Its methods: One Acre Fund offers farmers a comprehensive bundle of services that helps them from planting to harvest to market. One Acre Fund provides seed and fertilizer, extends credit, conducts training on farm techniques, offers post-harvest and market support, and furnishes crop insurance. “This bundling is unique,” says Matthew Forti, the organization’s managing director. “Usually an NGO will come in and help with one small part of the process, but farmers need all the elements to be successful.”
Once in the program, farmers tend to stay for the continual education and access to seed and fertilizer. “Farmers grow with us. A farmer who has been with us for a few seasons starts to lease additional land from neighbors and purchase other innovative products that can help them be even more productive,” says Forti.
Despite its NGO status, One Acre Fund operates like a business. “Farmers repay the fund for its services at the end of every season, which covers 70 to 80 percent of our field costs. Philanthropy covers the gap. Over the years, our model has become even more efficient, and that gap has narrowed,” says Forti. “When we first started, the difference was $100 per farmer. Now it’s closer to $25, making our donors’ gifts go further.”
This business-like approach has enabled One Acre Fund to scale quickly. “Our emphasis on measurement keeps the organization transparent and helps us focus on getting results. We also treat our farmers like customers, further motivating us to achieve good outcomes for them,” says Forti.
Its impact: One Acre Fund can help farmers in Africa double their profits. “Our goal is to end chronic hunger in these areas, enable farmers to both feed their family and have enough surplus crops to sell for money they can then use for school, clothing, shelter, and more,” says Forti. Indeed, 33 percent of participants spend their surplus on school fees, 31 percent invest in new business and farm activities, 24 percent pay for medical expenses and improved housing, and 12 percent buy more and better food. “When the burden of hunger is lifted, people become able to think bigger and move forward,” says Forti.
How the Satter Foundation has helped: The foundation offered support to the organization when it was still in start-up mode. “Despite it being risky capital, the foundation provided $30,000 to cover the outstanding costs for women’s groups, who are the majority of our customers,” says Forti. “It has given us $30,000 each year for the last six years. And though the amount hasn’t changed, because we’ve honed our model, the funds go further.”
Forti points to three characteristics that make the foundation’s approach effective. “First, the funding has been unrestricted, which is really helpful. Secondly, it’s trust-based funding—the foundation doesn’t ask us to spend time creating separate reports just for it. Finally, the foundation has provided consistent support. Being able to count on a donor is invaluable.” Since 2007, the Satter Foundation’s support has reached approximately 43,440 people, including 7,240 female farmers who participated in One Acre Fund’s program.
What’s next for One Acre Fund: The organization aims to reach one million families by 2020. “We have proven the program works, and we are now trying to scale direct programs as quickly as we can by expanding into new countries and regions,” says Forti. One Acre Fund is also entering into policy work by trying to get the US Congress and others to invest in small farmers (rather than in temporary fixes like dropping food aid), partnering with microfinance and financial institutions to help them enter rural areas, and advising African governments on how to better support farmers.