During the past two weeks, we have made a lot of progress. After finishing mobilization this time around, one of our main focuses has been to check that we have all the correct data on all of our farmers before we put in orders. For some of the ‘old’ groups, the data was entered at the end of last year and we therefore had to verify that it had been entered correctly and that changes made had been recorded accordingly. For some of the new groups, we were only in possession of incomplete documents that were missing data or signatures. Nearly all documents are now in order and we have an overview of how much we have to order of the different kinds of seeds the farmers have individually preferred and fertilizer, respectively.
Thursday of two weeks ago, the government announced on the news that it had received the long-awaited fertilizers CAN and DAP, which we are most keen on getting for our farmers. The prices were still significantly lower than the prices the companies we have been liaising with in case the government ran out of supplies before we could order, as it is on a first-come-first-serve basis. Thus, after compiling all the data yielding a total of the quantities we need, Kevin and I went to the Ministry of Agriculture in Siaya. Almost predictably, the procedure of getting the infamous vouchers for subsidized fertilizer had changed from last season and we did not only have to go to the Ministry with our documentation. We were also required to have our documents signed by the sub-county chief of Central Alego and acquire a cover letter from the ward officer. Meanwhile the ward officer authored our cover letter, we went almost all the way back to Uhuru to the chief’s office. At first, he was very reluctant to sign our papers, as four of our newly mobilized groups – roughly a little less than 20% of our farmers in total – fall within West Alego, not Central Alego, i.e. they are out of his jurisdiction, as he put it. We began discussing back and forth, the chief and Kevin in Luo and the chief and I in English, using our best negotiating skills. 10 minutes on, we convinced him to sign and stamp the papers agreeing that we would separate the West Alego groups for next season.
After several what sometimes seems like unnecessary bureaucratic detours, we FINALLY got the voucher meaning that we had ordered fertilizer for all of our farmers. Or we had ‘technically’ ordered it, as Kevin phrased it, since we cannot be completely sure that the quantities we have been ascribed on the voucher will actually be reserved for us. Hoping for the best, we have now begun investigating where to get the best deal on renting a lorry to have it transported from Bondo to Uhuru. We have a few options and once the payment has gone through, we will be able to collect it. With the ordering of fertilizer, we have reached an important milestone!
Looking ahead, our next tasks include ordering of seeds and, subsequently, distributing both seeds and fertilizer once we have it all and have divided it according to what the respective groups have requested.
In Kisumu, we have remained very concentrated on collecting outstanding balances. Two weeks back, we agreed that we would liaise with the chief of Nyahera, the area in which we operate close to Kisumu, in sending out a letter to the remaining debtors with a final deadline for repayment before we would start collecting their collaterals. On our last visit to the Kisumu office a little over a week ago, we visited the chief who confirmed to us that the letter had been sent out and would reach the farmers in question later in the day. A week later, the letter had had a positive effect pressing more farmers to pay their debts. It has been very important for us to minimize the total outstanding balance in Kisumu, as Teresa, who has been managing the Kisumu office, will be joining the Siaya team during the Long Rain season of 2015 in order for us to exchange experiences and learn from our respective procedures at our two offices.
With a new year comes the time for renewal of our business permit in order for us to be allowed to continue operating in Siaya. It required a trip to Siaya and the Parliament building, where we initially thought we could renew it. Once there, we were told that it was in a different building. Upon arriving at the next place, we were again unsuccessful in finding the right place and were given the very precise directions of going to “the place with three buildings”. Going in the direction we had been told to find these three buildings, we asked someone on the way, who told us it was at the Ministry of Agriculture to where we then – again unknowingly wrongfully – headed. The new directions we were informed of finally lead us to the right place at which we were given the message: “the officers are on their lunch break.” Luckily, there were some buildings next door that were open and once there, we realized it was the “three buildings” next to each other. We received the business permit and we are now officially ready for the Long Rain season of 2015!