Help Sakina and farmers like her improve their harvests and educate their children. Apply now to join our family of leaders!
Mama Halima's real name is Sakina Nyaulingo.
We first met Sakina Nyaulingo last year at her home in Luganga village, Tanzania, after she had just enrolled with One Acre Fund for the 2015 season. She told us all about her hopes for the season, and her big plans for ensuring that her three children could receive quality educations. Because of her oldest daughter Halima’s reputation in her village as a smart student with big potential, Sakina earned the nickname “Mama Halima.”
Sakina decided to take a loan with One Acre Fund to gain access to better quality seed and fertilizer. The inputs available at her local shop weren’t always high quality, and sometimes Sakina wasn’t able to afford any fertilizer at all. She used to harvest a mere 16 bags of maize from just over two acres of land. Unfortunately, this was barely enough to provide food for her family and cover her farming costs.
“It was difficult to spare even a single cent to support my children’s education,” she recalls.
A key priority for Sakina was to grow enough to pay for Halima’s education. At age 14, Halima’s dream is to become a physician— Sakina knew she had to equip her daughter with a good education to fulfill that dream. She also knew Halima would serve as a good example for her younger children. Salma (11) and Shabani (7) are in primary school.
Sakina's personal mission is part of a larger effort to educate the next generation in Tanzania.“To educate a child is more important than to give her money. Money won’t last, but education will stay with them until they die. With education, they will be able to build a strong future for generations to come.”
This season, Sakina harvested a total of 7 bags of maize from just the half-acre of land she had enrolled with One Acre Fund. This meant she had finally harvested enough to feed her family, cover her investment in a One Acre Fund loan, and educate her daughter Halima.
In addition, Sakina was able to earn a whopping 200,000 Tanzanian Shillings (approximately $92 USD) during the green maize harvest, locally known as Gobo. During Gobo, maize is harvested and sold before it dries out, when it is still green and fresh. Selling fresh maize earns almost double the amount of dry maize, so farmers are eager to harvest and sell maize while it is still green. Green maize is often used for cooking, and can be grilled or boiled.
After shelling their maize, Sakina and her husband Asheli separate the waste from the kernels.
“I am so happy I enrolled with One Acre Fund. I have increased my farming knowledge significantly, and the loan of seed and fertilizer makes my farming activities much easier than before!” she exclaims. “People in my neighborhood were surprised by how big the maize cobs in my field were. I have never experienced such big cobs in my farming before.”
With her seven bags of maize, she plans to keep two bags to feed her family and sell five as surplus to make more money to pay school fees for Halima.
“It costs 1,200,000 Tanzanian Shillings (approximately $553 USD) annually for Halima’s education. My farm income alone will not be enough to pay her total school fees, but I can still make a significant contribution.”
One year ago, when we asked about what she would do with her increased harvest, Sakina mentioned building a hotel to rent rooms and earn more money. By the time we checked back in with her, she had already accomplished this. Her family runs a small business renting rooms. Now, she’s focused on realizing her farm’s full potential because “increasing my harvest each season is the way to support my family and help Halima achieve her dream.”
“Halima’s education is the only plan I have for now." Sakina tells us. "Education is the only treasure that I want my children to have when I am gone, because I know if they are educated, they will not suffer in my absence, and they will be able to run their lives by themselves.”
Our team in Tanzania is seeking passionate leaders to put Farmers First in the fight to end global hunger. Apply now to becomes a program associate in Tanzania!
Oct 23, 2015
In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins makes the point that “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
We know first hand that when it comes to generating impact for farmers, building the best team will make the biggest difference. One Acre Fund’s vision is to serve 1 million farmers by 2020. Achieving this vision will not be possible without the hard work and unfailing dedication of our staff.
We believe the farmers we work with deserve nothing less than the very best service. Our team of people concentrates on finding, growing and retaining the most talented and passionate staff on the planet to serve smallholder farmers.
Our team is looking for the following people-related jobs:
Want to get involved and help more farmers like Rajesh feed their families and communities? Apply now to join our family of leaders!
Rajesh Ndola, Tanzania, with his wife Prisca Msigwa and their daughter Naomi Ndola.
As the sun rises over Magulilwa village, Tanzania, farmers leave their homes, hand hoes slung over their shoulders, to start a busy day of work to provide for their families.
