BLOG Tags: Kenya

Growing Careers and Families: How One Acre Fund Supports Parents

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

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

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

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

Dyana Mageto with her 1-year-old son Darren

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren Nixon Trick Or Treating

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jun 08, 2017 Category: Tags: drought kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


UN study: Digitization of Kenyan farmer payments helps tackle poverty

May 31, 2017 Category: Microfinance Tags: kenya microfinance

Everline Wakhungu and Mathew Khahmba

Everline Wakhungu and Matthew Khahmba, Kenyan smallholder farmers

May 31st, 2017, Nairobi / New York – A new case study by the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance shows how agriculture nonprofit organization One Acre Fund, in partnership with Citi Inclusive Finance, successfully digitized loan repayments for farmers in Kenya. This move significantly boosted transparency and efficiency, driving economic opportunity and financial inclusion for thousands of smallholder farmers and their families.

One Acre Fund, supported by Citi, enabled farmers to easily make loan repayments via mobile money instead of cash, reducing the uncertainty, inefficiency, insecurity and high costs previously caused by cash transactions.

One Acre Fund can now reach more farmers with greater reliability, and staff can spend almost half as much time collecting payments in cash, using that extra time to help farmers increase their incomes through training and educational programs. With One Acre Fund’s package of services, including training and inputs like seed and fertilizer, the average farmer participating in the program earned nearly 50 percent more than peer farmers who do not participate.

Study findings include:

  • Increased participant satisfaction due to transparency and convenience.
  • Eighty-five percent decreased instances of repayment fraud.
  • Reduced processing time for each repayment from 12-16 days to 2-4 days; farmers now know immediately when their payment is received, eliminating the worry about whether it arrived.
  • Eighty percent decrease in repayment processing costs.
  • Forty-six percent of time reduced for staff working on collections, allowing for more time helping farmers improve agricultural practices.
  • Women farmers benefited especially, feeling safer about payment deliveries.

“Mobile repayments have allowed us to increase our efficiency and provide better service to farmers,” said Mike Warmington, the Director of Microfinance Partnerships at One Acre Fund. “We’re excited to be working at the forefront of this technology in the smallholder agriculture lending sector. In our experience, farmers were empowered to thrive in these communities. Clients receive immediate confirmation of payments as they happen, enabling them to better manage their businesses and family finances.”

“Citi’s footprint, track record in inclusive finance and transaction banking capabilities enable us to provide global support to leading social enterprises like One Acre Fund,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance. “Among other benefits, digitization enables efficiency and security, and drives innovative and inclusive business models. Citi is proud to play a part in enabling One Acre Fund and other organizations like them to improve the livelihoods of farming communities.”

One Acre Fund is an example of the significant benefits and impact that digital payments and inclusive digital financial infrastructure, as developed in Kenya, can bring to agricultural value chains, contributing to a more sustainable and productive agriculture sector, a cornerstone of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These learnings can easily translate to poor farming communities in other countries and One Acre Fund is working on plans to expand in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia in the future.

“For companies and nonprofit organizations who want to work in rural Africa, this success story is a must-read,” said Oswell Kahonde, Africa Regional Lead at the Better Than Cash Alliance. “Digital payments are essential to building sustainable business models and creating long-term impact. By enabling smallholder farmers to make and receive payments digitally, we are creating transparency and accountability which translates to numerous benefits and empowers people to take control of their finances.”

Please click here to download the study

For information & media interviews, please contact:

  • Better Than Cash Alliance: Angela Corbalan, Head of Communications, angela.corbalan@uncdf.org, (+1) 917 224 9109
  • One Acre Fund: Whitney McFerron, Global Media Relations Lead, whitney.mcferron@oneacrefund.org
  • Citi: Patricia Tuma, Corporate Communications, patricia.tuma@citi.com

Surviving on Sand

Feb 07, 2017 Category: Farmer Profile Tags: kenya

In partnership with One Acre Fund, ONE will follow a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season.

A sense of anxiety looms large in Luucho village. A months-long drought wiped out more than half of this year’s crops, leaving many homes in desperate need of food.

Like most villages in western Kenya, Luucho plants two times a year. Farmers who lost their crops during the first season, when rains failed to arrive between May and June, banked their hopes on the second harvest. But another wave of drought has struck again since last October, dashing all their expectations. Now, withering plants covered in brown dust dance lazily in the light wind, thirsting for the return of rain. There is not much hope to save them – farmers normally harvest their second-season crops in December, and the damage has already been done.

“This has been the strangest year of my life,” says Mary Nekesa, a 55-year-old mother of five. “I depend on farming, but now how am I going to feed my family?”

At the start of the season, Mary had huge expectations. She planted a half-acre plot of maize, and like in the past, she hoped to harvest at least 12 bags of grain. Thinking she’d have plenty of food for her family, she had even planned to sell a few extra bags of maize to buy a dairy cow, which she had been longing after for years. But because of the drought, she only harvested two bags—hardly enough to feed her children for two months, let alone buy a cow.

On this morning, Mary is standing in the shallows of Khalaba River, half a mile away from her home. The Khalaba flows between two deeply eroded banks covered in thick vegetation. It’s a tributary to the River Nzoia, which pours its waters into Lake Victoria. The river is Mary’s last lifeline. She swings a small bucket in and out of the water, spewing a blast of wet sand on the river bank with each wave.

“I couldn’t sit and watch my children starve,” Mary says. “The only other way I could provide food for them is by harvesting sand."

Sand is used for all kinds of things in Kenya’s construction industry, including making bricks and concrete to build houses, bridges, and roads. Drawing sand from the river is backbreaking work for Mary, who needs to fill up a whole truck in order to find customers. She usually sells each load to a middleman for a throw-away price of $10. It’s a lucrative business, but not for Mary. Those middlemen can resell what she has collected for $40 to $50 per truckload. 

Harvesting sand is a difficult job, especially in drought. During the rainy season, the waters usually swell up and sweep sand down the river, so that it only takes about a day to draw enough out to fill a truck. With this year’s dry weather, it now takes Mary three days, working from morning until evening.

“I’m not able to sleep much nowadays,” says Mary, who rises as early as 3 a.m. each day, because the thought of her hungry children disturbs her sleep. “Every evening at dinner, I sit and watch as my children eat. The thought that if I don’t work harder the following day my children might sleep hungry fills me with fear. I will do anything to make sure my children have food.”

Sand harvesting is an activity mostly carried out by men, and as the only female sand harvester in Luucho, Mary has raised mixed reactions in the village. While some men respect her courage and strength, others feel she is competing for a man’s job, or that her body will soon fail from exertion. However, most women in Luucho are motivated by Mary’s willingness to take up this kind of work.

“We were all shocked when we saw Mary harvesting sand. She is like a man!” says Felistus Nanjala, Mary’s friend and neighbor. “I feel very encouraged by her commitment to take up this work in order to take care of her family.”

Mary says she won’t stop her work, even when the rains return. With her children in school, she is in need of money all year round, and she hopes her new job will provide enough to supplement her income from farming.

