BLOG Tags: Rwanda
After decades of farming, the soil on Edouard Munyankindi’s small plot of land in southwest Rwanda had failed him.
Edouard, 61, remembers a time when his half-acre farm could produce enough maize and beans to feed his wife and the oldest of their seven children, but those days were a distant memory by the time he first heard about One Acre Fund in 2010. Degraded soils, a lack of fertilizer, and outdated planting techniques meant that by that time, Edouard typically only harvested enough food to last his family for two months.
Edouard and his wife Leotaria only signed up a small portion of their land with One Acre Fund that first year—but they still saw a big jump in their harvest. The organization delivered fertilizer to a location a 10-minute walk from their house—unlike before, when the nearest supplier was an impossible two hours away. They learned how to plant their crops in rows, properly space seeds, and apply fertilizer in small doses. In their second year with One Acre Fund, they enrolled nearly all of their land.
“That year was the last year of hunger in my house,” Leotaria says, recalling that their harvest of maize, beans, and eggplants was larger than ever before. “I was no longer worried about hunger after that, since I never run out of food.”
The family not only has plenty to eat now, but they’ve also able to invest their extra income in new ways to help pull themselves further out of poverty.
After their first two harvests, Edouard and Leotaria had saved enough money to buy a young bull, which they raised and later sold for a profit. With that additional income, Edouard was able to open a small shop, where he sells items including salt, soap, and clothing. Leotaria still maintains the farm throughout most of the year, but Edouard works in the fields with her during planting seasons and other busy times.
Since joining One Acre Fund, the family’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. Edouard bought a solar light from the organization, helping the family reduce spending on kerosene. They’re also able to afford health insurance and school fees for their youngest children, Rachel and Aaron. There’s even some left over to spend on their 13 grandchildren, Edouard says.
“Schooling is providing the children with a base for their life,” Leotaria says. “I would like to see Rachel and Aaron finish their studies up to university.”
Alexis Roehrich, One Acre Fund human capital development manager (second from right), prepares to participate in a staff olympics day event.
Career development and education are a big part of One Acre Fund’s mantra – we’re constantly looking for ways to help staff learn and grow in their jobs. That’s why Alexis Roehrich, a human capital development manager based in Rwanda, makes career enrichment her business. She sat down with recruiter Liz Sims to talk about One Acre Fund’s approach to training and mentorship.
Liz Sims: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you ended up moving to East Africa to work with One Acre Fund?
Alexis Roehrich: While attending Smith College, I was an assistant at the executive education center for two years. It was an incredible learning experience. I got to learn a lot about business strategy, presentations, negotiations, and trainings. After I graduated, I got a job at the Brookings Institution to do executive education for the federal government. I liked the job and I liked the field, but I felt pretty disconnected from the end-product. I would coordinate one- or two-day sessions, but I never got to see the effect it had in the office or on the participants. That’s how I ended up at One Acre Fund. I wanted to do human capital training, and I also wanted to work in-house. I saw the One Acre Fund job posting, and I knew that this was my dream job. I never thought I’d move to Africa, but I thought, “I have to give this a shot.”
LS: What do you like about your job now? What does human capital development mean to you?
AR: We have an amazing staff, and I really enjoy getting to know them and helping them become the best professional versions of themselves. Leading trainings is such a high. After participating in a training, I hope people think, “I learned something today, I’m going to apply it to my job, and I will be better, our team will be better, and our impact will be better.”
I like to think about our approach to learning as falling into three buckets, something we call the 10-20-70 idea. With this approach, 10 percent of training comes from learning and self-study, 20 percent comes from mentorship, and 70 percent comes from on-the-job projects and stretch opportunities.
There are several ways in which this 10-20-70 approach manifests. For starters, we are building online and physical libraries so staff members have tons of written resources at their disposal. We’re also building regular professional development training opportunities, including a program that offers coaching opportunities for high-level staff. In addition, we’ve rolled out an intensive orientation program for all new hires that takes place every month at our headquarters in Bungoma, Kenya, and at our second-largest site in Rubengera, Rwanda.
LS: How do you cater your trainings to staff members in different roles, and at different levels?
AR: We have a diverse staff coming from around the globe, with a wide range of educational backgrounds and specialties, so tailor-making training for everyone can be challenging. We start by doing comprehensive needs assessments to get ideas and make sure trainings match each audience. Right after a training session, we ask for feedback. A few weeks later, we reach out to managers and ask, “Have you seen improvement?” Then we use this feedback to shape our trainings in the future.
LS: As One Acre Fund grows as an organization, how do you see career development adjusting?
AR: The biggest adjustments will happen as we integrate technology and partnerships into our program. One example of new technology is the tablets we’re using now to make data collection more efficient. We’re also looking to form more educational partnerships. Long-term, we may consider partnering with East African universities to provide graduate or undergraduate opportunities to staff. More of these opportunities will come up as we expand.
Overall, I think it’s really incredible the extent to which One Acre Fund already values and seeks to invest in staff development. Everyone in the organization cares a lot about career development. There is always help and ideas coming from all over. It’s nice to know that it’s not just my team working towards this, but rather people on every team.
Alexis (first on the left) with members of One Acre Fund's Rwanda team
LS: What advice do you have for people that may want to join the global training and development team?
AR: I’m going to answer in the 10-20-70 format, because that’s just how I think!
10: Read: There are tons of books on training and professional development. Find a topic you are interested in and keep reading. The Harvard Business Review is an incredible resource.
20: Find someone in the field: You can learn a lot from asking a practitioner about how they spend their day.
70: Practice: A lot of people who get into this work don’t follow my career path. Finding executive education at age 19 is not common – what is common is mentorship. Mentorship programs exist everywhere – find one and join as the mentor! Also, take on training opportunities at work if possible. Be the person who organizes a lunch discussion around a leadership, management, or professional skills topic.
Visit One Acre Fund’s careers page to learn more about opportunities on the global training and development team.
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.
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!
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.
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!
This blog was written by Hilda Poulson, senior analyst at One Acre Fund, and originally published by Devex. To view the original post, click here.
Jake and Jennie Calhoun met in the summer of 2009, when they were both interning for a small NGO in Phenom Penh, Cambodia. Just one year later, the development neophytes moved to Bungoma, Kenya to work for One Acre Fund, where they spent three and half years before re-locating to New York City.
Now, seven years after that summer in Cambodia, Jake, 32, and Jennie, 34, have joined the ranks of One Acre Fund’s senior leadership. They’ve also become parents to daughter Cassie, 2, and son Noah, 6 months. Their professional advancement and the growth of their family has coincided with a period of explosive growth for One Acre Fund, which has grown from 23,000 farmers served in 2010 to over 400,000 farmers served in 2016.
With so much change at work and at home, many people would be content to just stay the course. But not this couple, who recently made the bold decision to move their young family to Rwanda. Here, Jake and Jennie share how they got to where they are today (Chief Financial Officer and Director of Global Recruitment respectively), and why mid-career professionals with kids at home can still build long and happy careers in international development.
1. Jake, you started with One Acre Fund in 2010, and Jennie in 2011. Can you tell us how you came to work for the same organization?
Jake: I started my career as a systems engineer at the nonprofit Finance Fund. That role taught me the importance of back-office and finance roles at nonprofits. I knew I wanted to transition out of engineering though, so I went to Columbia Business School to make it happen, and landed a job as a finance manager at One Acre Fund in 2010. I was based in Bungoma, my first experience in rural Africa, for three and half years. Looking back, it was very critical to my career that I was within walking distance to One Acre Fund clients.
