Now you can read Momentum’s first report on the results from the long rain season in 2014. We highlight the impact and outcome of the farmer’s fields as well as the farming conditions and loan repayment rates of the season.
Read the Long Rain Season Report_2014.
The long rain season of 2014 stretched from march to may.
“I am happy to be a Momentum farmer. Momentum has taken me somewhere and will still take me higher”.
Joseph is a farmer veteran. He is 62 years old and has been a farmer for most of his life. However, Joseph thinks that human beings always can develop and believes that it is never to late to learn new things. Since he joined Momentum, he has learned how to intercrop, prepare land and space his crops correctly. Joseph is excited about learning new techniques through Momentum and says: “The training has been good. The training has taught me the value of doing things properly”.
As is often the case in Kenya, land is inherited and passed down in the family through generations, which is also the case with farmer Joseph. Likewise, farming techniques are also passed down, which is why Joseph has never received any formal training prior to his cooperation with Momentum. Because farmer Joseph never received any agricultural training he never seemed to be able to maximize the outcome of his fields before he joined Momentum. Today Joseph can see the outcome of receiving competent and qualified training, directly on his fields and he emphasizes that without the training farmers will not be able to succeed.
Joseph has eight children whom all have been able to complete primary school because of his revenue: “Before I never used to get more than 2 bags. This season I will be selling one or two bags. This is a great difference, which I believe is because of the training I have received from the Momentum trainers. Because I am now a trained farmer I farm much better, even though I was a farmer for twenty years before I got to know about Momentum Trust”.
Farmer Joseph has a dream to one day to be able to generate enough surpluses from his farm that he will be able to start a project in his community, he will be remembered for in the future. Farmer Joseph also has a hope to expand into pig farming and poultry farming – not before he receives the right training though!
“The training has led to a big change in my life. I used to farm without knowing what I was doing. Now I know why I’m preparing my land, why I’m digging and what takes place in the ground after I’ve planted”.
Meet Florence. Florence is 38 years old and has six children. Five of her children are still in school and Florence hopes that she will have the means to support them all the way through their education, so that they one day will be able to enter the formal employment market.
The main income of Florence’s family comes from her one-acre farm. Florence also owns two cows and she sells their milk to help support her and her family. Furthermore, when it is time to distribute mosquito nets or give the children in the area polio vaccines, Florence steps in as a community worker and offers her assistance. Although she enjoys it, she cannot depend on the little income she earns as a community worker, because of its irregularity.
Her first season as a Momentum farmer yielded the best output she has ever seen on her farm. However, because of a poor raining season, it is still not enough to support her and her family until the next harvest: “This season with it’s poor rains, I have seen that the Momentum farmers were the only ones to harvested something. Even if our outputs did not live up to our expectations, we were left with much more than those who are not Momentum farmers,” Florence says.
Before Florence joined Momentum she would harvest as little five to ten tins of maize, which is between ten and twenty-five kilos. However, after she joined Momentum Florence harvested 360 kilos of maize and 75 kilos of sorghum, even with the poor rains for that particular season.
Florence’s husband, who is farming the land with her, did not understand the new farming techniques until recently, but now points out: “There is money to be made in farming and better methods to use than the traditional ones. I have just realized this now and I want this knowledge to be shared”.
William began to farm when he was 12 years old. After completing secondary school he was taught the traditional farming skills by his grandmother. Farming has always been a natural part of William’s life and he has never had the desire to leave his area of origin to do to something ells.
Before William became a Momentum farmer, he farmed after the skills taught by his grandmother and he considered it a success if he could harvest one bag of maize, equivalent to 90 kilos, each season. However, by his first season as a Momentum farmer William harvested as much as 405 kilos of maize.
The key to his success, William believes, is knowledge. With the right farming techniques, training and inputs, he has boosted his farming output significantly. With this positive impact he wants to expand and become a proper farmer. To William a proper farmer means someone who not only grows crops, but also keeps cattle and poultry.
William is keeping the Momentum business training in mind and the future is looking bright.He plans to acquire the necessary knowledge on poultry keeping and to plan his farm well to make it easier to manage.
Today William is 62 and has five grown son. With inspiration from his father, one of William’s sons is now saving to buy his own land and become a Momentum farmer himself.
After completing primary school by the age of 10, Pamellah dropped out of school. Now she is 39 and has four children. Pamellah hopes that her children will have the opportunity to have a different life than her.
Pamellah joined Momentum in 2014 and works hard to become a good farmer. To Pamellah, a good farmer is someone who has enough food to properly take care of the family as well as securing that the children of the family are all in school.
Besides maintaining the farm she also works part time as a community health worker in Siaya. She dreams of starting her own liquid soap business: “Having the skill to make something, like liquid soap, can mean an income and employment for my family”, Pamellah says.
As a mother of four, with one of her children paralyzed by epilepsy attack, Pamellah has a lot of responsibilities.
However, with the training and planning skills she has been provided by the Momentum loan packages, she feels confident about her farming and expects to prosper in nearest future . Besides form starting up her own liquid soap business, she also plans to expand her farming activities to keep poultry. She hopes that these initiatives will enable her to build a stable house for her family.
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!
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!
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.
