Someone recently asked me if there is always something to do when you are working with farmers. My very short answer was: yes. Activities on the small farms of our farmers of course depend largely on the season, and often farming is treated as a part time business because the scorching equatorial sun makes it impossible to work on the farm after noon. But regardless of the season, activities in the Momentum office are many and plenty. This blog will hopefully give you a little window into some of the things that take up our time.
We have finished distributing the bulk of the farm inputs to our farmers now. During the past couple of weeks we have delivered more than 14 tons of CAN – the top dressing for the maize. Last season, it was delivered along with everything else, which resulted in some unfortunate mishaps for certain farmers who confused the DAP, the fertilizer to be used before planting, with the CAN. Hopefully everyone will do topdressing with the right product at the right time this season.
The very last thing remaining for the farmers loan package delivery to be complete are the banana seedlings we included in the packages. Soon they will be ready to leave the nursery and make their way to their new homes at the small farms. There are many advantages to bananas. Besides being nutritious and able to help secure a better diet for our farmers, they are also easy to sell here in Siaya County. In many villages there is a lack of fruit, and on the market in Ouru (which you will find a picture of in the top of this post) the only fresh things you will find are tomatoes, onions and cabbage. Only twice in the last two months has a stray banana seller found her way to our little corner of the world.
If a farmer takes well care of the banana seedling s/he will soon receive, that seedling will grow into a healthy banana tree that will yield bananas 3 to 4 times a year. It is possible to take the banana suckers, the small shoots to be found at the base of the plant, and transplant them to make one plant grow into many. All of the Momentum trainers and the group leaders were gathered for a two day seminar on growing bananas in which the banana expert and owner of the nursery from where our banana seedlings are growing came to visit us. As with everything Momentum does, training is essential. The knowledge of how to take care of the bananas will reach all group members via the group leaders and the Momentum trainers, and for some this will be the start of a very nutritious and profitable banana venture.
Working in agribusiness and with farmers is more than distributing farming inputs. The inputs are worth next to nothing without proper training on how to use them. This goes for all the inputs we provide, not just banana trees. Right now some of the groups who have been with us since the beginning are nearing the end of their training material packages, which means that they have gone through all the agricultural and business lessons set up for them. For us this means that we must consider how to proceed from here. In some groups members have expressed an interest in repeating everything again step by step, whereas others want more. As farmers work within Momentum groups they seem to change their attitudes towards knowledge, and many have been telling me that knowledge is the key to advancing themselves in life. Knowledge is power. At the office in Ouru we are working on developing new training material and drawing up new plans for our trainers and groups to follow to make sure they keep moving in the right direction and stay motivated. The local staff is once again proving their worth by dishing out ideas and drafting manuals on things that farmers can work on without the need for investment, like how to make compost at the farm for the farm.
On a daily, weekly and monthly basis we also have our share of challenges to deal with in Ouru. Loan repayment is among one of our recurrent challenges. To be fair, we have a very high rate of loan repayment, it’s nearly perfect, but that does not mean that we do not have to kindly remind our farmers that we are serious about them paying back their loans. On average only two or three of our groups bring their collective loan repayments to the office without us calling and sometimes going there in person. As a foreigner in Kenya it is striking how new the concept of a loan is to many of the locals. Some locals have been ‘spoiled’ by previous organizations coming and handing out all sorts of inputs for free, and they struggle to understand the benefit to them if they actually have to pay for the services we offer. Those locals, however, tend to not join the Momentum groups. Most of those who do join our groups have seen the impact the hand-out-organizations leave behind when they leave, and they all do leave once their funding is exhausted or cut. In the words of one of our farmers these organizations: “drop people on the ground in the same or even worse state than when they came”. We talk about joint responsibility for development with our farmers when we meet them. We talk about the need for them to repay their loans because that is the basis on which we build our capacity to provide them with inputs for the seasons to come. My guess is that 99% of our farmers understand this aspect of Momentum, but we still see a great difference in the way they work together and in how proactive they are when it comes to repayments. The entire Momentum team, myself included, is convinced that this has something to do with how well farmers work in groups. Working in groups is not something Kenyans are brought up with, so they do not necessarily jump at the thought of being collectively responsible for loan repayment and working on their lands. I believe it will continue to be a challenge for many seasons to come to figure out how the Momentum office can ensure that our groups work together, when it comes to preparing their land, planting and loan repayments.
