In October, our donor the Danish High School Borupgaard Gymnasium sent ten students and two teachers to Kenya to see with their own eyes what they are supporting. For one week, they travelled around to both visit farmers and to experience the local Kenyan life. Read More
Momentum Trust has some exciting news to share! For the past months, we have been in close dialogue with the Kenyan NGO Africa Youth Trust. This dialogue is now transforming into a partnership on a farmer project. Read More
Moving to Kenya has meant many changes in my everyday life – such as in my modes of transportation. I’ve gone from being highly mobile on my own bicycle to being the boda boda [motorbike] passenger, and from rushing across the city in a metro to cover large distances in matatus [mini-bus]. I’ve realized that the journey itself can be the experience. Read More
There are many good reasons for farmers to throw themselves into chia farming. For the new farmer Enock Asena, the greatest benefit of growing chia seeds is their health value.
Last week, 15 farmers gathered in the garden of Enock Asena. Not so long ago, Enock heard about this new seed in the area called chia. His sister had become involved with Momentum and had started growing chia in her fields, which made Enock interested.
“Many people here don’t know about chia. It’s a new seed on the market. After having discovered chia, I see so many good reasons to grow it!” Read More
Life in a Kenyan village is very different from the life that I am used to back home in Europe. One great difference is the shopping opportunities. Back home I had everything available from big supermarkets to specialty shops just a few minutes walk from my home. At my new home in the village of Uhuru, I face completely different possibilities. Read More
For the past two weeks, I have as the new intern been joining Momentum’s field officers at the farmer groups’ meetings. One thing that shines through at every meeting is the farmers’ strong interest in being part of these groups. And right now many of the groups are even experiencing that new farmers are eager to join. Read along to get a glimpse of Momentum’s work with farmer groups. Read More
How much is 300 Danish kroner actually worth?
Back home in Denmark this amount is very small and does not make any promise towards improving your life. At best it will buy a piece of clothing, or maybe pay a monthly phone bill. However, in Kenya, that amount of money can help building a future for an entire family, through cooperation with Momentum Trust. 300 Danish kr. Is what it takes to grow ¼ of an acre with maize in Kenyan in order to feed their families for the next half a year.
The first time I have met one of our farmers, whose maize had grown strong and tall, even taller than me, at 2.01 meters, I fully understood the potential of the work and impact we accomplish together with the farmers. Read More
I have been living in our little village Uhuru in Western Kenya for almost three months and what I can say now; it is all about how you make the most out of it! You have to be self-confident, go out there, want to change something, want to actively and openly working together with the farmers. Be proactive, be bold, be curious and be innovative and always be open for change, for something new and for the unexpected! You cannot and you do not really plan a day in Kenya. It is dependent on so many factors but the locals say, if God wants it wants it to happen, it will happen! I am still having a different mentality, first of all I do not relate it to religion because everyone is accountable for their own actions, I firmly believe, and being German and having lived in Denmark for the past three years, makes me appreciating efficiency and time-management! I am still struggling with the Kenyan perception of time and being on time or rather not being on time. Everything here is “pole, pole”, (Swahili for slowly, slowly). On the other hand it allows you to slow down more once in a while, coming from a society where everything has to be faster, bigger, wider…
But what is it that I am actually doing here all day? First of all, no day is alike but that is what I appreciate and value in particular! Half of the time I would be in the office doing some administrative work and the other half we are out in the fields to train, monitor, supervise our farmers.
Let me go back in time and share my first day of work in the field with you. It was already an adventure in itself and a great start! I was going around on a boda boda (motorbike) with my colleagues Kevin and Eunice, so three persons squeezed together, driving through the beautiful, splendid and wide nature of Western Kenya, which is very green and fertile! We were going around following up on some overdue loan installments. So I was able to see a lot of the nature, the farms, getting to know my colleagues better and of course also our dear farmers. What I liked especially about it was the positive atmosphere that was predominant the whole time! The farmers welcomed us smiling, we were offered some of their crops such as plums, avocados, mangos and grilled maize – by then I was already in heaven. Even though we were there to collect some money from them, the atmosphere was at no time pressured or distrustful. Even though I could not understand everything, due to the language barrier of the Luo language, I could very well read the body languages and mimics, which was such a beautiful and precious thing to experience! I could really see how the relationship with our farmers is based on trust but of course we are not named Momentum TRUST without a reason! I was glad to sense this positive atmosphere because often you hear about Microfinance institutions pressuring their members too much and creating hostile environments. Luckily, this is not the case for Momentum otherwise I would also not have liked working for them. But because I met Christian already a while ago before actually moving to Kenya and I have met Mia, a former intern and now board member, in person too, I already knew before what a valuable project this is. I was sure I WANT TO BECOME PART OF THIS and I have never regretted my decision a single second (ok maybe very shortly during one of those nights were I was attacked by too many mosquitoes, despite my mosquito net…), my expectations were exceeded tremendously.
