One Acre Fund, or 1AF, has developed an innovative system for testing, evaluating, and scaling critical farm technologies and practices to increase the productivity and income of rural smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa.
1AF’s core model consists of lending smallholder farmers a package of farming inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer, worth approximately $80, delivering the package to rural access points, and then providing effective farmer training and market linkages. Within its target countries, the firm also drives significant improvements throughout the entire agriculture ecosystem by utilizing 1AF’s extensive farmer network to prove the business case for commercial businesses to serve smallholder farmers for the first time. In addition, 1AF works through national governments’ extension services to drive countrywide adoption of the group’s farming training. This hybrid pathway to scale in both the public and private sectors, depending upon the country and intervention, is nearly sustainable, covering between 70 and 75 percent of its program costs through earned revenue.
Compared to others in the field, 1AF stands out in the frequency of evaluation and the diversity of impact measurement methods employed, ensuring confidence in their internal monitoring system. Annually, they conduct more than 10,000 harvest measurements in the field, testing new products with increasingly larger groups of farmers as a core element of their model and then using those results to create a feedback loop and serve as checkpoints in determining whether to scale up experimental products further.
GIF’s invested in 1AF to fund key areas of 1AF’s work uniquely aligned to GIF’s mission but are also areas least likely to be supported by most donors. $7.8 million of GIF’s grant funded the testing and scale up of new farming innovations through 1AF’s extensive farmer network across Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malawi. $4.3 million of GIF’s grant funded 1AF’s model innovation team focusing on improving the efficiency of 1AF’s model as it drives toward full sustainability. $1.7 million of GIF’s grant supported ecosystem adoption and improvements through either government partnerships and/or private sector agribusinesses and the final $750,000 funded a randomized control trial, or RCT, in Kenya on 1AF’s maize and bean operations, in addition to strengthening its internal evaluation capabilities.
By end of 2019, 1AF has provided direct services to over one million farmers and indirect services to another 1,376,000 farm families in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, and Zambia. A further 670,000 farmers are estimated to have benefited from learning spill overs. Results from the GIF funded RCT and 1AF’s internal monitoring and evaluation found that 1AF farmers increased their capacity to withstand shocks and stressors and earned on average $96 more per year than comparable farmers. Results also showed that non-participating, neighbouring farmers were learning from 1AF farmers and earned $17 more income.
Social benefits generated by 1AF from 2017 to 2020, the period of GIF’s investment, can be estimated at $174 million in discounted net social benefits and, accounting for the fact other investors also invested in 1AF, we can estimate that $24.5 million in discounted net social benefits was generated by GIF’s investment of $15 million. The 2015 discounted value of GIF’s investment is $11.5 million, which means GIF’s investment in 1AF returned over $2.12 to date in net social benefits per dollar invested.
 The social benefits calculate only include monetary benefits generated by farmers from their crops and trees. It does not include additional benefits such as improvements in household consumption and assets, hunger reduction, and improved resilience.