Measuring and Scaling the Social Impact to Enhance Farmers’ Lives Wholly
Impact is the driving force that pushes One Acre Fund’s mission forward. In order to assess it and build upon it, the non-profit organisation directs a great deal of attention and resources to conducting very rigorous research among their 1.5 million participating farmers on the dollar profit generated across eight countries, as they’re committed to providing farmers a strong return on their financial investment. Through the data collected over the years, the non-profit is now able to claim that, for instance, in Kenya, such farmers have an increase in their maize profit by $93.4 compared to non-participating farmers; a 31.8% increase in maize profit.
As the organisation continues evolving, so does their understanding of impact. Thus, their efforts have proved effective in helping farmers go beyond yield and income increase, to generate a truly holistic impact that thoroughly enhances farming families’ living conditions in varied aspects such as health, nutrition, education, well-being, among others. Through dedicated studies on quality of life, One Acre Fund demonstrates to donor funding organisations the effectiveness of their impact methodology, which, consequently, lets them allocate more resources to scale further the impact, keeping in sight reaching 10 million farmers by 2030.
With this in mind, the One Acre Fund’s Kenya programme took a step forward and put PaygOps flexible IT solutions at the centre of their operational strategy, materialising a new operating model that is streamlining more products and more financial services, reaching more farmers across broader geographic areas and, ultimately, helping teams become more efficient in carrying out their mission and scaling the social impact.
In the following lines, we’ll be further exploring the different angles of the impact that One Acre Fund is generating on farming families’ lives and how the flexibility of PaygOps is helping the Kenya programme broaden the above mentioned holistic impact to help more and more smallholder farmers get access to life-changing products and financial services along their pathways to prosperity.
Measuring the Impact
The social enterprise is pretty specific and straightforward when it comes to measuring the overall impact. Basically, they collect harvest cuts in order to measure how much the One Acre Fund farmers have grown versus non-participating farmers, which helps them understand the impact of the programme and make sure that the different investments that they make are actually increasing revenue in farmers’ incomes. In order to assess the impact, they use the Social Return on Investment (SROI).
To calculate the SROI, One Acre Fund takes into account the total impact of a programme regarding new farmer income generated ($) and divides it by the costs of operating the programme ($).
On a per-farmer basis, SROI is equivalent to the average incremental profit per farmer divided by the average donor subsidy per farmer. For example, as One Acre Fund interprets it, “let’s suppose that, last year, a country program served 100,000 farmers and generated an estimated $100 of new income per farmer. This equals a total impact of $10 million. Against that, suppose One Acre Fund spent $2 million in donor funds to create that impact. The SROI of that programme would be $10 million divided by $2 million, or 5. That means that for every $1 donor dollar invested in that country programme, One Acre Fund generated $5 in new farmer income. Or equivalently, they created $100 of new income impact per farmer and spent $20 in donor funds per farmer to generate that impact: $100/$20, or an SROI of 5” (if interested in exploring One Acre Fund’s SROI further, we recommend you to visit their dedicated page).
Far Beyond Yield and Income Increase
A donor-supported organisation like One Acre Fund must make decisions on how to most effectively deploy their sometimes limited resources to generate maximum impact. SROI helps One Acre Fund inform internal decision-making and efficiently allocate such resources to materialise them into the most social good for every donor dollar. However, there are different aspects to the social impact that this metric cannot reflect.
For instance, the programme helps farmers build resilience, by increasing asset value and diversity, insurance coverage, and even safety net networks relative to non-One Acre Fund farmers. Thus, beyond the yield increase and, consequently the income increase, the not-for-profit organisation works hard to achieve non-financial outcomes for clients, including outcome areas where they’ve gathered strong evidence, such as food security, and further aspects considered as important to holistic improvements for the participating farmers, such as nutrition, soil health and even well-being of the farmers. According to their latest longitudinal Quality of Life study in Kenya, these are some of the results with moderate to strong evidence of impact:
Hunger & Nutrition: One Acre Fund is committed to improving nutrition for farming families. They’ve come across a reduction in moderate malnourishment for children in One Acre Fund households by 20.6% pts. Moreover, using the FANTA-based household hunger score, the score is quite low overall, depicting little prevalence of extreme hunger across their programme areas. There’s been a considerable difference in hunger reports between veteran and newly enrolled farmers with 4% to 10% fewer farmers reporting hunger, in four of their countries of operation. For example, 37% of newly enrolled comparison farmers in Rwanda reported hunger due to lack of food in the last 30 days compared to 27% of veteran farmers.
Education: Enrolled farmers’ children between 5 and 18 years of age study 0.16 hours more, on average, compared to children in non-participating households. Moreover, the programme has an impact on an increase in school fees paid for children under 6 and those in secondary school, which could mean that the increased income generated by farmers in the programme is allowing them to send their children to school.