After a full day at the river, Mary walks along a narrow dirt path to her home. She picks up a hoe and starts clearing weeds from her farm. Although it is still some time before her next planting season, Mary wants to be ready when the next drop of rain lands in Luucho.


Finding Your Career Passion Close to Home

Nov 23, 2016 Category: Staff Profile Tags: careers kenya staff profiles

Bernard Kiprop, One Acre Fund

This post was written by Bernard Kiprop, Strategy & Research Specialist on One Acre Fund’s internal consulting team, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He grew up in Baringo county in Kenya and graduated in 2015 from Amherst College.

Pursuing a career in international development makes a lot of sense, but not enough young professionals from developing countries do so.

For me, the decision to join One Acre Fund—and the development field in general—was based on a combination of personal and professional factors. Most of all, I find this work to be extremely valuable because it allows me to make an impact in my community, surround myself with motivated coworkers, and acquire a strong skillset to use throughout my life.

Make an impact on your own community

After I finished college last year, I started working for One Acre Fund’s internal consulting team, which advises and supports the organization on all kinds of important decisions—such as improving the efficiency and scale of our customer support services, finding opportunities to increase the adoption of improved seeds in Sub-Saharan Africa, and preparing internal and external presentations for the organization’s leadership.

Having grown up in rural Kenya, I understand the context under which my organization works, and this allows me to add more value and have a greater impact for those we serve. I have a fair understanding of what challenges farmers might face, and with this knowledge, I can step in and provide some clarity when my team needs it. I can also relate more closely to how the impact we generate affects our farmers’ lives.

Surround yourself with a community of motivated coworkers

Working in international development gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with a community of colleagues who share your values. At One Acre Fund, our mission is to create long-lasting impact for our farmers, while maintaining a culture of humility, and ensuring professional growth for each staff member. These values have brought together people from multiple continents with different backgrounds, undertaking all kinds of work—but always keeping the same goal of serving our farmers first.

Acquire a very useful skillset

Bernard Kiprop in One Acre Fund's Nairobi office

Bernard in One Acre Fund's Nairobi office

Lastly, the type of work you do in a development organization is challenging, and the skills you gain are equally valuable to those you would learn in the private sector. In fact, you are likely to get even higher levels of responsibility right off the bat than you would in a private company. The problems that development organizations seek to address are enormous, which forces everyone to really step up. At One Acre Fund, for example, we’re working to lift 50 million farm families out of poverty, and that is quite a task!

One way I’ve been able to grow my skills is through software programming. I had very basic skills when I joined One Acre Fund last year, but after six months, I was able to build an interactive tool that allows users to easily visualize data for any country or region in Sub-Saharan Africa on an online map. This is no different from what my peers at tech startups or financial services firms are learning, except for the added benefit of helping us identify the farmers we can serve.

It is always the right time in your career to take the international development path, and the rewards are long-lasting—not just for you, but for your community as well. Owing to our rapid growth, One Acre Fund currently has over 50 open positions scattered all over East Africa, in a wide range of functions including finance, innovations, systems, training, and even consulting. Check them out at our career page on our website. If you wish to learn more about charting your international development career, check out this career-focused piece by One Acre Fund's co-founder Andrew Youn.


Rising With The Roosters And Running With The Cows

Nov 23, 2016 Category: Farmer Profile Tags: kenya livestock one campaign

In a new partnership with the ONE campaign, we’ll be following a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season. From planting to harvest, we will check in with the villagers of Luucho every month to learn about the choices and decisions their families must make as they seek to suvive the hunger season in rural Kenya. To view the original post, click here.

John Sirengo, One Acre Fund

John Sirengo with goats he brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.

John Sirengo almost never stops running.

The livestock seller from Luucho village, Kenya, starts each morning with the first crow of the rooster. With seven children to feed, he’s always on his feet. He jogs eight miles to the nearest market, herding the cows left over from yesterday’s sales with a small stick.

John spends most of the day running from market to market, but he’s not just chasing cattle. He’s also racing after better prices. Cows usually sell for higher sums of money in the morning, so he always tries to be among the first sellers to arrive at the market every day.

“As a businessman, I try to make as much money as I can, even if it means sacrificing my sleep or walking to the furthest markets,” says John, who’s known fondly in his village as Mchurusi. It’s a name that translates to cattle seller in the local Bukusu dialect, although John also buys and sells goats, sheep and chickens.

Arriving early not only guarantees better prices. John is also able to spot and buy the healthy-looking cows before his competitors. He regularly buys cows, anticipating that he will be able to sell them for more money at the next market. Cows with large udders, straight legs, large frames and complete sets of teeth are in high demand and attract top prices.

On a good day, John can make a profit of $20. However, his income is never guaranteed. Market prices fluctuate every week, and it is common for cattle sellers to end up with losses.

Scenes from around Myanja market, one of the markets in Kenya where John sells his livestock.

Scenes from around Myanja market, one of the markets in Kenya where John sells his livestock.

Sometimes sellers like John are unable to find customers who are willing to pay more for their cattle. That often means they are forced to keep their livestock at home, incurring high costs for feed. John cannot afford such losses. Before traveling to any market, he calls his friends who live nearby to inquire about the prices that day.

“I have many responsibilities to provide food, clothing and education for my family, and so I’m always in need of money,” John says. “Still, I cannot solely depend on selling cattle, and so for three days in a week I work in my farm.”

John, like many Luucho residents, is a smallholder farmer.  John owns half an acre of land that he uses to plant maize.  For many years, he experienced a series of poor harvests. In 2009, John learned new planting techniques from One Acre Fund, a nonprofit organisation that supplies smallholder farmers across East Africa with seed, fertiliser, and training. John started applying the skills he learned, such spacing his plants in rows, and in the next season, his harvest tripled. While John keeps the majority of his harvest for food, he now has a small portion left over to sell when he goes to the market to trade his livestock.

Goats John Sirengo brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.

Goats John brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.

Apart from selling his own produce, John also helps other Luucho farmers find good markets for their crops. While conducting his cattle business, John scouts for the markets offering the highest prices for maize and other farm produce. Many of his neighbours knock on his door in the evenings to ask where they should sell their crops the next day.

Those evening courtesy visits also come from neighbours who are interested in buying cattle.

“The whole village trusts me to choose the best cows. If people want cows for milk, beef or to pay a dowry, they all come to me,” John says. “I’ve built good relationships with all my neighbours because of my work.”

John also plays the role of a banker. Despite the small income he makes for his business, John is among the highest-earning people in Luucho. Most of the people living in his village depend solely on agriculture for their livelihoods and have to raise money from limited income sources to feed their families. Because of this, John often lends small quantities of cash to his neighbours to buy food.

“This season, we have not received enough rainfall. Our crops wilted, and as a result we are going to harvest very little,” John says. “I’m worried because this means the whole village will be hungry.”

If indeed farmers in Luucho harvest little food this season, then John as their Mchurusi will become more important to his village than ever before. The demand for him to lend money to his neighbours will increase, and in turn, John will need to wake up even earlier to find a better price for his cows.

Want to keep up to date with the citizens of Luucho? Check back next month for part three of this year’s harvest series.