Coming back to my first day of work where we moved around to follow up loans, there was this one female farmer who was overdue but just not able to pay back even a little. So Eunice and Kevin were
discussing possibilities back and forth and also trying to understand why she is not able to payback to be able to better help her. In the end, my colleague Eunice bought one of her chickens for herself and thereby repaid part of her loan. So… it was not only three persons on a boda boda together, no now we were three plus a chicken, and trust me, commuting like this is not an unnatural thing here. This already put such a big smile on my face and this deep feeling that evolves from the inside and makes you so unbelievable happy without even being able to find words for it.
On my second day of work I was taken to a training on group dynamics with Eunice! She is an incredible woman, delivering so much enthusiasm and knowledge to our farmers and I can feel and see their prosperous relationship of trust and mutual respect! It was a training for a new group and in the introduction round everyone was asked to share what makes them happy in life and what makes them sad. Every single person in the group of 14 people answered “I like to work hard to make sure we have enough food because I do not like to not be able to feed my family.” And it was my turn and you are speechless because you are struggling what to answer. My kind of “first world problems” cannot be put in any perspective with the people’s life’s here. It made me thoughtful, it made me grateful but it was also the beginning of feeling more and more disgust about our western society being exposed to this mass consume, the over supply of goods, the food waste we create while others are struggling to feed their families.
There are so many things that fulfill me, that enrich me, that nourish this deep happiness inside me. It is the encounter with the people, meeting especially the female farmers, starting to bond with them, sharing experiences and thoughts with them, personally witnessing personally the positive impact we are creating, being part of this amazing team down here, moving around with my colleagues on the boda boda from farmers group to farmers group. In general I love those motorbike rides with my colleagues, it is almost cosy, you enjoy the sun and wind in your face while you are talking about literally everything with them. In general Kenyans are very open about their culture, religion and social issues. Whenever I can I am trying to ask as many questions as possible starting at polygamy (a totally alien topic to me personally) to women rights and their standing in society. So many things are very different from what I am used to especially private and social issues but I am trying to understand their way of living and their society better. However, in general I must say that the Kenyan women and especially our female farmers have become my focus of attention. But I feel they need a focus of attention, they need to be empowered, become independent, to be supported, promoted and lifted from their difficult standing in society. But this will be a blog entry by itself because it is a vast topic!
The work at Momentum fulfills me a lot, so I actually started fearing to return to my life back home, into a life of pure office work, inside all the time… Will it fulfill me as much? Give as much meaning to me, create as much impact? I have tried to put those thoughts to the side again, fully embrace the NOW and to grasp every single second here. Here at Momentum you become part of a great team, you are seen as an equal part of the team, you have a lot of responsibilities but also flexibility in terms of creating your own tasks. We are a great team together, “growing together” – which is our motto for Momentum – as a team but also with our farmer. Personally I also do believe in the wisdom of an African proverb, I recently learnt, which says: “If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”.
Of course you have to put all your engagement and focus into the project, it is not for a certain product you are working, you are dealing with human kind here every day! And they are so dependent on us, they do trust in us and we have to deliver our trainings, knowledge sharing and farming inputs to them properly and in time. This can stressful during the days of farm inputs distribution and the days leading up to it, it entails a lot of planning and we are responsible for so many lives – in this season for 718 farmers. Thereby you have a certain burden on your “shoulders”, we know, we as Momentum are responsible that the farmers in the long term have enough food on the table and can pay the school fees for their kids, those kids that are our future! You can see it as a burden and to be honest, I have had some restless nights but you can also start seeing it as a possibility, as a gift, to actually make a change happen! I am thankful to be part of this project, I believe there are enough organizations, having a positive cause on their agenda but instead of actually creating a positive impact, they are just wasting money or putting too much money in charity! Charity is not the long term solution! The inhabitants of underdeveloped regions have to be trained and empowered. A strategic fit with their possibilities and surroundings has to be identified and supported to enhance their living standards! They need to become independent and not dependent on charitable deeds!
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!
- 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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