BLOG Archive: June 2017

Growing Careers and Families: How One Acre Fund Supports Parents

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Jun 23, 2017 Category: Staff Profile Tags: careers kenya

One of One Acre Fund’s core values is to create a family of leaders—we want our staff to build long-term careers with us, and our team members care for each other like family. We think it’s important that staff members are able to grow personally, as well as professionally, so we’ve worked hard at creating a culture that is inclusive of working parents and their children.

To find out more about how One Acre Fund supports families, associate recruiter Kali Bell had a chat with three members of staff who are currently balancing their career development while parenting in rural western Kenya. Dyana Mageto, who works as a people analyst, recently moved to our headquarters in Kakamega from Nairobi with her 1-year-old son Darren. Lauren Nixon, who’s on our training team, moved with her partner and 8-year-old daughter Amanita from Oregon. Grace Odongo, who works in human resources, lives with her family, including 6-year-old daughter Rachel, in the nearby city of Kisumu. Grace commutes to work in Kakamega on One Acre Fund’s employee shuttle bus.

Kali: How has it been so far, working in rural Kenya? What has been your biggest support system?

Dyana Mageto with her 1-year-old son Darren

Dyana: I think for any parent, work-life balance can be difficult sometimes. However, One Acre Fund encourages all staffers to set aside “big picture time” every week, so that we have some space to reflect, think, plan, and problem-solve our work. Creating this regular habit of “big picture time” has helped me to increase my efficiency at work, so I get to spend more time with my son at home.

Lauren: You know the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”?  It really does, and I feel like I have an incredibly supportive village here at One Acre Fund. We get together for play dates, baby showers, birthdays, weekend potlucks—there’s always something going on, and the whole family is invited. It’s a wonderful experience to feel so welcomed and supported by our neighbors and colleagues.

Grace: Since I work an hour away from where my family lives, the One Acre Fund shuttle from Kakamega to Kisumu lets me to dash home to my daughter easily. I don’t have to worry about scheduling a taxi or public transportation, which is convenient. Also, we have flexible workdays on Mondays or Fridays, which allows me to get the most out of my time on the weekends.

Grace boards the One Acre Fund shuttle that takes her from her home in Kisumu to our headquarters in Kakamega. By using the shuttle service, Grace is able to avoid waiting for taxis and public transport, ensuring she can quickly get home to her daughter. 

Kali: What has been your favorite memory created with your family since moving to Western Kenya?

Grace: My favorite memories would be the simplicity of the weekends—trying out all the pools in Kisumu and watching my daughter splash around with her friends. We have a weekend ritual consisting of going to church, eating out, and swimming. It’s nice to be in a town with all the amenities and a lower cost of living, but still have a close-knit community to connect with.

Lauren Nixon Trick Or Treating

Lauren's daughter Amanita (far right) celebrates Halloween with her friends. 

Lauren: One of my favorite moments was going trick-or-treating with my daughter and her school friends. Kenyans don’t celebrate Halloween, so it was a new experience we were able to share with her friends. We made their costumes, then walked around to the One Acre Fund compounds where staffers live, and people gave out candy. It’s now a new tradition we look forward to celebrating each year.

Kali: What advice would you would pass on to families who are joining the One Acre Fund team?

Grace: Take the time to get to know other families throughout One Acre Fund, interact with them, and share the challenges you could be facing. Networking and talking through both the good and the bad are incredible support systems that I’m glad I have.

Dyana: Expect an inclusive community. From day one, my family was invited to dinners, birthdays, and other social events. I was wowed when people invited not just me, but my son as well.

Interested in starting a new career at One Acre Fund? We’re hiring for more than 50 open positions worldwide. One Acre Fund is spending the month of June explaining why it’s great to work in rural areas. Follow #WhyRural on social media to find out more.

Mobile Phones are Making A Huge Difference for Kenya’s Smallholder Farmers. Here’s How.

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Jun 08, 2017 Category: Core Program News Tags: kenya mobile phones repayment

One of the most important tools on Everline Wakhungu’s farm is her mobile phone.

Everline, who raises maize, beans, and livestock on a four-acre farm in western Kenya, always plants her crops on time because of text message reminders she receives from One Acre Fund. Mobile phones have become ubiquitous in Kenya, and the nonprofit, which provides smallholder farmers with inputs on credit and agricultural training, has expanded its digital presence in the past few years. In 2016, all 198,000 of its farmer clients in the country were able to use their mobile phones to pay back their loans.

Everline, who farms with her husband Matthew near the village of Namawanga, said text message reminders about field preparation and planting helped her harvest a big crop last year. She also said that the mobile repayment system made it easier to manage the family’s finances. Now, instead of waiting for a One Acre Fund field officer to collect cash from her every week, she uses her phone to send loan repayments directly to the organization whenever she has enough money on hand.

A new study by the UN-based Better Than Cash Alliance provides a deeper look into how One Acre Fund successfully digitized loan repayments for smallholder farmers in Kenya. It also details the tremendous benefits that were achieved due to this shift, from boosting transparency and efficiency to increased economic opportunity and financial inclusion for thousands of smallholder farmers and their families.