If you have a good (social) business idea, the entrepreneurial spirit it takes to start a new project, and you’re willing to put in the backbreaking work it takes to bring it to life, you’ll still need a little something. You’ll need people. In Momentum, as in any other business, it’s the people who put in their time and effort that make the heart of the organization pump. And still, they’ve never really been introduced in the blog. Sure, you can find their faces on the webpage, but that doesn’t mean you really get to know them. It’s about time you meet the Momentum family.
First off, here’s Kevin and Paolo. Kevin doesn’t always hug his bag, and it is rare to see Paolo without a cigarette. They must both have been caught unawares… From the very beginning of Momentum, Paolo has been consulted on financial matters, and I’m fairly certain Christian likes to refer to him as a “financial wizard”. He was finally persuaded to move to Kenya and participate in Momentum activities full time, albeit for a limited number of months. There’s only so long a true Italian can go without access to espressos and real tomato sauce – Paolo shrinks his nose at what Kenyans call tomato sauce, which to be fair can best be described as neon red and rather sticky. The eternal career nomad; he is only borrowed by Momentum until Christmas this year, but before he heads on to his next adventure he’ll have done a thorough job of securing that Momentum is on the path towards financial sustainability.
Kevin on the other hand is a local. A true local. He was brought up close to where the Momentum office is located, and both knows and understands this area to a fault. Originally he was recruited as an agricultural expert, which makes sense as he has a degree in agriculture, but it didn’t take long before it became apparent that he also has what it takes to run an office. By now he’s both an agricultural expert and the boss. He keeps saying that by 2016 he’ll make all sorts of grand changes in his life, like giving up ugali (or only eating it once a week, or once a month…his story keeps on changing). In his ‘spare time’ he continues to farm a piece of land along with his mother, and he owns a barbershop. Spare time in Kenya is a completely different concept from what we understand by it in the Western world. Here most employees get up early in the morning to work on other projects before ‘going to work’, whether it’s growing maize, vegetables, processing peanuts or keeping poultry, every waking hour counts. But back to the matter at heart: these two fellows keep the grand overview of Momentum’s activities, and they share the same conviction that things will work out in the end. Maybe not always according to whatever schedule has been put in place, but it will happen. Paolo’s favorite phrase tends to be “we’ll see what we can do” followed by a smile and a shrug, to which Kevin adds, “it must be done, it shall be done, it will be done!” And time and time again Kevin has been right.
Now, meet Washington. Momentum’s very own field supervisor. The motorcycle is not just for decorative purposes, instead it’s what permits him to move around the area, meet the farmers, inspect the fields, collect loan repayments and assist the Momentum trainers when they need it. His people are from the area in which Momentum works, and while he himself has lived all over Kenya growing up, he insists that the best place and way to make a life for yourself is by farming in his home area. His cousins in Nairobi have a hard time believing (or maybe accepting?) that you can lead a good life if you apply yourself to farming. Washington has a knack for teaching, and a passion for farming. His years spent working as a primary school teaching assistant have made him apt at explaining, and his years spent accumulating knowledge on farming and putting it to use on his own farm ensure that he understands the exact conditions and challenges that the Momentum farmers face. But his own success in farming is also what makes him relentless; if you are equipped with the right knowledge and the right inputs, which is what Momentum ensures, there are no excuses for your farm not prospering. Also, nothing makes him happier than a smooth and easy loan collection, and he believes that the only reason for a man to be weak is a lack of ugali in his diet.
Boys, boys, boys, but what about the ladies? Here’s Eunice. On this picture she is flanked by Washington and Paolo.
In her capacity as a field manager she is a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes I call her ‘the whip’. With her sharp tongue she will whip any and all farmers into understanding how the relationship between them and Momentum must work, what their responsibilities are and what ours are in turn. The farmers love her, especially those who have had the pleasure of being trained by her, because she knows her stuff. She has years of experience in agricultural community development from various organizations, and puts her knowledge to use in mobilizing farmers for Momentum, working out training material and schedules, and keeping every group on track. She is tough but fair, and she likes to keep everyone earth bound by challenging the ideas that are brought forth by the team in the office. Only when things have been thoroughly scrutinized and subjected to her questions will they be allowed to move forward. She also has two cows. One is called Nyala. And when we’re lucky Eunice brings us fresh milk in the morning.
These are all the people who are fulltime employees. But there are some good people missing still. The way Momentum works with the farmers groups to ensure that they get both agricultural and business skills is to assign each group a trainer, who meets with them once a week. The trainers are semi-volunteers; they spend approximately 2 hours per week per group, and get a small symbolic compensation for their work. They are the eyes and ears of Momentum in the field, because even with a motorcycle Washington cannot be everywhere. Besides giving us regular updates over the phone, the trainers join the team once a month at the office to discuss what is going on in the field. These people are passionate about their communities. Many of them are also farmers and often go beyond the requirements and expectations of Momentum in their work. To me they illustrate the beauty of a community coming together.
And as if that wasn’t enough there are also some good people working for Momentum in Denmark. While Momentum is on the path towards financial sustainability, we are not quite there yet, which means that fundraising is still necessary. A small handful of people who devote their time and efforts on a voluntary basis are doing most of that in Denmark. They might think that we don’t think of them in Kenya, but we do, and we know that they play an instrumental part in making Momentum a success.
Then of course there’s Christian. Both part of the Momentum team in Denmark and the team in Kenya. Seen in his right element mingling with farmers on this picture.
These are the people who are working towards improving the living standards of as many farmers as they can get their hands on while building a sustainable business.
In addition, there is the occasional intern, right now that would be me (in the middle):
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