a greater profit that they can then invest in things like schooling for their children, livestock, or small businesses.
Each season, One Acre Fund’s agriculture innovations team conducts a wide range of trials to test new crops that could potentially generate big impact for farmers. Low impact potential, low adoptability, or high operational complexity are just a few of the reasons why some of the crops we test may not be rolled out to our clients at full scale. However, in the case of very significant impact potential, our team will often test different configurations in subsequent seasons to see if certain adoption or operations barriers can be overcome.
Here, we summarize two pulse-related trials our team ran in the past season. While certain adoption and operations barriers were identified, these trial results and next steps highlight the power of pulses to positively impact smallholder farming communities.
1. Common beans (phaseolus vulgaris) are the second most important crop in eastern, central, and southern Africa. In rural smallholder communities in these parts of Africa, common beans are the most important source of dietary protein and an important source of vitamins and essential minerals.
Despite the enormous importance of beans for African farming communities, bean production receives only a fraction of the formal investments in genetic improvement compared with investments in maize. Over the past few years, One Acre Fund has been making major investments to bring the best bean varieties and agronomy to hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers across Eastern and Central Africa.
In our newly published trial report on Improved Bean Seed, One Acre Fund’s agriculture innovations team shares details on our research approach, key findings, and next steps to scale impactful bean varieties.
2. Soybean was grown by 13 percent of One Acre Fund farmers in Rwanda during the 2015A season. In 2015B, adoption was even higher, with 29 percent of farmers growing soybeans. However, adoption is as high as 40-50 percent in some areas, including all districts in the East, Mugonero district in the west and Huye and Gisagara districts in the South. Furthermore, soybean demand is rising due to the recent construction of the SoyCo factory in Kayonza, which produces oil and animal feed.
Research shows that with proper agronomy and soil fertility management, soybean is highly productive and has a greater nitrogen-fixation potential than common beans. Unfortunately, with current seed varieties, agronomic practices, and fertilizer application rates, yields are below potential and the crop is not competitive with common bean.
In our recently published report on our Soybean and Rhizobium trial, One Acre Fund’s agriculture innovations team analyzes the impact of growing soybean with bradyrhizobium, nitrogen-fixing symbiotic bacteria.
One Acre Fund is hiring for over 50 positions. Apply now to join our family of leaders!
Potential applicants at One Acre Fund's social enterprise happy hour
One Acre Fund is always looking for incredible talent to join our organization. There are lots of ways to connect with our recruitment team to learn more about the hiring process and the opportunities available.
1. Attend a Social Enterprise Happy Hour!
Happy Hours spotlight different social enterprises working in areas like agriculture, health and education. We regularly host Happy Hours and other recruitment events in Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala. Come out for a free drink, a great discussion, and a chance to meet with One Acre Fund recruiters.
You can stay up to date about all upcoming events if you…
2. Subscribe to our Career Newsletter!
Our Career Newsletter includes current job openings as well as links to Webinars and information about up-coming recruiting events. We also publish advice for job-seekers and great opportunities with partner organizations. You can subscribe to our newsletter here (at the bottom left of the page)
3. Connect with a Recruiter!
Interested in speaking with a member of the recruitment team? Fill out this form with your contact information, attach your CV, and a recruiter will get back to you as soon as possible to arrange a Skype or phone call. We make every effort to follow up with qualified candidates. For general advice on improving your application, please see this blog post.