Jennie: My career in international development started in a fairly unlikely place – Chicago! I started my career in international development at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was my first job after college, and it was a fantastic experience, but I wanted to get experience in the private sector early in my career to develop strong project management skills. Deliberate networking landed me a referral at Accenture, a management-consulting firm, where I worked for four years consulting for different Fortune 500 companies.
I enjoyed management consulting, but I realized I wanted to have more of a social impact. So I went back to graduate school in 2008 and got my Masters in International Affairs. Jake and I actually met in Cambodia, while I was interning at various NGOs as part of my masters program.
2. You’ve both been with One Acre Fund for a long time now. What made you ultimately decide, “yes, this is the place to build my career long-term?”
Jennie: I think strong employees who are committed to the mission and their team is really important. Working with great people can mean the difference between a marginally satisfying job and a career that knocks it out of the park. I absolutely love the team that I work with and find real fulfillment and joy in getting other awesome people from all over the world to join One Acre Fund and help us serve farmers.
Jake: I agree with Jennie—I joined One Acre Fund because it was a fast-growing organization with a strong leadership team and a very impactful business model. But I’ve stayed for 5+ years because of the people I work with. I can’t overstate how inspiring it is to work in a place where you’re surrounded by smart, passionate, and fun people.
3. Jake, you’re One Acre Fund’s Chief Financial Officer, and Jennie, you’re the Director of Global Development. What is your absolute favorite thing about your job?
Jennie: I think my favorite thing is that my current role combines all of the things I enjoyed about consulting with the social impact I always wanted to make. What first caught my attention about One Acre Fund was the mission, and the fact that I would get to work in the field, close to the client. Once I started, everything just “clicked” for me: I was really excited by the organization’s business approach, and the emphasis on using analytics to make decisions and generate social impact. That excitement is still a big part of what I love about coming to work every day.
Jake: It’s probably the chance to imagine providing life-changing products to over 1 million smallholder farmers. While the finance team focuses on details and keeps day-to-day operations running, we also get the chance to step back and think about the big-picture stuff, like how we can build a team to serve 1 million clients by 2020. Over the last five years, we’ve transformed from a scrappy start-up to an established organization, and it’s really awesome to dream about what the next five years will look like.
4. You guys are married, and you both serve in leadership roles at the same organization. What’s the secret to keeping work and home life separate?
Jake: The main thing is to create boundaries and actively avoid the trap of talking work while at home, or out with friends…but luckily friends don’t ask too much about our jobs, so…
Jennie: Well, to be honest, we don’t have a strict “no talking about work outside of the office” policy! That wouldn’t work for us, but there is an upside — we can talk about work without having to explain context, and can use each other as sounding boards and support systems.
Jake: Obviously we talk work at times, but I think it’s more like how partners talk about work (celebrating accomplishments, complaining about random things, etc.) and less how colleagues would talk work.
I think having other things in our lives (kids, friends, family, etc.) is also important to maintaining a good balance. We have a lot of shared experiences that are not related to work, and these experiences are more interesting to talk about and joke about.
5. You guys also have two kids under three years old. How do you balance making time for your family with pursuing your careers?
Jennie: It’s not easy, and there is a lot less sleep now! I think one of the key things for us is making sure there is equal support for one another as individuals, parents, colleagues and partners. We try to make sure that each of us has equal opportunity in pursuing work and personal opportunities – even though it might not happen simultaneously.
For example, Jake’s job works better when he’s based the field, closer to all of the people that he manages. But we spent a few years back in the states for family reasons, where it was harder for him and meant tons of early morning calls each week. Now that we’re headed back to the field, it will be a bit harder for me since most of my team is in the US. But we support each other and realize at times, we each must make a bit of a sacrifice for each other or our family.
Jake: It’s been a process, but I can say we’ve identified a few specific things that really work for us in terms of maintaining a healthy balance.
The first this is to put family first. While we make macro decisions (like moving to Kigali) that are career focused, the day-to-day time and devotion to family is the top priority. It makes sense to orient big decisions around careers, but than if all the little decisions are family focused, you actually end up with a nice family-centric balance.
The second big thing is making, and sticking to, schedules. Kids force you to be home at specific times, so we’ve developed a nice system for sharing the child-care responsibilities, and we always stick to our agreed-upon schedules.
Finally, I have to admit that the privilege of having secure and flexible jobs is really the biggest factor.
Jennie: We definitely have a great support system at work, of people who understand the challenges of having young kids, and this helps me be honest when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need additional time to complete things.
6. Raising kids is tough enough, yet you recently decided to relocate your family from New York City to Rwanda. What led you to make this big change?
Jake: Raising kids in New York is challenging! But seriously, I do think that having lived in rural Kenya for more than three years, and having traveled with the kids to East Africa multiple times — we do feel like we know what we’re getting in to.
Jennie and I also just love travelling— we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to explore different parts of the globe while working abroad. We started dating in Cambodia, got married in Kenya, and honeymooned in Malaysia. We think it’s important to expose our kids to the world, and to show them what we are passionate about.
Jennie: When we were talking about this decision, our previous experience living in Kenya was very much in our minds. In many ways, this wasn’t a choice to move, but to move back. We have a rich community of colleagues and friends in East Africa, and we are excited to get back.
In terms of actually deciding on Kigali, we knew we wanted to be somewhere where the kids would have access to quality healthcare and educational opportunities. Given recent changes to organizational structure, the most logical place for Jake to work is probably Kigali, and I can do my job from there too fairly easily. With Kigali, everything just seemed to line up.
7. What would you say to the skeptics out there who may think it’s a crazy idea to move two little kids to Rwanda?
Jake: It’s going to be amazing! We have already found a wonderful Montessori school for our daughter, where she’ll learn French and make friends with Rwandan, European, and American children. Our son will spend his days in the sun, playing with neighbors’ kids in our yard… a yard! Imagine that in New York City!
Jennie: While I’m excited, I think I’m a bit more circumspect than Jake. Every big change seems daunting at first, but we are moving because it’s the best opportunity for our family. The kids will get a wonderful cultural experience, and will live in the kind of tight-knit community that is sometimes difficult to create in a place like New York. They will get to go to schools with kids from all over the world, and see their parents doing jobs they really love. We hope they’ll draw inspiration from that, and from getting out into the field and meeting farmers. We want them to develop a wider and more compassionate worldview.
The biggest downside we see is being far away from our extended family, and the logistics of moving a family of four — but everything else is really promising for us!
8. Where do you see yourselves in 10 years, both in terms of career and family?
Jake: Hiding from my teenage daughter.
Jennie: Wow. I hadn’t really imagined our kids at 10 and 12 years old, or as teenagers – you just made me feel really old! I imagine our family thriving – a little unit that will do well wherever we are. For our careers, I see us continuing to do well, taking on more strategic and management projects within the organization and supporting each other as we do so. I see us focused less on position growth, and concentrating more on how we can help grow and improve our teams and the organization as whole.
9. Looking to the future, what most excites you about where One Acre Fund is going as an organization?
Jennie: I am so excited by One Acre Fund’s ability to learn from the successes in our program, and apply those learnings to new contexts. I am also really excited to see the evolution of our strategic partnerships with other microfinance organizations, governments, and research institutions. These are opportunities that can help us reach hundreds of thousands more farmers and generate even more impact.