Boda, Piki and Flip-Flop: Getting From Point A to B in Rural Kenya


How far are you from the nearest power outlet? If you’re in North America or Europe, the answer is likely within 20 feet. But what would it mean if the nearest outlet wasn’t even in your neighborhood?

In most East African countries, only 10 to 20 percent of people have daily access to electricity, even in urban locations, according to a 2012 World Bank report. The situation is even more critical in rural areas, where people often lack access to even their most basic needs. Homes without electricity also don’t have running water or refrigeration, which can influence sanitation behaviors, cooking, and grocery shopping frequency. This also can affect how populations spend their money and time. And, the vast majority of these rural populations are farmers, since more than 75 percent of the world’s poor farm as a profession.

Most rural East Africans do not own cars, so the challenges are even tougher for farmers trying to access seeds, fertilizer, competitive markets, or even a safe place to keep their money.

So, how do farmers in East Africa get around?

Walking

Christine Nakhumicha, Kenya

The reality is that many of them walk, often barefoot or in flip-flops. For farmers who don’t own a bicycle or motorcycle, this is the most affordable way to get somewhere.

“I never have the 20 Kenyan shillings (approximately $0.19) that people use to go into town, so I prefer to walk,” says Christine Nakhumicha, a widowed mother who lives on the outskirts of Chwele, Kenya. “It’s not so far away, and it’s good for my health.”

Christine starts most days by walking to get water. There is a water pump at a church roughly 30 meters from her house, but it regularly runs dry, so she often has to walk 30 minutes to the nearest stream. From there, she’ll fill as many jugs of water as she can carry back home. On average, she returns to the stream for water one or two more times each day.

“I need the water to do everything: cooking, drinking, washing, and to water my cows,” Christine says.

Depending on the day, Christine might also walk to the market for some household shopping, or go to meet with the community savings group that she belongs to. The savings group is the closest thing Christine has to a bank. Each week, members pay a set amount, and one individual takes the lump sum to use for personal needs.

“The meetings for the savings group rotate through the houses of the eight farmers who are involved,” Christine says. “The furthest from me is a two-hour walk, but I have to attend so that I am able to receive the money when it is my turn to do so. Then the market can take an hour to get to and then an hour back.”

Bicycle or Boda Boda

Another popular transportation method is by bicycle. Whether it’s a personally owned bike or a bicycle taxi, known as a boda boda in Kenya, bicycles are deeply linked to farmer mobility.

The term boda boda, which is sometimes also used for motorbikes in other East African countries, stems from a history of people using bicycles and motorbikes to carry items across land borders between countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Because this was the cheapest way to travel longer distances, bicycle taxis became affectionately named after the journey. With a hint of Swahili flare, the name shifted from border to border to boda boda.

Francis Mamati, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya, purchased his first bicycle in 1985 to help him travel around for work. By 2006, his bike had started to break down, but since his farming was going well, he was able to upgrade to a newer model.

Similar to Christine, Francis spends most of the time he isn’t farming traveling to access basic necessities like food and water.

“Here we have a problem of water,” he says. “We must go very far to get water, and we would then have to carry the water up a very steep hill. If I don’t have money, and I have a journey I need to make, I can cycle there. To use a boda is too expensive compared to having your own. If I get a boda to take me somewhere, then I also get charged for any waiting, so owning a bicycle is cheaper over time.”

Still, many farmers cannot afford to purchase a bicycle upfront, which means bicycle taxis are a booming business in East Africa. Outside of cities, everything from couches to 100-pound pigs can be seen being transported by bicycle.

Motorbike or Piki Piki

Juliana Wavomba

Juliana Wavomba

When the terrain is too hilly, the load too heavy, or the distance too far, motorbikes become the next transportation solution. In Kenya, motorbike taxis are known as piki pikis.

For 63-year-old smallholder farmer Juliana Wavomba, using a motorbike taxi is the most effective way to run her business. Juliana goes to the market daily to buy a type of collard green called sukuma wiki in bulk, and then sells it in local villages to those who can’t afford to go to the market. She uses the extra money to care for her six grandchildren.

“I always want to get to the market very early so that I can get the freshest vegetables,” Juliana says. “With a motorbike, I’m assured that I can get there any time I want, and the motorbike owner will come and pick me up from my home.”

To get the freshest sukuma, Juliana leaves her house at 6 a.m. most mornings to embark on an hour-long motorbike ride, which gets her to the market right as the shops open. Juliana says she prefers to take a motorbike because otherwise the journey to the market and back would take up too much of her day, and with the motorbike, she knows she’ll make it on time.

Juliana Wavomba, Piki Piki

“I think bicycles are slow, and they might not be able to carry my large bags of sukuma,” Juliana says. “On the other hand, public transport buses would want to charge me both for my fare and all my sukuma bags, so I prefer using a piki piki.”

Minibuses, vans, and other means of public transportation are available for some rural populations, but like Juliana, many people struggle to afford them.

Smallholder farmers in East Africa often don’t have regular access to their daily necessities, much less the right types of seeds and fertilizer or markets to sell their crops. This is why One Acre Fund puts an emphasis on distribution and delivery, helping farmers attain the tools they need to produce more food. We believe that this is the best way to support rural populations in growing their way out of hunger and poverty.


Enrollment Opens for One Acre Fund Farmers in Kenya for 2017

Sep 28, 2016 Category: Core Program Tags: enrollment kenya

Affordable Agricultural Loans and Training Available to Farmers in Western and Nyanza

BUNGOMA, Kenya, Sept. 27, 2016 — One Acre Fund, a nonprofit agriculture organization that offers farming inputs and training on credit to smallholder farmers, today announced open enrollment for the 2017 long rain growing season in Kenya. Participating farmers will receive a complete bundle of agricultural inputs and services on credit, including the delivery of improved seeds and fertilizer, training on how to maximize crop yields, and education on how to minimize post-harvest losses. In 2015 farmers in the program increased farm income by 55 percent.

Loan package values range from 4,000 to 15,000 Kenyan shillings ($40 to $148) for new farmers and up to 27,500 shillings ($272) for returning farmers. One Acre Fund’s service bundle is available to smallholder farmers in selected counties in Western and Nyanza, Kenya.

One Acre Fund delivers all products to a drop-off point within walking distance of farmers’ homes and leads regular in-person training sessions so that farmers can maximize the benefit from the products they receive. Farmers in the program also have access to full-time field officers employed by One Acre Fund, a customer-care hotline, and local staff throughout Western and Nyanza in Kenya. One Acre Fund offers a flexible repayment system: Farmers may repay loans in any amount at any time during the growing season.

"One Acre Fund Kenya is excited to offer farmers its most affordable package yet,” said Kiette Tucker,  One Acre Fund Kenya country director. “Enrollment for the program is officially open, and we're looking to serve more new farmers than ever before."