All of the above are some of our daily activities and challenges. In the coming weeks we will busy ourselves with things such as the development of the loan packages for the long rains 2015 and planning of mobilization of new farmer groups, on top of all of our daily activities.
For the past month we’ve been collecting yield information from our farmers; from each and every one who took the Momentum farm input loan for the long rain season 2014. We finally know how many bags of maize and sorghum each individual farmer harvested, and we can begin to evaluate the extent of the impact being a Momentum farmer has had on our community.
The long rain season 2014 in Siaya County, Kenya, was in many ways particular. The rain fell irregularly and in lesser amounts than what is to be expected from a long rain season. Unfortunately irregular rainfall is becoming more and more like a pattern in Kenya, which makes it increasingly difficult for small-scale farmers to plan their farming activities. Small-scale farmers do not have irrigation, water-harvesting mechanisms, or even sometimes access to water sources near their farms. When the rain refuses to follow the traditional patterns of the long rain season and short rain season farming becomes more and more of a gamble, and some farmers end up harvesting next to nothing. For some of our farmers the irregular rainfall of the long rain season 2014 was not the only challenge; a specific type of certified seed completely failed to germinate. The germination issue was not confined to Momentum farmers only, it was a national issue throughout Kenya during the long rain season. The producer of the seed was eventually ordered to rectify its mistake by providing all customers with new seeds. But of course, this took time. Momentum tried to act faster to help the farmers who had chosen that seed type, and replaced the seeds with new ones as soon as the problem became clear. However, by that time the lack of rain resulted in extremely poor germination even of the good seeds. When asked about the liability of the seed producer for loss of output on farms across Kenya our local Momentum staff looked at me and said: “No Mie! It does not work like that!”. And then they laughed at me, perhaps they though my notion of right and wrong a bit peculiar.
By all accounts the Momentum farmers have experienced progress. The average farmer harvested 7 bags of maize on 1 acre, where before the average farmer harvested 2.5 bags of maize on 1 acre. That’s a 280% improvement. Some individuals and some groups have made far better improvements, such as the Odheyo village group who increased their average yield of maize by 437%. I hope this stands to show that what Momentum is doing is working, and that is also testifies to how serious a lot of the farmers we work with are taking our teachings. As I am reminded almost every day by either the Momentum staff or one of our farmers; nothing comes from farming without hard work.
These are promising results from a first season. Some farmers have taken good strides out of poverty, but all still have a way to go. We have checked with out farmers how much of their output they are keeping for consumption and how much they will sell. Only very little will be sold, which for us as Momentum is a lesson in how far from being food secure people of this area are.
From talking to many of our farmers over the past month, one of the comments made most often was: Momentum mustn’t give up. You should keep on working with us until we can stand on our own two feet.
That is evidence of the good relations Momentum has built in this community, and the need for our continued presence here.
During the long rains there were more challenges than the ones I’ve mentioned above, what we can call more normal challenges. The beautiful but destructive striga weed took a toll on the harvests in a couple of our villages, and some of our farmers despite having pledged themselves to follow the improved farming techniques and having attended the training, decided not to abide by the teachings. For us the last challenge is a conundrum. My conversations with some of those farmers have revealed little as to why they decided to ignore everything they had learned during the training. One or two had a funny excuse such as: “My husband is not part of Momentum, and he refused to listen to me!” – but most could not give a straight answer. Fortunately for the particular lady her husband has now seen the difference between their yield and the yield from Momentum farms where things were done right. She has assured me that he will listen to her in all the land preparations and plantings to come.
Transferring knowledge to our farmers, making sure they understand how and why they should work their land is a process. Some seem to absorb and believe in the teachings from day one, but with others it will take more than one season for it to really sink in.