10. What advice do you have for established professionals who may be interested in moving to the field, but who aren’t sure they’re ready to take the leap?
Jake: My advice would be to think about why you aren’t making the leap, and to then really consider what you’re getting into. If you play it out, committing to a modest amount of time, like two years, in the “field” is not really a big deal. So many things change in two years, the fact that you are physically located somewhere else is probably of minimal influence on your personal life and satisfaction. The upside to moving abroad is a better career and a new and interesting experience. The downside may seem insurmountable, but the things you imagine going poorly or being difficult abroad are just as likely to happen where you are today.
Affordable farm inputs and agriculture training available to smallholder farmers
RUBENGERA, Rwanda, May 24, 2016—TUBURA, a nonprofit agriculture organization based in Rubengera that offers farming inputs and training on credit to smallholder farmers, is now enrolling farmers for the upcoming planting season in Rwanda. 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 53 percent.
TUBURA’s services are available to smallholder farmers in Rusizi, Nyamasheke, Karongi, Rutsiro, and Nyanza districts, and in selected sectors of Huye, Gisagara, Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe, Ngororero, Gatsibo, Kayonza, Ngoma, and Nyagatare districts. To join the program, farmers must sign up with their local TUBURA field officer by July 4, 2016.
This year, TUBURA is excited to offer a new and reduced pricing package, dubbed More For Less, which enables farmers to purchase inputs on credit with no additional service fee if repayment is completed in full by September 19, 2016. For repayments made after September 19, a service fee of 19 percent will apply. TUBURA accommodates its clients with a flexible repayment system; farmers may repay their loans in any amount and at any time as long as they complete repayment by July 31, 2017.
“TUBURA wants every farmer to have a great harvest. That is why we have made TUBURA more affordable than ever before with our More For Less Program,” said Eric Pohlman, country director for One Acre Fund Rwanda/TUBURA. “We encourage all farmers to sign up now so they may take advantage of the discounted prices, and to invest in improved seeds, fertilizer, and travertine. When farmers invest in increasing their harvests, the whole country succeeds.”
TUBURA offers farmers high-quality fertilizer, travertine (lime), improved maize seed, climbing and bush bean seed, and vegetable seeds. Farmers may also purchase non-agriculture products such as solar lights and energy-efficient cook stoves. TUBURA delivers all products to a drop-off point within walking distance of clients’ cells and leads regular in-person trainings so farmers can maximize the benefits from products purchased. All farmers in the program will be served by full-time field officers employed by TUBURA, and have access to a customer care hotline should they have any queries.
“With TUBURA, there is no longer hunger in my family,” said Samson Nkekabahizi, a smallholder farmer from Kabeza, Gatsibo district who enrolled with TUBURA in 2014. “I am also able to buy two calves and pay medical insurance now.”
To qualify for the TUBURA program, farmers are required to form local groups, attend agricultural trainings, and pay a materials and training fee of 2,500 Rwandan Francs. In Rwanda, TUBURA provides a maximum of one loan package per household. For more information, farmers are advised to call TUBURA’s free hotline, 2580; this line is accessible with Tigo, MTN, and Airtel.
TUBURA was founded in Rwanda in 2007 by One Acre Fund, a global nonprofit that supplies smallholder farmers with the financing and training they need to succeed. Offering a complete bundle of services on credit, the nonprofit organization distributes quality seeds and fertilizer to the remote areas where farmers live, provides financing for farm inputs, trains farmers in agriculture techniques, and educates them on how to minimize post-harvest losses and maximize market prices. On average, farmers working with TUBURA realize at least a 200 percent return on their investment, significantly increasing their farm income. One Acre Fund currently serves 400,000 farmers across Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malawi and is growing quickly. For more information, visit the website at www.oneacrefund.org or follow @oneacrefund.
Free TUBURA Customer Care Hotline: 2580. Representatives are available Monday through Friday (8am – 5pm).
This blog was written by Evariste Bagambiki, and originally published by FoodTank. To view the original piece, click here.
Odette Nyirahabineza winnows her beans.
It is 9 a.m. in Ruhinga, Rwanda, and everyone in Odette Nyirahabineza’s family is busy with doing something different. Her daughters Chantal Mujawimana, 21, and Françoise Nishimwe, 19, are working in the field; her husband Francois Sebitabi feeds the milk cow; and her youngest children Collette Ibyimanikora, 17, Domina Iradukunda, 14, Emmanuel Kwizera, 12, are at school. Just outside their mud-walled home, Odette picks grass and pebbles out of the beans that she will cook for lunch.
Before Odette married her husband François Sebitabi in 1994, she never thought about planting beans, let alone making them a part of her daily diet. It all started when her first child, Chantal Mujawimana, started to eat solid foods, around the age of two.
“Beans were Chantal’s first favorite food. If there were no beans on her plate, she would be in tears. So I would make sure to put at least a little bit of beans on her plate at every meal,” Odette says.
A year later, Odette was blessed with her second child, little Françoise Nishimwe. Given her experience with her first baby, Odette wasn’t altogether surprised when, around the two-year mark, it became clear that beans were also Françoise’s favorite food. Odette began to think loving beans was hereditary. With plans to grow her family, she started cultivating beans on her less than an acre farm.
Her kids’ love of beans was the main reason Odette decided to grow beans, but it wasn’t the only one. A nutrition officer from the nearest health center had taught Odette that beans are very nutritious. Odette was excited to grow more beans because of the protein they would deliver to her growing children.
“Beans are very nutritious— they make me strong, and I can work in my field until sunset,” Odette says.“I had known the secret of beans before, but speaking to the nutrition officer confirmed it.”
As the years went by, Chantal and Francoise grew older, but their love of beans remained as strong as when they were toddlers. Odette and her husband had five more children, all of whom shared their older siblings’ enthusiasm for beans.
Over time, it became clear that Odette’s 220-pound bean harvest was just not enough to feed such big family. Once her harvest ran out, she would sell some of her bananas to buy beans, so that she could feed her family while she waited for her next bean to mature enough to harvest.
“I was not able to purchase clothes for the kids regularly anymore. At a certain point, I started using the income from my bananas to buy beans instead of buying clothes,” Odette says
Odette stands with her family and her bean harvest.
With seven kids to feed and clothe, Odette decided to enroll with One Acre Fund in 2012. She purchased fertilizer on credit and learned improved planting techniques, including how to micro-dose fertilizer and how to properly space seed. Her hope was that the improved planting techniques would be enough to turn things around for her family.
That year, Odette’s beans harvest doubled. She and her family were able to enjoy beans grown on their own farm year-round, and she was once again able to buy the children the clothes they needed. The next year, Odette increased the amount land where she grew beans.
“I thought big when I expanded the amount of land for bean-growing; I was no longer worried about the harvest shortage. Since I was secure with having enough beans for food at home, I planned to sell my surplus to pay for our needs in the future,” Odette says.
In 2013, Odette’s dreams came true. That year, she sold her bean surplus and purchased a goat for $13 USD. That goat has since produced three more goats. Odette is still raising all of them, though she is planning to sell two of them in September to buy Christmas clothes for her children.
“My harvest store room never runs out of beans. Even better, there are no more tears from any of my kids because we don’t have beans for dinner. When I chose to grow beans those years ago, I knew I made the right choice!” Odette says.
