BLOG Category: policy


Climate Funds Should Target Smallholder Farmers

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Feb 21, 2017 Category: Policy Tags:

Jaconda Chengula, Tanzania

This blog was co-written by Perin L. Saint Ange, Associate Vice-President and Head of the Programme Management Department of IFAD, and Tony Kalm, One Acre Fund's President in USA. The article was originally published by This is Africa. 

Climate change is threatening to become the biggest crisis humanity has faced in generations.

Millions of the world’s poorest people are already paying a terrible toll.

Smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather. The problems they are already beset with are expected to get a lot worse.

Severe droughts have wreaked havoc on crops across sub-Saharan Africa, home to millions of people living on less than $2 a day. Many of them depend on maize as staple food.

This crop is so susceptible to shifts in climate that the World Bank warns that if temperatures rise by just 1.5 degrees, 40 percent of crop areas may no longer be viable to grow it by 2030.

Smallholders are on the front lines of the climate change fight, and they are not adequately prepared for future risks. Even small financial setbacks or slight decreases in crop production can have a big impact on a family’s ability to feed itself.

Yet farmers also present one of our most compelling opportunities to mitigate climate change. They are stewards of the land, managing more than 80 percent of the world’s 500 million small farms.

Land use is a huge driver of climate change. If this group collectively adopts certain climate-smart farming techniques, such as sustainable intensification or planting more trees, it could help alleviate poverty and mitigate climate change at the same time.

There are 50 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa alone who could help the world make measurable progress in our fight against climate change, according to the nonprofit One Acre Fund. The organisation works directly with more than 400,000 farmers and offers a number of climate-resilience solutions.

But how can we get farmers the resources they need to put climate-smart farming into practice?

Luckily, a huge pot of money already exists to spend on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), the world’s largest initiative with about $10b to spend, has a stated purpose of forcing a “paradigm shift” in environmental arenas.

The United Nations-backed fund wants to spend $100bn a year by 2020 — a staggering sum that could go a long way toward solving the climate problem.

Mobilising a large amount of money is, in itself, already a fantastic accomplishment. THe fund has received funding pledges from more than 40 different countries.

It has also begun the arduous process of deploying those funds by giving accreditation to a number of institutions with clear climate strategies. These include the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which manages the largest global financing source dedicated to supporting the adaptation of poor smallholder farmers to climate change.

With large sums of money still left to dispense, the fund now has a great opportunity to focus its resources on innovative, cost-effective programmes that will make the biggest difference to the dual problems of climate change and extreme poverty.

Research shows that money spent on agriculture is at least four times more effective at reducing poverty in low-income countries than funding in other sectors.

Coupled with the potential impact that widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices could have on the environment, an effective strategy for Green Climate Fund would be to support programs that target smallholder farmers in developing countries. 

However GCF decides to deploy its resources, time is of the essence. Global temperatures keep climbing, breaking new heat records year after year.

If we do not do something now, there could be catastrophic repercussions on the world’s ability to feed itself. Both poor countries and rich countries will feel the blow.


One Acre Fund Joins White House Initiative To Improve Soil Health

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Dec 10, 2016 Category: News Policy Tags: soil soil health us government

Joseph Khisa

Joseph Khisa, Kenya

Soil, literally the ground under our feet, is one of the most important natural resources for smallholder farmers. Crops get most of the nutrients they need to thrive and grow from the soil—so its health and fertility are critical for farmers to achieve big harvests.

Across eastern and southern Africa, many farm families cultivate maize, beans, and other crops on degraded and depleted soils, the result of generations of intensive farming. Improving their soil health may enable them to use less fertilizer – typically leading to higher profits – and will help increase the long-term productivity of their farms.

That’s why One Acre Fund is proud to announce that we are contributing to the White House’s call to action to improve soil sustainability. We are embarking on a multi-year soil study to learn about how best to improve soil health and sustainability for over 364,000 clients in Kenya and Rwanda. More than 4,500 farmers will participate in the study, and our objectives are to answer three burning questions:

  1. What’s the long-term effect of our program on soil health?
  2. What’s the U.S. dollar value of soil health for participating farmers?
  3. Which products and practices most effectively improve soil health?