One Acre Fund’s loan packages vary depending on farmers’ preferences. Farmers may enroll as little as a quarter of an acre of land, or choose to take non-agricultural products entirely. In Kenya, One Acre Fund provides a maximum of one loan package per household. To join One Acre Fund this season, farmers must sign up before October 21. To qualify to receive inputs, farmers are required to pay at least 500 Kenyan shillings toward their loan by December 31, 2016. They are expected to complete loan repayment in full by the end of harvest time, or no later than September 3, 2017.

Farmers may enroll for the following core products on credit from One Acre Fund: seeds for maize, beans and onions, fertilizer, additional topdressing fertilizer, solar lights, cook stoves, drying tarps, crop storage bags, PICS bags, actellic dust, reusable sanitary pads, and compost boosters. Every farmer will be required to take the client support bundle, which includes trainings, funeral insurance, a grevillea tree package, and sukuma wiki seeds. Returning farmers will also be able to enroll for a Solar Home System.

“When I enrolled with One Acre Fund in 2011, I harvested 15 bags of maize, three times more than before, and I have kept on harvesting more ever since,” said Andrew Murefu, a smallholder farmer in Nang’eni, Bungoma County. “With my harvests, I have been able to educate my children, and I’m now sure they will find good jobs and be able to support their own families.”

Contacts

Farmer Inquiries:
One Acre Fund Kenya Enrollment toll free number 0800723355.
Representatives available Monday through Friday (8am – 5pm) and Saturday (8am – 11am).


How This Village In Kenya Is Planning To Survive The Hunger Season

Sep 14, 2016 Category: Farmer Profile Tags: kenya one campaign smallholder

In a new partnership with ONE campaign, we’ll be following a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season. From planting to harvest, we will check in with the villagers of Luucho every month to learn about the choices and decisions their families must make as they seek to suvive the hunger season in rural Kenya. To view the original post, click here.

About 250 miles northwest of Nairobi, Kenya, the sun rises over Luucho, a quiet village nestled between large granite boulders. At the centre of the village, there is an outdoor market where three orange, dusty roads intersect, bordered by thick and thorny vegetation.

In the morning, the market begins to stir as the first of the vendors arrive to unlock their booths and restock their shelves. Later in the day, the vendors will be busy counting change and wrapping items in recycled newspapers. Until then, they work quickly to prepare for their customers and try to stay out of the sun’s increasingly punishing heat.

Residents of Luucho gather at a water pump to collect water to take to their homes, most of which do not have running water.

Residents of Luucho gather at a water pump to collect water to take to their homes, most of which do not have running water.

On the outskirts of the market lives 66-year-old David Wanangeiye, one of the village elders responsible for solving minor disputes in the community. Also trying to escape the sun’s wrath, David takes refuge under a lone tree outside his mud-walled home.

“This has been an extraordinary year. I’ve never experienced a year as hot as this in my whole life,” David says, his eyes gazing up toward the sky. “But I can see signs of the coming rain everywhere now.”

A woman farms her rocky field in Luucho, Kenya.

A woman farms her rocky field in Luucho, Kenya.

Like many smallholder farmers in Luucho, David depends solely on the rain to water his crops. In an ordinary season, the rains start somewhere between late February and early March with most farmers planting seeds by mid-March. This year, the fields sit empty, waiting, while farmers anxiously await the return of the rains. It’s now late March.

“My grandfather taught me that if the rain pours heavily at night, then it’s time to start planting. Every night before bed I walk outside and look to the sky searching for dark clouds,” David says. “I pray the rains start soon because if not, then this whole village will lack food in a few months.”

Signs around Luucho village.

Signs around Luucho village.

Ironically, lack of food is a common struggle for farmers in western Kenya. The majority of farmers run out of food three to four months after harvesting, leading to a period of food insecurity that lasts until the next year’s harvest is mature. This period is commonly referred to as wanjala in Bukusu, the local dialect; it means “hunger season.” During this time, farmers and their families will rely on a cup of tea or porridge in place of a meal.

Wanjala is still vivid in Shalene Simiyu’s mind. Shalene lives about 300 feet east of David’s home and could never grow enough food to make it through the entire year. Usually, Shalene managed to harvest just one bag of maize from her half-acre farm, and this single sack of food would only last her family of six for two months. For the rest of the year, her family would be limited to one meal a day.

“When we had no food in the evening, I would give my children a cup of water and then ask them to go to sleep. But they could not sleep because their stomachs were hungry, so I had to stay awake the whole night trying to calm them down,” Shalene says.

One Acre Fund field officer Salate Oteba hands out planting trainings to Shalene (far left) and her neighbors as part of a One Acre Fund crop training.

One Acre Fund field officer Salate Oteba hands out planting trainings to Shalene (far left) and her neighbors as part of a One Acre Fund crop training.

In 2009, Shalene bought seed and fertiliser from One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that delivers farm inputs on credit to farmers in remote areas of East Africa and trains them on how to increase farm productivity and income.

Armed with new agricultural knowledge and supplies, Shalene increased her harvest that season to an astounding eight bags of maize. With this food, she was able to defeat the hunger season and feed her family for the full year. Since then, she has continued to improve her crop yields, and says she even has a surplus that she can share with her neighbours.

Shalene Simiyu and her daughter Lenise Nafulasit together in their house in Luucho.

Shalene Simiyu and her daughter Lenise Nafulasit together in their house in Luucho.

“All I wanted was to give my children a good life. I’m now happy when I see them smiling and happy because I’m able to provide them with at least three meals in a day,” Shalene says. “I pray for rains so that I’m able to continue producing enough food for my family.”

At half past noon, a distant gong signals lunchtime at Luucho primary school. As her children arrive home, Shalene quickly moves to the kitchen and starts serving a meal of rice and beans. She is soon joined by Christine Nanjala, her immediate neighbour and friend. The two friends chat happily as they arrange the plates on the table.

Residents of Luucho travel primarily by foot or bicycle.

Residents of Luucho travel primarily by foot or bicycle.

According to Christine, a meal of rice and beans is common for this time of year in many Luucho households. Since onset of the dry season three months ago, green vegetables have become scarce and expensive. Villagers now depend on other foods that can be dried and stored, and beans fit the bill.

“During the dry season, all the farms in this village are empty, so our options become limited. I’m looking forward to the start of the rains because then there will be plenty of fresh vegetables in the farm for us to choose from,” Christine says, Shalene nodding in agreement.

Shalene’s children (from left) Laban Wanyonyi, Mark Wekesa, and Getrine Nasimiyu eat a lunch of rice and beans at home in Luucho.

Shalene’s children (from left) Laban Wanyonyi, Mark Wekesa, and Getrine Nasimiyu eat a lunch of rice and beans at home in Luucho.

Shalene and Christine clear the table after the children finish lunch, and the two women prepare to head out in the heat to the market where Shalene sells clothes, fish, and mangoes.

Unlike the morning, the market is now abuzz with activity. Sellers and their customers bargain to get the best price. Music booms from several shops, and a growing line forms at the cereals mill, where parents wait their turn to grind grains into flour for porridge. Unexpectedly, a cool breeze sweeps through and the whole market pauses for a moment. Everyone looks to the sky, hoping—perhaps today will be the day when the rain finally returns.

Want to know if the rain finally falls over Luucho? Check back next month for part two of this year’s harvest series.


