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Turning the Tables in Tanzania

Sep 16, 2016 Category: Farmer Profile Tags: farmer maize tanzania

Kija Katemana of One Acre Fund

Kija Katemana hadn’t ever owned much. The 36-year-old single mother of four rented both her house and a small plot of land in rural Tanzania. The little income she earned from farming and selling baked samosas in town went entirely toward food and trying to pay her children’s school fees. She always felt as if she didn’t have much to show for her years of hard work.

Each year, Kija hoped to harvest enough maize to do more than pay the rent on her land again the following year. However, her three-acre farm plot rarely produced more than 10 sacks of maize – not enough to feed her family or generate extra money to change her status quo.

“Life was a real challenge then,” Kija says. “Sometimes we’d go the night without a meal. There were even times when I would have a little money from work that day, but I couldn’t find food to buy.”

In late 2013, Kija learned One Acre Fund was operating in her village. She heard they would provide agricultural training to help farmers improve their yields. So, she took a gamble and enrolled.

“I had only ever used local seed, and I had no idea how to space anything when I planted,” Kija says. “I sometimes would use a little fertilizer as well, but I didn’t know how much was correct to use.”

It turned out that One Acre Fund’s training would be the key she had been missing to improving her yields. When harvest time rolled around in 2014, she produced 20 sacks of maize from one acre of land. Kija was in disbelief.

Kija with bags of maize

Since then, she’s continued to plant with One Acre Fund year after year, and slowly she has started to alter her finances.

“My family can eat as many times a day as we like now,” Kija says. “My kids now are joyful knowing they’ll always come home to a meal. Before One Acre Fund, meat at our house was unheard of, but now we can have it any time we want.”

Not only has Kija been able to provide food for her family year-round, but she’s also made investments. In 2014, she sold a portion of her harvest and bought her own quarter acre of farm land. The next year, she built her own house. Between the two purchases, she’s now saving roughly $12 each month that she used to spend on rent.

“With that money, I’ve now been able to take all four of my children to school,” Kija says.

She also has grown her samosa-baking operation. She produces roughly double what she could before because she can afford to buy more ingredients upfront.

“Before I thought my life would be one of hardship, but thanks to One Acre Fund, I feel free of that life now,” Kija says. “I feel very confident that I am able to take care of my children, unlike before. The future I see ahead is now bright.”

One Man’s Journey from Refugee to Community Leader

The mission of the innovations department in Burundi is simple: identify and evaluate new products that could benefit farmers. 

In its execution, however, innovation work is a bit more complicated. Team members need to master the use of a variety of new products and strategies quickly. People skills are also important, since a big part of the job is guiding clients through trials and tests. A certain curiosity helps too.

Josias Nduwimana has all of these qualities. In less than two years, Josias went from being a One Acre Fund farmer to being a manager in the innovations department. He’s now leading a team which tests new products, such as new seed varieties, improved storage methods, and solar lamps.

Josias (center) and his team physically weigh a farmer's harvest to measure yield.

If there is one characteristic that defines Josias, it’s the ability to make the best of a challenging situation. Just five years ago, he was living in the Mtabila Refugee Camp in northwestern Tanzania, raising his family of five in a one-room hut built from mud bricks and tarps.

Josias was one of an estimated 38,000 Burundians who fled to neighboring Tanzania after Burundi fell into civil war in 1994. While life in the Mtabila refugee camp was relatively safe, conditions were difficult, with water, food and other necessities often in short supply.

Nevertheless, Josias took advantage of the opportunities that existed. He learned Kiswahili (his third language after Kirundi and French), and he joined the courses being taught in the camp, eventually becoming a trainer of other participants. He also convinced local farmers to allow him to cultivate a three-hectare parcel of land near the camp. There he experimented with Tanzanian methods for growing maize, cassava, peanuts, and tomatoes.

“By giving me a place to cultivate, and giving it to me for free, they really helped me,” Nduwimana says of these farmers. “In Tanzania there is a lot of land to cultivate. It’s not like Burundi, where land is very limited.”