Agriculture is the primary source of income in Magulilwa village, and maize is the dominant crop of choice. However, many of the farmers fail to grow enough to last their families through the year. Rajesh Ndola, a 41-year-old farmer and father of three, has lived in Magulilwa all his life, and is very familiar with this struggle.
Each planting season, Rajesh worked tirelessly on his four acres, hoping to grow enough maize to feed his family and also make enough money to pay school fees for his children. Despite putting in long hours every day, he used to harvest only 30 bags of maize from his four acres.
“With this trifling harvest, I could only provide one type of meal, ugali (a stiff maize porridge), to my family. My primary harvest income wouldn’t cover much more than what I had spent on farming supplies earlier, and so I would grow tomatoes to be able to pay for my children’s education and scrape by until the next season,” Rajesh says.
“Our life was terrible!” Rajesh’s wife, Prisca Msigwa, exclaims. “My children never experienced a happy moment before my husband began farming with One Acre Fund. We were not even able to provide tea to our children in the morning. We could only buy food like fish, meat, and rice on a few occasions during Easter, Christmas, New Year, or when someone was sick in my family.”
Desperate to find a solution to his family’s chronic food insecurity, Rajesh decided to join One Acre Fund. “I was impressed by the loans One Acre Fund offered, which included agricultural supplies and trainings,” he recalls.
“Farming with One Acre Fund has turned my feelings of desperation into a great happiness. I had never been able to attain such a huge harvest before,” Rajesh says.
In 2012, during his first season with One Acre Fund, Rajesh enrolled one acre of land. He planted maize using the improved techniques, improved seeds and quality fertilizer he’d received from One Acre Fund. Much to his delight, that year he harvested a whopping 24 bags from that one acre of land—nearly the entire amount of his harvest from four acres the previous season. In 2013, he enrolled two acres of land, and was able to harvest 44 bags of maize.
“Farming with One Acre Fund has turned my feelings of desperation into a great happiness. I had never been able to attain such a huge harvest before,” Rajesh says.
With One Acre Fund, Rajesh was able to to beat the odds and turn his farm into a profitable business. But he aspired to do more to help his family and the farmers in his community. A few months after first enrolling with One Acre Fund, Rajesh also applied for a job as a field officer with us. Over the years, Rajesh was commended for his hard work and quickly excelled at his job.
Over time, he was promoted to the position of field manager, then field director—he now supervises both field officers and field managers in his village. “I was interested in helping my fellow farmers to learn the best farming methods so they could harvest more,” he explains.
Serving smallholder farmers is one of Rajesh’s biggest passions. He says his job at One Acre Fund has provided him with a fulfilling career, and has helped him improve his family’s quality of life. The income from his harvest surplus, combined with his job at One Acre Fund, has enabled him to pay school fees for his children every year, buy a new plot of land, begin breeding pigs, and even build a house.
Rajesh Ndola with his pig.
His wife Prisca couldn’t be happier with her family’s newfound security. “I really thank God that One Acre Fund came to our village. Our life has become much easier because we have different sources of income such as farming, livestock, and the salary that my husband earns on a monthly basis,” she says.
Rajesh’s daughter Naomi is also appreciative of the opportunities her father’s work affords her. “I feel so proud to have a father who is working very hard to support my education. Without education in this world, life becomes difficult. I want to be educated to a university-level because my dream is to work in the government, so I can also support Tanzania’s farming communities.”
Rajesh’s experience training farmers on proven farming methods has made him quite popular in his village. He says people in his neighborhood will often seek advice from him.
“I love serving farmers because this is my life too. I grew up as a farmer and I am still a farmer. I will die as a farmer. I am always there to serve farmers so that together we can eradicate hunger and poverty in our families,” he says.
In the future, Rajesh wants to build another house and rent it out as a business. However, his most important goal is to continue supporting his children in their education.
Standing at the entrance to his home, Rajesh places an arm around his wife and daughter. He has the relaxed air of someone who doesn’t have to worry about where his next meal is coming from. Smiling broadly, he says, “Now, I have the ability to provide whichever type of food my family wants to eat.”
Want more inspiring stories about One Acre Fund farmers in Tanzania? Check out these blogs:
Feeding the Next Generation in Tanzania
On Tanzania Farmer's Day, Regina Muhehe's Harvest Stands Out
Turning Sunflowers into Sauce in Tanzania
Oct 15, 2015
Eric Pohlman was recently announced as the winner of the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation, for his work in developing highly innovative programs that are transforming subsistence agriculture in rural Rwanda.