“We trust this system better than the other one, because before sometimes money could be stolen or lost,” Everline said. “Now, when you send the money, you receive a message back immediately. You can see your balance, and know what amount is left on your loan.”

Mobile repayment has also made life easier for One Acre Fund staff, said Meshack Mocho, a field director who oversees workers in Teso district, where more than 180 farmers are enrolled. Prior to 2014, farmer repayment to One Acre Fund was a 12 to 16-day process that involved a host of middlemen, from field officers to bankers, treasurers, bookkeepers and farmers. Now, due to mobile repayments, the process takes only 4 days. “Now, field officers are able to spend more time working on training sessions and answering questions for farmers, instead of collecting cash,” Meshack said.

“Before, field officers would have payment meetings, and not all farmers would attend, so then they would have to do a lot of work following up with everyone. Now, field officers can basically focus on training. They can get back to what is important and what they need to do.”

African Farmers Stung By Climate Change Await Return of New Season Rains

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Jun 08, 2017 Category: Tags: drought kenya

Moses Odoli is watching his newly planted maize crops grow this season with a mixture of worry and hope.

Moses, a smallholder farmer from Nambuku village in Western Kenya, saw his last two harvests fail because of drought, and he’s counting on the return of the rains this year to ensure his family’s survival. Worrying about the weather, and how he’ll feed and pay school fees for his seven children, keeps him up at night. He’s afraid that because of climate change, extreme conditions like droughts, crop diseases, and pests will become more common. Although it’s been raining more lately, he recently found armyworms feeding on his waist-high maize plants. The destructive caterpillar is an invasive species, and its spread has been linked to climate change.

“I think it is becoming progressively worse,” said Moses, 56, recalling another dry season four or five years ago—difficult, but nowhere near as bad as last year. “During my parents’ time and when I was growing up, it would rain all year. Our parents had plenty of food compared to us.”

Extreme weather is a hallmark of climate change, and smallholder farmers like Moses are already feeling the toll. Famines caused by droughts and conflicts are endangering millions of lives in South Sudan and Somalia. Tight food supplies have sent maize prices to records this year at local markets in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda, according to the United Nations.

It’s important that farmers become better equipped to deal with volatile weather because, for many of them, the extreme conditions predicted by climate scientists have already arrived. One Acre Fund, a nonprofit working with more than 440,000 smallholders, is promoting a number of climate-smart farming techniques to help farmers adapt and eventually begin to mitigate climate change in the future.

Farmers who enroll with One Acre Fund can choose from a range of crops and seed varieties, and the organization is constantly doing more research so that it can make optimized recommendations about what plants perform best at the local level, including in drought-prone areas. One Acre Fund also offers training programs that encourage crop rotation, diversity, and composting, in order to help soils remain resilient and rich in nutrients.

In addition, the organization is supplying farmers with tree seeds or seedlings, and as a result, farmers have planted millions of them in the past five years. Trees, which can generate income when cut, are also useful because they sequester carbon and reduce erosion. They’re one of the most powerful tools we have for fighting climate change.

Andrew Musamia, a 54-year-old farmer in Sasuri, Kenya, credits the agricultural training he received for helping him to produce enough food for his family, in spite of the drought last season. His crop was less than half of the prior year’s level, but he still managed to collect six bags of maize, enough to see them through until the next harvest. He counts himself as among the lucky ones. Some of his neighbors who aren’t enrolled with One Acre Fund didn’t harvest anything at all, he said.

Rosemary Wanyama, a 45-year-old farmer with 10 children, increased the amount of land she enrolled with One Acre Fund this year, in spite of losing most of last season’s harvest to drought. She hopes that the rains will return and that she’ll harvest an even bigger crop than usual to make up for last year’s losses.

“Drought does not discriminate,” Rosemary said, adding that One Acre Fund farmers and farmers who didn’t enroll in the program were both affected. “I am hopeful for the next year that we will have a good harvest, because God cannot forsake us twice.”

This blog was initially published by FoodTank. To read the blog, please click here

Why Working in a Rural Area Makes Sense for Me

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Jun 07, 2017 Category: Staff Profile Tags: careers rwanda

Adam Kyamatare is an External Relations Associate who divides his time between Kigali and Rubengera, in rural western Rwanda. He is originally from Kigali, Rwanda. One Acre Fund is spending the month of June explaining why it’s great to work in rural areas. Follow #WhyRural on social media to find out more.

Had someone told me as I left university that I would work for a rural-based organization, I would have probably laughed them out of the room. To many seeking careers in development, it seems neither desirable nor necessary to live and work in a rural area. Having spent the last year and a half at One Acre Fund in Rwanda, I now beg to differ. There is so much to learn from the rural communities that we serve. Building close links to them is invaluable, both from a personal and professional perspective.