How will we do this? Our impact team will undertake a few technical tools to hopefully uncover the answers to these questions. First, we will conduct annual surveys with participating farmers and will match soil samples with their harvest data. Second, we’ll take soil samples from farm plots where we’ve already collected years of historical harvest data, in order to determine the impact of soil types on yields over time. Third, through our innovations teams, we will evaluate the effect of different fertilizer products and practices on soil health and crop yields.

We hope to report back in a few years with compelling insights for how to generate big harvests, healthy families, and rich soils for our entire network of smallholder farmers. Stay tuned!


Gates Foundation Scientist: Pulses are a Game-Changer

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Jun 10, 2016 Category: Policy Research Tags: bill & melinda gates foundation iyp2016 pulses

By David Guerena, One Acre Fund agriculture innovations manager

pulse fact one acre fund

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.

pulse fact one acre fund

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.

pulse fact one acre fund

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.

ABOUT

jeff ehlers

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 guerenaDavid Guerena is a soil scientist and agriculture innovations manager at One Acre Fund. He is based in Kisumu.


A Strong Food System Means Productive Smallholder Farmers

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May 31, 2016 Category: Market Access Policy Tags: chicago council rural poverty urbanization

This blog was written by David Hong, One Acre Fund global senior policy analyst, and was originally published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. To view the original piece, click here.

tanzania maize harvest one acre fund

Anjelica Mumewa helps Beatus Balama harvest maize on her farm in rural Tanzania

While the growth of cities has been well documented, it might come as a surprise to find out that Africa’s rural population will grow nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2050. To address rural poverty in Africa and strengthen our food systems, it’s important to focus on helping smallholder farmers increase production and gain access to domestic markets. Many of these domestic markets—which represent real economic opportunity for smallholder farmers—will supply urban consumers.  

Smallholder farmers are absolutely central to ending rural poverty. In fact, 75 percent of people living in poverty rely on agriculture as their primary means of income, and studies have shown that growth in the agriculture sector is at least twice as powerful in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. In many places, smallholder farmers are the engine of the rural economy—in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, they grow up to 80 percent of the food consumed, and some estimates peg the number of smallholder farms at 500 million worldwide. However, smallholder yields are low and have barely budged in decades. Many smallholder farmers in Africa are only producing a fraction of their crop’s genetic yield potential, which farmers in the United States and Argentina achieve every year.  

If we want to drive down rural poverty and increase production to meet the demands of growing rural and urban populations, we need to invest in boosting smallholder farmer productivity. We already have the tools and technologies to dramatically increase yields and ensure the food security of hundreds of millions of families. But smallholder farmers living in remote areas lack access to these tools and technologies. To increase their yields, smallholders need access to basic products and services, specifically 1) financing for farm inputs, 2) training, 3) distribution, and 4) access to markets. Once these are in place, farmers are not only able to feed their own families, they are also able to grow enough to feed their surrounding communities.  

First, smallholder farmers need access to flexible and innovative tools to finance the cost of farm inputs and productive assets. Many farmers have difficulty coming up with the upfront capital required to buy fertilizer or livestock, yet have the ability to make incremental payments over time. Juhudi Kilimo offers Kenyan farmers financing designed to help them buy productive assets such as dairy cows. Nearly half of the organization’s total loan portfolio is for dairy cows, which have the potential to increase household income by $600 per year. In Mali, myAgro allows farmers to use their mobile phones to pay for seed and fertilizer on layaway.  

Second, many smallholder farmers lack basic information about agricultural best practices, and need training to maximize the benefits of improved technologies such as hybrid seed. In Rwanda, the Ministry of Agriculture has developed an effective extension system that provides each village with a “farmer promoter” – a volunteer who is trained in basic agronomy to provide agriculture information and advice to local farmers. There are now over 14,000 farmer promoters delivering life-changing tools and trainings to every village in all corners of the country.  