Although he didn’t know it at the time, that exposure to new agricultural practices would be an asset in his future work with One Acre Fund.  By 2008, Burundi had achieved a stable peace. Josias was concerned that his family’s land might have been taken in his absence, and decided to return. His wife, who he met while at Mtabila, and four children accompanied him on the journey. 

Upon arrival, Josias found that part of his land had, in fact, been occupied. This was a common occurrence during and after the war, and is still a source of tension in rural areas. For a year, he and his family had little to eat as they began to cultivate the remaining portion of the family’s land. Eventually, he was able to recover the entirety of his farm and generate enough agricultural surplus to build a house. 

With the arrival of One Acre Fund in his home community in 2012, Josias took the initiative to organize a group of his neighbors to join the program. He showed such leadership that within a year, he had been selected as the president of all the farmer groups in his area. It wasn’t long before One Acre Fund staff noticed his abilities, and hired him to work for on the monitoring and evaluation team.

When One Acre Fund launched its innovations department in Burundi in 2013, Nduwimana was a natural choice. The team’s initial project was a hybrid maize trial. While the trial was one of the first of its kind conducted in Burundi, Josias had ample experience from his years growing high-yielding hybrid maize in Tanzania.

Josias’s strong teaching skills and farming background were evident as he guided fifty farmers through the trial. Even more palpable was Josias’s intense desire to continue the process of re-building community in an area heavily affected by more than ten years of civil conflict.

“I have met lot of people because of One Acre Fund,” Josias says, “people from all over Burundi and even the world. I have raised a family, and I have many friends and many colleagues. With One Acre Fund, I have a community.”

Using Mobile Technology to Benefit Smallholder Farmers

In Kenya, One Acre Fund serves over 80,000 smallholder farmers, many of whom live in very rural areas. We live and work with the farmers we serve, and our field officers see them nearly every week for trainings and group meetings. But cell phone penetration into even the remotest areas gives us greater options for communicating with farmers and the field staff that serve them. One of the exciting new ways we're communicating with farmers is through text message.

One Acre Fund’s customer engagement team uses SMS to ensure everyone in the field stays connected. When a farmer makes a payment on her loan, she is sent a receipt via text message. When field officers are out in the field, texts keep them up-to-date on One Acre Fund activities and let them know about important inter-department memos.

These days, the African continent is a hotbed of creative uses for SMS messaging. African SMS companies are light-years ahead of countries in other parts of the world when it comes to using SMS for banking. In the agriculture sector, the use of SMS has increased the transparency of crop prices, meaning that farmers know what they should be selling for. All this new information ultimately means greater financial returns for smallholder farmers.

At One Acre Fund, the SMS program promotes synchronicity and teamwork. Here’s how it works. First, a department sends an SMS request to the customer engagement team. The message cannot exceed 160 characters, so if it’s too big the customer engagement team shortens it without sacrificing meaning.

The initial message is always in English. This means the field team and customer engagement team have to translate the message into the recipients’ spoken language. For example, messages sent to recipients in western Kenya are translated into Swahili.

Using the client database, the team prepares an Excel workbook based on the content of the message being sent. For example, in the client database, there are farmers who have received solar lights and those who haven't. When the team needs to send an SMS about solar lights, they will build an Excel workbook of only farmers who have received solar lights.

Next, two people from the customer engagement team double check the recipient list. If the list in the workbook is correct, it is sent to the external quality control team and the message requestor to triple check. Errors are corrected, and once everyone has agreed, the message is sent out.

Text messages are a powerful tool for rural development. As more and more farmers get access to cell phones, the potential uses are multiplying. One Acre Fund will continue be at the forefront of this work – using mobile technology for the benefit of smallholder farmers.

