Tim Harlow, Star Tribune
Minn. man fights hunger overseas
- Article by: TIM HARLOW
- Star Tribune
- December 26, 2011 - 8:41 PM
In sub-Saharan Africa, one in seven children under age 5 dies from starvation, and millions of farmers who grow crops for a living often go months without enough to eat.
Five years ago, Andrew Youn set out to change that. The Falcon Heights native founded One Acre Fund with a plan to eradicate hunger in Kenya and Rwanda by giving farmers micro-loans and teaching them techniques to improve their yields so they can sell the excess.
Since then, the nonprofit has sprouted into a thriving organization that has taken more than 75,000 farmers from subsistence to surplus, with plans to push that number to 1 million by the end of this decade.
"We are starting to grow quickly," Youn said. "This has gone way beyond my wildest dreams. It is very rewarding. I never dreamed we would serve this many people."
Youn's efforts earned him a spot on Forbes' Impact 30, a list of leading social entrepreneurs who are tackling the world's most intractable issues. The list appeared in the magazine's December issue.
"A tremendous accomplishment for a young man with vision, energy, business savvy and an enormous heart," wrote one reader who left a comment on the magazine's website. "Educating 70,000 farmers = genius at work."
Quiet, yet confident, Youn would rather avoid the spotlight.
"Like most Minnesotans, I'm not trying to seek attention," said Youn, who lives in western Kenya but was in Minnesota to visit his parents for Christmas. But publicity is "good for the organization."
Through One Acre Fund, Youn groups farmers together and provides low-interest loans so they can buy modern commercial seeds in bulk. The organization also provides agriculture education and crop insurance. Participating farmers have had larger and healthier yields of maize, bush beans and sweet potatoes. They keep what they need, sell the rest, pay off their loans and keep any profits.
Last year, the prestigious Skoll Foundation gave One Acre Fund a $765,000 grant. It lauded the nonprofit for helping participating farmers double their profits in a single planting season, and for halving the mortality rate for children age 2 and younger.
Several other foundations in the United States have supported Youn's cause. Foundations in Europe, Australia and New Zealand are getting on board, too. So are legions of individuals who each give $20 a month.
A Yale graduate, Youn started One Acre Fund while working on his MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. The nonprofit started with a modest $200,000 budget, which is expected to balloon to $16 million in 2012. Its staff has grown larger, too, from four in 2006 to more than 800 this year.
More than 5,000 people have applied in the past year with hopes of joining the staff, Youn said. He may need them. After expanding into Burundi in 2011, Youn said One Acre Fund plans to beef up its presence in Uganda and launch pilot projects in Ghana and Tanzania in 2012.
Youn said he envisions a time when there won't be a "hunger season," the six-month period each year when as many as 50 million families eat one meal or less a day because food is so scarce. Until then, he'll beat back hunger one family at a time.
"I'm more excited now than when I got started," Youn said. "We've only made the tiniest of dents [into eradicating hunger]. Africa could be the breadbasket of the world. They are the hardest-working people I've ever met. They just lack basic technology."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib
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