Monday, August 20, 2012

#KivaTrip: From dollars to dairy cows in rural Kenya

We rejoin Kiva travelers Liz Nagle and Buckley White on their last stop in Kenya before returning home.

Our final day of visiting partners in Kenya took us to Field Partner Juhudi Kilimo's branch in Murang'a, a two-hour drive north of Nairobi. We later heard the verdant, rolling hills of Murang'a described by an expat in Nairobi as "the Italy of Kenya," but that doesn't do justice to the countryside's vibrant colors. The deep red soil here gives the land a character all its own.

Murang'a countryside

We started by picking up John, the loan officer, from his third-floor office in Murang'a town. John has been working at Juhudi Kilimo for three years, and one of his many duties is to collect the borrower photos and information that will be displayed on Kiva. He was our friendly guide for the afternoon, directing our driver up long and circuitous dirt roads to the hillside homes of Kiva borrowers and making introductions.

We would have liked to meet several borrowers, but in short order we realized that we would be lucky to reach just two in one afternoon over those bumpy roads. Poorly maintained roads were a theme of our trip, putting the cost of Kiva to our partners into very real (and achy) terms for us.

All of the bumping and jostling was worth it, though, once we reached the home of the first borrower, John, who had taken a loan from Juhudi late last year to buy a pedigreed dairy cow. John was the most talkative and welcoming borrower we had met -- so eager to show and tell about his thriving farm that we could barely keep up. 

He introduced us first to the dairy cow he had bought with his Kiva loan, a real beauty who has been producing twice as much milk as an ordinary cow. Juhudi's model is to finance specific agricultural assets like John's cow that offer immediate and sustainable income, and to provide ongoing technical assistance and business training to help farmers make the most profitable use of these assets. John was obviously proud of his cow's high milk yield and mentioned how grateful he is to Juhudi and to Kiva lenders for helping him to secure such a valuable asset.

Next, John demonstrated his chuff cutter, a special machine for chopping cornstalks into small bits to be used as feed for the cow.

John operating his chuff cutter

On the other side of his shed, he showed us a hand-dug well so deep that we couldn't see the bottom. Smiling broadly, he demonstrated the crank mechanism for drawing water up from the depths.

John showing how his well operates with Kiva Field Support Specialist Mac.

Farm tour over, John invited us to stay for a cup of tea -- but first, he asked, would we like to meet his mother? We certainly would! The old woman (more than 100 years old, according to John) was sitting barefoot by a smoky fire in a corrugated metal shack several yards from the main house. She spoke no English but greeted us with smiles and nods, and we left the shack feeling very honored to have been so thoroughly welcomed by John's family.

We wrapped up our visit with cups of Kenyan tea in John's front room. Kenyans tend to drink their tea with a lot of milk, and we were thrilled to learn that the milk in our tea had come from John's new dairy cow! We can attest that John's Kiva loan is already paying off, and quite deliciously.

John in his front room

From John's house, we traveled several minutes down the road to the home of Lucy, another Kiva borrower. Lucy was a little less comfortable in front of the camera, but she gladly showed us her own dairy cow, pigs, and goats, laughing contagiously all the while. She too had only positive things to say about her experience with Juhudi, and she echoed John's comments about the impressively high yield of milk from her pedigreed dairy cow. She insisted on giving us three enormous, home-grown avocados as a parting gift.

On the long journey back to Nairobi, we talked about how meeting Juhudi borrowers was the perfect way to round out our week of field partner visits -- the traditional Kiva product of agricultural loans to rural borrowers combined with Juhudi's innovative approach to asset financing and ongoing training. What we'll remember even more, though, is the warmth and hospitality of two gracious Kiva borrowers from Murang'a.

This is the last installment of the #KivaTrip series detailing Liz and Buckley's travels through Kenya and meetings with borrowers.