Joseph Wanyonyi, a village elder in western Kenya, sees his home as a transformed place.
Joseph’s village, Marakalu, is a cluster of 60 households and a few small churches and shops, divided in half by a dusty highway that leads to the market town of Mayanja, a local commercial center a few miles away. Marakalu is small, but there are plenty of people about—farmers hauling newly cut sugar cane, children on a holiday from school playing in the grass, and neighbors sharing a lunch of ugali, a traditional maize-flour dish, while their harvest of beans dries on a tarp nearby in the sun.
Joseph, 46, is a prominent figure in Marakalu—he's been village elder for over a decade, which means he’s in charge of organizing community events, and frequently attends meetings and gives speeches on everything from crime prevention to water sanitation. Like most citizens of Marakalu, he’s also a farmer. He enrolled with One Acre Fund in 2011, and he uses his position as community leader to encourage others to join. He credits the organization for the transformation he’s seen in the village—his neighbors are no longer hungry anymore.
“There is enough food in the community now because of One Acre Fund,” Joseph said, escaping from the midday heat to the comfort of his sitting room, where a few sacks of maize left over from his last harvest rest in the shade against a wall. “People now have surplus food, enough to sell in the market. They can send their kids to school, and start businesses in the community. Some people have even opened shops.”
The changes in Marakalu are echoed in Joseph’s own life. After his first season with One Acre Fund, the maize harvest on his one-acre farm tripled from the year before. He has more than enough grain now to feed his wife and eight children. He’s used his additional income to buy two bulls—work animals that are used to plough the land—and to install a new roof on his house. This year, he’s saving up money to purchase an additional half acre of land.
Lighting Up the Night
Marakalu has changed in other ways too, Joseph said. There’s more light in the village than there used to be because of the solar lamps supplied by One Acre Fund. Besides providing enough illumination for children to study at night, the solar lights have also eliminated the need for kerosene, which means the air is free from smoke, and people have fewer health problems.
“I can’t remember the last time my children coughed,” Joseph said.
Jenipher Wasike, a 38-year-old farmer who lives a few miles down the road, has purchased three solar lamps since she joined One Acre Fund in 2008. Most of her neighbors have them too, which has transformed how their village looks at night. “If you ask anyone here where to buy kerosene, they don’t know anymore,” said Jenipher, laughing at the thought. “There is a lot of light at night now. Everyone is walking around outside with their solar lamps. Before, it was always dark, and a little bit scary to be outside.”
Jenipher, like Joseph, has seen big changes in her life. She used to struggle to provide food for her family, but now she has enough money to feed her five children, who range in age from 8 months to 18 years, and to pay their school fees. Her children are more active and are doing better in school than they used to because they have enough to eat.
“People join One Acre Fund because of what they see,” Jenipher said. “Our children are happier and healthier than before.”
Jenipher is also a business owner in the village. She spent some of the extra income from her harvests to buy a sewing machine, which she uses to make clothes and decorative items for her neighbors. The tables and chairs in the sitting room of her home are covered in her handiwork: light blue cloths that are embroidered with pink, green, orange, and yellow flowers. Talking about her sewing business makes her smile. She’s expecting an influx of orders for Christmas this year, and her sewing machine, by the window in the corner, is already piled high with material.
There are some signs that the improving livelihoods of Marakalu’s farmers are starting to affect the vitality of the broader area. The market in nearby Mayanja has seen an increase in the number of vendors in recent years, as farmers from Marakalu and other surrounding communities travel there twice a week to sell their crops, said Andrew Musamia, another neighbor who lives close by. Before One Acre Fund arrived in the area, there was less business being done because most people only had enough food to feed themselves.
“As a community, people have enough to eat, and there is surplus food to sell in the markets,” Andrew said. “More people are selling maize as a business.”
Going to School
The future looks bright, Andrew said, with more kids in the area attending school because their parents now have enough money to pay their attendance fees. He hopes his seven children will go to college or university, something that would have been impossible before One Acre Fund arrived. After he enrolled in 2009, his maize harvest quadrupled, unlocking a whole new level of potential for his children’s lives. Now, they talk about becoming doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers. His 15-year-old daughter, Lucy, is ranked at the top of her secondary school class.
“Growing up, we never had the luxury of dreaming. My parents were very poor, and they did not have the money to educate us,” Andrew said. “What was the need to dream when there was nowhere to go? Our children are lucky. They can dream about anything. Because we are with One Acre Fund, we can afford to pay for school fees with our harvests.”
Happy Homes, Healthy Land
Many people in the community have made home improvements, including Elphas Simiyu, another neighbor and local farmer. The 40-year-old father of five, who farms with his wife Mary Nafula, used to live in a single-room, mud-brick house with a thatched grass roof. The couple struggled to feed themselves and their two oldest children, often skipping meals and borrowing money to survive.
After Elphas joined One Acre Fund in late 2007, his harvests rose from six bags of maize per season to 10 bags on half an acre of land. Elphas credits the increase in yields to the training techniques he learned: planting crops in rows and properly spacing seeds with microdoses of fertilizer.
Elphas was able to save enough money from his harvests in the past few years to build his family a bigger home, complete with a metal roof. As his children get older, he’s spending more money on school fees. He wants to see them finish their education, and he wants to extend the house further as they grow.
Even the land around them looks different, Elphas said. Since most of his neighbors are also farming with One Acre Fund, the surrounding area is greener than before, with tall stalks of maize growing all around in a uniform height. Joseph, the village elder, said the difference since One Acre Fund arrived is visible in the soil—it used to be light and sandy, but now it’s darker, heavier, and healthier-looking.
There are other, less tangible differences, too. People seem to generally get along better than they used to, Elphas said.
“Before One Acre Fund came into this area, you could visibly see people were not happy,” Elphas said. “When there was no food, there would be conflicts sometimes in houses. Now we can save, and we are happy. Families have changed.”