05/09/2013 12:18 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Putting Farmers First at the World Economic Forum

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This week, I was in Cape Town to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa, where One Acre Fund was named Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2013. Africa rising was a theme of the meeting, and there is no denying it -- sub-Saharan Africa is home to seven of the world's 10 fastest growing economies.

In a discussion I attended of young global leaders, the question was asked: Can Africa feed the world? Much excited discussion followed, and many examples of innovative public-private-partnerships were cited as evidence that Africa has a major role to play in feeding agricultural products into global supply chains.

At One Acre Fund, we feel that Africa's farmers can indeed feed both their own communities and then eventually the world.

Seventy-five percent of the world's poorest people are "hungry farmers" -- so named because of their inability to grow enough food to feed their families. They are, by and large, rural farmers with less than two acres of land, growing food for subsistence -- for consumption, and sale at markets. In spite of agriculture being their profession, they face annual hunger seasons lasting three to six months. The consequences are severe.

The barriers to their success have little to do with global supply chains. The true challenges they face revolve around access: access to credit, to improved agricultural inputs, to training, and to storage technology and market facilitation.

These are the barriers One Acre Fund addresses in its service bundle. We offer an in-kind loan of seed and fertilizer, training, and storage and market access. On average, farmers double their net profit per planted acre. We ask farmers to repay their loans from their profits, so that we can run like a business and be sustainable. Though we are just getting started, we currently serve 135.000 farm families in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, and are growing quickly.

According to the World Bank, there are some 32 million rural staple-crop-growing farm families across Africa. Access to simple tools and training could mean a permanent end to hunger for 160 million people.

Let us not lose sight of the most exciting opportunity of our time -- to help African farmers grow their own way out of poverty, and go from subsistence, to profit.