If you're interested in helping farmers like Odette grow their way out of hunger and poverty, apply to join the One Acre Fund field team today!
Ezira Ntegeyimbuga sits atop his completed compost pile.
Raising the hand hoe high over his head, Ezira Ntegeyimbuga moves with a strength and assuredness that belies his 64 years. His middle son, 15-year-old Isaac Ndikuryayo, looks on as his father breaks up the red-brown dirt clods in a corner of their land. Breaking up the soil is the first step to creating a compost plot.
“The compost is easy to make. Whatever materials I need are around me, and I can make it near my field where it won’t be a big problem for transportation,” Ezira says.
Ezira made compost for the first time in 2013, but he’d been hearing about the benefits of composting since 2010. That was the year he first enrolled with One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides over 400,000 farmers in East Africa with access to seed, fertilizer, and agriculture trainings. One of the trainings offered was how to make and apply compost, which is proven to enrich soils with vital nutrients needed to produce healthy crops.
Ezira’s decision to join One Acre Fund wasn’t about learning to make compost. A life-long smallholder farmer from Karongi, Rwanda, Ezira’s biggest challenge was that he could never afford the cost of purchasing and transporting fertilizer from the market to his remote village. As a result, his yields were always low. So when a One Acre Fund field officer told him he could purchase seed and fertilizer on credit and get his purchase delivered to a site in his village, Ezira was excited. He immediately enrolled and was elected leader of his farmer group.
In that first year, he harvested 110 pounds of beans and 330 pounds of maize on just one-third of an acre of land. Ezira’s excitement quickly turned to relief. His 2010 harvest, the largest of his life, was enough to feed his family for the whole year. But his relief stemmed from something else. For some time, he had been noticing troubling behavior in his sons.
“When my children were in the village and saw maize growing in someone’s field, they would just grab the maize and run away. I was depressed, and knew I had to somehow change this situation to help them,” Ezira says.
The following year, Ezira enrolled more land with One Acre Fund and planted maize and beans, again using the new methods he had learned. He harvested a whopping 154 pounds of beans and 375 pounds of maize from just under half an acre.
Buoyed by two strong harvests in a row, Ezira began to believe he could achieve success through farming. He attended One Acre Fund trainings regularly and learned about applying just a small amount of fertilizer through micro-dosing. He also learned about combining fertilizer and manure to improve soil and crop health. Ezira had a cow and a young bull, so he began collecting and applying the manure to further improve his yields.
Then, in 2013, things suddenly took a turn for the worse. Ezira’s big cow died of disease, and the young bull couldn’t produce enough manure to fertilize all his fields. That year, Ezira was only able to afford fertilizer for a very small portion of his fields, and he harvested a mere 55 pounds of beans and 110 pounds of maize.
Ezira recalls feeling discouraged and apprehensive. “I really felt sad. I had gone backwards, and was harvesting the amount I used to harvest before joining One Acre Fund,” he says.
During this difficult time, Ezira attended a One Acre Fund training on how to prepare compost. He had been to One Acre Fund trainings on composting in the past but hadn’t ever made a compost pile, because he knew he could count on his manure. That year, though, he paid close attention and learned how to salvage plant-based harvest waste, how to properly create compost piles, and when and how to apply the nutrient-rich organic matter to his fields.
Ezira spent the next four months digging, stacking, scooping, and monitoring his decomposing compost pile, looking for the telltale changes in temperature and color to ensure he was on the right track. He was meticulous and determined and followed each training step to the letter. After applying the compost to his fields, Ezira found himself waiting anxiously for harvest to come.
Ezira helps prepare his compost pile
Ezira tends to his compost pile
When harvest finally came, Ezira could not have been more pleased with the results. He had harvested 176 pounds of beans and 397 pounds of maize from just under half an acre, more than his best season with One Acre Fund.
In the midst of placing dried maize stalks onto his compost pile, Ezira stops for a moment to reflect. “The compost training saved me from poverty and hunger,” he says.
With his harvest back to the levels he had been counting on, Ezira has wasted no time laying his plans for the future. Inspired by his own success with composting, Ezira plans to start a composting business to sell to neighboring farmers who lack his knowledge of composting techniques.
“The skills I learned from One Acre Fund were just the beginning. I now have to turn my skills into money,” Ezira says.
This additional income stream will play a critical role in helping Ezira achieve his most important goal: raising his sons to be good men. With the threat of hunger behind them, they have stopped getting into trouble. Ezira plans to use the income from his composting business to pay for their school supplies.
“When a child is educated, he or she can live and survive in whatever circumstances,” Ezira says proudly. “I will send my children to school because it is my responsibility, but in the end, it is up to them to choose who they will become.”
This blog was written by Evariste Bagambiki, and was originally published by FoodTank. To view the original blog, click here.
In Kabuga, Rwanda, as twilight settles in, farmers return home from their fields. While others go to the nearby evening market, Vital Mucyo Irasubiza, a 16-year-old student and son of a smallholder farmer, arrives home from school. Still wearing his school uniform, Vital immediately sits down in the living room and opens his notebook to study for the Rwandan national exams.
Vital studies at home with his solar lamp after dark.
Studying after sunset was not always part of Vital’s routine. He started secondary school in 2012, and quickly realized that studying after school was going to be a major challenge.
“Teachers would often give more than two tests per day, and the probability was that I would only succeed on one of them, since there was just not enough light to review my lessons each day,” Vital says.
Each day, Vital had to make a tough choice. His classes would last until dusk, until there was barely enough remaining daylight to complete his hour-long walk home. Torn between reviewing his lessons and getting home safely, Vital would stay at school and study for as long as he could before it became too dark. But he never had enough time to fully review his lessons, and wasn’t doing well as a result.
Part of the problem lay in the fact that Vital often couldn’t find light to study by at home. To light their home, his mother, Josephine Nyinawumuntu, would use either candles or a kerosene lamp. Purchasing candles and kerosene for a week would cost her the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, which is enough to buy both lunch and dinner for most Rwandan smallholder farmers.
Vital and his mother, Josephine Nyinawumuntu.
“Sometimes my mother would not be able to find the money for the fuel, so we would pass the whole week without light because we had to choose eating instead of lighting. Also, because my mother had to pay school fees for me, most of the time there was no light at home in the first days of the trimester, after fees were due,” Vital says.
In 2013, Josephine happened to meet a One Acre Fund field officer. She learned that if she enrolled with One Acre Fund, she would have access to agriculture trainings and high-quality fertilizer and seed on credit. She also learned that she would have the option to purchase additional add-on products on credit, and that solar lamps were one of the available add-on products.
Josephine enrolled with One Acre Fund that same year, purchasing her first solar lamp just as Vital began his second year of secondary school.
“I started that academic year full of joy. My target was to make great improvements at school since I would have light to study at home. My mother had to make sure the lamp was fully charged during the day, and then it was up to me to decide how long I needed to take for reviewing,” Vital says.
That year, Vital performed well at school and graduated to the next class in 2015. Buoyed by her son’s success, Josephine bought a second solar lamp.
November of 2015 proved a special time for Vital. Like all Rwandan students his age, he had to take national exams to qualify for continued study in his field of choice. His plan was to study mechanical engineering, but he needed high scores to qualify.