Well-being: One Acre Fund farmers improve their mental well-being due to programme participation. Enrolled farmers report lower stress of 1.2 points (as calculated on the total index score of 16 points). This is mainly driven by farmers’ increased confidence in handling personal problems and evidence that they were feeling that things were going their way.
Add-on Products = Add-on Impact
One Acre Funds’ understanding of impact has evolved exponentially as they’ve developed. Today, the programme is transforming farmers' living conditions wholly from different angles beyond yield and income increase. According to studies, in 2021, the programme created an additional $80 in annual agricultural profit on average for the enrolled farmers. Asset add-on products (such as trees, tin roofs, and cook stoves) added another $24 of impact. Overall, this represents a 45% improvement in profits for One Acre Fund farmers besides a comparison group (of farmers outside of the programme).
Thus, they’ve incorporated a vast array of add-on products into their loan package offerings, such as solar lamps, trees, vegetable seeds, improved crop storage bags, cookstoves, and livestock (chickens and cows), which farmers can purchase easily at “duka” shops that are at walking distance from their homes, using the multiple payment options at their disposal. Today, with the support from PaygOps to smoothly manage the distribution of such add-ons, the outcome has been more than positive, allowing One Acre Fund to capitalise on the impact that such products represent.
The organisation has an entire product innovation team that constantly experiments with new products and runs at least 40 studies every year, each with a minimum of 100 farmers and some with thousands of farmers. From those studies, for example, they discovered in 2011 that “solar lamps helped the average farmer’s household save roughly $0.50 per week on saved kerosene, battery, and mobile phone charging expenses."
One Acre Fund is today one of the largest retailers of solar lamps in Africa, where 77% of people still lack access to energy. In this respect, the organisation distributes around 100,000 solar products per year. Something as basic as a small solar lamp allows farmers to charge their mobile phones, lets children do schoolwork at night, and can even help generate extra income for farmers by charging neighbours a small fee to recharge their phones. A $20 solar lamp represents much less than the $80 per year that farmers used to spend on fuel for harmful kerosene lamps.
New Brand + Same Commitment = Increased Impact
While One Acre Fund already serves the largest network (1.5 m) of smallholder farmers in Africa, they keep looking for ways to amplify the reach, having in sight 10 million farmers by 2030. Starting off in 2022, the Executive Director of One Acre Fund, Andrew Youn, announced a continent-wide challenge to grow their impact within the next three years using the same resources as of today, in an effort to further increase the impact and accelerate improvement in their SROI for every donor dollar spent.
As a direct result of the aforementioned challenge, One Acre Fund Kenya launched in May 2022, a conglomerate of new services for farmers, along with a new brand known today as Tupande by One Acre Fund. The approach of the revamped service was to put in place an entirely new operational model to serve the farmers, made possible by PaygOps serving as their core IT infrastructure, which endorses the same commitment to quality and farmer prosperity as One Acre Fund traditionally has. In a nutshell, Tupande allows farmers to buy more quality farm products all year round (and several add-ons), from more selling points (field agents, local dukas), and with more payment options than ever (cash, credit, group loan, individual loan, etc).
The rebranded programme is already bringing significant improvements to their core way of serving clients. As depicted in the Harnessing PaygOps Solutions to Increase One Acre Fund’s Business Value report, by Spring 2022, the Kenya team, through the PaygOps-backed Tupande, is not only meeting the targets for enrolment of clients, but is actually surpassing them, while the core programme has not met 50% of the targets. When comparing sales made in 2021 and those of 2022, the Kenya representation has sold up to 80% more than the previous year in some of the different Kenya districts.
How PaygOps helps One Acre Fund broaden the impact
Keeping in mind that One Acre Fund’s north star has always been to create impact on farmers’ lives, they are utterly aware that if they sell more farming inputs, add more offerings and serve more customers, they can, consequently, increase the impact. Years of work in the field, supported by the most rigorous evaluations and data, back their achievements and have taught them how to maximise the resources they get from donors in order to create as much impact as possible.
With that in mind, One Acre Fund integrated PaygOps into their operational strategy, with the latter serving as the missing piece that is now allowing One Acre Fund to operate during multiple harvest seasons, providing farmers with high–quality inputs throughout the year, across broader geographic areas. This, naturally, is leading One Acre Fund not only to increase the total impact they generate, but to become more efficient in doing so.
