Acumen Fund Invests $2.1 Million in Western Seed Company

The New York City-based Acumen Fund has announced a $2.1 million investment in the Western Seed Company to support the company's efforts to increase the productivity of low-income farmers in Kenya.

Western Seed will use the funds from Acumen and a $1.9 million investment from the African Seed Investment Fund to help quadruple over five years its output and sales of improved hybrid maize seed while boosting the number of farmer households it serves each year from 200,000 to 850,000. Through those efforts, the company hopes to improve the lives of more than four million people.

Although hybrid seed has existed for many years and can provide enormous increases in yield, adoption rates remain low in Kenya due to a lack of supply and appropriate marketing and distribution strategies. In response, Western Seed has developed a direct access sales program to reach more smallholder farmers in isolated rural communities. 2010 Acumen Fund fellow Josephat Byaruhanga will work to help the company better target the program's sales and measure its impact.

Millions of families in Kenya rely on maize for food and income, although most of them hold less than two hectares of land and use inefficient technology, leading to small and irregular maize crop yields. Indeed, in 2007 the average maize yield in Kenya was less than half the average globally and about one-fifth the average for rain-fed maize in Iowa.

"Acumen Fund's patient capital investment in Western Seed is intended to enhance the food security and economic independence of Kenya's smallholder farmers," said Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz. "Maize represents the primary source of income and food security for rural Kenyan families, so when we identified the opportunity to boost its local output through an investment in Western Seed, we seized it, and we expect it will have a scalable impact on reducing poverty in Kenya and beyond."