Vital was confident going into the test. “The solar lamps helped us a lot. I can review my lessons whenever it is dark, and my mother no longer buys kerosene or candles. The money that she would use for fuel is now saved for buying seed,” Vital says.
Having a solar lamp at home allowed Vital to study after dark and achieve high marks on his exam.
When the results came in, Vital’s score was high enough to do mechanical engineering, but he was instead selected to study carpentry at a Technical Secondary School.
"I felt happy with the results, and I am so proud. I wouldn't have gotten this higher score if I hadn't had a chance to review my lessons at night," Vital says.
With a solar lamp at home, studying is no longer a problem, but school fees are another matter. Vital is worried about his parents being able to afford the school fees to keep three children in secondary school. In spite of his worries, he’s focusing hard on his studies and staying hopeful, even after dark.
Investing in farmers pays dividends for future generations. Visit our jobs page to learn about new career opportunities with One Acre Fund, and help us invest in more smallholder farmers.
A version of this blog was originally published by FoodTank. To view the original piece, click here.
Bananas have always been a big part of Japhet Bizimungu’s life. As a young man growing up in Karongi, Rwanda, Japhet harvested local Kayinja bananas alongside his parents each year. However, the Kayinja variety often resulted in disappointingly yields, low in both volume and quality. Unfit for fresh consumption, it was common for farmers in Japhet’s village to use the bananas they grew to brew beer.
Japhet Bizimungu holds two of the FHIA 17 banana plantlets he purchased on credit from One Acre Fund.
When Japhet inherited his parents’ land, he continued to plant the same local banana variety. Like his parents and many of his neighbors, he always wound up using the bananas to brew beer. But the amount of money he earned from selling the beer would never cover the cost of manure he needed to fertilize his bananas, let alone the cost of hiring casual workers to help him harvest the bananas.
“After all my expenses, the money I was earning was so little. That’s why I decided to completely remove these local bananas from my field, and plant new ones,” Japhet says.
After five years, Japhet decided he was tired of never earning enough from his bananas. He had farmed with One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise, since 2009, purchasing fertilizer, solar lamps, and harvest storage bags on credit from the organization. But in 2014, Japhet decided to try something new. That year, he purchased a new banana variety as part of his One Acre Fund loan package.
The new banana variety Japhet purchased was called FHIA 17. The FHIA 17 banana variety is more multi-purpose than it’s local cousin Kayinja. It can be cooked, brewed for beer, made into juice, or eaten when it’s ripe. FHIA 17 is also more productive than the local banana variety. With the local variety, farmers can expect to harvest 10-20 kilograms of bananas per tree. With FHIA 17, farmers can anticipate upwards of 50 kilograms of bananas per tree. Excited by the prospect of an increased yield and bananas that could be put to multiple uses, Japhet purchased five FIA 17 plantlets on credit.
Japhet prepares for planting his bananas by digging holes for his plantlets.
Banana plants take two years to bear fruit, so Japhet has yet to see his first harvest with the new variety. This fact hasn’t tempered his excitement in the least.
“I have had great harvests with beans and maize, so I expect a good harvest for bananas too. My dreams are to harvest one banana that can weight more than one hundred pounds, and never run out of bananas at home.” Japhet explains.
In the years since learning improved planting techniques from One Acre Fund, Japhet has seen his maize and bean harvest increase substantially. With the increased yields of several harvests, he has been able to invest his surplus in his family’s future. He recently built a new home, and is now able to afford the school fees for the three of his sons who are currently in school.
Because of his confidence in One Acre Fund’s loan offerings, Japhet chose to purchase ten additional banana plantlets this season. He sees his future banana harvests as yet another investment in achieving his dreams. Right now, his biggest dream is to see his children graduate.
“I am getting old, so I take great comfort knowing my bananas will help my children complete their studies,” Japhet says.
One Acre Fund staff live and work alongside farmers like Japhet, helping them improve their harvests and grow their way out of hunger and poverty. Apply now to join One Acre Fund’s family of leaders today.
Our government relations team supports field operations to provide vital services to farmers. Apply now to become a Rwanda government relations analyst at One Acre Fund.
Smallholder farmer Jean Pierre Nzabahimana was born and raised in Gitega. He's chosen to raise his own children—daughters Asifiwe, 9, Sifa, 2, and son Noel, 7— here as well. Though Sifa is still too young, both Asifiwe and Noel are enrolled in the nearby primary school.
Jean Pierre Nzabahimana of Gitega, Rwanda
Jean Pierre and his wife Donathile own less than an acre of land, where they grow beans, maize, eggplant, and tomatoes. These days, he is careful to plant in neat rows that are well spaced. His field is an organized grid, and he consistently harvests well. However, prior to enrolling with One Acre Fund in 2010, Jean Pierre's fields looked quite different.
Like many farmers in Rwanda, Jean Pierre began planting when the rains came in, first in November and then again February. In the past, his method for planting was to scatter seed and fertilizer across his land, ad hoc. The result was anything but organized. The crops would grow tall, but they grew much too close to each other, and wouldn't yield much produce.
"I could not regain the money I invested. The harvest would not cover the expenses of the fertilizer and seed I had bought or the cost of the workers I had hired," Jean Pierre says.
Frustrated by season after season of poor harvests, Jean Pierre enrolled with One Acre Fund. As part of his loan package, Jean Pierre participated in One Acre Fund trainings, where he learned how to improve his planting techniques, including how to micro-dose fertilizer and how to properly space individual plants with a measuring string.
That year, for the first time, Jean Pierre planted his beans, maize, eggplants, and tomatoes in an organized grid. Initially, he was skeptical about his harvest because he used less fertilizer and seed than he ever had before. But when the crops matured, Jean Pierre was surprised; he had harvested more than triple the amount he harvested the previous season.
"I was very happy with that harvest, and they have continued to be good since," Jean Pierre says. "It was the beginning of a richness that I have been searching for [for a] long time."
Some of Jean Pierre's tomatoes from his 2015 harvest
Jean Pierre's bountiful harvest in 2010 was only the beginning. Since then, he has harvested more than enough to feed his family. The money he's earned selling his annual harvest surplus has gone straight into his bank account. By 2013, he had saved a total of $790 USD—a large amount for a farmer accustomed to living on less than $2 per day.
2013 was also the year the Rwandan government told Jean Pierre that his house, located on a small hill, was susceptible to land slides during heavy rains. Because of the risks, he decided to leave his home and move to a safer location. When it came time to build his new home, he used the savings he'd generated from his One Acre Fund harvests to buy bricks and roof tiles.
Jean Pierre moved into his new house in December 2013, and in 2014 was able to use the money he earned from yet another successful harvest to put the finishing touches on it.
Jean Pierre outside of his new home, showing off his bean harvest from this year
"Before I moved into my new house, I used to worry about heavy rains damaging my house, but now I sleep well. I never have those bad dreams anymore," Jean Pierre says.
With the 2014 harvest, Jean Pierre also bought a young bull, which he hopes to sell in the future for a high price. In the meantime, it is providing valuable manure that he can use as organic fertilizer in his fields.
Though he's accomplished a lot in the last few years, Jean Pierre still hopes to achieve more. Armed with improved planting methods that result in strong harvests, he plans to buy more land in the next two years. With this land, he is confident he will be able to generate enough extra income to send Sifa to school when the time comes, and to ensure that Asifiwe and Noel are able to complete their studies, and even attend university if they desire.