I will leave you with a picture of Kevin and Paolo working on the Momentum demonstration farm, in which I can assure you that they are following all the Momentum teachings down to the very last detail.
As a Development and International Relations student I was very excited when I was given an internship placement at Momentum Agribusiness and Development (MAD). In class I have been presented to various theoretical arguments for and against traditional development aid, I have read thousands of pages on the subject and written many assignments. All which unmistakably have made me wiser. The knowledge I obtained lead me to be critical towards traditional development aid and its ability to bring sustainable change. However, all I had to substantiate my thoughts and my criticism was, well honestly, a lot of books. Something was missing: experiences from real life. MAD is a social business. They do not do traditional development aid. They do not do hand-outs. They do business. Social business. This was what attracted me the most. I wanted to learn firsthand what it means to run a business in a developing country, with the aim of making a profit, together with creating sustainable development.
When I was packing my bags in January 2014, for my 4 months internship, my head was spinning. I had no idea what to expect. I was hoping that MAD would show me that social business is indeed the way forward when creating sustainable development. Also, I was over-the-top exited about living in such a different culture. My first couple of weeks was ‘introduction weeks’. I visited many Momentum Farmers and they gave me such a warm welcome. When I watched the local Momentum Staff train the Momentum Farmers it was obvious that they were doing an amazing job. The farmers were listening to every word, laughing and asking questions.
My position was as a Business Development Intern and one of my major tasks was planning and executing expansions to five new areas in Siaya. This meant that I helped introduce the work of MAD in different villages and mobilize new Momentum Farmers. We would walk around the different villages, from one boma (homestead) to the other, talking with the farmers and inviting them to meet us at their local meeting place. Many farmers were interested, and from the areas I worked with we were able to sign more than 400 new Momentum Farmers.
I am very proud to have been a part of this achievement because it means that hundreds of people will be given business and farming training as well as quality inputs on loan. This will have a very direct effect on their food security. They will be able to harvest more bags of maize and sorghum, which will feed their families throughout the year. It is crucial for these small-scale farmers to harvest enough bags for both own consumption and selling so they can make enough money for school fees, medicine and keeping their families feed and happy.
One of my other tasks was interviewing the farmers on their experiences with being Momentum Farmers. This was such a rewarding experience. The farmers were explaining how they were getting much more out of their land by using the farming techniques MAD was providing and how they saw themselves practicing better business in the future. Celine Odhiambo, one of our oldest farmers, told me that she had been doing farming her whole life and seen her harvest fail so many times. She had decided to join MAD because, in her own words, “you are never too old to learn”. And what Momentum taught her she will pass on to her grandchildren – I would definitely call that sustainability.
This internship experience has definitely provided me with what I was missing: experiences from real life. MAD has convinced me that social business IS a great way of creating sustainable development. I am thankful for this experience and know I will take everything I learned with me. I was in Siaya for a short period of only 4 months in which I saw MAD empower so many farmers. I cannot wait to see how many farmers they will have empowered in 4 years! I am now in Denmark writing my thesis based on my experiences and doing some volunteer work for MAD as well. I am already missing the great people I got to work with and the Momentum farmers and I am sure that I will be going to Siaya again one day!
Lea Langeland Jensen
This Is Africa…. At least when leasing land.
As Momentum is a social, for-profit organization, we are always looking for ways to generate income without affecting the smallholder farmers we work with – basically, our vision is to become financially sustainable through income-generating projects while offering loans that the farmers not only can afford to repay, but which also leave the farmers with the highest possible disposable income.
We have discussed many income-generating activities but keep coming back to one, rabbit farming. It is a fairly young industry in Kenya but it is growing fast due to a high demand for rabbit meat from the many Asian nationals both in Kenya and abroad. Due to the continuous breeding, rabbits give birth 5 – 6 times a year, meaning that if we start with 10 female rabbits, within one year we could have 500-600! These are staggering numbers! Furthermore, rabbits are fairly easy to manage, the cost of feeds is low and space requirements are limited. But the latter is exactly where we are running into unforeseen problems.