Third, most smallholders live in remote rural areas that are underserved by traditional markets. “Agrodealers” or other rural retailers may find it unprofitable to set up businesses in these remote areas, thus cutting farmers off from access to productive technologies. Each year in East Africa, One Acre Fund hires a fleet of trucks to deliver seed and fertilizer, solar lamps, cookstoves, and other impactful products deep into rural areas where farmers live.  

Fourth, farmers need output markets to buy their harvests and to ensure a return on their investment. While there are many examples of contract farming and off-take agreements at a small scale, few initiatives are as ambitious as the World Food Program’s Patient Procurement Platform. The Patient Procurement Platform is an initiative designed to connect smallholder farmers to commercial buyers at scale. Together with the private sector, the World Food Program is aiming to purchase $750 million of crops from 1.5 million smallholder farmers by the end of this year.  

All of these examples showcase the ability to transform the agriculture sector and the lives of smallholder farmers. Relative to the overall need, however, the farmers being served only represent a drop in the bucket. There are literally hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers who, with the right interventions, could boost their productivity and contribute to their country’s food systems. To address this need, we’ll need the help of governments, donors, and private sector actors to invest in and partner with innovative organizations that are operating at scale. A strong food system is supported by productive farmers; when farmers thrive, hunger declines. That’s a win-win for the farm and the city.  

One Acre Fund is hiring for over 60 positions. Apply today to join our family of leaders.


One Acre Fund commends Congress Passage of Global Food Security Act

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Apr 14, 2016 Category: News Policy Tags: feed the future global food security act

Feed the Future

One Acre Fund commends the passage of the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 1567, S. 1252), which passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday April 12 on a vote of 370-33, followed by the Senate on Wednesday April 20 by unanimous consent. 

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in the House and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in the Senate, the Global Food Security Act seeks to permanently authorize Feed the Future, a presidential initiative that has helped millions of smallholder farm families get the financing, inputs, training, and access to markets they need to thrive. Feed the Future is active in five countries where One Acre Fund operates (Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) and USAID is a critical partner for our work in Kenya and Rwanda. 

According to David Hong, One Acre Fund’s global senior policy analyst, “In an era of political polarization, it’s encouraging to know that Congress is not divided on the U.S. Government’s commitment to global food security and supporting smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and poverty."

Click here for additional information about the Global Food Security act, and watch this quick video about the importance of investing in smallholder farmers to bring an end to end global hunger. 

Interested in working to influence global food security policy? We have just the job for you!


Legumes as a Tool to Fight Poverty

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

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

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

beans and pulses

Pulse crops are hugely beneficial to human and soil health.

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

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

common beans

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

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

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

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

burundi bean harvest

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

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

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

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

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


Celebrating Science and Innovation in Agriculture

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Feb 19, 2016 Category: News Policy Tags: cgiar farming first food security innovations

Global agriculture coalition Farming First and the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers have joined forces to highlight the powerful impact that investments in science and innovation can make on global development. A new interactive essay compiled by the partnership demonstrates how these investments can go beyond simply meeting food security needs, but contribute to broader interlinked goals such as natural resource management, improved nutrition, and resilient rural livelihoods.

“Scientific discoveries and innovations are helping farmers make breakthroughs every day,” comments Robert Hunter, Farming First Co-Chair, “helping them feed their families, earn a better living, and look after the natural resources we all rely on. This collection of case studies illustrates how science and technology can help lift a farmer from poverty, to prosperity”.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 793 million people in the world are still undernourished. Despite reductions in poverty levels in recent years, World Bank research estimates that 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty due to climate change. Farming First and CGIAR intend for the interactive essay to demonstrate how effective investments in scientific research and innovation for agriculture can be in meeting these challenges.

“Studies have demonstrated for decades that agricultural research is the most cost-effective investment that exists for development,” comments Frank Rijsberman, CEO of CGIAR Consortium. “Our planet is under unprecedented pressure to simultaneously ensure healthy diets for all, boost rural incomes and employment as well as protect vital natural resources. As we begin our path towards the Sustainable Development Goals, agricultural research for development must play a central role”.