Why Growing Trees Makes Perfect Sense for Smallholder Farmers

Jun 27, 2016 Category: Core Program Farmer Profile Tags: grevillea kenya trees

Kenyan smallholder farmer, Alice Nasambu

Alice Nasambu, Kenyan smallholder farmer

Alice Nasambu always has money on her mind. Most of her children are still young, and she is determined that all five of them receive a good education, which means building up her savings now.

The desire to save for the future is what first prompted Alice to plant trees. To her village neighbors—who regularly struggle with hunger—planting an inedible crop seemed illogical. But with the nearest savings bank more than hour's walk from her home in rural Kenya, growing a crop with the intention of selling it several years later presented a unique opportunity.

“Trees are the closest bank I have,” Alice says. “With trees, one is generating money from an investment. Eventually when they are tall, one can sell the trees and get a lot of money in return.”

Alice first started planting trees years ago, inspired by the profit she heard was possible from selling mature trees. At first, she planted Eucalyptus trees, which worked well the first year. However, in subsequent years, she noticed her other crops were not doing very well.

“Even the texture of the soil in my field changed. The soil was very dry and brown in color,” Alice says. She later learned that Eucalyptus trees require significant amounts of water and nutrients to grow, and were robbing her crops and soil of both.

Disappointed with her trees and in search of new investment opportunities, Alice joined One Acre Fund, purchasing a variety of farming products on credit. One of those products was Grevillea tree seeds.

Alice with a Grevillea tree

Alice and her son Abel (6) stand alongside one of their young Grevillea trees

Alice had learned about Grevillea trees from a One Acre Fund field officer. Similar to Eucalyptus, Grevillea trees grow quickly and grow straight, which makes them marketable as timber for building houses and furniture. Unlike Eucalyptus trees, however, Grevillea tree leaves are nutrient-rich and contribute to soil fertility when they fall around the trees. Alice realized that by planting Grevillea trees, she could get the financial benefits she hoped for from Eucalyptus without her compromising her harvest yield.

Grevillea trees, which are worth less than $1 USD as saplings, become worth roughly $15 USD a piece after six years. For smallholder farmers like Alice, this is an incredible return on investment. In Western Kenya, the profits from just 10 six-year-old trees could cover an entire term of a child’s high school tuition—and the trees rapidly increase in value each year after that.  

“This is a lot of money for poor farmers like me," Alice says, standing next to one of her young Grevillea trees. "My children will be in high school by the time my trees mature, and I use that money for their school fees."

Alice Nyongesa and her family

Alice with her sons Abel (6) and Bednego (8)

Since joining One Acre Fund in 2011, Alice has planted Grevillea trees every year. After talking with her field officer, Alice chose to plant her trees around her house and the perimeter of her farm, so that they wouldn’t take up valuable space for edible crops in her field. In total, she has roughly 65 Grevillea trees scattered about her property, growing tall and strong.

With a few of her trees already approaching the six-year mark, Alice feels she can rest assured that her dreams of educating her children will come to be. Her 14-year-old daughter Wendy will start secondary school next year, when Alice’s first round of trees reach maturity.

“Wendy hopes to be a doctor someday,” Alice says. Her smile is the smile of a woman on track to accomplish her goals.

Alice with her Grevillea trees in the background

Alice and her son Abel, standing near one of their Grevillea trees (tallest tree to their left)

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Why Field Visits For Our Staff Are Crucial To Their Work

Jun 27, 2016 Category: Staff Profile Tags: kenya recruitment rwanda uganda

I joined One Acre Fund in October 2015, as a recruiter on the people operations team.  I am based in New York, but my job as a recruiter is to find highly skilled individuals to serve smallholder farmers in East Africa. You may be wondering: how is a recruiter based in New York supposed to fully grasp the staffing needs of teams based in East Africa?

To ensure every staffer understands the mission and feels connected to the farmers we serve, One Acre Fund sends non-field-based staff on extended field visits. These field visits help staff understand One Acre Fund’s operational context just a little bit better, which allows us to hire the right people, and provide farmers with the service they deserve.

For my first visit to the field, I planned to spend six weeks observing One Acre Fund’s operations in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. My goal was to meet with as many colleagues and farmers as possible, and soak up all I could about One Acre Fund’s field operations, so that I could come back and paint a clear and compelling picture of life in the field for stellar job candidates who would then join One Acre Fund’s family of leaders. I was on a mission.

Grace Twesigye of One Acre Fund in a Kenyan maize field

My first stop was Kenya, One Acre Fund’s first-ever country operation. After meeting with my recruiter colleague Wangari Mungai in Nairobi, I traveled to Bungoma, where One Acre Fund Kenya is headquartered. In Bungoma, I had the opportunity to attend a district-level farmer meeting, visit our tree nursery, and check out our livestock and poultry trial center. I even had the opportunity to plant maize with farmers!

Grace Twesigye of One Acre Fund in a warehouse

I also met with colleagues who run our field operations, to gain a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of things like input delivery.  One colleague took me on a tour of our very recently emptied warehouses, which gave me a very real sense of the scale of our input distribution operation in Kenya.

In Uganda, I arrived at One Acre Fund’s headquarters in Jinja just in time to observe a candidate selection process. There were over 30 applicants who showed up! First we administered written tests, and then invited the top 10 performers for an in-person interview in the afternoon. The top three performers were then invited to an all-day, in-person interview the following Monday. I had heard about One Acre Fund’s unique, in-person candidate selection process for field-based roles, but it was really useful to see it in-person.

One Acre Fund Uganda

My field visit concluded in beautiful, hilly Rwanda. I am the recruiter for the finance team, and One Acre Fund’s finance team recently centralized operations in Rubengera, so I was able to spend a lot of time meeting with finance team members, learning about their needs and discussing strategies for attracting top candidates. I was even able to interview some candidates applying for finance roles in Rubengera.

Before I knew it, the six weeks were over, and I was back at my desk in New York. However, I returned with a new sense of confidence representing One Acre Fund’s model and organizational culture in interviews, and found myself more prepared to answer candidates’ questions about what it’s like to live and work in a rural area.

Overall, my visit to the field helped me gain a more nuanced understanding of One Acre Fund’s mission and impact, which has in turn helped me be a better recruiter.

Interested in joining the One Acre Fund recruitment team? Apply to become a recruitment coordinator today!


Chasing Hunger and Darkness from her Home

May 20, 2016 Category: Core Program Farmer Profile Tags: kenya solar lamp sukuma wiki

sukuma wiki collards one acre fund

Agnes Kemunto, surrounded by her sukuma wiki crop

Sukuma wiki is Swahili for collard greens, but the literal translation means “pushing through the week.” In western Kenya, it is common for smallholder farmers to eat this leafy green during the financially lean weeks of the year.

Sukuma wiki is nutritious, full of fiber and vitamin A, and is also relatively affordable. Though it is cheap to buy, Agnes Kemunto, a smallholder farmer in Masaba, Kenya, is making big money from it.

“Sukuma is making me rich,” Agnes laughs. “My whole village depends on sukuma to feed their families and they all line up at my house every day to buy from me.”