Our government relations team supports field operations to provide vital services to farmers. Apply now to become a Rwanda government relations analyst at One Acre Fund.
One Acre Fund Rwanda is our second largest country program, currently serving 106,000 clients. As we prepare to reach 1 million clients across all of our countries of operation by 2020, we anticipate a significant portion of this growth to come from Rwanda. We’re already aiming to enroll 125,000 clients next season!
To keep pace with this growth, we’re very excited to be growing our team.
The field operations team in Rwanda celebrated a big milsetone this past spring: reaching 100,000 clients!
The field operations team works in the closest proximity to our clients, and it has the critical responsibility of delivering excellent service to each and every one of them. Members of the field operations team can expect to get their boots muddy and learn from the farmers we serve every single day.
As a program associate on our team, you will play an integral role in the design, execution and strategy behind One Acre Fund’s core program. Most importantly, you'll develop valuable leadership skills through management of a regional operation, a business unit of hundreds of staff who serve up to 44,000 clients. You will not only be responsible for building the capacity of local staff, but will also work with them collaboratively to problem-solve and innovate solutions to serving farmers on a daily basis.
Field operations has the most diverse portfolio of responsibilities of any team at One Acre Fund. This team is also the most uniquely positioned to work directly with farmers. You’ll never forget our mission in this role, which includes exciting and challenging projects like:
Development of a rural marketing campaign to recruit and enroll more farmers.
Management of a diverse set of systems and processes like seed, fertilizer and solar lamp delivery.
Increasing the scale of exciting innovations like mobile technology or new market access opportunities which allow our clients to sell their harvests on the East African market.
Improvement of our leadership development and training to create more home-grown leaders. Many of our senior field leadership started as clients or field officers, and you will help provide the professional training and mentorship to help our field leaders advance their careers.
Development of customer service initiatives which ensure the delivery of the highest quality customer service to all clients.
Rwanda field team members have the opportunity to learn and collaborate both inside and outside of the classroom.
We’re looking for humble leaders who will bring a lot of tenacity and commitment to our incredible team. If living and working in the field, collaborating with and learning from professionals with diverse backgrounds, and testing and executing new and innovative ideas to better serve farmers is your idea of a dream job, we encourage you to submit your application here today!
This blog was written by Hailey Tucker, and originally published by FoodTank. To view the original piece, click here. If you are interested in working with One Acre Fund Rwanda, apply now for one of our field-based roles.
Jeanette Uwimanimpaye stands in front of the door to her home.
Atop a hillside, in the remote village of Gitega, Rwanda, 27-year-old mother of two Jeanette Uwimanimpaye wakes up at 5am to begin her day.
Many of the women in Jeanette’s village farm for a living. The ones who don’t farm work as porters— they carry bricks that are made in a nearby valley up to the nearest road, more than an hour’s climb up, at a price of 2 Rwandan Francs (less than one cent) per brick. These are the only two options for women in Gitega to earn an income, Jeanette says.
“One of the greatest challenges women living in my village face is poverty,” Jeanette says. “Men can earn more than the women because they are able to find jobs in town, whereas the women have to stay in the village to care for their children and house throughout the day.”
Around the world, 75 percent of people living in poverty depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Many of these people are women just like Jeanette. While rural poverty affects both men and women, research suggests that putting more income in the hands of women leads to improvements in child nutrition, health and education. The economic empowerment of rural women— through increased access to livelihoods training, education, and health and financial services— is key to reducing rural poverty across the globe.
One Acre Fund’s comprehensive 4–part model is designed to help rural women improve their farms’ productivity, increase their incomes, and grow their way out of hunger and poverty. With increased income comes increased purchasing power— farmers are able to invest in livestock and small businesses, pay for their children’s education and health care, and even bring running water to their homes.
Even with programs like One Acre Fund to help them, Jeanette and women like her still must work incredibly hard to ensure their families’ survival. This rural women’s day, Jeanette provides us with a glimpse of what day-to-day life is really like for her and her family.
Jeanette sweeps her compound.
After waking up, Jeanette sweeps her compound to start the morning with a clean home. Her two sons, Jerome, 5, and Isaac, 3, wake slowly after her and make their way out of the bedroom. After sweeping, she helps Isaac dress and feeds both children.
Once the children are dressed and fed, Jeanette locks up the house and together they walk to her field. Today, Jeanette’s farm work involves preparing the soil for planting, which she must do using nothing but her hands and a hoe. Jeanette’s husband, Antoine, works as a brick-maker, so his time to help with farm duties is limited. It will take Jeanette a full week working alone to fully prepare her fields for for planting.
Jeanette prepares sweet potatoes for lunch.
Later on, Jeanette walks over to another part of her farm, where she harvests some sweet potatoes to cook for lunch. Before she begins cooking, she must scrub the pots and utensils from the night before with dirt to clean them, peel and wash the potatoes she harvested, shred cabbage, dice tomatoes—all with a handle-less knife. She then cooks it all on a three-stone fire in her mud hut kitchen. The entire process takes her two hours without a moment’s rest.
“The work I enjoy most is cooking because it means I have food for my family,” Jeanette says. “When I’m done, I see that they are happy and full—it in turn makes me happy too.”
Jeanette with her two sons, Jerome, 5, and Isaac, 3.
Jeanette and her sons sit to enjoy the food she’s cooked, and later her younger sister joins them. Jeanette and her sister were orphaned in 1994 when their parents fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the height of the Rwandan genocide. Their parents fled with three of her five siblings, while Jeanette and her sister were left behind. She says since that day, they have never heard from their family again.
Both Jeanette and her sister used to struggle to feed their children, but since joining One Acre Fund, they both have enough food to feed their families for the entire year.
“Not only does more harvest mean more food,” she explains, “but having enough food at home often means there will be peace between the husband and wife when there might not have been before.”
In the afternoon and evening, Jeanette will attack a seemingly endless list of other chores and activities she plans to do before the sun sets—visit the market, more cooking, more land preparation. Before heading off to market, she smiles and encourages us to visit again. She is eager for us to share more stories of the resilient women in her community.
Jeanette clears brush on her farm.
In remote areas across sub-Saharan Africa, women are responsible for growing the food that will feed their families and communities. Solutions to boost the productivity and incomes of rural women can directly reduce poverty and increase food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions. As the development community works to achieve the sustainable development goals, we must remember that rural women are central figures in the fight to end global hunger.
Inspired by Jeanette's story? Be sure to read One Acre Fund Rwanda Country Director Eric Pohlman's World Food Prize speech about serving the world's smallholder farmers.
Oct 15, 2015
Eric Pohlman was recently announced as the winner of the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation, for his work in developing highly innovative programs that are transforming subsistence agriculture in rural Rwanda.
The award recognizes scientists and researchers under the age of 40 who emulate the innovation and dedication to food security demonstrated by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize Founder Dr. Norman E. Borlaug while working in the field with farmers and producers.
Eric Pohlman (fourth from right) visits a farmer's field in Rwanda.
A native of the United States, Pohlman, 33, currently serves as Rwanda Country Director and Senior Partner at One Acre Fund. In developing his vision to help poor farmers better afford modern agricultural technology, Pohlman was inspired by the great agricultural scientist and World Food Prize Founder Norman Borlaug’s desire to expand the Green Revolution. Pohlman recognized a major barrier preventing its spread to Africa was the lack of access to credit for subsistence farmers. To that end, Pohlman was instrumental in framing the implementation of an innovative farm finance model, which currently serves 100,000 farm families in southwest Rwanda.
