Grace and Mathew | Every Credit Has A Story

Kyle Nielsen, Acorn's Innovation Consultant and native Zimbabwean, met a variety of smallholder farmers connected to our mission and activities. In a series of travel blogs, he shares their individual stories — and the global impact they exemplify. 


We had been busy collecting tree samples and teaching around twenty assistants all morning. I was in my second month of training local partners and around midday, for the first time, I found myself alone in the middle of an agroforestry plot. 

I finally took a moment to appreciate and feel where I was. I closed my eyes. Felt the warmth of sun peeking through the shade trees. Listened to the birds. The wind. The silence. 

We had been visiting several farms that week. New agroforestry, and some monocropping1 earmarked to integrate more agroforestry practices. This particular farm belonged to ‘Grace’. A beautiful demo plot used to show the positives of agroforestry, with Grace herself a queen pin of her community — but not without her problems. Fluctuating coffee prices, theft of produce and late rains. Rain patterns were a common problem throughout my travels (and an easy topic to get farmers talking). 

Still, a stark contrast to the week before in Ghana. 

1 Monocropping is the practice of sowing the same single crop on the same land every year, without rotating crops or growing other crops with it. 

Tea, coffee and banana agroforestry in the beautiful Embu valley Kenya


It had been 37°C. Dry, the light brown earth crumbling as I had walked around ‘Mathew’s’ farm. The only refuge from the sun had been the lines of shea trees dotted around the farm. Refuge for a boiling Zimbabwean, and a glimmer of hope for Mathew. 

Mathew was our first farmer to host us for the training day as he was the local pastor. I looked around, saw the wilting maize and bone-dry land. 

I asked my general questions: How are you and the family? 

“I have two families. Eight people each. This year, the fertiliser prices were too high and there was very little rain.” 

How many tonnes of maize did you harvest? 

“Five hundred kilograms.” 

On how many hectares? 


I guesstimated the maize price, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that five hundred kilograms of maize and sixteen mouths to feed is a difficult equation to balance. It was the lowest harvest I had heard of, and whatever my personal situation, I could not imagine what was going through the farmer’s mind. My problems seemed so small in comparison. 

We walked around the farm and congregated under a shea tree. I hadn’t seen any shea in Southern Africa and started asking about it. “The maize has done badly this year, but the shea does well every year. The women grind up the nuts and make butter for selling.” A lifeline, it turned out. 

Young cashew trees planted with supervision of the Ghanaian Ministry of agriculture

Struggles and stories 

I grew up on a commercial farm and honestly had never heard of agroforestry before joining Acorn. Walking around the farms for months, however, I could see its impact. Carbon credits are just a means to reward smallholder farmers for the part they play in that global impact. 

Agroforestry, the way I see it, diversifies the risk for smallholders who are most vulnerable to climate change and market conditions. After all, we all have our struggles — and every credit has its story. 

Image: farmers, local leaders and the data collection team in Ghana

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Kyle NielsenInnovation ConsultantLinkedIn

A demo coffee agroforestry farm in the Embu region Kenya

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