Putting farmers first during the COVID-19 pandemic
One Acre Fund is a non-profit social enterprise working to help smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger. This incredible organisation is proudly supported by Virgin Unite and was one of the seven Big Ideas chosen for last year’s Audacious Project.
In this uncertain time, food security is more essential than ever and the One Acre Fund team have rapidly reinvented their services to keep farmers as safe and well-supported as possible.
Good health relies on good harvests and with one million farmers relying on the fund, its mission has never been clearer: help farmers grow enough food to feed their families and feed their communities.
One Acre Fund has reimagined its operations in ways that incorporate government guidance on meeting size, hand washing, and social distancing. Teams across Kenya and Rwanda have adopted new delivery, education, and customer service operations – all while maintaining new government protocols, allowing them to remain operational and with advanced health protocols in place.
One Acre Fund’s success lies in its model working at scale and this has historically involved every program reaching multiple farmers, through each field officer’s interactions.
“Previously, our 4,800 field officers served more than one million farmers through weekly meetings, in which roughly 40 or so farmers would congregate and could order farm supplies, participate in weekly farming trainings, and give cash to the field officers to repay their loans,” said Andrew Youn, CEO of One Acre Fund.
In many of the countries where One Acre Fund work, safety precautions meant that group and cluster meetings were no longer allowed - the team quickly turned to technology to keep agriculture open for business.
Tech advances have enabled One Acre Fund to develop new methods of delivering its training and services. The recent and explosive growth in mobile phone ownership and connectivity throughout East Africa also allowed the IT teams to rework how they access and support their farmers.
“I first heard of COVID-19 on radio on 19 March. I had no idea what it was, or what to do,” says Edouard Kanani, a One Acre Fund farmer from Rwanda. “But three days after the government announced measures to curb spread of the disease, a field officer came calling. He had come to give me health training on the virus. He taught me to wear a mask when interacting with people, to wash my hands with soap as often as possible, and to physically distance. We don’t have masks available in our local market yet, but I know to avoid gatherings, to respect and maintain physical distance, and wash my hands.”
Another key issue to consider has been delivering a health response. In many of the countries One Acre Fund serve, less than 15% of homes have basic hand-washing facilities. This was the first hurdle many communities faced as governments issued guidelines on handwashing and health practices.
While agriculture was designated an ‘essential service’ in all the countries One Acre Fund serve, for farmers to work unhindered, they needed to incorporate government and World Health Organisation guidelines on COVID-19 prevention into their operations.
One Acre Fund’s delivery expertise, trusted community ties, and profound commitment to putting ‘Farmers First’ meant they were able to support community networks and ensure food growth during the pandemic. The team distributed free soap, health training and masks to one million farmers.
The One Acre Fund team will continue to put farmers first during the pandemic and reinvent and refine their services in the face of COVID-19.