Akili's Theory of change

Written by Haron Wachira

Africa is home to the world’s highest number of people living in extreme poverty, with about 422 million people living on less than $1.90 per day, according to the World Bank. The cause: historical injustices; deportation of 12.5 million+  Africans  through the slave trade; displacement of millions through colonialism; resource theft and willful translocation of the bright to the developed world; neo-colonial exploitation and post colonial misrule and corruption. Complex!

Thus, Africa’s poverty is deeply rooted in the continent’s history of colonialism, post-colonial misrule, corruption, and an education system that does not meet Africa’s current development needs.

The problem(s) we are tackling

Low productivity: Small-scale farmers in Africa often face low productivity due to a lack of access to modern farming technologies, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. According to a report by the World Bank, small-scale farmers in Africa often rely on traditional farming practices, which can be labor-intensive and low-yielding. Furthermore, small-scale farmers often lack the knowledge and skills to adopt more modern and productive farming practices.

Unprofitable farming: Small-scale farmers in Africa often struggle to make a profit due to a lack of access to markets, inadequate infrastructure, and low bargaining power. According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme, small-scale farmers in Africa often sell their products through intermediaries (brokers) who take a large share of the profits.

Very small, infertile, overused land: Small-scale farmers in Africa often have limited access to fertile land due to population growth, urbanization, and land degradation. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, small-scale farmers in Africa often farm on marginal land, which is prone to erosion and low fertility. Furthermore, small-scale farmers often lack the resources to improve the fertility of their land through practices such as soil conservation and organic farming.

No savings: Small-scale farmers in Africa often struggle to save money due to low income and limited access to financial services. According to a report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, small-scale farmers in Africa often lack access to formal financial services, such as banks and credit unions. Furthermore, small-scale farmers often lack the resources to invest in their farms and improve their productivity.

Little government support: Small-scale farmers in Africa often face a lack of government support in the form of policies, programs, and infrastructure. According to a report by the African Union, small-scale farmers in Africa often lack access to extension services, which can provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to improve their farming practices.

Unreliable weather: Small-scale farmers in Africa often face the challenge of unpredictable weather patterns, which can have a negative impact on their productivity and income. According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme, climate change is expected to have a significant impact on small-scale farmers in Africa, with increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events.

Infrastructural failure and urban migration. To address these issues, Akili deploys a  six-step transformational model to lift rural communities out of poverty, holistically. This model has been developed, tested and refined by Haron Wachira, Akili’s Founder, now an Ashoka Fellow, as a result of the creation and rollout of the model.

Our seven step community transformational model

Step 1: organisation, structures, accountability

We mobilize and organize groups into functional, accountable units.

According to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute, organized farmer groups (as compared to individual farmers) are more likely to adopt new knowledge, technologies, and practices that increase their productivity and improve their income than.

Akili’s accountable groups hold each member accountable to commitments made jointly, be they commitment to adherence of protocols to making regular payments to their savings to participating an a carbon credit compliance programme.

We formalise our enlistment of groups through an MoU around an agreed activity, such as the planting of agroforestry trees such as avocados and macadamia nuts for income and also carbon credits for 30 years.

Step 2: Resource mobilisation and deployment

Funded by investments or other funding we mobilize resources to fund an activity that can grow into a profitable enterprise. Research by the International Fund for Agricultural Development shows that focusing on high-value crops, such as coffee and horticulture, can help small farmers in Africa improve their income. In our 10 years of existence we have successfully grown various value chains, including beekeeping for honey production, coffee for local vqlue addition and export and moringa oleifera for use in nutrient fortification for animal feeds and human consumption, and, currently planting of avocado, mango and macadamia trees.

We also deploy human resources and partnerships to provide the critical resources required to ensure protocol follow through, funding for securing inputs and technical knowhow.