We live in a rural market close to a river and would like to lease at least 1 acre of land within a 10 minute walk from the office and with direct access to the river. There is plenty of fallow land around so finding land is not an issue – ownership, however is! The first plot of land we surveyed was a beautiful 5-acre piece, 5 minutes from the office, access to the river, located right next to a big road and already cleared for bushes and shrubs. After seeing it there was no doubt. This was the land! But something made me feel weary about the owner. He was a little too eager. So, I contacted the sub-chief, the village elder and the Momentum Farmer group leader from that village. They informed me that the man was not really the owner. When his father died many years back, he had left all of his land to his sons – three in total. He had divided the plot and given pieces to every son. But when he died, the person who claims to be the owner, sold all of his father’s cattle at a lower-than-market price without consulting with his brothers, and he spent all of the money on himself. This prompted his brothers to boycott him from owning any of the land their father had left.
When people inherit land in Kenya, the title deed is usually never altered. It is still in the dead person’s name and the new division is never documented. Therefore, anybody with the title deed can pretend to own the whole land. This is common knowledge here so when leasing land people prefer to deal with a plot with only one owner and involve the village elder and sub-chief for verification purposes. Which is what we will do as well!
By Lisa Wer Nielsen
To be honest, 2013 has been a great year. Sometimes I forget about what we accomplish when being so much involved and taking into account the ressources available. So when I look back at the year 2013, I think it has been a great year. Some might think otherwise depending on one’s criteria for success.
When defining success, I compare actions and impact made with the ressources available. In that perspective, we have come really far and are on the right track. Both for Momentum Trust (MT) and for Momentum Business & Development (MBD).
When I look at the year gone by, what really pops to mind as great achievements are;
1: We are now based in Kenya which for me was absolutely critical in order to achieve transparency and scalability which leads to sustainability.
2: We have established a Kenyan Company – Momentum Business & Development – with the mission of empowering farmers and engaging in agribusiness projects. MBD is now operational and we reached our objective of mobilizing and training 10 Momentum groups in business skill training and best practices in farming and give our farmers access to seeds and fertilizers as a loan. It is incredibly fulfilling to have started MBD and to be on the ground, get dirty and do practical work with our farmers. It is amazing to experience the energy and commitment from the farmers and the willingness to be part of Momentum. The work with MBD and the farmers have truly been the greatest satisfaction in 2013 for me personally.
3: We have organized an office with a small team of 5 employees in Siaya area. For a long term impact we believe it is necessary to live close to the farmers we work with. It is a long term partnership between Momentum and the farmers. It indicates seriousness and commitment from our side and builds trust to our farmers and local stakeholders. Our local team are all Luo (third largest tribe in Kenya) who are all from the area and can speak to our farmers in the local language which is very important.
3: We have maintained an amazing team who truly sacrifice for our cause since we do not have the means for decent salaries “yet”. The team believes in our mission and without the team, we would be nothing.
4: Lisa came to Kenya in October to be Area Manager of MBD in Siaya which is without a doubt not an easy task, and in an environment unfamiliar to what she is used to from the US and Denmark. She has exceeded all expectations. She has been able to implement our work and objectives in Siaya of working with 10 groups before the end of the year. WeÃÃÂ reached 11 groups which accounts to approximately 200 families/farmers. In 2014 we will multiply that with 10 if our capacity allows.
5: On the Momentum Trust side we have given loans to an additional 19 entrepreneurs to support their businesses. 19 is below our objective but capacity and challenges along the way has made progress slower than expected. But the fact that we have a repayment rate of 100 % is a great accomplishment and shows me that we are on the right track in terms of how we operate.
6: Most importantly, for us to accomplish our mission, we need good partnerships.This year we started some great partnerships and have obtained support from the local government entities who have given us green light to work in the county and also appreciate our focus on food security and the youth in Siaya. It is fantastic to get that support and know that our focus is highly valued and in alignment with the focus of the local government in Siaya. Our focus on access to affordable financial services (MT), food security and agribusiness (MBD) has given us some amazing partnerships with great companies and organizations with some great projects in the pipeline for the year 2014.
