BLOG Tags: Fertilizer
Photos by Evariste Bagambiki.
Late January and early February mark the planting season in Burundi. Farmers in Burundi plant twice a year; they generally plant beans in one season and maize in the second.
Smallholder farmer Flora Ngendakumana has been farming with One Acre Fund since 2014. From Mbuye, Burundi, Flora grows beans, maize, and sweet potatoes. When Flora enrolled with One Acre Fund, other farmers immediately elected her as their group leader. She intends not only to increase her harvest, but also to be a good model to other farmers of her group.
“I like my voluntary work as a group leader because I want to help many farmers in the village apply One Acre Fund’s planting methods correctly to increase their harvests,” Flora says.
Here we follow Flora for an entire day, capturing images of her daily routine of cooking, farming, and relaxing in her home.
Flora starts the morning preparing porridge as a breakfast for her two daughters, Siera Ngabineza and Marie Cleria Uwiteka, To make this porridge, Flora uses maize flour and boiled water.
Next Flora collects the planting sticks and string she made with One Acre Fund to help her measure spacing as she plants.
Flora prepares to go to farm to plant. She carries her hoe, which she will use to dig the holes for her bean seed, on her shoulder and carefully balances a basket with compost on her head.
Flora digs evenly spaced holes for her beans. To measure the spacing, Flora digs the holes alongside a marked string.
Flora digs all the holes on her land before adding compost, fertilizer, and seeds.
Flora Ngendakumana and her daughters sort through the bean seed, selecting the best seeds to plant.
Compost comes next! Flora made her compost from grasses, banana leaves, goat manure and other organic materials, which she learned how to do from a One Acre Fund training.
Flora puts the compost in the planting holes before adding fertilizer or seed.
Flora then adds fertilizer and the seeds. Using a traditional basket called an inkoko, Flora picks up individual bean seeds and places them in each hole.
After hours of farming, Flora breaks for lunch with her two daughters. The lunch is a mixture of bananas, beans, potatoes, and maize.
After lunch, Flora cleans her hoe, scraping mud from the blade before it hardens.
By 5 p.m., after a full day on the farm, Flora is happy to rest at home and play with her children.
In 2014, One Acre Fund purchased 18,500 metric tons of fertilizer to serve our 200,000 farmers across East Africa. “As we continue to grow, the number of farmers we serve— and the amount of fertilizer we purchase— will only increase,” says Jenya Shandina, One Acre Fund inputs team manager. “The inputs team, and in particular the fertilizer supply chain associate, is poised to play a pivotal role, with big opportunities for professional growth.”
Fertilizer procurement is a fundamental part of our operations in East Africa. It sits at the nexus of One Acre Fund’s three core metrics:
• Impact: fertilizer increases yields for our farmers and is a key part of our loan package (which also includes high quality seed, training, and market access).
• Scale: One Acre Fund cannot grow if we cannot continue to reliably deliver high-quality fertilizer to more farmers in more countries.
• Sustainability: Fertilizer is one of the organization’s largest expenses and decreasing this cost even marginally can result in a significant improvement in our financial sustainability.
“The fertilizer supply chain associate is the person responsible for purchasing the thousands of metric tons of fertilizer that get delivered to farmers each season” Shandina notes. “It’s their job to make sure that we get the best quality fertilizer at the best possible price for farmers.”
While some experience in financial markets, supply chains, or fertilizer is preferred, Shandina says this is not required. “We are looking for someone smart who can learn quickly. Creativity and strong problem-solving skills are a must. You can’t take no for an answer, and you’ve got to be comfortable generating alternative solutions to thorny problems on the fly.”
In addition to procurement responsibilities, the fertilizer supply chain associate will have the opportunity to hone their management skills. They will oversee at least two people working on the logistics of getting fertilizer to the field. The associate will also play a key role in setting One Acre Fund’s fertilizer procurement strategy, and will develop and manage all relationships with fertilizer suppliers globally. “This person will play a leadership role on the inputs team, so they need to be comfortable in a demanding professional environment,” explains Shandina.
Ideally, we’re looking for a combination of private-sector and development experience. “The person in this position is managing important relationships, doing complex price analyses, and managing a team of staff. But they’re doing it all with One Acre Fund’s mission of Farmers First in mind,” says Shandina.
One Acre Fund’s program empowers over 200,000 smallholder farmers across East Africa to grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Serving this many remote farmers requires creative drive, logistical chops, and an unwavering commitment to humble service. Top fertilizer supply chain associate candidates will have these qualities in spades.
For more details on this position, or to submit an application, visit our jobs page.