Just three years ago, Agnes was not able to feed her own family, let alone a whole village. Each season she would invest the little money she had in seed and fertilizer purchased from local retailers. Often, the expired seed and fertilizer would produce low yields, and Agnes’ family would inevitably go hungry. And then, before she knew it, it was time to purchase planting supplies and begin the frustrating cycle again.

“I had given up on farming. I always wondered why I should spend so much energy and money on farming in a year, and then watch my family sleep hungry the following year,” Agnes says.

In 2013, Agnes took out a loan for seed and fertilizer from One Acre Fund. Along with the loan she also received sukuma seeds and planting trainings. In that season, Agnes planted her first sukuma garden and made $176 USD in just three months.

solar lamps one acre fund

Agnes purchased solar lamps on credit from One Acre Fund

Her success didn’t stop there. Through One Acre Fund, Agnes was able to buy two cell phone-charging solar lamps on credit. She began earning money every week charging her neighbors’ cell phones, and was able to save the money she had previously spent on kerosene. Agnes’ home now shines brighter at night than any other house in her village.

“I’ve chased darkness out of my house completely. The solar lamp produces so much brightness that people passing by my house at night think I have electricity,” Agnes says.

With profits from her sukuma wiki and solar lamps, Agnes has been able to educate her children. Two of her children are currently studying at university.

“I work very hard in school because I hope one day I will be able to repay all the hard work my mother does on the farm every day. I respect her a lot,” says Pauline Mwige, Agnes’ daughter, who is studying journalism and communications.

mother and daughter kenya One Acre Fund

Agnes with her daughter Pauline

In the future, Agnes hopes to expand her business beyond her village. She plans to lease more land this season, plant more sukuma, and hopes to sell her leafy greens to big cities throughout Kenya.

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


Luuya’s Tomato Jungle


A tangled mass of vegetation and knobby stalks stretches from floor to ceiling, each vine reaching to grow just a little taller. Conrad Lukoye bobs and weaves through the stalks, hidden except for the occasional flash of his baby blue button-down shirt.  This is Luuya, Kenya’s newest jungle—and Conrad is one of 19 farmers who owns it.

conrad tomatoes kenya

One Acre Fund farmer Conrad Lukoye

Conrad, 34, didn’t used to own much. Aside from his three-room, mud-walled house, he owned a half-acre of land, and a few small hand hoes he would use to till and farm the soil each year. Most years, he would plant maize and harvest only enough to last his family for a few months before he would need to start purchasing food at the local market. Money was hard to come by for Conrad, so his family would often skip meals to get by until the next year’s harvest.

Looking at Conrad today, he is relaxed. His wife and four children are healthy, and there are signs of plenty all around their compound. Untarnished chicken wire fences in a bobbing sea of poultry, keeping them from pecking at the newly harvested bean bushels that blanket the ground in front of his door. The kitchen is stocked with pots, spoons, salt, and oil; and the old wooden furniture is now decorated with handmade lace coverings.

“I’m not so poor right now,” Conrad says. “ There is something in my pocket, and I can afford three meals a day, which was not the case before.  This year, I can even afford to send my children to private school.”

The changes Conrad has seen have happened gradually over the last three years, but he says they all link back to a single decision.

At the end of 2011, his wife, Eunice, had started taking a course to receive a diploma in teaching. Eunice had never been employed before, and the couple knew that if she were able to earn an income, it might just be the leverage they needed to help pull their family out of poverty.

Unfortunately, not even a month in, Eunice and Conrad were faced with a painful decision: spend money on her classes or buy food for their children. They opted for food. Eunice was allowed to continue attending the course, but she was told she would not be awarded her official diploma until their debt was cleared.

Around the same time, Conrad was also trying to  find a way to afford the supplies he needed to plant on his farm. Because they had been investing in Eunice’s education, their finances were at an all-time low.

Out of desperation, Conrad decided to enroll with One Acre Fund. He had heard the organization would provide him with planting supplies on credit, and that he could pay his loan
off later in the year. He was nervous about taking on more debt, but he didn’t see any other options. A few months later, Conrad says his world changed.

“I saw my mistakes. I realized the planting techniques I used before One Acre Fund were wrong. I had only ever known one type of seed before.  Through One Acre Fund, I learned there were different varieties of seed, and I saw that certain types grew better in different conditions,” Conrad says.

For twenty-odd years, Conrad had been planting the wrong seed—and not because he had made the wrong decision. He had been planting the wrong seed because it was the only seed available to him. Enrolling with One Acre Fund gave him access to options and information, which allowed him to make choices about which kind of seed to buy.  This was the first time Conrad had ever had the opportunity to make this kind of decision, and it made him hopeful.

In the fall of 2012, Conrad harvested twice as much as he ever had before.  That year, he had enough food to feed his family without skipping meals. He was also able to sell some of his maize to pay the debt for Eunice’s certification, which meant she could start working and earning money.  This was their breakthrough.

In 2013, Conrad enrolled with One Acre Fund again—this time with business on his mind. He had seen how investing the money he earned from selling his harvest could generate an income and improve his family’s livelihood over time.

He attended all the available trainings with One Acre Fund about planting and seed types, and decided to try a different variety of seed that year. By harvest time that year, his yield was up even more than the year before. After harvesting 2,380 pounds of maize, he began to plan.

HOTMA group

HOTMA group

Conrad had heard that his county government was going to give six farmer groups the materials to build greenhouses if they could demonstrate teamwork, strong farming skills, and money to invest. Conrad organized with his neighbors, the majority of whom were also One Acre Fund farmers, to form a group and apply to receive a greenhouse. They named themselves the Horticultural Trade and Marketing Group, or HOTMA.

Soon after, they were granted a greenhouse, and a business was born. Over the last two years, the HOTMA group has invested money from their maize harvests to grow a forest of tomatoes. Ducking between the rows and vines to survey the results of his vision, Conrad explains their choices.

“The controlled conditions in the greenhouse are more favorable for growing tomatoes than the outside climate here, so the tomatoes are healthier and grow faster.  The greenhouse also protects them from pests, so we’re able to save money by not having to buy pesticides to protect them,” Conrad says.

The HOTMA greenhouse grows more than 600 individual tomato plants and generates enough income for each farmer to take some home and still continue to invest. Conrad has invested his profits in poultry as a second income-generating business.

“The knowledge that we got from One Acre Fund made it possible for us to run our greenhouse,” Conrad says. “My next dream is to buy a cow. I also want to lease another piece of land where I can plant Napier grass, which is used for grazing cows, and then I hope to start a dairy business.”

The income Conrad has made from his portion of the greenhouse sales has also allowed him to enroll his children in private school. His three school-aged children now attend Sunset Academy, a private school down the road that guarantees smaller class sizes and has a record of high performance. Conrad knows that this school is an investment in Noel, Eugenia, and Aurelia’s futures.