The award recognizes scientists and researchers under the age of 40 who emulate the innovation and dedication to food security demonstrated by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize Founder Dr. Norman E. Borlaug while working in the field with farmers and producers.
Eric Pohlman (fourth from right) visits a farmer's field in Rwanda.
A native of the United States, Pohlman, 33, currently serves as Rwanda Country Director and Senior Partner at One Acre Fund. In developing his vision to help poor farmers better afford modern agricultural technology, Pohlman was inspired by the great agricultural scientist and World Food Prize Founder Norman Borlaug’s desire to expand the Green Revolution. Pohlman recognized a major barrier preventing its spread to Africa was the lack of access to credit for subsistence farmers. To that end, Pohlman was instrumental in framing the implementation of an innovative farm finance model, which currently serves 100,000 farm families in southwest Rwanda.
Learn more about the excitment surrounding this year's World Food Prize, and continuing reading for the full text of Pohlman's acceptance speech.
Acceptance Speech for the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award
by Eric Pohlman
I am one member of an amazing team at One Acre Fund. Today, a One Acre Fund field officer in Rwanda will walk miles to teach a farmer how to space her maize. Today a bookkeeper in Kenya will diligently data-enter over one thousand farmer-credit payments. Today a logistics officer in Burundi will overcome axle-breaking mud to get to the last mile. I am proud to serve beside three thousand One Acre Fund staff who everyday carry on Dr. Borlaug’s legacy of “taking it to the farmer.” While too numerous to name individually, each member of the One Acre Fund team merits recognition for their daily work and shares in the honor of this award.
Personally, I would like to thank my wife, Margaret, who started this work with me in Rwanda and who is in Burundi right now continuing it. You will hear many of her words in my voice tonight. I would like to thank my mom and my dad for opening a hallway of opportunity for me from which I could choose any door. And my younger brother Dan for letting me chase him down that hallway routinely. I would like to thank Andrew Youn for inviting me on this One Acre adventure. Finally, I would like to thank the World Food Prize and the Rockefeller Foundation for this great honor, and for being a beacon of hope in the fight against hunger.
I believe farmers have the most important job in our communities. Farmers grow the food that we eat, and what we eat determines our health. Farmers grow the surplus that we buy, and what we buy determines the growth of our economy. Farmers decide how to use the land that we steward, and what we steward determines the lifespan of our planet. Farmers are at the center of our health, our economy, and our environment.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the US Declaration of Independence and US Constitution also wrote, "the small landholders are the most precious part of the state,” "the cultivators are the most valuable citizens."
This makes sense. Deep down this makes sense because long before astronauts took the first steps on the moon, farmers took the first steps towards civilization. Farmers define our connection to the earth. Farmers connect man and nature in the most elemental and profound of ways.
From my vantage atop a green hill in Rwanda, I see the importance of farmers everyday. I see the quilt-work they sow: squares of beans, rectangles of maize, ridges of sweet potatoes, rows of coffee and big blocks of bananas.
From my vantage atop a green hill in Rwanda, I see farmers hard at work everyday. I see a country rising. Seed by seed, plant by plant, harvest by harvest. I see a whole country rising.
My neighbors on this hill have seen more change than I, but in the last eight years, I have seen thousands of farmers go from hungry to full. And from full to surplus. I have seen a country that was a net food importer in 2008 become a net food exporter in 2012. From food insecure to food secure. Today, Rwanda is one of the only countries in the world with a positive rate of forestation. A feat only possible when farmers produce more food on less land.
If you visit Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, you will see construction cranes across the city. You will meet young graduates of computer science and engineering. And if you pause to ask these young graduates how they managed to get their degree, many will tell you a story about the family cow or the banana field which paid for their school fees.
The individual acts of smallholder farmers have built the foundation of Rwanda rising.
Looking globally, farmers are at the root of our biggest challenges.
Today agriculture employs 32 percent of the world’s workforce. It employs 70 percent of the world’s poor. Investments in agriculture are 2 times more effective at fighting poverty. Malnutrition and stunting affect eight-hundred million people. Agriculture uses 34 percent of our land, 70 percent of our water, and generates 30 percent of our carbon emissions.
Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian farmer and economist in the late 1800s would look at these statistics and see a big opportunity. Pareto is famous for observing that 80 percent of his peas came from only 20 percent of the pods. Clearly Mendel's improved pea varieties had not yet made it to Italy. The Pareto principle, which is now often used in management curriculum, states:
80 percent of the outcome often comes from only 20 percent of the effort.