In August, our hardworking teams in Rwanda and Burundi delivered seed and fertilizer to over 100,000 farmers across the two countries. Here we speak with smallholder farmer Jeannette Maniraho, who says having fertilizer delivered close to her home has changed her life. Click here to learn more about input delivery at One Acre Fund.
Jeannette, 31, and her family of five live in Kamabuye, a small, rural village in Rwanda’s southern province. Working just over one acre of land, Jeannette grows beans, cassava, and rice. The majority of the food she grows is to feed her family, but it hasn’t always been enough.
Jeannette with her daughters Josianne, Chantal, and Benoit.
In past years, Jeannette says she had never considered fertilizer as a method to increase her yields because the nearest distributor was far away and she could not afford the quantity she’d need.
“I would walk close to five hours to reach the shop, and even then, I would only be able to purchase five kilograms of fertilizer, which was not enough for my land,” she says.
In 2011, Jeannette heard about a program that supplied fertilizer to rice farmers, and she signed up. To her disappointment, the company delivered the fertilizer too late in the planting season, which severely limited her harvest potential.
Then Jeannette heard about One Acre Fund.
Still skeptical after her experience with the previous fertilizer program, Jeannette enrolled with One Acre Fund, purchasing 40 kilograms of fertilizer on credit to enrich the soil for her rice. Thankfully, she received the fertilizer early in the season, and was able to plant on time.
“I really love that the fertilizer One Acre Fund delivers is on time and that they offer trainings for farmers,” Jeannette says. “My rice is my only source of income.”
In her first year with One Acre Fund, Jeannette harvested 1,000 kilograms of rice. Since then, she’s maintained a steady harvest each season and has begun using One Acre Fund planting methods with her other crops as well.
Jeannette with her rice from this year's harvest.
Thankfully, Jeannette is now able to produce enough food to feed her family. In fact, she has a surplus and is using her extra income to build a new home, where she hopes to have electricity and running water.
After the 2013 growing season, Jeannette sold a portion of her harvest and purchased a piece of land in the Umudugudu, an area with government-improved infrastructure. In March of this year, she purchased bricks, roof shingles, and the labor to start building. She was also able to get windows and doors on loan from a neighbor.
Looking forward to a rice surplus again this year, Jeannette plans to first repay her neighbor for the windows and doors. After that, she will paint the house and eventually move with her family in 2015.
"I feel happy with my new house," Jeannette says. "If I had not used One Acre Fund fertilizer, I couldn't have built this house."
Jeannette with the house she's building from her increased farm income.
A new video by the International Fertilizer Industry Association calls on African Leaders to adopt six policies to put farmers first. Click on the image below to view the video on YouTube.
Like many in Sadani village in Iringa District, Tanzania, Martha Mbwilo, 48, and her husband, Jeremiah Wisa, 54, had spent much of their lives farming. And like many farmers in their village, they never seemed to grow enough food to feed their family, no matter how hard they worked.
Martha and Jeremiah cultivated 4 acres of land, but were only able to harvest 15 sacks of maize. Although they were registered for subsidized fertilizer inputs, they we’re not able to receive fertilizer.
"In order to obtain subsidized inputs, you need to pay 50 percent of the cost up front,” Jeremiah explains. “We could not pay and so we could not even get the input subsidies."
Without fertilizer, Martha and Jeremiah could not produce enough food to feed themselves and their eight children. During the hunger season, they reduced their consumption to only one type of grain per day. Often, the entire family would go without food in the mornings.
Hoping for better maize harvests, Martha and Jeremiah decided to enroll with One Acre Fund in 2013. As One Acre Fund members, they attending group meetings and trainings where they learned basic agriculture techniques. Martha was chosen as the group leader for the Twitange farming group. Jeremiah and Martha say working in groups has benefitted them greatly, reducing the workload and allowing them to complete tasks on time.
Martha is also appreciative of the flexibility of One Acre Fund loans. "We have enjoyed One Acre Fund’s system because it enables each person to get a loan even if you do not have much money at one time." One Acre Fund requires a small pre-payment upon enrollment, and farmers enjoy a flexible repayment system.
Martha and Jeremiah are thrilled to have their seed and fertilizer delivered close to their home. Martha says, “Our village is far from town, and there’s big problem of transport, so if you buy inputs from town, it costs a lot. This year I have received inputs at home, which is better.”
Jeremiah and Martha have also enjoyed receiving a solar lamp from One Acre Fund. Jeremiah says, “We do not have electricity here in Sadani. Solar lamps provide us with bright light, which is especially useful for the children when they read at night. It also reduces the cost of buying kerosene.”
