Eric Pohlman was recently announced as the winner of the 2015 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation, for his work in developing highly innovative programs that are transforming subsistence agriculture in rural Rwanda. Pohlman’s collaborative work with farmers has made it possible for smallholders in Rwanda and other developing African countries to escape hunger and poverty and improve their livelihoods.

Pohlman will be formally presented with the $10,000 “Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation” on October 14, 2015, in a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, as part of the 2015 World Food Prize international symposium.

A native of the United States, Pohlman, 33, currently serves as Rwanda Country Director and Senior Partner at the social enterprise One Acre Fund. In developing his vision to help poor farmers better afford modern agricultural technology, Pohlman was inspired by the great agricultural scientist and World Food Prize Founder Norman Borlaug’s desire to expand the Green Revolution. Pohlman recognized a major barrier preventing its spread to Africa was the lack of access to credit for subsistence farmers. To that end, Pohlman was instrumental in framing the implementation of an innovative farm finance model, which currently serves 100,000 farm families in southwest Rwanda.  

The announcement was made by C.D. Glin, Associate Director for the Rockefeller Foundation, Africa Regional Office at the Africa Green Revolution Forum in Lusaka, Zambia.

“This work aligns with the Foundation’s current exploration for an integrated approach to reducing post-harvest loss reduction, where we have learned that increasing farmers’ access to technologies and finance helps to increase yields and hence their income, leading to greater food security and a more sustained livelihood. Eric Pohlman and his team are making a tremendous difference in helping to improve the lives of the Africa’s small holder farmer, who is essentially the backbone of the sector,” said Glin.

The social enterprise Pohlman co-founded, One Acre Fund, provides asset-based financing and agriculture training services to smallholder farmers in East Africa to reduce hunger and poverty. Pohlman’s bold choice not to focus on high-value export crops was the impetus for the incredible growth of the organization. Rather, he chose to go against the grain and shift attention to increasing the production of staple foods for subsistence farmers, which has proved extremely successful as demonstrated by the organization’s expansion to over 3,000 field-based staff supporting over 280,000 farm families since 2006.

"Like Dr. Borlaug, Eric Pohlman has been at the forefront of applying scientific rigor to his methods in farmers' fields in Rwanda through One Acre Fund’s concept of “behavioral technology”," said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize. "Through One Acre Fund, which he co-founded, Eric serves smallholder farmers by truly listening to their needs and the agricultural conditions under which they work, and then based on their input, developing science-based education, innovation, and training, and taking it directly to farmers and local community leaders. This is having great success in broadly disseminating the Green Revolution in Africa, thus fulfilling one of Dr. Borlaug’s most ardent dreams," Quinn concluded.

His passion for working with farmers to provide them with the full range of tools they need to improve subsistence farming is summed up by Pohlman: “Farmers are at the center of our health, our economy, and our environment. As community members it is easy to spin around discussing the big problems of hunger, poverty, and climate change. I believe this is why Dr. Borlaug struck such a chord in the world. He ripped through the husk and got right to the kernel. “Take it to the farmer” he said. It’s that simple. We need to do everything we can to deliver the best science and the best services to farmers because they have the most important job in our communities - growing our food.”

A graduate of Georgetown University in the United States and a former Peace Corps volunteer, Pohlman’s professional endeavors have focused exclusively on Africa, where his contributions to One Acre’s unique credit system have made technology more affordable for smallholders. The organization has an average 98% on-time repayment rate for its loans.

“Dr. Borlaug confided in a family member late in life that his biggest regret was that the Green Revolution did not reach farmers in Africa, that the breakthrough seeds got stuck somewhere in the Indian Ocean or somewhere between the laboratory and the farmer’s field. I think Dr. Borlaug would be energized by our progress at One Acre Fund but would push us to do more. One Acre Fund is part of an incredible effort by leaders, scientists, and field staff across the continent to deliver on the promise of the Green Revolution. Together let us commit to erasing Dr. Borlaug’s regret and keep farmers first,” said Pohlman.

This is the fourth annual presentation of this award, which recognizes scientists and researchers under the age of 40 who emulate the innovation and dedication to food security demonstrated by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize Founder Dr. Norman E. Borlaug while working in the field with farmers and producers.