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Upendo Malata, Tanzania One Acre Fund

Responding to COVID-19: An Open Letter from our Executive Director

A letter from Andrew Youn, One Acre Fund's Co-Founder and Executive Director

To the One Acre Fund community:

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on so many of us. It has shifted our daily lives in ways that were unimaginable just a few months ago. It has also made our mission clearer than ever. Our global challenge is not just health, but hunger. We must help farmers keep producing food for their families and communities.

At this critical time, One Acre Fund is prouder than ever to serve farmers. We are fiercely committed to keeping our promises to farmers. In the early weeks of COVID-19, we moved rapidly to adjust our operations and to continue serving farmers safely.

Now we must plan for the future. This global crisis will not be over next week or next month. We expect the long-term effect on our business to be profound, and we must take decisive steps now to keep the organization financially healthy. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure the long-term financial stability of One Acre Fund and to ensure that we are always here for farmers.

I am truly sorry to share that, to stay financially healthy, we must reduce the size of our workforce by around 7% globally. Unfortunately, this means that many highly valued staff may be affected. I can’t make this less painful, but I can share openly how we arrived here and what happens next.

Securing One Acre Fund's Financial Health

COVID-19 presents significant pressures on One Acre Fund revenues. We fund our operations with a mix of farmer purchases and global donations. Farmers purchase agricultural products on credit and repay over the full growing season, which covers a portion of our costs. Annual investment from donors and aid agencies covers the rest. This gives farmers a strong say in our services, while also keeping our prices affordable.

For the last 14 years, this model has worked well. Since we don’t make a profit, we invest all revenue into improving our services or reaching more farmers. This has helped us grow from serving 40 farmers in 2006 to 1 million farmers in 2020.

But as COVID-19 sweeps the globe, it’s upending our revenue from both ends. At home, as economic growth slows in our countries of operation, we expect that many farmers will have less to spend on our services in the coming seasons. There’s also a real risk that global development funding may fall for years to come.

Like most organizations in the world today, we must be conservative and plan for reduced revenue, at least through 2022. This will require making hard choices with imperfect information. To guide us, we ground all our decisions in a simple question: What is best for the 1 million farm families we serve?

What this Means for Farmers

In the short term, we will focus on adapting to COVID-19 and maintaining essential services for 1 million farmers. We’ll continue to do everything possible to help farmers stay safe and food secure. We have delivered 2.3 million kilograms of free soap in six countries, funded in large part by a special donation. Our 4,800 field officers are training farmers to protect themselves against COVID-19, build hand-washing stations, and make simple masks. In many countries, we’re partnering with Ministries of Health and Agriculture to run public health radio campaigns, reaching roughly 4.5 million rural households.

In the longer term, we will run as efficiently as possible and accelerate innovation. We will continue to offer our signature services: farm inputs on credit with frequent training. But we’ll also move rapidly to lower our costs and give farmers more choice. We’re ramping up technology that lets farmers order products and access training from their phones. We may scale popular commercial crops faster, like trees. We’ll look to expand partnerships that benefit all farmers in a region, like our seed production partnership in Rwanda.

While our work will change, our goal remains the same: We measure success in our ability to make more farmers more prosperous.

What this Means for our Team

Given the financial pressures we face, we have no choice but to reduce the size of our workforce. Most of our controllable costs are from people, and we cannot find significant savings without reducing roles. Out of 8,300 employees in 10 countries, we are considering around 550 roles, roughly 7% of our team, for redundancy. We’ll feel this most acutely in Kenya, the country that is home to our largest number of staff.

We’ve done everything possible to cut costs in a way that preserves as many jobs as possible.

  1. First, we cut all possible non-staff costs from every corner of the organization.
  2. Next, we instituted salary freezes for senior level roles.
  3. Finally, as a last resort, we used consistent principles to identify potential redundant roles.

We’ve paused hiring for more than 100 open office-based roles, only posting critical vacancies. We’ve also paused raises and bonuses for our full 320-person management team.

From there, we identified potential redundant roles based on the future needs of the work, taking care to ensure that redundancies would be equitable across all levels of the organization. As we move forward, we will prioritize fairness, transparency, and generous severance and support for affected staff. Following laws in each country, we have begun notifying and consulting with affected staff this week.

We deeply value our team members, and this is in no way a reflection of their performance. We are grateful for their contributions and will provide the strongest possible support for their transition, showing the same compassion for our colleagues as we would want for our own families.

In Closing

Times like these have a way of clarifying what matters most. Despite the challenges we face, despite the losses that we will feel deeply as a One Acre Fund community, we will continue to rally together and put Farmers First.

We envision a world where all farmers have big harvests, healthy families, and rich soil. This is not the work of one year, but of consistent execution and innovation, year after year after year. We have an important responsibility to more than 1 million families, and we care deeply about their success over generations.

In farming, there are always some lean years mixed in with the good ones. But we have stood by farmers for 14 years, and we will continue standing alongside them – now and in the decades to come.

Farmers First,
Andrew Youn
Co-Founder and Executive Director of One Acre Fund

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