Chicago-Born One Acre Fund is Connecting Communities Around the World to End Hunger

Chicago's One Acre Fund is Connecting Communities Around the World to End Hunger

When Andrew Youn, co-founder and executive director of One Acre Fund, was a student at the Kellogg School of Management in 2005, he traveled for the first time to Kenya. There he met two farm families facing very different realities. One farmer was yielding two tons of grain per acre, and her family was thriving. The second farmer was unable to grow enough food to feed her family, and had recently lost a child to malnutrition.

Determined to understand the reason for this disparity, he found the answer to be incredibly simple: one farmer had access to seed, fertilizer, and farm training; the other did not.

Andrew returned to Chicago and drafted a business plan to address this problem. He sought advice from Kellogg faculty and advisors, and recruited fellow students to help. In 2006, with the support of more than 100 members of the Kellogg community, One Acre Fund launched a small pilot in Kenya, enrolling 38 families.

One of those farmers was Theresa Wanyama. A decade before, Theresa’s husband died, leaving her with a few small plots of land near their home in Western Kenya and eight young children to care for all by herself. Theresa had only completed the first year of high school, and farming was the only trade she knew. After struggling for 10 years to harvest enough crops from her land, Theresa felt that she had failed. Her older children had dropped out of school and couldn’t find work. She saw their futures starting to repeat her own.

“I knew I wanted my children to have more than that,” Theresa says. “I wanted my children to be the types of people who didn’t have to worry about basic needs for their children.”

By signing up with One Acre Fund, Theresa learned how to space her seeds and properly microdose fertilizer, more than tripling her maize production on one-fourth of her land. “I was shocked! One Acre Fund has been able to eliminate hunger in my family. I’ve never been without food since.”

One Acre Fund: Theresa Wanyama holding photos of her children
One Acre Fund farmer Theresa Wanyama holding photos of her children

Today, One Acre Fund has grown to serve more than 500,000 farm families in six East African countries and has become Africa’s largest distribution network dedicated to smallholder farmers. They are on track to achieve their goal of serving more than 1 million farm families by 2020.

To celebrate this progress, on Dec. 6, 2017, One Acre Fund will host its 11th Annual Gala at Revel Fulton Market in Chicago to celebrate the transformative impact that the Chicago community’s support has helped make possible over the years. This year, One Acre Fund will honor the Kellogg Community with the Farmer’s Humanitarian Award. Since 2006, the Kellogg Community has served as a critical catalyst to the launch and growth of One Acre Fund, making invaluable contributions in the realms of capital, strategy and talent that are helping shape One Acre Fund as a powerful force for change in the farm productivity of an entire continent. Dean Sally Blount — who has fostered and deepened this relationship throughout her tenure — will accept the award on behalf of the Kellogg Community.

The funds raised from One Acre Fund’s gala are deployed across East Africa, ensuring that farmers like Theresa never again have to choose between a decent meal and a decent education for their family. In 2016, the $2 million raised through the event was enough to provide One Acre Fund’s complete service bundle to 80,000 farm families for an entire year.

For the past 11 years, Theresa has enrolled again and again with One Acre Fund and steadily altered the course of her children’s lives. This year, Theresa is paying tuition for three of her children to attend technical colleges, two for teaching and one for agriculture, and for a fourth child to attend university.

“I am proud that my children have reached a higher level of education because I worked very hard for them,” Theresa says. “It’s because of my success in farming that they’ve been able to achieve this. I believe that people who are well educated have a sense of direction in this world. They are able to see things outside of our village life, and it opens up their minds.”

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One Acre Fund By the Numbers:

  • $25 is enough to cover the field-related costs to end hunger for one family in our program for an entire year.
  • $100 can enable four farm families to increase their yields by an average of 50 percent in just one year with One Acre Fund, ending an annual hunger season for many.
  • $500 is enough to plant 1,000 trees, providing long-term income and climate change mitigation for the families we serve.
  • $1,000 can provide solar lights to more than 50 families, increasing study hours for children.