As Dennis Tirop, Field Knowledge & Performance Management Lead (One Acre Fund Kenya), describes it:
“PaygOps generates impact for two sorts of customers: internal customers who are our field team, our business analytics team and the like and, on the other end, the farmers that we serve. They make it easier for the field team to offer different access lanes to our farmers, to onboard more farmers at a lower cost and within a shorter period of time. This all combines perfectly to expand our reach to more and more farmers, sell the good One Acre Fund gospel to more communities, and directly increase the impact that we have within a short span of time. I think that PaygOps is truly helping us a lot.”
How farmers reach out and enrol
Smallholder farmers living in any of the areas where One Acre Fund has a local presence are eligible to join the programme. As the name gives it away, farmers that get enrolled usually have around one acre of land to work with. Furthermore, they’re assessed in terms of repayment capabilities, given they need to be able to sustain the amount of credit they’re granted. Defaulting a contract, in contrast, would result in the farmer’s ineligibility to enrol for the following season, but it’s a rare occurrence, as their uniquely flexible approach to microfinance has led to annual organisation-wide repayment rates of 92%.
Furthermore, with the recently implemented credit scoring model supported by PaygOps, now when a farmer reaches out, they go through a series of criteria that gives them a final credit score, to easily foresee, among others, whether the loan can be approved or not for the farmer, assess their willingness to repay and if they are eligible for further One Acre Fund products and services (learn more about the features of the new operating model supported by PaygOps here).
Farmers who enrol usually find out about the programme through the community. As they witness that One Acre Fund farmers have much better and increased yields over the previous seasons, producing 4 or 5 times more bags of staple crop than non-One Acre Fund supported farmers. They get interested and engage with field officers. The latter are easily reachable, as they belong to the same community, so this makes the whole enrolment process much more accessible, straightforward and tailored to suit local contexts, keeping the sense of proximity and trustworthiness toward farmers, as they are advised by people who already know and can better understand and assess their situation.
Empowering Rural Women
The social enterprise found, through their latest Comprehensive Impact Report, that the typical client who joins the programme is a female farmer with a spouse and up to five children. Such farmers have usually completed primary school education, and grow primarily staple crops on an average of 1 to 1.5 acres of land. Most live in mud-brick homes of up to 3 rooms with roofs of thatched materials.
According to the United Nations and the World Bank, “female farmers make up to 50% of the farming labour force in Africa, yet they face major roadblocks regarding land ownership, pay equality, access to resources, credit and market for their farms to flourish.” The flexible approach of One Acre Fund’s programme is a compelling way of helping women farmers get access to the credit, resources and financial services that they’ve historically been denied of, not only to grow their lands, but to reassuringly take care of their families.
The organisation is aware that the economic empowerment of rural women can potentially have an effect on the whole community and is key to fighting poverty and hunger. Several institutions, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), point out that providing women with the same opportunities as men could increase food production by up to 30%, and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent.
Spreading the social good onto neighbouring farmers
Another layer to One Acre Fund’s multi-dimensional impact on the farming communities came somewhat unexpectedly, but attests just how influential the programme has been in making farming communities develop. For many years, in areas where the programme had been long established, such as Kenya, the non-profit organisation would constantly hear anecdotes of groups of farmers who were not enrolled in the programme who were replicating the techniques of their neighbouring One Acre Fund farmers and, thus, increasing their yields. The occurrence was common knowledge in the community because more and more farmers wanted to harvest “the One Acre Fund way”.
Between 2014 and 2016, the social enterprise decided to conduct research on what they would later on call “the spillover effect”. Their study revealed that the spillover was occurring more clearly in areas where the programme had been present for long and “might encourage neighbours to both change their planting practices and adopt more improved seeds and fertiliser, which could lead to an improved yield boost”. What’s more, the study found that farmers outside the programme see an increase of about 145 kg of maize per acre.
This report is part of the PaygOps x One Acre Fund Series.
For more resources on PaygOps for Agriculture, visit our dedicated page.
Solaris Offgrid supports distributors and manufacturers across all industries in over 35 countries through Product Development Services and flexible IT solutions. Solaris Offgrid’s flagship PaygOps platform is an interoperable B2B SaaS which connects energy and utility appliances (solar devices, water-pumps, cookstoves, smart metres, e-bikes) and payment methods (Pay-as-you-go and Mobile Money) within a suite of enterprise applications or API services, to allow distributors to smoothly manage their operations and tackle their challenges at the last mile, thus enabling them to provide affordable essential products and services to millions of people at the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid.
One Acre Fund supplies smallholder farmers with the financing and training they need to grow more food and earn more money. Instead of giving handouts, they invest in farmers to generate a permanent gain in farm income. They supply a complete service bundle of seeds and fertiliser, financing, training, and market facilitation— and they deliver such services within walking distance of more than 1 million rural farmers they serve. One Acre Fund measures success in their ability to make farmers more prosperous and they always put Farmers First.