This type of thinking focuses us on the 20 percent that is most important. Limited time and resource push us as leaders to think about which lever has the outsized leverage? Which fulcrum has the highest peak?
It is easy to spin around discussing the big problems in the world: hunger, poverty, climate change and brainstorm thousands of solutions. I often find myself blue from debate or dizzy from thinking through so many possible answers. I believe this is why Dr. Borlaug struck such a chord in the global conversation. He ripped through the husk and got right to the kernel. “Take it to the farmer” he said. It’s that simple.
I believe that "taking it to the farmer" is the 20 percent effort that will get us 80 percent of the positive outcomes we want in the world.
Taking it to the farmer means distribution without excuses. It means financing designed for smallholders. It means training in the field.
Taking it to the farmer means getting our shoes muddy as we do everything we can to deliver the best science and the best services to farmers because they have the most important job in our communities - growing our food.
Today a One Acre Fund Farmer in Rwanda will learn how to space her maize. Today a One Acre Fund farmer in Kenya will enroll for her first agricultural credit. Today a One Acre Fund farmer in Burundi will receive a delivery of modern farm inputs. These small individual acts sum to 300,000 households who are now connected through One Acre Fund to the best agriculture research and technology available in East Africa.
From my vantage, atop a green hill in Rwanda, the harvest is looking good.
I give you my heartfelt thanks for the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application by the Rockefeller Foundation and I encourage all of us in the spirit Dr. Borlaug to continue putting farmers first.
Are you an agriculture geek looking for a job where you can get your hands dirty? Visit our jobs page to apply to one of our 25+ field-facing roles!
Agronomist Happiness Nnko (left) and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and innovations manager Emma Impink.
For farmers, healthy soil is more than just a bonus. In the farming business, ensuring long-term profitability means farmers must take good care of their most important asset: their land.
One Acre Fund knows this, and lately we’ve been investing in new activities to better understand our clients’ soil health needs. In each of our countries, One Acre Fund’s innovations teams have been working on processes for testing and analyzing soil.
Soil testing is the first step to understanding regional soil variability and ensuring long-term soil health. Currently, our innovations team in Tanzania is collecting and analyzing soil samples from farmers’ land in the sites where we work, as well as in sites in Iringa and Mbeya regions where we plan to expand in the future. What they learn will have important implications for our program.
After analyzing these soil samples, the team will use the results to inform the design of new agricultural trials to figure out which fertilizers will work best for farmers’ maize crops. After the fertilizer trials conclude in 2016, the team will compare the yields, and determine district-specific fertilizer recommendations to help farmers maximize their crop yields and protect long-term soil health.
To get the dirt on soil testing, we asked Happiness Nnko, our Tanzania agronomist, and Emma Impink, our Tanzania monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and innovations manager, to explain the nuts and bolts of soil analysis, and report on how the project is going so far.
What exactly is soil analysis?
HAPPINESS: Soil analysis is the process used to determine nutrient availability—both macro and micro nutrients—composition, and other characteristics such as the acidity or pH level. This helps to determine how much of each nutrient the soil will provide to any given crop, which will allow us to provide precise recommendations for fertilizer usage and how to maintain soil fertility.
What do you think the results of this soil analysis will show?
HAPPINESS: Well, we expect two types of results related to soil health. If soil fertility is low, then we will teach farmers different techniques to improve their soil fertility. These include techniques like inter-cropping, fallow practices, and use of compost. We also offer recommendations on the quantity and timing of fertilizer application— many farmers do not realize that micro-dosing fertilizer, or applying it in very small quantities at the proper time, is key to ensuring soil health while producing strong yields.
But if the soil is in good health, then we teach farmers to maintain the soil fertility by applying the same techniques as mentioned in the above section.
How is soil analysis conducted?
HAPPINESS: I want to warn you: this is going to be pretty technical! First, you have to determine the area that will be represented by the sample. Soil physical appearance, texture, color, slope, drainage and past management should be similar throughout the area. It sometimes is helpful to draw a map of the property and identify areas where we will collect samples.
Then, using a clean bucket, hoe and a cup, we collect samples to a depth of 20cm from random spots within the defined areas. These are called “sub-samples.” It’s important to avoid sampling field or plot edges— you want to make sure the sample you collect is representative of the soil in the area.