The interactive essay explores, through photographs and videos, the scientific advances that are transforming rural lives all over the world today. The 28 case studies sourced from Farming First supporters and CGIAR centers are organized into five themes: natural resource management, agricultural extension, improved inputs, resilience, and market access.  They include:

• Drones and satellite mapping systems that are tracking plant health and land use change
• Improved crop varieties that are more nutritious, resilient to disease and able to survive under extreme weather conditions
• Innovative extension models that are delivering training via mobile, video and radio to farmers in remote locations
• Faster, more efficient electronic systems that digitise tracking and payment information for small to mid-sized agribusinesses

The infographic is the latest in Farming First's multi award-winning creative products in support of sustainable agriculture around the world. View the full series here.

About Farming First
Farming First is a multi-stakeholder coalition of than 180 organisations operating around the world. The coalition exists to articulate, endorse and promote practical, actionable programmes and activities to further sustainable agricultural development worldwide. Farming First organisations represent the world's farmers, scientists, engineers and industry as well as leading agricultural development organisations. With one shared voice, Farming First highlights the importance of improving farmers' livelihoods and agriculture's potential contribution to global issues such as food security, climate change and biodiversity. 

About CGIAR Consortium
CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. CGIAR is the only worldwide partnership addressing agricultural research for development, whose work contributes to the global effort to tackle poverty, hunger and major nutrition imbalances, and environmental degradation. Research is carried out by the 15 Centers, members of the CGIAR Consortium, in close collaboration with hundreds of partners, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, development organizations and the private sector.
 


One Acre Fund Testifies Before House Foreign Affairs Committee

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Feb 19, 2016 Category: Policy Tags: global food security policy smallholder

Written statement of David Hong, Global Senior Policy Analyst, One Acre Fund
Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
Hearing: Subcommittee Hearing: Food Security and Nutrition Programs in Africa October 7, 2015

 

Feeding a population of nine billion people by 2050 is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – challenge facing humanity. We will need to produce at least 60 percent more food than we do today. Most of that increased production will need to come from the 2.5 billion people that work on small farms around the world. Today, these smallholder farmers are the single largest group of the world’s population living in poverty. They live in remote areas, and do not have access to basic agricultural tools and trainings. As a result, they struggle to grow enough to feed their families and face an annual “hunger season” of meal skipping and meal substitution.

In the future, these hungry farmers have the potential to dramatically increase their yields, not just to feed themselves and their families, but to feed the world. Agriculture yields in Africa for most staple food crops could be 2-4 times what they are today. And best of all, we know exactly what we need to do to help smallholder farmers achieve these yield increases.

One Acre Fund is an agriculture organization that has developed an operating model to help smallholder farmers run profitable businesses. We are unique in several ways. First, we only serve smallholder farmers – primarily in East Africa – who typically farm on one acre of land or less. Second, we’re technically a nonprofit, but we operate like a business. Farmers pay for our products and services. Third, we’ve intentionally built a scalable model and we’re growing fast. We serve over 300,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania – and we plan to serve one million farmers by 2020.

We offer farmers a simple four-part operating model:

  • First, we offer financing for farm inputs such as hybrid seed and fertilizer. We only finance productive assets. Farmers organize themselves into groups and are jointly liable to repay their loans, similar to microfinance.
  • Second, we distribute seed, fertilizer, and other products such as tree seeds and solar lights within walking distance. Smallholder farmers live in remote and isolated areas, so getting products and services close to where they live is critical.
  • Third, we offer training on modern agricultural techniques. Many farmers don’t know how to apply fertilizer, or how to plant in rows with the correct spacing. We offer interactive, in-person trainings throughout the agriculture season.
  • Fourth, we offer market facilitation to help farmers maximize their profits from harvest sales. Just after harvest, the market is flooded with crop surpluses, driving prices down.


With proper training on safe storage, farmers can wait to sell their crops until market prices increase.

