A US-based charity that pledges to double income for Kenya’s poorest farmers has seen its membership increase almost five-fold since 2009.
One Acre Fund, which was founded in 2006 and relies on donors for funding, now offers support to 55,000 farmers across eleven Kenyan and Rwandan districts, up from 12,000 in 2009. Almost 30,000 of the member farmers live in Kenya. The organisation has likewise expanded from 230 employees in 2009 to 565 today.
Some three-quarters of East Africans are farmers, yet the continent faces repeated food crises and high mortality rates. The organisation’s mission is to position small scale farmers to grow their way out of hunger. The 55,000 member families have 219,000 children between them and are all among the region’s poorest, one-acre subsistence farmers. But those affiliated to the fund grow, on average, 3,000 more meals per year.
The scheme is based on a market system rather than the more temporary food aid solution. Farmers are encouraged to join cooperatives and provided with weekly farm management education by field officers. The fund also provides commercial seeds and fertilisers as well as acting as an agent to enable farmers to obtain true market prices for their produce. With it estimated that only 0.3 per cent of Africa’s poor have any insurance, the fund has also moved to offer crop insurance. Each family costs the fund $80, and farmers then repay the money once they can afford to.
“We are a microcosm of what Kenya’s agriculture sector could achieve with increased public investment,” said Nicholas Daniels, government relations analyst for the fund.
This year the fund distributed grevillea tree seeds to all its Kenyan farmers, which add nutrients to often-depleted soil and at maturity can be sold as construction materials. Similar initiatives are also seeking to introduce more sustainable solutions than food aid, with the Kenya Red Cross Society recently collaborating with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Community Development Fund to provide 5000 families in the Greater Yatta District with 1000 cassava seedlings each.
The fund regularly monitors results to ensure money is being put to the best possible use. This year’s survey of 2,000 clients showed an average gain in profitability of 102 percent per acre. Member return on investment this year stands at 155 percent, up from 146 percent in 2009. At present, 98 percent of farmers are repaying the program fees, covering 80 per cent of the organisations costs, a figure that has grown from 40 percent two years ago.
The Once Acre Fund aims to increase its membership to 150,000 within the next two years. But Daniels has also urged the government to recognise the potential the sector has and follow the fund’s lead in enabling farmers to maximise their income.
The Kenyan government has come under sharp criticism for not helping the country’s farmers enough. Agriculture Assistant Minister Gideon Ndambuki recently announced that the National Cereals and Produce Board was being given Sh950m to buy maize from farmers, to provide the Strategic Grain Reserves with 330,000 bags of maize. But John Mututho, the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, said this was a mere 10 percent of the 3.5m bags of maize consumed by Kenyans in a single month. Molo MP Joseph Kiuna said the government needed to encourage farmers to plant maize by buying the produce at market prices, with middlemen profiting from the inability of farmers to transport their maize to the markets.
Daniels has added his voice to the calls for the Kenyan government to invest in agriculture, which directly contributes 26 per cent of GDP and employs over 40 per cent of the population.
“To increase economic growth, bring Kenya out of food insecurity, and decrease poverty levels, investment in agriculture is necessary,” he said. “Farmers need better roads in rural areas, better markets, access to quality seed and fertiliser, and access to up-to-date agriculture information pertinent to their geographic area.”
Written by Tom Jackson African Laughter
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