After you break up any lumps in the soil and remove all the stones, roots, and debris, you have to thoroughly mix sub-samples in the bucket. Once the sample is thoroughly mixed, you scoop out approximately one cup of soil and put it in a plastic bag. If soil is wet, we spread it on a clean sheet of paper to air-dry. Then we label each bag with the sample ID and complete the submission form.
The last step is to specify a Crop Code for each sample on the sample submission form we use. This will help provide the lime and nutrient recommendations. After the sample is labeled, it is sent to the laboratory for analysis.
After the soil sample is labeled, it is sent to the laboratory for analysis.
So what happens once the results are in?
EMMA: We will use the results to design a farmer-level fertilizer trial. Farmers use different types of fertilizers in small test and control plots in their farms. This will help us to refine our fertilizer recommendations for maximum yields. We will also plan for long-term soil improvement and soil health management once we know which nutrients are depleted in our soils. And then finally, we will create new trainings and products that will restore and improve soil health.
Do you ever tell farmers you wouldn’t recommend they farm with One Acre Fund because they have bad soil?
EMMA: Never. My hope is that we can develop systems—recommendations, products and trainings– that will help make any soil productive for the crops that a farmer wants to grow.
Amongst One Acre Fund farmers, are there different types of soils?
EMMA: Absolutely! There are a lot of different soil types, all of which hold nutrients and water totally differently. Different types of soil may serve as optimal growing environments for certain crops and not for others. The presence or absence of different nutrients will affect crop growth in different ways. We need to make sure we are offering dynamic planting trainings that allow farmers to take advantage of the nutrients present in their land and the characteristics of their unique soil type.
Why soil is so important to farmers?
EMMA: Soil is everything! Soil is our foundation, sustaining life and nourishing the crops that our farmers grow to support their families!
Agronomist Happiness Nnko and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and innovations manager Emma Impink prepare to label a soil sample.
It is officially Fall, and while the weather in New York may be cooling off, agriculture development is heating up!
Last month, when the UN General Assembly met and adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, ending hunger ranked second on the list. This month, agriculture development practitioners will celebrate farmers on World Food Day and Rural Women’s Day, and policy influencers and food security activists will highlight the important role agriculture must play in ending extreme poverty at the UN Committee on Food Security and the World Food Prize.
We could all use some help keeping up with the smorgasbord of food security events happening right now. Get up to speed with One Acre Fund’s Fall 2015 list of agriculture development must-reads (in no particular order):
1. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. For the low-down on how these annual, leguminous crops can help increase nutrition and promote food security for smallholder farmers, visit our agriculture innovations page to read trial reports on nitrogen fixation in beans, pigeon peas, soybeans, and maize-legume intercropping.
2. The study "Smallholder Farmers and Business:15 pioneering collaborations for improved productivity and sustainability," produced by Hystra Hybrid Strategies Consulting, shows how pioneer companies and organizations have sustainably increased the income and livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers around the world by sourcing produce from them or selling products to them. The study emphasizes smallholder farmers’ role as active partners rather than aid recipients, and provides valuable insights on creating more wealth along the value chain, running cost-efficient operations and sustainably sharing value with farmers.
3. "SDGs and Me: Farmer Voices on the Post-2015 Agenda" is the newest creative product from global sustainable agriculture coalition Farming First. Relying on interviews with 10 actual farmers from across the globe, these stories illustrate the central role the world’s 1.5 billion farmers play in delivering the ambitious post-2015 development agenda. How do these farmers see themselves taking action on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? What do they hope the SDGs can do for them? Are they prepared to embark on such a large-scale challenge? Read their stories to find out what they have to say.
4. IFPRI’s "Global Nutrition Report 2015: actions and accountability to advance nutrition and sustainable development" bills itself as a “report card on the world’s nutrition—globally, regionally, and country by country—and on efforts to improve it.” In rural Kenya, 10 percent of children die before the age of five, with nearly half of those deaths related to hunger and malnutrition. While it may be obvious that nutrition is closely linked to child mortality rates, health, and education levels, the report also examines the critical, less-obvious connection between nutrition and climate change. While global progress to reduce malnutrition is characterized as slow and uneven, the report offers recommendations for strengthening accountability for businesses and other global actors to press forward and achieve nutrition targets.
