INDIA – One Acre Fund, a provider of asset-based financing and agriculture training services in sub-Saharan Africa and India, has partnered with Essmart, a last-mile distribution company, to increase access to agricultural products for rural farmers in Northern India.

The partnership follows the successfully incubation of a direct service pilot in Bihar state by One Acre Fund for the last three years.

The agriculture service provider believes that the most viable pathway to impact and scale is to partner with a like-minded organization and guide its growth for the first 12 months.

To this end the initiative will leverage on Essmart’s successful shop-focused last mile delivery services with One Acre Fund’s deep agricultural services understanding, unlocking a new phase of growth for both organizations.

According to the company’s press-statement, Essmart is absorbing One Acre Fund’s operations alongside investment and support from the organization to scale the pilot.

“Combining Essmart’s demonstrated track record for scale and financial sustainability via rural retail, with One Acre Fund’s high-touch, impactful, direct service model will hopefully unlock an accelerated pathway to impact for smallholders in Bihar and beyond,” says Shubhra Kumar, Program Director at One Acre Fund.

For Essmart, the investment and support from One Acre Fund is a unique opportunity to expand through strategic partnerships and deepen their focus on serving rural end customers, the majority of whom are small-scale farmers.

“Currently 70% of the products we move are in the agricultural sector that increase farmer efficiency and productivity.

“Working with One Acre Fund provides an exciting opportunity for us to deepen our focus on agriculture by adding agri-inputs to our catalogue and strengthening our direct farmer impact,” says Prashanth Venkataramana, CEO and Co-Founder of Essmart.

Partnership avails an array of services to farmers

The farmer experience will be similar to the experience with One Acre Fund, with Field Officers serving groups of rural farmers.

But with Essmart’s shop network, these Field Officers can now leverage rural shops for input delivery, farmer training, and more.

This will enable Essmart’s shops to increase their customer base and enable Field Officers to increase their efficiency by serving more farmers.

In addition, field officers will be able to direct farmers to one or more Essmart shops, where farmers can also access additional livelihood products from Essmart’s catalogue of life-improving technologies.

The pilot program seeks to build a proof of concept for a shop-enabled farmer model: demonstrating that the partners can increase the income for rural farmers by bringing access to high quality inputs and training to every village via local shops.

Jackie Stenson, Co-Founder and Executive Chair of Essmart said, “Partnerships like this are unique in the social enterprise world.

“We are extremely excited to be paving the way for impact-driven organizations to come together, invest in each other, and pilot models that are greater than the sum of its parts.”

One Acre Fund, having commenced operations in 2006 in Kenya, has spread its wings to serve over 1 million farmers in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia, Ethiopia, and India.

According to the company’s 2020 impact assessment report, despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, its 1.3 million farmers in the full-service program gained an extra US$81 in profit on average relative to non-participating farmers, representing a 33% boost in profits on supported activities.

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