I arrived in Kenya two weeks ago and I have had uncountable impressions since then. Landing at 3.30am in Nairobi, it was no problem getting to the hotel with our loyal taxi driver allowing me to get a few hours of sleep before attending to a few pre-arranged meetings. In Nairobi, I first met with Momentum’s lawyer to make sure all the documents for setting up a bank account were in order. After getting hold of a Kenyan sim-card in between the two meetings, I met with our bank guy to finalize the bank account, which apparently is a rather bureaucratic and lengthy process. Luckily, the mission succeeded, which makes the management of Momentum’s finances much more organized. The next day, on Saturday January 10th, I flew to Kisumu, where Kevin and Theresa greeted me and drove me to Uhuru. During the weekend, I had some time to settle in and trying to get to know the area a little. I managed to get lost already on Sunday making the mistake of following small paths instead of sticking to the main roads. Nevertheless, I found my way back with some help from some of the locals.
On Monday, we started off with this year’s first Trainer’s monthly meeting. The trainers updated us all on how their groups are doing, how the harvest from the short rains has been and if they are even done with harvesting by this time. All in all, the farmers were satisfied with the yield of the short rain season, as is had rained above average for that time of year. On the more negative side, we were also discussing if some farmers have to be dropped due to failure of meeting deadlines for repayment of their loans or if they do not cooperate and participate in group activities. As a conclusion to the meeting, we agreed that we need to push for the last installments and also collect seed selection forms in order to know how much and which kinds of seeds we have to order for the coming season. During the rest of the week, we have been finishing the second round of mobilization of new farmer groups as part of our goal of upscaling operations in the Siaya area. The mobilization meetings have generally gone well except for one detail, which is difficult for me to get used to coming from a relatively punctual cultural background. We could knowingly be 45 minutes late for a meeting and not a single participant would have showed up. When calling village elders, they said they were on their way and that the other villagers were also coming to the agreed upon venue for the meeting; they just had some other commitments to attend to first. Therefore, we often ended up waiting for people to slowly turn up, not looking like they were in any kind of a rush, and kindly greeting us when they arrived anything between an hour and two and half hours late. I suggested to the other staff that we tell them to be there at noon instead of at 2pm enabling us to be able to start the meeting at 2pm. Regardless of their slight tardiness, we held the meetings and the mobilization result has been successful, although we have not quite reached our maximum capacity yet. There is still room for growth.
After finishing mobilization, this past week has mostly been focused on debt collection and collecting the remaining membership fees from the new groups. Unfortunately, the remaining total debt remains higher than is wishful at this point for some groups and particularly in Kisumu. We will continue to go to the Kisumu office regularly over the coming weeks to make sure we settle as much debt as possible before we close the office for this season. Since we plan to restart operations there again for the short rain season next autumn, we wish to remain with a good image as a serious business in the area and to retain a high satisfaction rate among our farmers.
Our main tasks are currently to collect outstanding balances, begin training sessions of both new and old groups and most importantly, to get an overview of our total number of farmers for the fast-approaching new season in order for us to order farm inputs in the correct quantities. In that regard, we held a field day to show a new seed being introduced to the Kenyan market in order for the farmers to see how well it did. Both the farmers and the company representatives were satisfied after the field day, as it seems a promising seed. With the extended repayment deadline, it remains to be seen which of the farmers who currently still have outstanding debts will be able to repay by the end of this month and thus be eligible to take new loans for the long rain season. This means that we cannot establish an exact number of farmers until the end of January. Until then, we are in contact with government representatives responsible for the distribution of fertilizer and we have also established contact with private suppliers in case the government fails to deliver on time. As of now, we cannot get a direct answer from the government as to when they will receive fertilizer. Hopefully, they will know soon and we do not have to worry about getting enough of the good – and subsidized not to forget – fertilizer.
With the opening of our new bank account, it has been crucial to deposit some of the cash in the office, which we have done meanwhile being at the Kisumu office before returning to Uhuru. Riding on a boda boda (motorcycle) early in the morning with 400,000 shillings under my jacket on the way to Kisumu was an interesting experience. Boda bodas are by far my new favorite means of transportation. It is super convenient and aside from the dust, it is also super fun!