Helping Africa’s small farmers access credit, improve yields

Two years ago, smallholder farmer Nitunga Simeon and his wife, Bigirimana Hyacinthe, started growing eggplants, onions, cabbage and other vegetables to provide for their family.

Last growing season, with support from the One Acre Fund, the couple from Nyarunazi, Burundi, increased their yields, earning an additional 2,500,000 Burundi francs. They invested the roughly $1,195 in a cow and four pigs to expand their farm.

Another farmer, Rehema Kihalalwa, who grows maize in Tanzania, says One Acre’s training and access to fertilizer helped her increase her yields by more than 400%.

These farmers are among the millions of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa that the One Acre Fund has supported with loans to purchase seeds, fertilizer, and other supplies and services on credit. In Africa, an estimated 33 million small farms produce up to 70% of the food supply, according to International Fund for Agricultural Development.

One Acre’s support for African farmers is enabled in part by financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). As the U.S. government’s development finance institution, DFC is a critical part of U.S. foreign policy and provides financing and insurance to support development around the world.

Family sitting around pots with cabbage (© One Acre Fund)
Bigirimana Hyacinthe and her husband, Nitunga Simeon, of Burundi, began growing vegetables to provide for their family. (© One Acre Fund)

During the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December 2022, DFC announced a loan of up to $20 million for the One Acre Fund to help expand access to agricultural supplies and services to more than 400,000 small farmers who rely on their harvests to feed their families.

“We’re deepening our collaboration with countries across Africa to tackle food insecurity,” President Biden said during the summit in Washington December 15, 2022.

The Biden-Harris administration recently pledged $55 billion in new trade deals and partnerships with the African continent over the next three years to advance shared goals. And last year, the U.S. government provided nearly $1 billion in emergency food assistance to African nations suffering from extreme hunger and malnutrition.

One Acre is one of multiple projects DFC supports to address food insecurity by expanding farmers’ access to better equipment, seeds, fertilizer and training. “Investing in Africa is a top priority for DFC,” DFC chief executive officer Scott Nathan said during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

The DFC loan to One Acre Fund is part of $369 million in new DFC projects announced at the summit that bring the U.S. development finance institution’s total active commitments in Africa to more than $11 billion. DFC committed $620 million to combat rising food insecurity across Africa in 2022 alone.

The One Acre Fund, founded in 2006, works in the nine sub-Saharan African countries that produce 80% of the continent’s food: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The new DFC loan brings U.S. government support for the One Acre Fund to more than $60 million in loans or assistance since 2012.

The group directly served 1.4 million farmers in 2021. And One Acre Senior Finance Director Brian Heese says the new DFC loan will help the nonprofit expand access to fertilizer and other agricultural supplies to more farmers.

By 2030, One Acre aims to serve 10 million farmers. That would represent 10% of the families worldwide living on less than $1 a day.

The initial loan will allow One Acre to help more than 412,000 farmers, including 206,000 women, buy supplies on credit and increase their harvests. As those farmers repay their loans, One Acre will reinvest the funds, extending new loans to additional farmers.

“We estimate that over the life of the DFC loan, it will help us serve 2 million smallholder farmers,” Heese says.

One Acre supports Africa’s rural small farmers in a variety of ways. At planting time, One Acre’s 5,000 field staff set up storefronts where farmers buy seeds, fertilizer and trees on credit to be repaid after harvest. Staff members also train farmers on best practices for soil health, growing crops, and storing and selling their harvest.

Angelo Hafashimana, a maize farmer in Burundi, says One Acre’s training taught him composting and how to better estimate how much fertilizer he needs. “The quantities seemed so little compared to what I was used to buying each season, and I didn’t think I would harvest anything,” he said. “As it turns out, I spent less than I usually did and harvested much more.”