Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Innovations for Impact: Research and Development at One Acre Fund

One Acre Fund is committed to creating lasting impact for our farmers by increasing income and ensuring food security. But we also recognize our unparalleled opportunity to deliver new products and services to underserved rural smallholder farmers, dramatically enhancing their quality of life. In the past few years, One Acre Fund has trialed a number of new products, including coffee, bananas, and solar lights.

One Acre Fund has a team devoted to researching and developing these life-changing innovations. The innovations department is responsible for finding new processes, products, and services to create impact for our farmers, thoroughly testing these new innovations to prove their impact, and implementing new interventions at scale.

Each team member operates like an entrepreneur, designing, implementing, analyzing, and evaluating an intervention. If an innovation proves successful, the innovations team then works with the field operations team to create a strategy to roll it out to all farmers in the program.

The innovations process at One Acre Fund always begins with four questions:

  • What products or services do our farmers request?
  • What new product, service or process could improve the lives of our farmers?
  • What will allow our farmers to better utilize their income?
  • What will improve our operations or make them more efficient to better serve our farmers?

Next, team members brainstorm new ideas that answer these four questions. The ideas can be an entirely new product or service, or an improvement upon an existing process. During these sessions, we collaborate as a group so the team can build off one other’s suggestions.

The next step is to assign the project to one team member to begin research on the potential intervention. The research helps the team determine if the innovation is viable enough to create a trial program. Research questions include:

  • What is the potential impact based on research – income, food security, health, quality of life, or better service?
  • What is the availability of the product?
  • What is the cost of the product?
  • What is the demand from our clients for the new product and is there a potential market for the final product?
  • Are there potential partners doing a similar intervention to learn from or collaborate with on a trial?
  • Will our farmers accept and adopt the product or service?

Farmers were taught how to use specially-designed caps to properly apply fertilizer to millet.Once we’ve answered the research questions and determined that we should move forward with a trial, we design a small-scale pilot. If it is a new agricultural product, we typically test a number of interventions in our nursery to find the best one, or if it is a simple product or service we roll it out with a small number of farmers.

During the small trial, One Acre Fund collects and analyzes in-depth data on the product. We want to make sure that the impact is not only theoretical, but tangible for our farmers.

If the intervention shows promise and proves impactful we then take trials to the next stage: testing larger-scale farmer adoption and delivering the product at scale. This phase in the trial process is necessary to refine supply chain logistics and ensure that the product is viable at scale.

Even if a trial makes it to scale, the innovation must meet final analysis criteria:

  • Does it meet the original objectives?
  • Does it offer sufficient impact for our farmers?
  • Is the program replicable and easy to maintain at scale?

If a trial meets these final criteria, it is ready for full roll out. The innovations team then works with the field operations team to move it from a trial to a full program offered to all of our farmers.

One Acre Fund strives to offer quality products and services to our clients that make a meaningful impact on their lives. By continually improving our program and services through research and development, we ensure that new, high-quality innovations reach our farmers.

This post was written by Jennie Taylor, Program Manager at One Acre Fund. One Acre Fund is an agriculture organization that helps East African farmers to grow their own way out of hunger. Learn more at oneacrefund.org.