Small farmer loans – huge smiles

     Robert swerves around the goats lying on the highway. I guess they like the warmth of the pavement. David tells us the chief just heads right into the herd. It seems it’s the chief’s way of making a point clear. People constantly come to the chief’s palace to complain about goats destroying maize crops. All goat herds are supposed to have a shepherd with them. So – are we wrong to drive around them??? We’ve actually encouraging bad stewardship…

Hit them or miss them? Just one of the small quesions an ag development worker has to answer...

Hit them or miss them? Just one of the small quesions an ag development worker has to answer...

     We’re on our way to Serenje with Pastor David. The Mpongwe small farmer project has extended to this new district, and they’ve given 10 farmers there a loan for the first time. Pastor Jessy, our coordinator, was to come too, but he is home with a bad case of Malaria.

     Yesterday we toured the maize crops of four widows in Mpongwe, who each received small loans of 200,000 kwacha – about Cdn$45. Jessy says they gave small amounts because people need to learn how to manage a loan. It was interesting to see what the women did with the money.

It's an exciting day when the Mzungu (white) comes to the village. Everyone follows us to the widow's field.

It's an exciting day when the Mzungu (white) comes to the village. Everyone follows us to the widow's field.

     The first woman bought seed for ¾ acre, some cow dung (it’s much cheaper than fertilizer), some peanut seed and some seed for an indigenous legume crop they call roundnuts. This elderly woman planted the maize early and it looks really good. She did all the work by hand with a hoe. The woman lives in a small village in a mud hut and takes care of her older sister. Part of the corn field had quite a weed infestation. Jessy’s wife Loveness told us that the woman’s other sister was sick then, and the woman had to take care of her until she died.

The huge smiles of the women are reward enough for the small help we give them.

The huge smiles of the women are reward enough for the small help we give them.

     The second woman bought seed and herbicide. I wondered why she bought herbicide instead of fertilizer. The woman herself wasn’t there, but Loveness told us that she is an old woman. So maybe she is not strong enough to do the weeding anymore, and decided it was better to have a weed clean field than to buy fertilizer?

     The third woman bought only seed and planted twice the acreage. She planted very early, end of October. We know that planting on time – around mid November compared to mid December as most do – improves your yield by 50%. Because the soil is very fertile here she will have a decent yield. I wonder which woman will have the most net income?

     Loveness emphasized what these small loans have done for these widows. It gives them hope, and the opportunity for a better future. The first woman showed us where she would expand her field the next year. Another woman said she will buy fertilizer with some of her profit next year, to improve her yield.

     I often wonder if these small loans can make a difference. When I see the huge smiles on the face of these women, and see the pride they have in the fields they have been able to plant – when I see the difference in using certified seed to local seed, then I realize that the loans are important. I doubt everyone will sustain and grow what they have received. But some will and for those this is life.

 

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