The Road to 1 Million Farmers: New Country Expansion at One Acre Fund
There are 50 million African smallholder farm families who are not growing as much food as they should. One Acre Fund is an agriculture organization that began in 2006 with a mission of serving those smallholder farmers. We offer a complete service model—agriculture inputs, training, credit, and distribution—that allows farmers to double their income per planted acre. Today, we serve more than 130,000 farm families in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi. We plan to grow that number to more than 1 million families by 2020.
In order to reach our ambitious scale targets, One Acre Fund must plan carefully for growth. The majority of our growth strategy is focused on our existing countries of operation. However, we also have a careful piloting program that enables us to learn about the environments of new countries and create a foundation for future growth. One Acre Fund operates several pilot programs—small, market-testing programs—at any given point in time. We currently operate pilots in Ghana, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
We use a phased approach to new country expansion that begins with desk research and a scouting trip. During this initial phase, we explore variables such as population density, rainfall, potential for impact, and operating environment.
Population density is an important factor in deciding whether to enter a new country and evaluating its potential customer demand. Population density usually correlates to average land size. If population density is low, average land size is probably large. Large land sizes often result in a low demand for improved seed and fertilizer, since there is less pressure for farmers to grow more food on their existing land; if farmers want more food, they can simply plant on more land, even if they do it using unproductive methods.
One Acre Fund strives to double income on every acre farmers plant with us. To understand our potential to generate impact in a new country, One Acre Fund first must find areas that produce crops that we know we can work with, staple crops with a big market. We then look for data showing fertilizer and improved seed usage. If relatively few families are currently using fertilizer and improved seeds, One Acre Fund has a greater potential for impact. In addition, we look at average yield data and compare what farmers usually yield to typical One Acre Fund farmer yields in comparable areas. When prioritizing new countries, One Acre Fund focuses on those that have the biggest opportunity for impact on income.
Operating environment varies widely by country. Security, subsidies, infrastructure, and corruption are all examples of areas that are important for One Acre Fund to understand before entering a new country. A volatile security environment, for instance, could create too much risk to establish a successful program. For each country we consider, it is important to identify the nuances of the operating environment and evaluate how they will affect the way in which our program operates.
After evaluating the data from our initial phase of research and scouting, we then determine what subset of a country’s population are viable potential clients for One Acre Fund’s program. Typically, we consider countries that have 1 to 2 million serviceable households.
By conducting thorough market research, we are able to carefully deploy our resources to the countries where farmers are most likely to succeed in our program. In the second phase of any expansion work, we conduct crop trials with actual farmers to determine market demand and our ability to operate in that country at scale. This second phase allows us to take a careful, listening approach to serving farmers. Our motto is farmers first, and in any new country, we must listen carefully to farmers to understand their needs and the challenges that they face.
The need for our services in Sub-Saharan Africa is vast, but through this careful system of new country selection we hope to continue to grow and put farmers first not only in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, but throughout the African continent.
This post was written by Michael Hudson, Director of Innovation, Kenya, 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.