5. This new Food Matters site from the folks at University of Minnesota’s Global Landscapes Initiative offers interesting long-form reads, supplemented by useful data and cool graphics on important topics in agriculture development, food security, and nutrition. The piece "Is There Enough Food to Feed the Future?" features a useful introduction to the history behind global crop demand today, and outlines the challenges (and poses possible solutions) to achieving the kind of food production needed to meet population needs by 2050. Be sure to bookmark this site, and check back frequently!
6. The Last Hunger Season, by Chicago Council on Global Affairs Senior Fellow Roger Thurow, traces the daily struggles and triumphs of four smallholder farmers and their families as they fight to overcome hunger and poverty in rural east Africa. (Ok, it’s not technically reading, but you may also enjoy The Last Hunger Season Film Series by Roger Thurow and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which further explores the themes raised in the book through interviews and striking imagery.)
7. Agriculture for Impact’s Sustainable Intensification Database breaks down the three key pillars of sustainable intensification (SI): ecological intensification, genetic intensification and socio-economic intensification. With 27 sub-sections, 81 accompanying case studies, and additional resources to illustrate the pros and cons of each method, Agriculture for Impact’s interactive online platform presents a huge wealth of detailed information in a compelling, easy-to-navigate format. Don’t forget to check out their handy SI infographic!
8. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the UN General Assembly’s newly adopted 15-year global development road map is a lot to grasp. "The Story of Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals," also by the team at Farming First, makes getting up to speed easy and enjoyable. Useful graphs, graphics and a nice scrolling site do a great just job of illustrating the crucial link between agriculture and poverty alleviation.
9. "Global Food Security by the Numbers," by Chicago Council on Global Affairs Senior Fellow Charles E. Hanrahan, helpfully explains current US investments in global food security and makes recommendations for how to best clarify and track those investments across a range of government agencies. If you’re looking for a policy read to boost your Feed the Future fluency, this is a great place to start.
10. In Bill Gates’ blog "Who Will Suffer Most From Climate Change? (Hint: Not You)" tough truths about where our planet is headed are tempered with thoughtful insights about where we should focus our efforts: “Some impacts from climate change are inevitable. That’s why it’s critical for the world to invest in efforts to help the poorest adapt.” Watch the accompanying video to hear how changes in rain and weather patterns affect One Acre Fund farmer Wilbroda Nafula.
Inspired by what you're reading? Visit our jobs page to learn about 25+ exciting career opportunities in agriculture development!
New Country Program Associates join a much smaller team, and are tasked with proving our model in a new context. If you think you have what it takes, apply now and help us reach even more farm families!
Robert sitting atop a portion of his 2015 maize harvest
Robert Tigarya, a 30-year-old father of three, had no doubt in his mind about what he wanted to do in his life. Growing up, his peers left Lulyambuzi Village, Uganda, in search of white-collar jobs in the city, but Robert never abandoned his early passion for farming. Seated atop a mountain of maize outside his home, Robert's smile tells the story of a man satisfied with his achievement.
"This is the moment I've always dreamed about: becoming the best farmer in my village. I'm very happy," Robert says, lifting one large cob after another from his pile.
Robert's journey to becoming the best farmer of Lulyambuzi has taken him six difficult years. Until last year, he was on the verge of giving up on farming altogether. He gestures to one small corner in his house where he's stored his harvest in the past. Most years, about four months after harvest, the corner was empty. Robert's family would have quickly run out of food, and for the rest of the year, he would have to borrow from neighbors and local shop owners.
"I know I have a responsibility to provide for my family. My children are very important to me, and I get very sad if I'm not able to provide enough for them," Robert says, cradling his youngest daughter Tracy in his arms.
Robert with his family
Robert would work long hours each day on his farm, hoping his hard work would bring about the strong harvests he'd always dreamed of. In spite of his efforts, nothing changed— the small corner in his home would sit empty just a few months after harvest. Then, in August of last year, his friends told him about One Acre Fund, an organization working with farmers in his village.
Robert enrolled in One Acre Fund's program, purchasing a half-acre's worth of hybrid maize seed and fertilizer on credit. For the first time in his life, Robert planted with hybrid seed and fertilizer, something he could never afford before. In One Acre Fund trainings, he learned how to properly apply fertilizer using a microdosing technique.
This season, Robert's harvest filled all the corners of his house.
"This harvest is amazing— I'm at a loss for words to explain it. I'm even worried I might not have enough space to store it in my house!" Robert laughs.
