Wallace Mgoqi
Wallace Mgoqi

The year of a million farmers: One Acre Fund 2020

By Wallace Mgoqi Time of article published Feb 11, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - In 2006, Andrew Youn, a young Master’s student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, visited Kenya and saw African farmers starving - an oxymoron.

Farmers starving?

He realised they lacked training in agricultural knowledge and skills (resulting in poor harvests), a lack of transport to carry inputs and market facilitation for produce at harvest time.

He returned to the US and set up a revolving loan fund to help farmers from seed selection of what to plant, training in agricultural techniques, the full spectrum.

Within no time farmers joined One Acre Fund in Kenya, which in subsequent years spread to neighbouring countries Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia.

In 10 years, the programme saw more than 600000 farmers participating in the revolving fund, where farmers made loans at the beginning of the planting season and repayments after harvest time.

Founder Youn envisioned 1million farmers on their books by 2020, who were knowledgeable and farming productively, profitably and sustainably. By 2018, the fund’s annual report records that it reached 800000 farmers, with their service motto, Farmers First.

In the fund’s annual reports, personal testimonies of women and men facing poverty detailed their good change in fortunes after joining One Acre Fund. The fund extrapolated that if it could reach its 1million target it would uplift 5million people, as one farmer on average fed five members of the family.

Over time, the fund refined its approach to a simple formula:

(a) Training in acquiring knowledge in agricultural techniques.

(b) Transport and distribution of agricultural inputs.

(c) Financing of seeds and fertilisers.

(d) Market facilitation to maximise harvest profits.

The fund also helped farmers with technology. It brought solar energy and water where these did not exist or could not be accessed.

It is also targeted smart and precision agriculture.

However, the jury is still out about whether the fund will reach its one million goal this year but it will definitely be reached next year.

Today the One Acre Fund is the darling of the donor community, everyone wants to be associated with their success, such as the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, among others.

South Africa can also uplift communities through land.

Section 153 of the Constitution obliges municipalities to “structure and manage administration and budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of the community, and the social and economic development of the community”

Municipalities should take this seriously and each promote one flagship project - using land productively, profitably and sustainably - with tools such as the Integrated Development Plan and Local Economic Development.

If municipalities have no idea of how land can be used productively, profitably and sustainably, securing it by expropriation may be futile.

A closer co-operation between government departments and local government is indispensable with Treasury providing finances to develop business plans. The Department of Trade and Industry, the Land Bank and National Empowerment Fund also need to come to the party, not excluding the private sector and its expertise in formulating and driving businesses.

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the non-executive chairperson of AYO Technology Solutions and former acting judge of the Land Claims Court. He writes in his personal capacity.


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