This operating model has proven impact. On average, farmers working with One Acre Fund increase their profits on supported activities by 57 percent, or about $128. For a farmer living on less than USD $2 a day, this is a significant amount of money. According to our data, farmers invest their income gains in new businesses, productive assets for the farm such as livestock, and school fees for their children.

An important aspect of our model is our flexible repayment system. Farmers can repay their loan, at any time, in any amount throughout the entire growing season, as long as they repay in full by harvest. In 2014, I’m pleased to report that the average repayment rate was 99 percent – and in two countries, 100 percent of clients repaid their loans.

Farmer repayment enables us to move toward financial sustainability in our field operations. 74 percent of our field expenses were covered by farmer repayment in 2014 and the nature of our business model stretches donor dollars to achieve more impact. Every dollar in grant funding that we receive generates approximately USD $3 in additional farmer income.

In a constrained budget environment, it’s even more critical for development organizations to maximize efficiency and impact. We’re working hard to achieve financial sustainability in our field operations so that we can use donor resources to leverage even greater impact at a global scale. For example, in 2012 USAID Kenya awarded One Acre Fund with USD $3.5 million to significantly scale up our Kenya operations. Over a three-year period we delivered agriculture loans to nearly 277,000 farm families, the majority of whom were women. We achieved repayment rates of 99 percent.

One Acre Fund has demonstrated that it’s possible to help hungry farmers become successful businesspeople, with surplus production that they can bring to local markets. Smallholder farmers are the answer to our global food security challenge. When they have access to basic tools and technologies, they thrive.

Thank you Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and subcommittee members for the opportunity to discuss our work and for putting global food security high on the development agenda. As you know, making progress on agriculture, food security, and nutrition is imperative to the health and wellbeing of future generations – may we not let them down.

One Acre Fund believes in partnering with African governments on strategic projects to help smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Help us operationalize these partnerships by applying for our government services associate/manager role today!


One Acre Fund Honors Dr. Rajiv Shah

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Jan 08, 2016 Category: News Policy Tags: chicago gala dr. rajiv shah global food security

On Wednesday, December 9, 2015, One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that serves smallholder farmers in East Africa, honored Dr. Rajiv Shah during their 9th annual gala in Chicago for his work in promoting global food security.
 
 

Speaking to gala attendees via video, Dr. Shah expressed his admiration for the work that One Acre Fund does to support smallholder farmers.

“Your model of focusing on smallholder farmers, listening to and learning what they need and being responsive to their needs in a humble and practical way, is essentially the model for addressing hunger and poverty all around the world.” Shah said.

Dr. Rajiv Shah received One Acre Fund award

Tony Kalm, President, One Acre Fund U.S., presents Dr. Raj Shah with his award.

Dr. Shah has devoted his career to alleviating global hunger and poverty.  During his eight years at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Shah worked to improve areas of global health, agriculture, and financial services in addition to founding the International Finance Facility for Immunization.  Dr. Shah has also served as undersecretary and chief scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

In his speech, Dr. Shah spoke about the challenges farmers face. “I have met so many of these wonderful small scale farmers, most are women, and they are working every day from sun up to sun down simply to provide basic opportunities for their children and families,” Dr. Shah said.

Most recently, Dr. Shah served as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he led President Obama’s landmark Feed the Future initiative, and encouraged the collaboration of public and private sector leaders to find anti-poverty solutions with initiatives like the U.S. Global Development Lab. He is currently serving as a senior advisor to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and is a distinguished service professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Dr. Shah concluded his keynote address by thanking One Acre Fund for its work serving the underserved, specifically women and those living in deep rural areas. “In my mind, One Acre Fund is the future of the fight on poverty and the fight for human equity and justice,” he said.

One Acre Fund served 305,000 African farm families in 2015, and with the generous support of Gala attendees, is on track to reach 1 million smallholder farmers by 2020.  To hear Dr. Shah’s full speech, be sure to watch the video above.


How Seed Systems Affect Smallholder Farmers

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Jan 05, 2016 Category: Market Access Policy Tags: east africa seed systems smallholder

We are seeking exceptional professionals with experience in and a passion for procurement and supply chain. Apply to become a One Acre Fund regional procurement lead!