“They already know what they want to be when they grow up, so I just want them to follow their dreams. Noel wants to be a teacher. Eugenia wants to be a doctor. I have a brother who is a doctor. When he comes around she sits next to him and asks him so many questions about what he does. And then Aurelia wants to be a policewoman,” Conrad says.
While touring around the HOTMA greenhouse, Conrad talks about how the lattices help encourage the tomatoes to climb high and grow strong. Like the tomatoes he tends to daily, Conrad says what he and his family needed all along was a little boost.

“The greenhouse is a sign of hope to everyone in the community,” Conrad says. “To them, it is a symbol of prosperity because when people look at the success that the HOTMA group has had, they realize that they too can achieve a lot through hard work and cooperation.”


What I Learned Leading a Team of 1,300 in Rural Kenya

Mar 10, 2016 Category: Staff Profile Tags: field operations director jobs kenya

alex hasbach one acre fundAlex Hasbach joined One Acre Fund Kenya in 2012 because she was eager to get practical, on-the-ground experience working with farmers. A trip to Kenya at age 15 had exposed her to the devastating effects of food insecurity in rural communities, and inspired her pursue a career in agriculture development. When she arrived in Bungoma, Kenya, however, Alex realized that she had stumbled upon much more than just your average development job.

Now, four and half years later, Alex tells us how working for One Acre Fund transformed her most basic assumptions about about workplace culture, and the surprising things she learned leading a team of 1,300 in rural Kenya.

How did you know that you wanted to work in international agriculture development?
Growing up, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in conservation biology. I loved playing outside and studying the natural world, and I wanted to help protect our environment. The more I learned about ecology and conservation, however, the more I realized the pressure that our human need for food security places on the planet’s natural ecosystems. This realization, coupled with a visit to Kenya at age 15 where I witnessed a drought and the effects of food insecurity firsthand, are what got me interested in studying agriculture and international development.

Why did you decide to work for One Acre Fund?
I was in graduate school, studying land management and climate science at Stanford, and I knew I wanted to work on the issues of food production and food security for vulnerable populations. I had spent a bit of time in Kenya and Tanzania in the past, and knew I wanted to do something in the field. I attend a presentation on One Acre Fund, and was immediately excited. I saw One Acre Fund as an excellent opportunity to get practical, “on-the-ground” experience.

Once you started with One Acre Fund, what surprised you the most about your work?
Well, I came to One Acre Fund wanting to learn more about “the field” and the “program” side of implementation work. I didn’t expect to learn so much about what it takes to grow and manage an organization, but that has also been a huge part of my experience. I’ve learned a lot of skills that could be transferable to many different management and leadership situations around the world—not just here in Kenya, or even in the field of international development.

You've been with the organization for four years now. How has your job evolved since you started?
I began as a program associate on the Kenya Field Operations team at the beginning of 2012. Our program was a lot smaller then, so our team was smaller and everyone did a bit of everything. Some of my early projects included training staff and farmers on our new funeral insurance product, running a trial on dewormers, developing professional development training materials for our top field leaders, and re-working our packaged of trainings and services to respond to a maize virus that forced us to offer alternative crops two seasons. I became a program manager in 2013 and took the lead on coordinating all field activities for one of the two provinces where we operate.

Now, I’m the director of field operations, and I oversee team of about 1,300 staff—the majority of whom are based in one of our 28 district operating units in Kenya. Obviously, I’ve been able to take on a lot of responsibility quite quickly, which has made the job challenging but also very exciting.

What is the most challenging thing about your work? What is the most rewarding thing?
One of our biggest challenges is that there is so much work that we aspire to do, but not enough time to fit it all in! I occasionally have say “no” to a new project or trial idea, which is always a bit frustrating since I know those ideas could help us learn more and improve our program.... but I need to balance that desire with the responsibility to support my team in maintaining a sustainable workload of projects and making sure that we only make plans that we can execute well in the field.

The most inspiring part of my job is definitely seeing individual people dream big and achieve their goals with One Acre Fund’s support. Some of the most inspiring stories, for me, are those examples among our current field leadership team where a staff member who started as a farmer or group leader is now overseeing a regional operation that serves more than 20,000 farmers. I am very proud of the role that I played in helping those staff to develop their careers, and I think that their leadership makes our organization uniquely well placed to continue putting Farmers First, even as we grow larger and more complex.

You’ve been living in Bungoma, Kenya for four years now. What do you like best about living in a rural area?
One of the things I appreciate most about living in a rural area like Bungoma, where everyone is a farmer, is that it forces you to pay attention to things we tend to take for granted at home. For example, I pay much closer attention to the rains now than I ever did living in a city back in the U.S. At home, I used to check the forecast on my phone to know whether to bring an umbrella, but never really thought much beyond that. Here, the timing and volume of the rains can make the difference between hunger and surplus—so rains are a regular topic of conversation, and a source of much anxiety, speculation, and celebration. I like this because it’s a reminder of our basic humanity and vulnerability, and also prompts us to be grateful for what we do receive.

What do you think One Acre Fund’s biggest challenge will be three to five years from now?
We have set a very ambitious 2020 vision and targets that will require us to stretch and continue to evolve. I think one our biggest management and resource-allocation challenges will be continuing to build stronger systems that enable us to do repeatable work at scale, while also staying nimble, flexible and innovative so that we continue to provide the best available services to both our present and future clients.

After almost half a decade, you’re now leaving One Acre Fund to pursue other professional opportunities.  What’s the most important thing this experience has taught you?
I’ve certainly learned a ton of valuable skills professionally, but perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was the unparalleled value of an inspiring work environment.  One-Acre Fund is a place where everyone is constantly pushing themselves to keep growing, dream bigger, and deliver better results for farmers—it’s a lot more than just a job. I know I will need to look very hard to find another team of people who puts this much of themselves into their everyday work.

From your perspective, what are the three biggest traits or skills that the new field director must possess?
The most important quality we are looking for in a new director is someone who can be a humble leader. A leader in this position needs to be able to listen to farmers and the field staff team, and advocate for their needs (and limitations) at all times. We’re also looking for someone who will bring out the best in others as a manager and collaborator, and who enjoys managing a complex and evolving operation. To be happy in this role, a new director will need to be patient, flexible, and be committed to simultaneously supporting innovation and experimentation, as well as core execution and getting the basics right for the farmers we serve each week.

What would you say to people who are thinking of applying to the field operations director role?  
Apply to the field operations director role if you have a passion for teamwork, experience in operations management and the leadership skills described above. One Acre Fund is a dynamic professional environment where you can truly “study at the feet of the farmer,” grow your career, and leverage your skills to create lasting change in farmers’ lives. 

Think you have what it takes to lead a committed, passionate team working to help Kenya's smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and poverty? Apply to become our new Kenya field operations director!


