One Acre Fund is that rarest of gems: a development initiative that truly gets it all the way through. The program is built on a commitment to understand the specifics of what it is that’s holding down the incomes of some of the world’s poorest people.
One Acre Fund is now involved in the Mother of All Randomized Controlled Trials…
For very-small-scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, the answer isn’t really mysterious: people farm using crummy seed, no fertilizer and outdated techniques, and so yields suck.
How you go about addressing this makes all the difference. And One Acre Fund got the memo: when something genuinely helps people overcome poverty, they’re glad to shell out the money to pay for it.
This social enterprise model, where the project sets out to cover its own costs through payments made by participants, creates a subtle but profound shift in the way power flows through the organization.
It’s easy to by cynical, but One Acre Fund’s promise that its recipients are “the boss” isn’t just verbiage. The people who pay the bills are always the boss. Organizations evolve to serve the interests of the people who pay the bills.
This isn’t some fresh new insight. Everybody already knows that in traditional donor-funded interventions, feedback loops connecting recipients to donors are broken, ensuring all the power and most of the attention flow back to the donor.
It just takes some creativity to stand that equation on its head, getting beyond the verbiage of project ownership and aligning the ambition with the cold financial facts on the ground.
One Acre Fund is now involved in the Mother of All Randomized Controlled Trials, a massive J-PAL thing involving 232 farmer groups. So we’ll know to what extent it actually helps in practice. But, in principle, it’s hard for me to imagine that they’re too far off on the wrong track.
For much more, on One Acre Fund, check out Roger Thurow’s important book, The Last Hunger Season.