Since they received trainings from One Acre Fund on planting and how to micro-dose fertilizer, Martha and Jeremiah say they can see differences in their land’s performance. "Before, if we managed to buy fertilizer, we used six bags of planting fertilizer for two acres,” Martha recalls. “Now, by using measuring scoops, we have used only two bags of fertilizer per two acres."
Next season, Martha and Jeremiah plan to increase the number of acres they enroll with One Acre Fund. They also expect to be able to pay their children’s school fees in full after this harvest. They have high hopes for the next season, and so do we.
Frank Kisaka helps his mother apply fertilizer in their maize field in Malaka, Kenya, during his school holiday. Frank uses a One Acre Fund measuring scoop to determine the correct amount of fertilizer to use. Photo by Hailey Tucker
This year in Kenya, One Acre Fund distributed 500+ metric tons of seed and 6,000+ metric tons of fertilizer to 80,000+ smallholder farmers. Receiving farm inputs on time is not something that Kenyan farmers can take for granted, and they were thrilled when it arrived just in time for planting.
What farmers may not know is what it takes to ensure on-time delivery of inputs. For One Acre Fund, the procurement process for seeds and fertilizer started six months earlier. In Kenya, the main planting season is in March, which means that we start work in August or September of the previous year.
Fertilizer has a long way to travel before it reaches smallholder farmers in Kenya. Most fertilizer is produced in North America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or Asia. It needs to be shipped to Mombasa in big ocean freighters which can carry 20,000 – 30,000 metric tons. Once it is cleared at the port, it is transported inland by large trucks carrying 25-28 metric tons each. The trucks make their way to One Acre Fund warehouses located all over western Kenya, where the fertilizer is stored. When it’s time to deliver to farmers, it gets loaded into smaller trucks carrying 7-8 metric tons at a time.
One farmer might get only 50kg of fertilizer. But when One Acre Fund purchases fertilizer, it buys in batches of several thousand metric tons. This makes us a big player in the fertilizer business, and we leverage this to get the best possible prices for our farmers. 6 months before it’s time to deliver, our inputs procurement team checks prices with international fertilizer traders as well as local importers to make sure that we’re getting the best price. Since fertilizer prices can fluctuate significantly, we also do a thorough market analysis to decide whether prices are likely to go up or down in the next few months.
Unlike fertilizer, most of the seed we purchase is produced in Africa. One Acre Fund works with over 10 seed companies to procure maize, sorghum, millet, bean, and collards seeds. Some companies produce their seeds right in Kenya, while others import from countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Once we’re sure we’ve negotiated the best price, we start placing orders in October or November to give companies time to prepare. Starting in December, seed starts arriving at our warehouses, where it’ll be stored until delivery time. We continuously refine our orders in the months before input delivery, as we get more information on how many farmers we have and how much seed they want.
Seed and fertilizer quality can make or break a farmer’s harvest. We do independent testing to make sure we get the highest quality inputs before we buy. As we receive the seed and fertilizer at our warehouses, we have thorough controls to make sure we are getting exactly what we ordered. Warehouse managers check the quality of packaging, the physical quality of the inputs, as well as the quantities received.
The process varies slightly country by country, but the essence is the same: plan ahead, minimize logistics costs, and triple-check the quality.
The Namee group from Manga shows off the seed, fertilizer and solar lamps they received on credit at a delivery site in Kenya. Photo by Hailey Tucker
Rwandan farmer Margarite and her children Violette, Donatha, David and Jean pose with One Acre Fund Rwanda's 2014 product offerings which include tree seeds, solar lights and fertilizer. Photo by Leah Hazard
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
Workers load fertilizer into trucks from One Acre Fund's Bungoma warehouse to be delivered to farmers for our Kenya input delivery 2014. Photo by Hailey Tucker
Kenyan farmer Agnes Wanyonyi and her grandson Martin Wanjala (right) help Nekon Simiyu (left) load up Agnes's group's fertilizer for transport to their homes from a One Acre Fund delivery site. Photo by Hailey Tucker
Farmer group leaders unload sacks of seed and fertilizer to a drop delivery site in Musungu, Kenya. More than 120 farmers in the area picked up the inputs they had purchased on credit. Photo by Hailey Tucker
One Acre Fund uses a large truck to deliver farm inputs to the remote village of Kabuga, Rwanda. Photo by Hailey Tucker
Farmers in Kimwanga, Kenya, learn how to measure seed and fertilizer for planting at One Acre Fund's base education trainings. Photo by Kelvin Owino
One Acre Fund unloads sacks of fertilizer at a delivery site in Kabuga, Rwanda. Farmers showed up in record attendance to receive the inputs they signed up for. Photo by Hailey Tucker
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