Farming Maize in Kenya

May 16, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: farmer kenya maize

Rogers Okumu walks through his neighbor's maize field in Kenya while helping apply the last round of fertilizer. Photo by Hailey Tucker

Cassava Harvesting in Rwanda

May 02, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: cassava farmer harvest rwanda

Rwandan farmer Silas of Ngobwi village harvests cassava he planted in 2013. Photo by Evariste Bagambiki

The Nuts and Bolts of Input Delivery

Apr 30, 2014 Category: Operations Tags: farmer farmers first input delivery kenya seed

One of my favorite times of the year at One Acre Fund is input delivery season. After signing up famers, collecting money from them as ‘pre-payment’ for our services and training them on agricultural methods, input delivery time is when we literally deliver the goods. Our trucks pull up, and farmers gather around to collect their seeds and fertilizer.

At One Acre Fund, input delivery season is all about meeting our farmers where they’re at. We take pride in delivering seeds and fertilizer directly to where our farmers live. To make the process a bit easier, we deliver to small groups of farmers rather than individuals. Still, most of these groups live well off the beaten track, some along roads that become impassable during the rainy season. So we aim to deliver inputs to our farmers right before the rains begin, ideally in late February. To coordinate this effort in Kenya, we started mapping out our inventory and transportation needs last October!

The first thing we did in October was make sure we had enough warehouse space. We have our own storage space, but keeping up with the growing demand for our services is a real challenge. This year, to deliver inputs to over 80,000 farm families living in 18 districts, we needed 6 warehouses with over 40,000 square feet of space!

Once we were satisfied we had enough warehouse space, we set out to fill it up. Luckily, our inputs team had made sure everything was ready to go – they had been busy throughout the year researching, procuring, and quality checking large quantities of seeds and fertilizer.

Next came the transportation schedule – something that took three teams (core operations, innovations, and systems) working together to develop. They had to ensure that all farmers received their inputs during the morning hours over one three-week period. We sent out tenders and contracted 6 transport companies to supply us with over 460 trucks from 5-12 tons each that would deliver inputs to 1-2 sites per day. On our busiest days, we had 50 trucks in the field making deliveries all at the same time!

Input delivery is a special time at One Acre Fund because it unites us as one team serving one purpose. Our warehouses, usually managed by one warehouse associate throughout the year, suddenly find themselves teeming with staff from every level of management, from M&E agents and expansions officers to procurement managers and senior field directors. Every February, this diverse group of staff bands together to load over 2,800 tons of seed and fertilizer onto some 460 trucks traveling as far as 200 kilometers each!

To make it through the long days of loading trucks, counting and re-counting inventory, coordinating deliveries in the field, and providing trainings to farmers receiving seeds and fertilizer, our input delivery staff keep one motto in mind: Farmers First!

Starting a Business in Kenya with Just One Pig

The following post appeared on the ONE blog. The original post is available here.

In our second partnership with ONE, we’ll be following David and Zipporah, smallholder farmers from Kenya, for a whole growing season. From planting to harvest, we will check in every month to see what life is really like for a family making a living from agriculture in rural Kenya. Written by Hailey Tucker.

The pigpen David constructed last fall now sits empty, and David and Zipporah are pleased.

A buyer purchased the pig they had fattened up for 4,500 Kenyan Shillings ($52 USD), and with the money, David and Zipporah decided to begin a small business. Their 2013 harvest did not provide enough income to last them through the year until the 2014 harvest, so they are searching for other sources of income.

With 3,000 Kenyan Shillings of the money they received from selling the pig, they purchased a bicycle. It’s a used, sturdy, single-speed frame with a barred flattop section over the back tire, intended for holding the weight of heavy items.

With the remaining 1,500 Kenyan Shillings, they decided to begin purchasing maize at a far away market and selling it at nearby ones for a higher price.

“I have some friends who have been doing this for some time now,” David says. “So, I asked them the price at which they buy and sell maize in different locations, and I became interested in doing this too.”

Almost daily, David will ride his new bike to a market near Kenya’s Mount Elgon, about one and a half hours by bike from his home, and purchase as many 2kg tins of maize as he can afford. He buys at a price of 70 Kenyan Shillings per tin, and then rides them back to his region to sell at 75 Kenyan Shillings per tin.

“I’m happy because sometimes when David brings this maize, we are able to keep some of it, and we can use it for food. I am also happy because some of the profit goes to the school fees of the children,” Zipporah says.