Honoring the Past

Each farmer’s field is the product of many past generations of people working hard to improve their lives. That’s why, for me, it isn’t a hardship to work closely with farmers – it’s an honor. These rural communities welcome us into their homes, tell us about their lives, and allow us to advise them on the most important decision they make – how best to feed their families. Farmers often provide critical and useful feedback about our work, allowing us to grow and become better professionally. I have also learned much more about my country’s past by working in the field than I probably ever would have working only in the capital.

Impacting the Present

Being in the field also lets you be in the moment – and to witness the progress being made the present. A farmer told me once that he felt “proud of Rwanda for the first time in his life” when he compared his current life to previous years. You can see the clear development this country is making in rural villages – and this invigorates me to work harder every day. Being able to see a farmer’s smile when she shows you the biggest harvest she’s ever had, watching a new home light up with a solar home system, and witnessing a child rushing to school with a full belly – these things inspire all of our staff to keep working each day.

Impacting the Future

Lastly, rural work allows you to really see into the future. Anyone who passionately wants to see African countries develop should want to be on the front lines of that development. Laws may be made in capital cities, but they are played out in villages. Learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to bridge the disconnects is irreplaceable experience for any future policy maker or leader. In a continent where over 85 percent of the population lives in rural areas, understanding the perceptions, hopes, and dreams of people in farming communities is fundamental to building a better future.

There are many other simple benefits to rural work that I could mention; no long commutes to work, a healthier lifestyle, and daily amazing views among them. While these advantages are true, they resonate less with me than the more meaningful ability to feel and touch the past, present, and future of the countries we serve. Every field visit I have ever taken has reminded me that the solutions we aim to achieve are attainable. I probably wouldn’t have learned this simple fact by sitting in Kigali, I had to go out and see it for myself. For this experience I will always be grateful.

One Acre Fund Publishes 2016 Annual Report

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Jun 02, 2017 Category: News Tags:

Below is the opening letter from One Acre Fund's Executive Director Andrew Youn, found in our 2016 Annual Report. 

Greetings from One Acre Fund!

I’m excited to share with you our 2016 Annual Report, which details our progress over the past year and outlines our vision for the future. 2016 was a special year for us, and a time of reflection, because it marked our 10-year anniversary.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in our first ten years of service. Today, One Acre Fund still has the same mission, drive, and passion for serving smallholder farmers as it did back then, but in many other ways the organization has completely transformed. Ten years ago, we started out with only 38 farmers, and our shoestring staff operated out of a single room rented from the office of a small local Catholic charity in Bungoma, Kenya.

In those early days, I thought I was dreaming big. I aimed to serve 25,000 farm families in Kenya by 2012. Little did I know, we would have the customer demand, operational skills, and capital to reach five times that many by then. Now, we’re serving more than 445,000 farmers in six countries, and we’ve increased our staff to include more than 5,000 people, all of whom are steadfast in their commitment to putting Farmers First.

The lesson I learned—and am still learning—is that we must continually challenge ourselves to dream even bigger. In 2006, I thought of One Acre Fund solely as an agricultural organization. I didn’t account for all the other things farmers needed to improve their lives. That’s why, over the years, we’ve expanded our offerings from staple food crops into other products like tree seeds and solar lamps. And we’ve started government partnerships work that we hope will allow us to serve many, many more farming families in the future.

Today, One Acre Fund’s work is more important than ever. Serving 1 million farmers by 2020 is an ambitious target, but we must dream even bigger than that. Our next decade will focus on how we can contribute to the transformation of the agricultural sector at the national level in the countries where we work; how we can build sub-Saharan Africa’s largest network of climate-resilient smallholder farmers; and how we can influence more policymakers to put smallholder farmers at the center of their work.

Farmers First,

Andrew Youn
Executive Director, One Acre Fund

Climate Change Is Already A Reality For World’s Farmers

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Jun 02, 2017 Category: News Tags:

Kenyan smallholder farmer Moses Odoli with a handful of his drought-affected soil.

One Acre Fund releases statement following announcement of U.S. intention to withdraw from Paris climate agreement.

For many in the United States, climate change is a theory, but for those in the developing world who rely on agriculture, climate change is already happening.

Millions of the world’s smallholder farmers rely on agriculture as their primary source of income, and changing rain patterns and fluctuating temperatures can derail harvests and devastate families. Bad harvests force parents to make hard decisions about how to make ends meet. They might have to give their children one meal a day instead of two or pull them from secondary school. As recent extreme droughts and famines indicate, climate change is already here for millions of people who live off the land.

There are adaptation tactics that we can employ, but governments must also step up to the plate to address this problem. It is disheartening that the United States is planning to withdraw from the 2015 global agreement to fight climate change. We hope that other world leaders will remain firm in their resolve to address this issue, and that public, private, and nonprofit sector actors will continue the important work they have ahead of them.

“Smallholder farmers are among the world’s most vulnerable people to the effects of climate change,” said Stephanie Hanson, One Acre Fund’s senior vice president for policy and partnerships. “It is critically important that we support them in the face of increasingly volatile conditions. For them, climate change isn’t just an abstract political argument -- it’s reality. The world needs to stand together to address this issue before it becomes an even bigger challenge.”

To read more about One Acre Fund’s work on climate, soils, and the environment, click here.