Helping hard-working subsistence farm families gain food security and economic opportunity

Countries Served
Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia


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The Problem

Over half the world’s poorest people are subsistence farmers. Smallholder farming is the primary livelihood for 70% of Africa’s poor, yet most of these farmers do not employ techniques best suited to helping them increase their agricultural output and many have little knowledge or capacity to improve their depleted lands. Virtually none have a path to accumulating modest wealth at a level that would allow them to deal with calamities brought on by weather, blight, health or otherwise, nor have the resources to take advantage of opportunities such as education for their children or diversification of income by starting small businesses.

As a result, most of Africa’s rural smallholders struggle to grow enough to feed their families, finding themselves trapped in a continuous cycle of low yields, hunger, and poverty. In much of rural East Africa, one in ten children dies before the age of five, with most deaths due to malnutrition; 40% of those surviving become physically and/or mentally stunted for lack of a sufficient, diversified diet, unable to reach their full potential.

Programs Offered

One Acre Fund supplies financing and training to help smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and build lasting pathways to prosperity. Treated as customers, farmers receive high-quality seed, environmentally appropriate fertilizer, crop insurance, funeral insurance, ongoing farming advice, and go-to-market assistance.

The direct cost of these goods and services are treated as a loan, with farmers expected to repay the “advance” from a portion of the profits generated by selling their new/heightened crop surplus into the market–profits that make possible the family’s investment in food security and diversity, children’s education, health care, and supplemental income-generating initiatives. A high rate of loan repayment enables One Acre Fund to grow substantially without a perpetual dependence on philanthropic support as the exclusive source of funding. Investments in locally-relevant agricultural research, monitoring and evaluation, relations with relevant government ministries and development of additional service lines remain largely funded by donations.

Beyond food security, farm families need assets to protect against unexpected costs and allow for investments in their futures. One Acre Fund has found tree-planting to be the most effective asset-accumulation vehicle for rural households. Tree-planting provides a “savings plan” for participating farmers,

as well as benefiting the environment by refreshing depleted soil, protecting against erosion, and sequestering carbon.

By planting locally appropriate species for timber, within 7-10 years, trees have grown to be quite valuable in a continent that is a net importer of lumber. Other species are planted because of their soil improving attributes. Fruit and nut trees are included as a way to diversify income with produce that is less susceptible to weather variations and blight than annual crops.

By 2024, One Acre Fund’s goal is to plant 270 million trees, engaging 3.7 million farmers in nine countries. Focusing Philanthropy is partnering in this effort through one of its Bold Initiatives.

Historical Results

Started in 2006 serving 38 farm families in western Kenya, by 2022, One Acre Fund was serving over 3 million farm families across nine sub-Saharan African countries–with more than 15 million farm family members now permanently out of starvation poverty. And these farmers will produce enough surplus food to feed several million more of their neighbors.

One Acre Fund maintains impressive results across its key performance metrics:

  • 3x harvest yield per acre vs. prior performance
  • 45% increase in farm income after payment of program costs
  • 92% cash repayment rate of loans of seed & fertilizer
  • $80 per farm field cost
  • 73% field sustainability
  • 70% self sustainability, with a goal of achieving financial break-even on field costs (but not overheads and investments in future growth)
  • $3.60 of extra farmer income produced for each $1 donated

With respect to tree planting, One Acre Fund has achieved the following impact since 2011:

  • 100 million+ trees planted by over 1.7 million farmers from 2011-2021, with the goal of planting 1 billion trees by 2034
  • Over 1600 decentralized nurseries expected to produce over 45 million seedlings in 2022
  • $10 of farmer impact (asset value) for every $1 donated to One Acre Fund’s agroforestry program
  • 3-5 tree species offered to farmers in most markets at significant scale, each tailored to the unique ecological conditions in each of the nine countries served
  • Over 11 million metric tons of carbon sequestered by trees planted (over 2 million metric tons permanently sequestered)

Path to Credibility

  • Recipient of a Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship
  • Recipient of a Mulago Foundation grant
  • Included in the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation venture philanthropy portfolio
  • Awarded the Sustainable Finance Award by the Financial Times in 2011, the only organization other than a bank to receive this award
  • 2020 Audacious Project awardee
  • Included in the Forbes Magazine “Impact 30” top social entrepreneurial organizations in the world
  • 2022 Co-Impact award winner
  • The Focusing Philanthropy team has conducted eight in-country due diligence field visits in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Uganda.
⟶ Read the latest trip report (Ethiopia)⟶ Read the latest trip report (Nigeria)
  • Focusing Philanthropy and One Acre Fund completed two successful multi-year matching campaigns between 2012 and 2019.
⟶ Read the latest campaign report⟶ Visit the current multi-year Bold Initiative page

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