A month after purchasing the bicycle, David is now up to investing 2,800 Kenyan Shillings, up from the 1,500 Kenyan Shillings he began with, each day in maize. He is currently able to purchase 40 tins, which he then can sell, making a 200-Keyan Shilling-a-day profit.

“For four days of the week, I use the profits to pay school fees and to buy household commodities for my family. The next three days, I save the profit to increase the amount of maize I am able to buy next week,” David says.

“The business is good, but it still has some challenges,” Zipporah says. “Sometimes he goes and buys 40 tins, but when he returns, he measures the maize out, and it weighs less than 80kgs.”

“The reason why this happens is some of the people I have bought from aren’t trustworthy, “ David explains. “They will dent the bottom of the 2kg tin they measure with to make it seem full when it’s not. Now I’ve learned from my experience, so when I go, I go with my own tin to measure.”

The couple hopes to continue the business on into the planting season.

“I expect I’ll end up farming a bit more this year because David will be committed to the work and not the farm,” Zipporah says. “It’s ok though because he does this to provide for us.”

“I expect to continue increasing the amount I buy because the more I buy, the more profit I get. In the future, I hope to be buying even 160kgs a day," says David.

Grace’s Millet Harvest

Apr 25, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: farmer harvest millet woman

"Last year my millet harvest was the best I've seen. I had expected the tassels to have four fingers but they surprised me with eight fingers! The tassels were bigger than my fist," Grace Walucho of Matili, Kenya, says. She has even higher hopes for her millet harvest this year. Photo by Hailey Tucker

Farmer to Field Officer: Rose Naholi

Rose Naholi was struggling. She and her husband, and their five children with them, were experiencing a hunger season. They hadn’t been able to grow enough food to feed the family for the entire year. They were hungry.

Unfortunately, their situation is not unique. Like many smallholder farmers in East Africa, Rose and her family expected the hunger season. Around the same time each year, money runs out and food from last season’s harvest disappears. Meals of tea and porridge became meals of just tea.

Rose’s children were sent home from school because she couldn’t keep up with school fees. Any extra shillings quickly evaporated into medical expenses. The family waited anxiously for next season’s harvest, but they knew that as usual, all of Rose’s hard work in the fields would only yield three bags of maize. It wasn’t enough.

For Rose, the yearly hunger season was just a given. But one day a friend told her about One Acre Fund. Willing to try anything to increase her farm yields, Rose signed herself up. Through the program she received seeds and fertilizer on credit to grow maize on a half acre of land.

Life would never be the same. At the end of the year, Rose harvested 11 bags of maize, up from 3 the previous year – an increase of 266% from the same plot of land.

“I was so happy,” Rose said. “I learned that if I followed the One Acre Fund methodology I could feed my family and become 100% food secure.”

Yet increasing her yields wasn’t enough. Now that she had excess food, storing it had become a critical challenge. Without proper storage, she could lose much of her crop to insects or rot. As part of the One Acre Fund program, Rose participated in a storage training and decided to save three bags of maize to sell later in the year. Most farmers sell their crops immediately after the harvest, driving prices to the lowest levels all year. If she could wait several months before selling, she could dramatically increase her profit. When the time came, she sold the first bag of maize to pay for her children’s school fees and used the remaining two bags to purchase a dairy cow. With the cow, Rose was able to provide her family with milk on a regular basis and generate additional revenue by selling the surplus.

When the next season rolled around, Rose immediately signed up again. Her enthusiasm, as well as the leadership she displayed within her group of farmers won her the attention of the local One Acre Fund field officer. He encouraged her to consider becoming a group leader, a volunteer position helping her fellow group members to boost their yields. Rose agreed to take on the additional responsibility and later that year her group became the first ever in the district to have 100% of its farmers repay their One Acre Fund loans in full, on time.

After just two years as a One Acre Fund client, Rose was hired as a full One Acre Fund staff member. As a field officer, she is now responsible for serving 154 farmers in the Busia district in Kenya. She leads group trainings, visits farmers on site to monitor progress, and manages the district repayments. And she’s not stopping there – she is receiving intensive training and hopes to grow even further professionally.

