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The Mindful Bunch

One Acre Fund

When I think of Kenya, the first thing that comes to mind is the book “Out of Africa,” by Karen Blixen, published in 1937, about a Danish baroness who along with her husband established a coffee farm in Kenya in 1914 and continued to live there after their divorce until in 1931, when due to mismanagement, drought and the falling price of coffee she was forced to abandon her farm and return to Denmark. Anyone who has seen the film based on this book will remember the stunningly beautiful views of the Kenyan countryside.

Today farmers in Kenya are faced with a lot of the problems that Karen Blixen had to deal with, but on a vastly different scale. Subsistence farming is the rule in large areas of Africa, and it is worsened by the practice of dividing holdings among the surviving children, so that there is less and less land to support each farmer and his or her family. 75% of the Kenyan workforce is in the agricultural sector, and 43.4% of the population lives below the poverty line.

One Acre Fund has committed itself to helping farmers, and they have a unique way of doing it. (Their company motto is “Farmers First”.) The farmers who want to participate are organized into groups so that the members can support each other. The groups have weekly training sessions on good agricultural practices. At the beginning of the growing season, each member is then given a loan in the form of quality hybrid seeds (not to be confused with genetically modified seeds) and fertilizer and is taught exactly how to plant and fertilize the seeds. At harvest time the farmers are aided in getting their produce to market and attaining the best possible price and also in the best way to store the surplus to get them through what is known as “The Hunger Season.” At this point the loan comes due and is repaid to the lender.

One Acre Fund was founded in 2006 by Andrew Youn, a Yale graduate with an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and his concept has won a number of awards. One Acre Fund began with 38 farm families in western Kenya. In 2013 One Acre Fund served 130,400 farm families and, by the end of 2016, they hope to increase that to 420,000, serving farmers not only in Kenya but also in Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. In recent years solar lights and reusable sanitary pads have been added to what may be bought on credit by the farmers. The solar lights are especially important for the children, who often go to school all day, do chores at home and then also have homework or studying to do. The reusable sanitary pads make it possible for girls to attend school and women to work in the fields without being forced to take time off each month.

Another recent project involves the selling and distributing of grevillea trees to the farmers. These trees were carefully chosen because they are fast growing, they can serve as livestock fodder or firewood, they provide shade and protect against soil erosion, and they improve the soil. OAF is also now hard at work trying to alleviate the blight that is destroying maize crops by diversifying the agricultural products they offer to their clients. They are particularly active in the search for new strains of beans that can be introduced, which would improve the nutrition of the farmers and their children because of the higher protein content.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about this Field Partner should read “The Last Hunger Season – A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change” by Roger Thurow. This book tracks the paths of four Kenyan farm families that decide to change their lives by joining One Acre Fund. To me the outstanding aspects are the dominant role of the women, who have traditionally been in charge of farming, and their devotion to their families and their dedication to the education of their children. They are willing to starve themselves to pay the school fees that are required and to work 14 and more hours a day to get by. OAF offers them the promise of doing better than just getting by.

Another book I highly recommend is “The International Bank of Bob,” by Bob Harris, about his path to discovering Kiva and his research in the field to see whether Kiva was fulfilling its promises. He doesn’t write about One Acre Fund specifically, but the conclusions he comes to concerning Kiva’s methodology and impact are inspiring for anyone connected with Kiva.

Here are the loans from the One Acre Fund on Kiva:

Further reading:

  • Kiva’s Field Partner Page about One Acre Fund: HERE
  • The One Acre Fund website is a gold mine of information: HERE
  • The blog on the OAF website is especially interesting: HERE
  • About the blight of the maize crops and OAF’s role in fighting it: HERE
  • An article by Stephanie Hanson about her work as director for policy and outreach at OAF: HERE
  • An analysis of One Acre Fund by Charity Navigator: HERE
  • The One Acre Fund Page on the website “Focusing Philanthropy”: HERE