Q&A with Jourdan McGinn, One Acre Fund Kenya Field Ops Manager

Mar 01, 2016 Category: Staff Profile Tags: kenya professional development staff

Jourdan McGinn one acre fund KenyaThree years ago, if you told Jourdan McGinn, a field operations manager at One Acre Fund, that she would be working in agriculture development, she would have laughed and called you crazy. With early dreams of working as a teacher, followed by a prestigious post-undergraduate fellowship in global health, Jourdan's path to serving smallholder farmers in rural Kenya has been anything but predictable. Here, Jourdan shares how her upbringing shaped her interest in international development, and why working with One Acre Fund has been hugely impactful for her both personally and professionally.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think for a long time when I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. But then from a very early age, I had an interest in working in development or advocacy of some kind. I come from a Jewish family, and so a history of oppression, disruption and diaspora was always a part of my family history and conversations, and so that was instilled in me from an early age. My mom was also very involved in our community, and so I volunteered starting when I was quite young. I guess in some ways, I’m not surprised that I ended up where I am today.

Is there anything about what you’re doing now that does surprise you?

Working in agriculture—that really surprises me! I think I had always thought of development in terms of people as opposed to thematic areas or focus areas. If you would’ve asked me even three years ago if I ever thought I would work in agriculture, I would’ve said, ‘No, I can’t even keep a basil plant alive!’ It is just very far from my reality growing up in a suburban, non-agricultural area. So, I think that’s probably the most surprising thing.

So how did you find out about One Acre Fund and why did you choose to work here?

I heard about One Acre Fund through Global Health Corp (GHC). There were a lot of GHC alums that were working at One Acre Fund when I was a fellow. So I heard about the organization through them, but I think the thing that attracted me more than anything was the social enterprise approach. I had historically only worked at traditionally structured NGOs, and I think at the end of the day, I didn’t always find incentives aligning in terms of where resources were coming from, how we were expending them, and who was benefitting.

At One Acre Fund, when we say, ‘Farmers First,’ we really mean farmers come first. They’re our bottom line. They’re driving every single decision we make—big or small. And when I was looking at One Acre Fund, I heard that echoed in everyone I talked to. There was this fundamental shared belief in everyone who worked for One Acre Fund, that that’s why we exist and who we exist for. I thought that was unique compared to the way other organizations talk about what they do and why they do it.

What does your typical workday look like?

I’ll use today as an example. In the mornings, at least one day per week, I try to go to the field. So today, I went along with one of our senior field directors, Isaac, who has worked with us for nine years, which is amazing; and went to see what major field activity was happening, how our trainings are being implemented, and how a lot of the high-level strategies we talk about are actually being disseminated and realized on the ground.

So, we walked around for two or three hours talking with farmers, observing group planting, talking through some of the challenges they’re facing and the approaches they’re taking to overcome those challenges. Then after a field visit, I will type up a bunch of notes and send them to people to make sure that all of what we’re experiencing in the field is being heard at the decision-making level.

A lot of times, I’ll also participate in meetings with our finance team and other departments/teams to help coordinate some of our big upcoming activities, like our future expansion plans and making sure that all people are prepared. Then I check in with members of my team to see how they’re doing, how they’re progressing on projects, and talk about professional development.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

We recently did a density analysis where we looked at how many farmers we are serving in our addressable market in a given area in Kenya, and it’s still relatively low. Realizing that we are serving the very tip of the iceberg, and that there are so many more people who could benefit from our program, and then thinking about how to build the systems, teams, the departments—really, how do we build an entire program that’s scalable so that we can ultimately serve that many people… it’s super exciting to think about, but it’s also incredibly daunting!

What do you feel your work here has taught you?

We have these One Acre Fund values, like hard work and humility and dreaming big, and I think those are core to the way that everyone here interacts with each other and approaches their work. I get to work with people who have a great sense of humility, and everyone is open to learning and has such a willingness to dream big and think radically and creatively. So I’ve learned to approach work on a daily basis like that.

But then there are also hard skills, like project management, Excel, growth modeling, expansion modeling, how to transfer things I learned from my degree to a bottom-of-the-pyramid type clientele…I get to do these things from the earliest, most theoretical stages of project planning, all the way through to the implementation stage.

How long have you lived in East Africa now, and what do you like best about it?

I’ve lived here for 3 years now. I think East Africa pushes me in all the right directions. The thing I like most about living here is the sense of community. When you walk down the street, you greet everybody – stopping and having conversations with people is an expectation as opposed to an inconvenience. People make eye contact with each other and talk to strangers. They engage on a very interpersonal level—I think that is probably my favorite part. And then it’s just beautiful. There’s so much to do. There’s everything from hiking to safaris, and just a lot of exploring to be done.

What do you feel are the hardest parts about living and working abroad?

I think being an environment so radically different from what I’m used to is tough. I think it is common to feel discomfort or some sort of uncertainty, and you can never take anything for granted because a lot of the assumptions you might make don’t apply here. I think there’s tons to be gained from having to constantly discern and sort through the discomfort, but it is also hard and sometimes tiring.

Can you share one of your favorite experiences working for One Acre Fund?

One great memory I have is from last year when I was working on our enrollment and marketing strategies. We did something we never had before, which was using a lot of bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing strategies, like a typical business would, to attract farmers to our program. We didn’t know how it was going to go, so it was a big gamble. We invested months and months of time and energy into thinking about this. Then when the first week contract signing opened, we enrolled almost 100,000 clients in just that week, which was more than we had served in the previous year! That moment felt incredible. 

What do you think One Acre Fund’s biggest challenge will be three to five years from now?

I think that what a farmer looks like today is going to be very different from what a farmer looks like in the future. Their land sizes are continually getting smaller because where we work, parents split their land between their male children, and so the competition for land is going to be increasingly high. Land will be quite a scarce resource, and family sizes still continue to grow, so I think we already need to be thinking through, ‘How do we set up this generation so that they aren’t just subsisting but thriving, and then how do we set up the next generation to do so too, in a world and environment that looks significantly different than the one we’re operating in today?”

I also think One Acre Fund can’t do it alone. The world is much too big, and the addressable market of smallholder farmers who could benefit from our program is so significant that our biggest possible success as an organization is proving that this model works, proving that farmers should be first, and that we can radically impact their livelihoods, health, and communities. Then we need to encourage other organizations to adopt similar structures and operating models so that it is not just us alone forging ahead on this, but that it’s a collective group of people all committed to a shared mission with a shared vision using a model we know works. Right now, in spite of our success, One Acre Fund is just at the tip of the iceberg.

Any thoughts for people thinking of applying to One Acre Fund?

For young professionals, working at One Acre Fund means working in an environment full of creativity and innovation. For example, on a given work day, you may stumble upon colleagues chatting casually about questions as big as, ‘How do we restructure our field program to serve three times as many farmers?’ Everyone at every level of the organization is having these kinds of conversations, from senior leaders to new hires—which is exciting and rare in many organizations.

You’re also given responsibility very early on, and you have opportunities to innovate on existing systems and products while also building entirely new ones. At One Acre Fund, senior managers are invested in your professional development—not only making sure you have stretch opportunities, but that you have the support structures to learn how to build the skills needed to successfully complete challenging projects. 

It is a workplace for people willing to take on challenges, get their boots muddy, and help tackle some of the world's most pressing problems. It's not for the faint of heart, but for someone looking for a rigorous professional opportunity with tremendous amount of growth and potential to create change, I would recommend submitting an application!

Do you have what is takes to be a leader in the field of agriculture development? If so, apply to our new field operations director role today!


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