Rose isn’t the only one in her family benefiting from her new job. Her eldest child recently completed high school and is planning to attend college, and her remaining four children are now attending primary and secondary school. Her family continues farming, and she hopes to expand by buying more land. She’s also got her sights set on becoming a One Acre Fund field director one day, one of the highest levels of field leadership in the organization.

Rose says that her favorite thing about being a leader in One Acre Fund is mentoring other farmers. “To teach a farmer how to go from harvesting two bags of maize to ten bags – that is the best feeling in the world.”

Purchasing Livestock with a Harvest

Apr 13, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: cow farmer harvest livestock rwanda

Martin Ugiraneza, of Rwamiko, Rwanda, was able to purchase a cow after his 2013 harvests. Just a month ago, his cow calved. Now he can use the cow's milk for his family and as a source of income. Photo by Evariste Bagambiki

Farmers Begin Planting Maize in Milani, Kenya

Mar 19, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: farmer fertilizer maize microdose planting seed

A farmer in Milani, Kenya, measures fertilizer with a One Acre Fund planting scoop and pours the microdose of fertilizer into holes his group members have dug for his maize. After applying the fertilizer, he and his group will cover the fertilizer with a little soil before dropping a single maize seed in each hole. Photo by Hailey Tucker

Rwanda Input Delivery

Feb 28, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: child farmer input delivery rwanda

One Acre Fund farmer Francoise Yankurije's son helps his mom carry their new inputs home. Photo by Hailey Tucker

Education in Kenya: One farming family’s determination to send their kids to school

Feb 27, 2014 Category: Farmer Profile Tags: farmer farmer stories kenya

The following post appeared on the ONE blog. The original post is available here.

In our second partnership with ONE, we’ll be following David and Zipporah, smallholder farmers from Kenya, for a whole growing season. From planting to harvest, we will check in every month to see what life is really like for a family making a living from agriculture in rural Kenya. Written by Hailey Tucker.

Although they both speak with optimism at times, they seem unable to fully shake the uncertainty they seem to have in the back of their minds.

Andrew (12) and Brian (10) go to public school. This costs the family around 7,000 Kenyan Shillings ($82 USD) a year. Their two daughters, Mercy (7) and Charity (6) go to a private school, which costs 14,000 Kenyan Shillings ($163 USD) a year.

Until January, the family generated extra income by selling milk from a cow that had recently given birth. Now the cow’s milk is running low, and David and Zipporah are looking for other ways to make money.

The couple also plans to sell a pig they bought in November for some extra cash.

“When we bought it, our intention was to breed it because they usually produce about 12 piglets, and each sell for 1,000 Kenyan Shillings ($11 USD). But now, our need for food and school fees means we need to sell it. We’re waiting for the buyer to come any day now,” Zipporah says.

“We decided to plant different crops and keep different animals because of the risks involved,” David says. “If one crop fails, we can still benefit from the other, or if all the crops fail, we can use the animals for income.”

“Despite the challenges that we are facing, we appreciate that we live in peace, with love in our house, and that we are all healthy,” Zipporah says firmly, changing the tone of the conversation.

“We’re hoping the weather will be favorable to us this year, and we will harvest well,” David adds. “If we do harvest well, we hope to lease half an acre more to farm on.”

Harvesting Cassava in Kenya

Feb 26, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: cassava farmer harvest kenya

Imelda Nasimiyu practices digging up a mature cassava root at a farmer training in Namikelo, Kenya. Photo by Kelvin Owino

Purchasing Chickens with Millet

Andrew Wabuoba of Chwele, Kenya, was able to begin raising chickens after selling some of the surplus millet he harvested this year. Photo by Kelvin Owino

Growing Beans in Burundi

Jan 31, 2014 Category: Field Photos Tags: beans burundi farmer

Theodore Bankanunguka of Mirinzi, Burundi, encourages his climbing beans to grow along sticks for support. Photo by Francoise Umarishavu

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