Step 3: Development/Deployment of scientifically crafted protocols for production and value addition

The third step is to develop scientifically crafted protocols for production and value addition, providing practical guidance in the field (our staff teaching lead farmers; establishing demo farms, building aggregation facilities).

In our 10 year existence we have witnessed massive production improvement: of yams —from the known reality of 5 kgs per hole to over 100 kgs; of coffee — from the known reality of 2 kgs annually per coffee plant to over 20 kgs: of napier grass — from the known reality of a day’s kgs per hole to over 100 kgs. We have also introduced previously unknown crops such as moringa oleifera and the use of dramatic yield improvers such as water retainers, greenhouse based production and an animal feed booster.

Step 4: Facilitation for access to production inputs and livelihood necessities 

Through our now grown Akili Development Savings and Credit Cooperative (ADS SACCO) members of our enlisted communities are taught to and are able to save, invest, and borrow to fund the necessities of their livelihoods and for production inputs. Timely application of inputs can contribute to more than dramatic improvements in production, as established in several studies. For example, a study conducted in Ghana found that the application of fertilizers at the right time led to a 25-30% increase in maize yield compared to when the fertilizers were applied late or not at all (Asante et al., 2017).

Another study conducted in Ethiopia found that the timely application of nitrogen fertilizer increased maize yield by 42% compared to the control group that received no fertilizer (Tekalign et al., 2013).

In yet another study conducted in Malawi it was found that the timely application of herbicides increased maize yield by 35% compared to the control group that did not receive any herbicides (Rusinamhodzi et al., 2012).

According to a study by the International Labour Organization, cooperatives can help small farmers access finance, inputs, and markets, leading to increased productivity and income.

Step 5: Facilitating access to new knowledge, demonstrations, technology, and access to markets in value-added form 

The fifth step is to support the group with knowledge, access to relevant agricultural knowledge, use of technology, and access to markets in value-added form, bypassing exploitative brokers. Research by the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that value addition and market linkages can significantly increase the income of small farmers in Africa.

Step 6: Permanent lifestyle change and generational behavior transfer

The sixth step is to strengthen the created institutional framework through partnerships and research and scaling of the selected activity. A study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development shows that partnerships between farmers, government, and private sector can help scale up successful agricultural interventions, leading to sustainable development outcomes.

All our community based engagements are long term, maintaining the protocol based production, access to money, knowledge and technology sustainably; contributing to the improvement of local infrastructure; encouraging learning and attracting young talent (scientists, agronomists, value adding food processing experts) to be based in and grow well paying careers in the enlisted communities

Infrastructural improvements

Investing in infrastructural improvements in rural Africa is key to stemming urban migration. People, often the most promising human resources in a community, leave their rural settings in pursuit of economic opportunities, access to basic services, and enhanced overall quality of life. 

Towards a reversal of this trend, we partner with investors, donors and government to improve infrastructural improvements such as access to clean drinking water, computers and science labs in schools and improvements of local health facilities. Such improvements are intended to make rural communities more self-sufficient and attract new businesses, thereby reducing the need for residents to migrate to urban areas in search of employment and better living conditions.

One study published in the journal Sustainability supports this argument, stating that “infrastructural development in rural areas can reduce the economic, social, and environmental incentives for urban migration, and instead promote sustainable rural livelihoods.” (Adisa et al., 2020).


By following this seven-step model, we believe it is possible to lift millions of people out of poverty in rural Africa. Our evidence-based approach is seeking to provide a blueprint for sustainable rural development.


Asante, M. D., et al. (2017). Timeliness and cost-effectiveness of fertilizer application in maize production in Ghana. Journal of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, 9(1), 1-11.

Rusinamhodzi, L., et al. (2012). Maize productivity and profitability in conservation agriculture systems across agro-ecological zones in Malawi. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 159, 55-64.

Tekalign, T., et al. (2013). Timing and rate of nitrogen fertilizer application on maize for better grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Agronomy Journal, 105(4), 981-988.