By Jieyang Zheng, University of Missouri Student
Eric B. Pohlman’s commitment to Norman Borlaug’s value of “putting farmers first” paved his way to World Food Prize and $10,000 dollars.
Pohlman, Rwanda country director for One Acre Fund, is the recipient of the 2015 Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, an achievement in international agriculture and food production granted to those under the age of 40. The $1 million endowment, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, recognizes Pohlman’s development of the One Acre Fund extension service system model in Rwanda. Eric’s leadership with One Acre Fund contributed to growth of 1,000 field-based staff reaching 130,000 farm families.
Pohlman’s belief in integrating crop science and behavior-oriented technology, like Borlaug, drove him to design an extension service system that created a small army of farmer-agents capable of training more than 1,000 small groups in a single week. Pohlman said his operation of “taking it to the farmers” includes distribution, financing designed for smallholder farmers and training in the field.
“Taking it to farmers means getting shoes muddy as we do everything we can to deliver the best science and services to farmers,” Pohlman said, “because they have the most important jobs in our communities.”
In Nyamsheke district of Rwanda, Pohlman said, the percentage of farmers using improved seeds, fertilizers, as well as advanced planting practices increased from 3 percent to 15 percent over five years.
“Farmers are convinced by their neighbors who tried it,” said Pohlman. “We worked through word of mouth marketing. It’s going to be a slower start but once you get people to see it or hear their neighbors saying it works, you have the growth. ”
One Acre Fund decided to work in Rwanda, Pohlman said, because of the high density of farmers who are not yet realizing the yield potentials of their land. He and his wife launched a similar project in 2011 for Burundi, a neighboring country south of Rwanda, and she will join Pohlman in Rwanda next year.
Pohlman said he will stay in Rwanda for the forseeable future.
“I love it. It is a great place,” Pohlman said.
Read more coverage of the 2015 World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue at the MU Earth blog.
CORRECTION: This article originally ran with incorrect award information. Pohlman received a $10,000 award as the recipient of the Borlaug Field Award. The endowment, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, is $1 million.