In honor of Howard G. Buffett’s launch of his new book, “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World,” Stephanie Hanson, director of policy and outreach for agriculture nonprofit One Acre Fund, shares how her passion for agriculture led her to take a leap of faith and move halfway across the world.
Four years ago, I moved to rural western Kenya to start working for a young agriculture organization that sought to enable smallholder farmers to grow their way out of poverty. I left an interesting job as a journalist in New York, packed up my spacious apartment in Brooklyn, and said goodbye to my friends and family. My colleagues in New York were perplexed—why would I leave an interesting job writing about sub-Saharan Africa? My family and friends were worried—why would I take a job with a start-up organization that might not exist in a few years in some tiny town in western Kenya?
I left New York for a simple reason: impact. Through my reporting work, I had discovered that the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa were smallholder farmers, living on small pieces of land, struggling to grow enough food to feed their families. And yet the international development community was devoting a limited amount of attention and donor dollars to agriculture. It seemed that addressing the challenges that smallholder farmers faced was one of the most impactful ways to tackle poverty and economic development in Africa. One Acre Fund, the organization I joined, was laser-focused on addressing those challenges.
When I moved to One Acre Fund headquarters in Bungoma, western Kenya, we were operating in Kenya and Rwanda, serving about 8,000 farmers with 200 staff. Today, we operate in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania, serving over 130,000 farmers with over 1,800 staff. Our farmers double their income per planted acre, which means they are reaching household food security, but also producing a surplus. Farmers invest that surplus in additional crops, small livestock, and secondary-school fees.
We’ve been able to grow so rapidly for two reasons: our operating model works, and we have an amazing team implementing it.
How does One Acre Fund operate? We have a four-part model:
Distribution of seed and fertilizer. We distribute improved seed and fertilizer deep into the rural areas where our farmers live.
Financing. We provide those farm inputs on credit, with a loan term tailored to the agriculture season and a flexible repayment model.
Training. Our network of full-time field staff provide agriculture trainings to farmers in the fields where they live and work.
Market facilitation. At harvest, field staff teach farmers about safe post-harvest handling and storage practices, and help link farmers to local traders.
Importantly, farmers pay for all the services they receive from One Acre Fund. 98 percent of farmers repay their loans on time, and a result, we are moving toward financial sustainability in our field operations.
This operating model works because of the commitment and hard work of my colleagues in field operations. It works because of Gaudance Niyompatsi, a senior field director in Rwanda who mentors new field leaders and guides our growth strategy. She started as a field officer in our first district of operations in Rwanda. It works because of Patrick Keya, a field director in Kenya who has grown his district of operations more than tenfold in the last four years, and mentored multiple people who have gone on to lead operations in other districts in Kenya. Gaudance and Patrick exemplify One Acre Fund’s mission of “Farmers First.”
I have spent countless hours in the field with my colleagues, and during each field visit, I am humbled by their passion for serving our clients and their drive to constantly improve. Howard Buffett rightly calls our attention to our 40 chances—the 40 seasons that we have to make a difference in the world. Every day, I have the honor and pleasure of working with a team of people who have dedicated their 40 chances to serving those who will help feed the world: Africa’s smallholder farmers.