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.