Learn more about the excitment surrounding this year's World Food Prize, and continuing reading for the full text of Pohlman's acceptance speech.
Acceptance Speech for the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award
by Eric Pohlman
I am one member of an amazing team at One Acre Fund. Today, a One Acre Fund field officer in Rwanda will walk miles to teach a farmer how to space her maize. Today a bookkeeper in Kenya will diligently data-enter over one thousand farmer-credit payments. Today a logistics officer in Burundi will overcome axle-breaking mud to get to the last mile. I am proud to serve beside three thousand One Acre Fund staff who everyday carry on Dr. Borlaug’s legacy of “taking it to the farmer.” While too numerous to name individually, each member of the One Acre Fund team merits recognition for their daily work and shares in the honor of this award.
Personally, I would like to thank my wife, Margaret, who started this work with me in Rwanda and who is in Burundi right now continuing it. You will hear many of her words in my voice tonight. I would like to thank my mom and my dad for opening a hallway of opportunity for me from which I could choose any door. And my younger brother Dan for letting me chase him down that hallway routinely. I would like to thank Andrew Youn for inviting me on this One Acre adventure. Finally, I would like to thank the World Food Prize and the Rockefeller Foundation for this great honor, and for being a beacon of hope in the fight against hunger.
I believe farmers have the most important job in our communities. Farmers grow the food that we eat, and what we eat determines our health. Farmers grow the surplus that we buy, and what we buy determines the growth of our economy. Farmers decide how to use the land that we steward, and what we steward determines the lifespan of our planet. Farmers are at the center of our health, our economy, and our environment.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the US Declaration of Independence and US Constitution also wrote, "the small landholders are the most precious part of the state,” "the cultivators are the most valuable citizens."
This makes sense. Deep down this makes sense because long before astronauts took the first steps on the moon, farmers took the first steps towards civilization. Farmers define our connection to the earth. Farmers connect man and nature in the most elemental and profound of ways.
From my vantage atop a green hill in Rwanda, I see the importance of farmers everyday. I see the quilt-work they sow: squares of beans, rectangles of maize, ridges of sweet potatoes, rows of coffee and big blocks of bananas.
From my vantage atop a green hill in Rwanda, I see farmers hard at work everyday. I see a country rising. Seed by seed, plant by plant, harvest by harvest. I see a whole country rising.
My neighbors on this hill have seen more change than I, but in the last eight years, I have seen thousands of farmers go from hungry to full. And from full to surplus. I have seen a country that was a net food importer in 2008 become a net food exporter in 2012. From food insecure to food secure. Today, Rwanda is one of the only countries in the world with a positive rate of forestation. A feat only possible when farmers produce more food on less land.
If you visit Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, you will see construction cranes across the city. You will meet young graduates of computer science and engineering. And if you pause to ask these young graduates how they managed to get their degree, many will tell you a story about the family cow or the banana field which paid for their school fees.
The individual acts of smallholder farmers have built the foundation of Rwanda rising.
Looking globally, farmers are at the root of our biggest challenges.
Today agriculture employs 32 percent of the world’s workforce. It employs 70 percent of the world’s poor. Investments in agriculture are 2 times more effective at fighting poverty. Malnutrition and stunting affect eight-hundred million people. Agriculture uses 34 percent of our land, 70 percent of our water, and generates 30 percent of our carbon emissions.
Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian farmer and economist in the late 1800s would look at these statistics and see a big opportunity. Pareto is famous for observing that 80 percent of his peas came from only 20 percent of the pods. Clearly Mendel's improved pea varieties had not yet made it to Italy. The Pareto principle, which is now often used in management curriculum, states:
80 percent of the outcome often comes from only 20 percent of the effort.
This type of thinking focuses us on the 20 percent that is most important. Limited time and resource push us as leaders to think about which lever has the outsized leverage? Which fulcrum has the highest peak?
It is easy to spin around discussing the big problems in the world: hunger, poverty, climate change and brainstorm thousands of solutions. I often find myself blue from debate or dizzy from thinking through so many possible answers. I believe this is why Dr. Borlaug struck such a chord in the global conversation. He ripped through the husk and got right to the kernel. “Take it to the farmer” he said. It’s that simple.
I believe that "taking it to the farmer" is the 20 percent effort that will get us 80 percent of the positive outcomes we want in the world.
Taking it to the farmer means distribution without excuses. It means financing designed for smallholders. It means training in the field.
Taking it to the farmer means getting our shoes muddy as we do everything we can to deliver the best science and the best services to farmers because they have the most important job in our communities - growing our food.
Today a One Acre Fund Farmer in Rwanda will learn how to space her maize. Today a One Acre Fund farmer in Kenya will enroll for her first agricultural credit. Today a One Acre Fund farmer in Burundi will receive a delivery of modern farm inputs. These small individual acts sum to 300,000 households who are now connected through One Acre Fund to the best agriculture research and technology available in East Africa.
From my vantage, atop a green hill in Rwanda, the harvest is looking good.
I give you my heartfelt thanks for the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application by the Rockefeller Foundation and I encourage all of us in the spirit Dr. Borlaug to continue putting farmers first.
Help One Acre Fund market life-changing products to serve even more farmers! Apply for our rural marketing associate role today!
Photos by Evariste Bagambiki.
Goal setting is fresh on everyone’s mind– after all, we're about to enact the Sustainable Development Goals and embark on the post-2015 development agenda. At One Acre Fund, we’ve set a few goals of our own, including reaching 1 million farm families by 2020.
Reaching farmers on that kind of scale requires careful planning and the right marketing strategies. Over the past two years, One Acre Fund Rwanda has paved the way by trialing new marketing methods to help us reach more clients. Founded in 2007 with just 100 farm families, our Rwanda program now serves more than 100,000 smallholder farmers.
We wanted to find out more about how our field team markets products and enrolls new clients. To get the scoop, we followed Agnes Mukahigiro, a field officer from Kirambo, Rwanda.
Agnes has been working for One Acre Fund for 4 years. She's smiling because this year, she was able to recruit 230 smallholder farmers to sign up for our program.
Before the marketing and enrollment process begins, Agnes attends a two-day enrollment boot camp at our headquarters in Rubengera. Training handouts like the one pictured about will help her remember what she learns, successfully market products, and enroll farmers.
After bootcamp, field officers head to their district sites, carrying a transparent bucket that contains samples of the products clients can purchase on credit. This year’s bucket included products such as fertilizer, seed, a crop storage bag, two solar lights, and a water purifier.
Farmers are always curious to know what new products will be on offer each season. Agnes takes her time to show off each product, explaining what each one is, how it works, and how much it will cost.
One Acre Fund’s product catalog helps farmers fully understand their package options.
After meeting with groups of farmers, Agnes makes the occasional home visit to farmers who were not able to attend. She wants to be certain any interested farmer has the opportunity to learn about One Acre Fund’s offerings for the upcoming season.
Finally, after seven weeks of marketing meetings and Q&A sessions with farmers, Agnes starts enrolling farmers. She will ask farmers which products they are interested in purchasing, and then fill out a sign up sheet to mark down their preferences.
