2020 was the hardest year many of us can remember. A tiny little virus dealt a massive blow to humanity, our team, and the farmers we serve.
Yet it was also an opportunity to adapt. We were proud to maintain essential services for farmers throughout the pandemic. Despite lockdowns, we delivered 84,000 tons of farm inputs and 2.3 million kilograms of soap. We rapidly scaled new technology and switched 8,000 staff to virtual work.
Most importantly, farmer satisfaction stayed high: more than 1.3 million farmers signed up to work with One Acre Fund in 2021 because they trust us to stand by them in good times and bad.
Now, as Covid settles and we can return our gaze to the future, we want to honor that trust by dreaming even bigger. By 2030, we want to help 10 million farmers become more prosperous, both by serving farmers directly and through partnerships. We also want to deliver more impact — more food and more income — to every family we serve. Our work in 2021 will define One Acre Fund in the coming decade.
Raising our sights higher
Today, One Acre Fund estimates that we generate $80 in profit for each of the farmers we serve. This year, we are setting a new goal to double the impact of our program by 2024. We also continue to put a heavy focus on our program’s ability to drive non-financial metrics such as nutrition, food security, household resilience, and environmental outcomes.
We finance our work with a blend of farmer contributions and investments from donors. Looking ahead, I doubt that our donor funding will double by 2024. Therefore accomplishing our goal requires a deliberate plan that makes each donor dollar go farther.
We always measure our success by our ability to make farmers more prosperous. For every dollar we spend, we aim to put more income in farmers’ pockets. We call this our “social return on investment.” This year, every one of our programs will engage in a strategic process that aims to accelerate improvement in our social return on investment for every donor dollar spent.
If successful, by 2024, we will double our impact per farmer, which will allow us to help support millions of additional hard-working farm families with the productivity factors they need to grow more food, earn more money, and build their resilience.
Investing in our field operations
We’ll continue to improve the execution of our signature services: staple crops on credit with hands-on training. The daily interactions with farmers remain at the heart of our work, led by the field officers who are trusted leaders in their communities and can advise farmers on the best choices for their farm. In 2021, we are emphasizing scaling up tailored agronomic practices that optimize yield for individual farmer conditions.
- Planting timing. Adjusting planting timing can increase farmer yields by 10-15% on average, with more benefits in difficult years. We’re focusing on changing farmer behavior and continually improving our advice for individual farms. This one simple change is perhaps our most important push in 2021.
- Seed choice. Many farmers we serve aren’t growing varieties that are best-suited to the particular conditions of their farm. By switching to an optimal seed variety for their farm, we estimate that we could boost impact by 15%.
- Fertilizer recommendations. Some farmers should use less fertilizer. In Uganda, we realized that farmers could achieve the same yields with half the fertilizer. By buying less fertilizer, farmers could afford more inputs and achieved 70% yield increases, despite Covid and poor rains.
Expanding our services
We’re always looking for ways to improve our customer experience, and Covid accelerated many innovations that are in the pipeline. In 2020, we could no longer gather farmers in groups for training, or rely only on word-of-mouth to sell farmers on our services. We needed to get more flexible, faster and to design new ways of meeting farmers’ needs.
- New point of sale. We are giving farmers new ways to work with us, such as setting up more retail shops in several countries to enable farmers to purchase our products all year round, as well as giving them a platform to order products by phone using USSD.
- New commercial crops. In many countries, staple food prices can be volatile. Farmers can diversify their incomes by growing commercial crops and maize, with options to sell them at good prices. In Kenya and Rwanda, we’re piloting commercial growing options for chickens, avocadoes, macadamia, and chia seed.
- More agroforestry. Trees both build farmer assets and improve the environment. Farmers spend $0.12 per seedling and grow a timber tree worth around $5 in five years, which is a great return on investment. These trees also sequester carbon, and improve the farm environment. We plan to further reduce costs per tree and to plant 250 million trees by 2024 and 1 billion trees over the coming decade.
Grow families to prosperity
Our work and our aspirations for farm families matter because of farmers like Felistus Shimwati. Her story, in many ways, is the story of One Acre Fund.
Felistus started farming with us in Kakamega, Kenya, in 2009. At that time, One Acre Fund operated in just two countries — Kenya and Rwanda — and served just 12,000 farmers. Before joining, Felistus would harvest just four sacks of food from her farm, which would feed her eight children for only three months.
With fertilizer and proper planting techniques, Felistus harvested 14 sacks in her first year with us, taking her first step in her path to prosperity. She added more land to her farm year by year, bought solar lights, some livestock, and paid school fees for all her children. Whenever she is short on cash, she sells milk and eggs, or even a chicken.
Last year, Felistus visited a One Acre Fund shop for the first time and loved the convenience and customer service. She bought vegetables and fertilizer for the short rains and was pleased to pay by phone in two installments.
In 2020, despite the challenges of Covid, she built a new home for herself and two houses for two of her sons. “I’m so delighted that One Acre Fund had given me a place to sleep peacefully. I’m now living my dreams. I have a big house that I have named One Acre Fund,” says Felistus.
As Felistus has grown her way from hunger to living her dreams, One Acre Fund has grown alongside her. We have offered her many new products, new shops and new ways to pay. Our business looks almost nothing like it did in 2009. But our purpose remains constant: doing everything we can to help Felistus and her family — and millions of others like her — prosper.
Executive Director of One Acre Fund