In East Africa, food insecurity remains high. The issue is complex, with many contributing factors across production and distribution.  For smallholder farmers living in the most remote regions of East Africa, the issue is often directly related to their lack of access to farming supplies or inefficient agricultural processes. 

Seed systems are critical to decreasing the prevalence of hunger within many East African farming communities. A “seed system” is the entire value chain of seed, from R&D all the way to planting. It means the breeding and release of new varieties, distribution and sale networks, and best planting practices for optimal yields. 

Increased access to seed leads to optimal yields of crops like maize. 

Seed systems work differently in the different places where One Acre Fund operates. For example, in Rwanda, seed is sold through a subsidy program. Each year, the Rwandan ministry of agriculture (MINAGRI) sets the subsidy level, then decides how much seed should be imported by agro-dealers and distributors like One Acre Fund. In contrast to Rwanda, private seed companies in Kenya and Tanzania play a much larger role seed production and sales. In all countries where we work, however, it takes at least 2-3 years for a new seed variety to be released for commercial sale.

Providing farmers with access to improved seed is a key aspect of One Acre Fund’s core program, and one of the best ways to increase farm yields.  The quality of the seed system directly affects smallholders’ ability to access improved seed. Some key seed system barriers include:

  • Inefficient distribution and quality assurance. For most smallholder farmers, purchasing seed means a multi-kilometer walk or drive to the nearest town center to visit an agro-dealer. If the agro-dealer doesn’t have the farmer’s preferred seed variety available on that day, the farmer will purchase the next best variety, which may be less suitable for her region. Most likely, the agro-dealer has not tested the seed, or stored it in a way that prevents quality degradation. This means that by the time the farmer purchases that seed, the high moisture content could result in significantly lower germination levels.
  • Seed production issues. Since most companies produce seed under natural environmental pressures, there are risks each season that seed production can be impacted by drought, flooding, or disease. For example, maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND) is a serious threat to maize seed production. MLND and other pathogens can wipe out an entire crop of seed and cause hunger and starvation throughout whole regions.
  • System bottlenecks. The extensive seed certification process, prolonged variety release process, and lack of clarity on the seed release process are all things which dis-incentivize seed companies to innovate and produce new, promising varieties since they know it will take more than 3 years before those new varieties become profitable. Additionally, seed regulatory bodies can be limited by their financial and personnel bandwidth to increase capacity and improve controls. 
  • Inadequate access to financing. Agro dealers do not typically sell seed on credit, which limits farmers’ purchasing decisions to the most affordable varieties. While this tends to be a bigger issue for fertilizer, which is more expensive, for the poorest farmers, price point across varieties can be a deciding factor rather than the suitability of the variety for their region.

One Acre Fund’s core program is designed to overcome many of these seed system barriers. Before offering seed to farmers, One Acre Fund’s KEPHIS-trained lab technicians test it in our very own lab to ensure quality. Once quality is proven, we deliver the seed to drop sites within walking distance of farmers’ homes, so they don’t have to incur high transport costs. We offer farmers access to credit, a flexible loan repayment schedule, and information about seed varieties that are optimal for the region and climate. This gives One Acre Fund farmers the tools, information and flexibility they need to choose the seed that is right for them.

Improved seed systems allow farmers to make important farming decisions including crop choice.

Beyond what we’re able to offer farmers through our core program, we’ve come to realize that good government regulations and policies can help address some of the barriers above. Very clear release processes, effective subsidies and promotion of improved hybrid varieties, effective demand forecasting, and seed company compliance with national regulators are all helpful ways to improve seed system functionality. Wherever we work, we’re always careful to follow all government regulations and policies for seed.

Seed security and food security are inextricably linked. Access to quality seed can mean the difference between hunger and plenty for people who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Improving seed systems, especially in agriculture-focused regions of Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa, is key to ending global hunger.

We are seeking exceptional professionals with experience in and a passion for procurement and supply chain. Apply to become a One Acre Fund regional procurement lead!


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