Some bumps along the way
For sure there has been some bumps along the way. Both work related and personal. I will stick to the work related issues.
Cuture-wise, Denmark and Kenya are very far from each other. And of course this also translates to the way people work and communicate. So along the way there has been some challenges where it is has been necessary for us to slow down and get a common understanding for the team to work effectivly. This has also been rewarding since it has improved our way of working in Kenya and taught us that it is essential to understand the local culture in order to have success with our work here.
Generally, the work with our partners have been good. However, we had to stop with one partner because we did not get the information we needed in order to deliver the transparency we strive to give our lenders and members. We are aware of the fact that our partners have never operated with an organization like Momentum Trust. So we know it is a new concept for them and the partnership has to be well-defined from the beginning so that is gets easier working together along he way. This is also the reason for our fairly low number of loans given since we started in 2012. We work gradually to make sure that the business concept is in place and our partners deliver what is expected of them. We are still a very young and fragile organization and we cannot afford to have to many failures. But I would still say that Momentum Trust has not scaled as much as I wished for in the beginning of the year. Both in terms of the people benefitting from our loans but also in terms of creating awareness in Denmark and get more lenders and members. Our loans have generally been funded to slowly. Our goal is to have the loans funded within two weeks. Now we have to rejct bigger loan requests because it would take to long time to fund on our website. This has to be improved in 2014 and I am sure it will.
Sometimes my visions and stubborness can be quite expensive. Someone told me “you should stick to what you know”. Actually it was my wife who said that. Making a music festival is not something I know. I was convinced that Adia Festival would be a great success; success in terms of generating money for our projects in Kenya and Uganda. It turned out to be the opposite. Even though the actual event was great and we had amazing musicians at the festival, we did not accomplish to get sufficient number of people to the event. That was unfortunate but of course also a good learning experience for the future. I would like to thank the team involved in creating the festival. They did an amazing job on difficult terms.
All in all the year 2013 has been rewarding. Our focus on agriculture, entrepreneurship, the youth, and access to financial services are seriously needed. We have reached far and we keep learning as we move along. It is our task to use that knowledge we gain to our advantage so the partnerships with our farmers, partners, members, and lenders continously improve.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year.
Yes, why not? We believe that a business approach to development is extremely useful due to the productive and cost efficient manner of businesses. That is why Momentum is also established as a for-profit organization.
But, why stop there? If using a business model for development is fruitful, then why shouldn’t we extend that service to the farmers? Why shouldn’t they also use a business approach to help themselvesl? Of course they should! So, alongside the farming training we are also teaching the farmers business training. The business training covers all aspect of running a business from planning, managing costs, doing market research, to caring for customers.
Initially our local team thought it was strange to teach this to the farmers. They argued that the farmers wouldn’t see the benefit and would even refuse to show up for the training sessions. And that did happen to some extent. Most farmers, when introduced with the idea of getting business training, asked why that was necessary when 1. they only work in the field, they don’t have a business, 2. they are old and are fine with what they produce, and 3. they have no plans of ever opening a business.
The answer actually came from one of our most sceptical trainers. She asked the farmers “when do the shopkeepers at the market report in the morning?”, the farmers said “At 7 AM”. She then asked “what time do they go home?”, the farmers replied “At 8 PM”. “Why do they stay there for so long?” she asked. The farmers replied “Because that is required for them to make a living”. By now the farmers had seen the light and could anticipate the trainer’s next question “how long do you work in your shambas?” she asked, to which the farmers would dodgingly reply “A few hours in the morning”. And then she asked her last question “How do you expect to get a good yield if you don’t take your work seriously?”. As you can imagine, she is a tough lady, but the farmers responded positively and the approach was adopted by all our trainers. Now all of them are reporting that the farmers are very appreciative that they are getting this training. They see the benefits and have already started thinking about their farms differently!
- Danish High School Student: “The best has definitely been to see the crops growing in Momentum’s farmers’ fields and to see that what our money is funding actually makes a huge difference”
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