One Acre Fund field staff work hard, and are dedicated to putting Farmers First in everything they do. Click here to read the top 10 reasons One Acre Fund field staff love their jobs.
This piece was originally published by Care2. Story by Hailey Tucker, photos by Evariste Bagambiki.
“Water is life,” Rwandan smallholder farmer Immaculée Mukamana says. Stern and determined, the 40-year-old mother of seven is accustomed to setting goals and achieving them. In 2013, she accomplished one of her biggest goals: bringing running water into her family’s home.
It’s worth noting that this is a remarkable achievement. According to Water.org, 82 percent of those who lack access to improved water reside in rural areas. Residents of rural villages in eastern and sub-Saharan Africa— many of whom are farmers just like Immaculée— commonly lack access to more than just water. Improved seed and fertilizer, financing, and information about proven planting and harvest techniques are also out of reach. Because farmers don’t have access to what they need to invest in their farms, farm productivity and incomes remain low, and families regularly experience prolonged periods of hunger and meal-skipping. Under these circumstances, bettering one’s access to water is very difficult.
Though Immaculée has improved her situation dramatically, things used to be very difficult. As a farmer in Nyarusazi, Rwanda, Immaculée relied on her harvest to sustain her family. Yet season after season, she was barely able to produce enough food to feed her family for one to two months.
In 2012, she started farming with One Acre Fund—a social enterprise that supplies smallholder farmers with the financing, tools and training they need to grow their way out of hunger and poverty.
Through One Acre Fund, Immaculée was able to access improved seeds and fertilizer on credit, and trainings on effective agricultural techniques, and post-harvest storage methods.
That year, things started looking up. Immaculée harvested enough maize to last her family until the next harvest season. She was also able to purchase a GreenLight Planet solar lamp. With improved harvests and a new solar lamp, Immaculée no longer needed to purchase food to supplement her harvest, or kerosene for her old oil lamp.
“Before, I would spend a lot of money buying food and kerosene, but now I don’t have to. For the solar lamp, all I have to do is make sure the battery is fully charged, and then I can have light whenever I want,” Immaculée says.
With fewer expenses, another goal for improving the lives of her children was finally within reach for Immaculée.
“I now had light at home from the lamp. I knew the next goal had to be water.”
With her sights set on securing better access to water for her children, Immaculée hatched a new plan. In 2013, she harvested enough maize and beans to feed her family, plus a small surplus.
First, she sold one bag of beans from her harvest at 30,000 Rwandan Francs (approximately $42 USD). Then she sold one bag of maize at 20,000 Rwandan Francs (approximately $28 USD). Immaculée then combined the profits from the sale of her surplus with her existing savings. She bought pipes, tools and other building materials.
Her plan was to begin channeling water to a spigot she would build at her home. In support of her efforts, Immaculée‘s husband Pierre Usabyimana, who works as a guard, contributed the additional money she needed to complete the project. After two months, the piping and spigot were finally installed. They had running water.
Immaculée's animals drink water from her newly installed spigot.
Immaculée felt a huge sense of accomplishment when she achieved her goal of bringing running water to her home. “Water is life. This now means life is at my home. My children are never late to school now, and they never have to spend time going to the water to wash, since water is now close to them,” Immaculée explains.
Immaculée is also happy because her livestock benefit from the water.
“Not only are my children healthy but also my cows! They have better access to water now, and because of it, I am finding they produce more milk,” she says.
Immaculée’s daughter Ongeza holds a star she has made, painted in the colors of the Rwandan flag.
Bringing running water to her home was no mean feat, but Immaculée hasn’t rested on her laurels. She has continued to set new goals to improve her home and her family’s quality of life. Last year, she used her extra income from her harvest surplus to make bricks to build a new kitchen. She also pipes water directly into her new kitchen.
With her younger children now approaching the end of their secondary schooling, Immaculée believes their improved attendance— a result of no longer having to walk miles to collect water each day— will be an important stepping stone to an even bigger goal: attending university. “If they all get the chance to go to university they will improve their skills, learn how to earn money, and be able to thrive,” she explains.
Access to water, like access to improved agriculture inputs and techniques, is about more than just meeting basic needs. It’s about creating opportunities for women like Immaculée to dream big and achieve their goals. It’s no accident that both water and agriculture feature prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals. As we move from development to implementation of these goals, it’s more important than ever that we focus on developing and scaling real-world solutions that will allow those living in rural poverty to access what they need to end hunger and improve their lives.
Jean Marie Victorie Twagirumukiza stands in the middle of his fields, which he planted using the techniques he learned from the Twigire Muhinzi Extension program.
Jean Marie Victorie Twagirumukiza is a 42-year-old farmer in Huye, Rwanda. Like many of his neighbors, his food and income source is solely dependent on the crops he can grow each season.
Before last year, Jean planted beans, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, and maize across his three-and-a-half-acre farm. To plant, he would use the “broadcast” method he had learned as a child. This involved mixing all five crops’ seeds together, sprinkling them across the property, and waiting to see what would happen.
“My entire harvest would last only three months!” Jean exclaims. “Can you imagine how harvests must be for those with less land than me?”
Jean’s harvests would average 400 kilograms of beans, 500 kilograms of maize, 200 kilograms of sorghum, and negligible amounts of his other crops.
“I had decided to leave agriculture behind and try another business,” Jean says. “It was frustrating. My neighbors and I would farm, but the harvest was not enough generate surplus to bring to the market, or even enough to feed our families for the whole year.”
In August 2014, around the same time Jean was considering abandoning agriculture in search of something more profitable, the Rwanda Agricultural Board was launching a new program, in collaboration with One Acre Fund. The program was called Twigire Muhinzi Extension, and the purpose was to help farmers like Jean improve their agriculture practices by offering group trainings at the village level.
Jean learned that Twigire Muhinzi Extension used a "train the trainer" model. Government agents would identify and recruit successful farmers, and train them to teach proven planting and harvesting techniques to groups of farmers in nearby villages. Called “farmer promoters,” these model farmers would be trained on a wide variety of agriculture techniques, including land consolidation, improved planting methods, fertilizer application, crop disease control and harvest storage techniques.
When Twigire Muhinzi Extension was rolled out in his village, Jean was paired with a farmer promoter named Francoise Muraraneza. Francoise taught Jean how to separate and space his seeds while planting, and how to apply fertilizer using micro-dosing techniques.
Jean realized that his poor harvests were a result of ineffective planting techniques. Excited by the prospect of applying what he’d learned and improving his harvests, he decided to give farming one more try.
“I was very interested in the trainings I received from the farmer promoter, so I thought I would give myself three years to trial what I had learned,” Jean says. “I am no longer considering the three years because I have tested and seen how fruitful it was within only one season!”
At harvest time, Jean saw his yield had increased five-fold. For the first time ever, he had grown enough maize to last the entire year, and still had enough surplus left to sell at the market.
Jean, in front of the new drying shed he built on his property.
Jean’s harvest surplus provided him with an opportunity to invest in improving his farm. He used the extra income he earned to build a drying shed on his property to help dry his new large harvests.
“I now know I will never stop growing maize,” Jean says. “My new drying house will help me to dry my harvest thoroughly to maintain good quality, so my harvests can be sold at a high price.”
This year, Jean has planted beans with the techniques he learned from Francoise. He says if his harvest goes as planned, he’d like to invest in growing bananas since they have an even higher profit margin.
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