One Acre Fund’s headquarters in Rwanda is a six-hour drive from Kigali—pretty much as far as you can get from the capital without crossing a border. We work with about 12,000 farmers in Rwanda. Most of them live in Nyamasheke District, an area in the southwestern part of the country near the shores of Lake Kivu. They are among the most isolated rural farmers in Africa—there is no public transportation that serves them and there is only one shop that sells seed and fertilizer in a 30-mile radius.
The One Acre Fund model—financing, farm inputs, education, and market access—is successful in extremely rural areas like Nyamasheke District because we are able to reach farmers that are currently unserved by the market. We are, in fact, creating new demand for agriculture inputs in the areas where we work.
I recently traveled to Rwanda to visit some of our farmers and field staff. One day I took a motorbike on a series of bumpy dirt roads that hugged the hills surrounding Lake Kivu to a village about thirty minutes from One Acre Fund’s district office. I was meeting one of our star field managers, Speciouse, and one of her field officers, Francine. It was harvest time, and our farmers were busy harvesting their climbing beans.
Speciouse lived in the village and before we walked to meet some of Francine’s farmers, she wanted to show me her house and introduce me to her children. She proudly showed me her fields, planted with maize using the One Acre Fund method (seeds in evenly spaced rows and at a uniform distance within each row), and her house, a well-kept structure with a tin roof. She had only lived there for about a year, she said, and she was still getting used to having electricity and running water. Speciouse used to live in a village at the other end of Nyamasheke District in a home without water and power. When she was promoted to field manager last year she was able to move into a new house. I asked her if she missed her old village.
“Not at all,” she laughed. “Because of my work, I know all the farmers here and I’ve made lots of friends.”
Speciouse and Francine took me to meet many of Francine’s farmer groups, dispensing advice and answering questions from the farmers along the way. Many farmers were excited to tell me how much their harvests had improved after joining One Acre Fund. One young family stood out.
When we walked into Gilbert and Edith’s fields, they were harvesting beans together. I was surprised—women do the majority of agriculture work in Africa, and it’s highly unusual to see a married couple working on the farm collaboratively.
Then I noticed that Gilbert and Edith were also caring for their children together. Nearby, a blanket was spread out on the ground with an infant taking a nap, shaded by a small umbrella. Two toddlers were playing together on the blanket. Periodically, Gilbert or Edith would stop harvesting beans and check up on the children.
While Edith nursed their infant, Gilbert told me that since he had joined One Acre Fund, he had seen an 80 percent increase in his bean harvest. The beans he was harvesting were the product of his second season with One Acre Fund, and he expected that this harvest was going to be even better than the previous one. Two good harvests had him dreaming big.
“I want to buy more land to cultivate,” he told me, “I also wants cows and goats.”
At this point, Francine broke in to remind Gilbert that he still needed to finish repaying his loan.
He promised her that he would pay once he sold some of his bean harvest at our bean buyback program. In this program, we offer our farmers a price that is above market rate and we purchase from a market point close to their farms.
“I know you will pay in full, because I can see how good your harvest is!” Francine joked with Gilbert. They started discussing what other crops Gilbert and Edith might want to plant next season.
One Acre Fund’s field officers cultivate a strong bond with their farmers. They respect the feedback their farmers give them about farming techniques and our program and in turn, our farmers have a deep appreciation for how knowledgeable our field officers are and how hard they work to serve their customers.
Edith told me that before she and Gilbert joined One Acre Fund, they were not growing enough food to feed their three children. Now, not only did they have enough to feed the family, they would be able to afford school fees. Their oldest child would be enrolling in nursery school in the fall.
Gilbert and Edith are part of a new wave of smallholder farmers that have the tools to improve their lives. As they increase their incomes, they are beginning to plan for the future—how to expand their farms, diversify their income streams, and become prosperous. I spend a lot of time in the field talking to these farmers to understand what One Acre Fund is doing right and what we could do even better. We are committed to listening to the aspirations of our farmers so that we can continue to serve them, even as their needs and economic circumstances change.
Stephanie Hanson is the director of policy and outreach at One Acre Fund. From 2006 to 2009, she covered economic and political development in Africa and Latin America for CFR.org, the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2008, she won a News and Documentary Emmy for Crisis Guide: Darfur, an interactive media guide that explores the history and context of the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.