A question I asked myself when I was introduced to the destination and main topic of our IWitness trip was: why does the IKEA Foundation help smallholder farmers in Rwanda?
Even though I was familiar with the IKEA Foundation’s mission and projects the support, it seemed to me obvious that the partnership with One Acre Fund should be somehow connected to our everyday business. And being honest, I wasn’t alone in this opinion. What is more, one of the IWitness participants was also asked why the IKEA Foundation helps farmers in some remote areas when, at the same time, Polish farmers also struggle with inefficient agriculture technologies…
Being aware of the role of One Acre Fund in Rwanda helped me to understand the reason why the IKEA Foundation supports their work. So, let’s start from the beginning.
The IKEA Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable children by enabling their families to create sustainable livelihoods, and fight and cope with climate change.
How does its job look like in reality? The IKEA Foundation believes that all children deserve a chance for a bright future full of opportunities. Identifying the two biggest threats to children’s futures as poverty and climate change, they invest in partnerships with many different organisations that help people—especially young people, women and refugees—to earn a sustainable income and fight for a liveable planet. The IKEA Foundation provides partners with funding and support to make a big impact, using also the strength of the IKEA brand to help advocate for others to join the movement.
Among focus areas like climate action, employment and entrepreneurship or renewable energy is also agricultural livelihoods. This is defined as driving youth employment in rural communities through planet-friendly agriculture. This where the partnership with One Acre Fund comes in.
During our week-long trip to Rwanda, in May 2019, we found out that it is a country where farming small plots of land is common profession. We’ve also learned, that the majority of the world’s hungriest people are farmers—70% of people living in poverty around the world rely on agriculture as their primary economic activity. Isn’t that an irony? And this, unfortunately, can be also observed in Rwanda. Many farmers that we met told us how difficult for them is to have enough crops not only to earn enough money to secure the future of their children, but even to grow enough food to feed their families.
Smallholder farmers in Rwanda are very often acutely under-served, too remote for government services or financial support and cut off from the electric grid. At the same time, climate change impacts reduce the efficiency of their agricultural methods. As a result, they and their families struggle with hunger and poverty. But One Acre Fund has proven tools to tackle these problems. And we could see that they really work.
One Acre Fund serves smallholder farmers and always puts them first. Always. Even though it is a non-profit organisation, farmers are treated as its clients. The One Acre Fund programme is not a charity—farmers pay for the services they receive. Their holistic business model includes asset-based financing for crucial farm inputs (such as seeds and fertilisers) and delivering trainings on modern agricultural techniques to make sure clients make the most of their investments. After harvest, the programme offers support to help farmers minimise losses and maximize their profits.
This is a long-term approach that is based on education, cooperation and giving responsibility for the final effects that makes sustainable development possible. The results are fantastic. On average, farmers working with One Acre Fund roughly double their harvest yields—even from the same plot of land!
Creating better lives for farmers, creates better lives for their families, and consequently for whole communities. They have enough food to eat and are healthier. Having higher income, farmers can afford proper education for children, which gives them more opportunities for a bright future. At the same time, sustainable farming techniques protect the environment and soil health, which can result in bigger harvests in the future. This is the way the planet-friendly agriculture makes farming profitable in the challenging and rural areas of Rwanda. How great is that? And this exactly covers one of the IKEA Foundation focus areas – agricultural livelihoods, which I’ve presented before.
The last thing that needs clarification is why IKEA Foundation decided to support the project in such remote areas of Rwanda, where there’s no IKEA business. The reason is that IKEA Foundation wants to make a real impact. They want to prove that long-term thinking and driving rural economies can make a real change for the better living of many people and generations. At this point I would like to recall once again the aforementioned statistics, that 70% of the world’s poor rely on agriculture as their primary economic activity. If we really want to end hunger and poverty in the world, we should solve this problem as a priority. And One Acre Fund, supported by IKEA Foundation, has been already working on it. With great results!