What do Kenyans eat for Christmas? Did you ever wonder? It is my impression that many Kenyans care much more about going to church during Christmas than they do about the food. But they do eat. Just not following a strict pattern of dishes that must come in a specific order, like many Danes at least do. In Kenya what you eat for Christmas depends on your income level, those who can afford it might slaughter chickens, others eat beef, some eat fish, and whatever you have, it will most likely be served with either rice or chapatis. In Kenya you can find excellent Indian food and some dishes have penetrated even the most rural of Kenyan areas, like chapatis and samosas. But for Christmas almost all Kenyans will drink soda. Drinking soda marks a special occasion here, not the Christmas tree or endless chocolates and candies. Many of our farmers will spend their Christmas evening drinking sodas, but most of them will spend their days working on the farms. Christmas falls during a period of harvest, when the short rain bounty is ready for picking. Some have already started harvesting, most of the beans used for intercropping on the maize fields have been picked, and when you walk along the roadside and pass farms, you’ll see maize cobs missing from the outermost plants here and there. We don’t have little ‘apple thieves’ in Siaya (we don’t even have apple trees) but we do have ‘maize thieves’. A sure sign that harvest time is upon us. This year most of our farmers can look forward to busy Christmas days, because their farms are full of produce. All in all, not a bad prospect.
In the spirit of Christmas, we decided to offer our trainers a little gift.
As you can see from the photo, they are now equipped to represent Momentum in style next year. Some of them will be doing just that in new farmer groups, those that have been mobilized during the past couple of months. We are in the process of finalizing the mobilization, setting up training schedules and planning for the next season. From January we’ll be operating in two neighboring locations on top of the current sub-locations we were in during the short rain season 2014, and we’ll grow our numbers from the 29 existing groups in Siaya to 40-45 groups.
In the midst of the mobilization efforts we have also been working on starting a fishpond project. The fishponds were mentioned some time ago in another blog post, but it isn’t until now that they have finally been stocked with fingerlings. It is no secret that it is challenging to run a project in Kenya and that becoming financially sustainable takes time. In an effort to speed up the process we have been looking into income generating activities and the choice has fallen upon commercial fishponds. In a matter of 6 to 8 months we’ll be ready to harvest the first Momentum tilapias, a very popular fish in Kenya, and one for which there is always market. The income from the fishponds will go a long way to help cover the Momentum office’s operating expenses. Thinking outside the box can be a very good thing in Kenya, and why not make sure that we can pay our staff based on fish farming?
On another positive note we held a ‘champion groups’ celebration not long ago. For each season Momentum picks two champion groups, based on how well groups adapt the Momentum techniques, attend training, stay on track with loan repayment and their yield. It is a very simple incentive scheme, where groups are reminded throughout the season that those we commit will get a prize once we close the season.
All Momentum farmer groups from the long rains season 2014 were invited to join us under a big tree in a central village, where we had a chance to give a status on the long rains and discuss the parameters we look at for deciding on champion groups. The idea was to get as many of the farmers to show up and have everyone learn from the best cases. The champion group for the long rains 2014 was ‘Odheyo 2’ Momentum farmer group. No one put more effort into applying the techniques and as a consequence the group on average had a 700% increase in yield from their first Momentum season compared to previous harvests. I hope that warms your heart a little, because here is a case where people truly benefit from being Momentum farmers. The runners up were ‘Segere 1’ Momentum farmer group who also committed to the trainings, the techniques and the loan repayments. The groups were rewarded jembes (hoes) and pangas (machetes) that we hope will serve them well on their farms in future seasons.
But really it is only when you ask our farmers to pose for pictures that they look like this otherwise they look like this:
Because jembes can be used for dancing, of course they can.
This will be the last blog post from my time as an intern with Momentum. As we are putting everything in place for the purchase of inputs for the long rains season in January, taking a status on the mobilization and scheduling trainings, the local staff is preparing to go on Christmas holiday and the expats are preparing to go back to Europe. Come January the activities will be back in full swing, most likely the Momentum office will be busier than ever, and there will be a new intern to deliver the ‘mzungu effect’ in Kenya. Mzungu is one word that you will inevitably hear many times a day if you are white and living in Kenya. Wikipedia tells us it is a bantu language term used to refer to people of European descent, and translates roughly into ‘aimless wanderer’, dating back to when European explorers first made their appearance in Africa (and most likely got lost a good amount of times during their wanderings). Children will scream it at you from the roadside and people will refer to you as ‘mzungu’ more often than they will refer to you Mr/Ms, so sometimes you might feel reduced to being just the color of your skin. But your skin color will work wonders for you. Granted, it is not fair, but being white means that you will be associated with investment and development, and more likely than not also with integrity. In turn, this means that a white face can be used to install confidence in farmers, government officials and business partners. As I am leaving my white face will no longer be available as leverage for the Momentum staff, I am taking my ‘mzungu effect’ with me, but I am doing so comfortably knowing that the business Momentum has established now in Siaya and the relationships we have with farmers are both solid enough to withstand a little lack of white.