More than half a century ago, the Green Revolution transformed much of the world, doubling or even tripling agricultural output and bringing food security and greater prosperity to millions of families. The unsung heroes of that revolution were agricultural extension (training) agents, traveling by bicycle, motorbike or foot down rural dirt roads, carrying better farming practices and better lives with them. These agents were literally putting Norman Borlaug's famous quote into practice.
Despite the success of the Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America, it bypassed much of sub-Saharan Africa, where many rural farmers continue to use the same agricultural practices their forefathers used a century or more ago. Today, university-educated agricultural extension agents with motorbikes or cars continue to travel down dirt roads doing incredible work, but are massively outnumbered by the rural farmers who need them. In 2006, One Acre Fund founder Andrew Youn saw this mismatch and proposed a different approach. He realized that in order to bring "take it to the farmer" to the very last mile, a dense network of trainers was needed to communicate complex skills and knowledge quickly and efficiently.
For this role, Andrew envisioned the One Acre Fund field officer, a person like Joy Khisa. A farmer herself, Joy has always lived in the area of Kenya she serves. She has no university degree, no white Land Rover, no large salary. But Joy works with 154 families in her community, meeting them once a week all year round, to train them on topics as diverse as new planting methods, the proper use of reusable sanitary pads, financial planning, and how to maintain your solar light. Her impact and the impact of One Acre Fund Kenya’s 900 other field officers is incredible: the average One Acre Fund farmer sees approximately 50 percent more income than a similarly-situated non-One Acre Fund farmer. And Joy isn’t leaving– she will continue to work in her community, meeting the 154 families she works with once a week, every week, for many years to come. This is sustainable impact at scale.
Creating a simple, scalable, efficient training system for field officers like Joy is the responsibility of One Acre Fund’s training department. Our mission is to empower our field officers to become the most impactful change agents they can be in their communities. To achieve that goal, we focus on two areas: the information chain and long-term staff development.
The Information Chain
One Acre Fund Kenya relies on a robust chain of information to transfer knowledge and skills quickly at scale. On Monday, training materials are sent to print. By Tuesday, our nine senior field directors have been trained. By Wednesday, our 28 field directors have been trained. By Friday, our 200 field managers have been trained. By the following Monday, our 900 field officers have been trained. By the following Tuesday, 136,000 families across Kenya are learning new information and skills. In just over a week, One Acre Fund is able to reach thousands and thousands of families with life-changing knowledge.
To support this chain, we use the One Acre Fund Integrated Training System. Our training system combines a comprehensive Training of Writers course for curriculum developers, a three-month Training of Trainers course for our field team, field officer work planning tools that translate classroom concepts into a weekly agenda, and an assessment system that tests both field officer and farmer knowledge of our key concepts. Our training system draws on best practices in adult education and active learning – brainstorming, case studies, role-plays and similar strategies keep our team engaged, thinking critically and ready to solve any unexpected challenge they might encounter in the field.
Our training system doesn’t stop at impactful trainings for farmers, though. One Acre Fund’s field team is not only for farmers, it’s by farmers as well. All nine of the senior field directors at the top of our information chain in Kenya started out as field officers– and many started out as farmer clients!
We use a comprehensive staff development curriculum that integrates the three parts of the ‘10/20/70’ model to build skills rapidly through rigorous classroom exercise (10 percent), one-on-one mentorship (20 percent), and practical, real-world experience (70 percent). Senior field directors may manage over 100 staff, 100,000 US dollars in microfinance loans, and 30,000 clients.
At One Acre Fund, we believe farmers are the key to their own food security, prosperity, and sustainable development.