The corners of Robert's house – and the bowls of his family – won't be empty anytime soon. Now, he's not only able to feed his family, he's also able to sell the surplus produce at market. Last month, he sold part of his harvest and bought a motorcycle. The motorcycle has not only made it easier for Robert to get around, he also earns money from transporting other people. On average, he earns $5 USD every day from his investment.
Robert with the motorbike he bought last month
With the money he earns from his motorcycle business, Robert is planning to buy a cow. In the future, once he's generated even more savings, he plans to plaster the walls of his house and buy more land.
"I now know farming can be a business," Robert smiles. "Now that I've started benefiting from my business, I look forward to expanding it and enjoying more success in the future."
Want to learn more about One Acre Fund Uganda? Check out:
Lessons From One Acre Fund's First Uganda Pilot
A Secret Worth Sharing in Busota, Uganda
American writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry once described soil as “the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all… Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
David Simiyu, Kenyan smallholder farmer, holds up a handful of soil from his land
Indeed, soil health is essential to ensuring communities all over the globe are healthy, food secure and resilient in the face of environmental shocks. Yet nowhere do Berry’s words ring more true than in sub-Saharan Africa, where smallholder farmers living on less than $2 per day depend on increasingly depleted soils to produce food for their families. Faced with poor harvests year after year, these farm families experience seasonal cycles of hunger and meal skipping.
Why Long-Term Impact Matters
One Acre Fund provides a comprehensive service bundle to 280,000 smallholder farmers living in rural Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. In everything we do, we place the farmer first, and we measure our success in our ability to make more farmers more prosperous. On average, farmers who enroll in our program realize a 50 percent increase in income on every planted acre, and produce enough food to feed their families plus a surplus. Farmers can then invest their surplus in more farmland, new business ventures, or in their children’s education.
Maurice Soita buttons up son's shirt before sending him to school
Working to break the cycle of hunger and make more farmers more prosperous is what we do every day. But in order to truly serve farmers and work in their best interests, we need to help them overcome today’s challenges while also ensuring that their grandchildren can live prosperous, healthy lives. We have a long-term vision in which every farm family has the knowledge and means to achieve big harvests, support healthy families, and cultivate rich soil. If we fulfill this vision, we will be making significant progress towards the development goals we set as a community. But more importantly, we will be helping bring a permanent end to cyclical poverty for millions of people.
What We're Doing Now
In order to make this lofty vision a reality, we have a series of initiatives – some long-standing components of our program, and some brand new – to ensure that our program will have a positive impact on farmers and their families for generations to come. Since soil health is one of the most important drivers of long-term farm viability, it is no coincidence that it is also the central theme linking these strategies.
Soil Studies: On the heels of a retrospective soil study completed in 2014, we are now conducting a longitudinal study that will give us incredible insight into the effect of our program on long-term soil health and will allow us to hold ourselves more accountable for these effects.
We have established an internal soil analytics lab, which will help ensure that soil health is an ongoing priority at One Acre Fund. With the capacity to process thousands of samples per month, we will be able to support the longitudinal study and also a wide array of farmer-focused soil health trials.
Through our robust innovations platform we are testing an extensive range of practices to boost soil health including biochar, green manure cover crops, rhizobia, conservation agriculture, and more agroforestry options. Some of the successful innovations that have made it into our core program are listed below.
We offer grevillea trees as part of our loan package to farmers. Besides providing farmers with firewood, livestock fodder and shade, these trees protect against soil erosion and keep nutrients in the ground. Grevillea leaf mulch improves soils, and like all trees they help reduce the amount of harmful CO2 gas in the atmosphere. (We offer Calliandra trees in some areas as well.)
We encourage intercropping. Intercropping allows farmers to produce greater yields on a given piece of land. It also prevents soil erosion, increases insect biodiversity (which means less pests), allows for a more diversified diet, both in terms of nutrition and timing of food availability, and provides greater assurance of food in the event that one crop fails.
We promote composting for the production of organic fertilizer. In Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda, we train farmers in compost creation and we promote this heavily. After harvest, farmers are encouraged to lay corn stalks out in their fields, covered with dirt and water. These corn stalks return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.
We offer training on sustainable agricultural practices that helps protect the soil, including topics like erosion prevention and integrated soil fertility management.
As One Acre Fund continues to grow and serve even more farmers, pioneering long-term solutions that allow us to serve farmers and protect and enhance soil health is our top priority. We look forward to sharing more information on One Acre Fund’s approach to soil health for months and years to come.
Leunisia Lungungu, Tanzanian smallholder farmer