Changing Seasons for Nuru Agriculture
Over the coming months Nuru’s Agriculture Program will evolve in exciting ways to aid the overall mission of increasing crop yields in a sustainable and scalable way.
Nuru International employs local Kenyan staff members to manage the agriculture program and develops their capacity in conjunction with an expatriate staffer (Agriculture Program Manager / Nuru International Fellow). The team works together to sustainably increase crop yields, principally through the issuance of small loans of high quality inputs combined with agricultural extension and training. The agriculture loan product is accessible to smallholder agriculturalists and targets a repayment rate of >98% by farmers. Loan repayment fuels sustainable program growth to meet the needs of the extreme poor in rural areas of southwest Kenya. Over the coming months there will be special attention to innovations such as piloting cash crops, mechanisms to cut costs amidst rapid growth, and information gathering to make smart decisions with a growing staff.
The following are areas of innovation for the agriculture program:
- New Program Manager / Agriculture Fellow: Nuru’s Agriculture Program is receiving its first ever Agriculture Fellow who will assume the program manager role. This transition of Nuru International staff brings fresh ideas, technical expertise and further capacity to facilitate gradual handover of program leadership to Kenyan staff.
- Leadership and decision-making partial transfer to Kenyan staff: The Kenyan staff will assume new responsibilities over the coming months as they develop their capacity to implement and scale programs, inventively engineer solutions to problems, and pilot new elements of the agriculture program. Nuru International promotes a responsible, gradual transition of leadership to Kenyan staff. Nuru aims to achieve a long-term sustainable and scalable impact while maximizing the short-term impact of third party donor funding and expatriate staff.
- Maintain loan repayment rates at 98%: Nuru’s Agriculture Program issues small loans of maize inputs (fertilizers and improved seeds) to smallholder agriculturalists for maize production. The maize produced, even from as little as one acre, is enough to repay the original loan, provide food security to families, and fuel growth of investment capital in extremely poor rural communities in Kenya. A particular focus over the coming months is to raise and maintain loan repayment at 98%; a percentage which sustainably funds the overhead of the agriculture program.
- Scale program to include 1,000 new Nuru farmers: Among Nuru’s program areas, the agriculture component leads the expansion into new areas to reach farmers who desperately need access to quality agricultural inputs and training. Nuru’s Agriculture Program helps feed families and raise incomes, thereby acting as a foundation for the community and allowing other Nuru programs to enter the area.
- Pilot short rains cash crop and research second alternative: Nuru farmers currently cultivate maize with the agriculture program during the long rains season (February to August), yet are often left with little access to inputs to fuel agriculture production during the short rains season (September to January). Nuru’s Agriculture Program is currently researching pilot crops for the 2012 short rains season. Nuru aims to provide Kenyan farmers an alternative to tobacco farming. Growing tabacco is a labor and input intensive farming scheme that often bankrupts farmers, causes respiratory illness and deforestation due to drying shacks, and leaves soils heavily eroded and chemically contaminated.
- Reduce program costs and redesign staffing model: Nuru Kenya is a non-governmental organization that fundamentally focuses on business-like efficiency to provide services – health, sanitation, education, agricultural extension, and economic development – to our customers – the rural extreme poor of Kenya. To achieve this goal, the agriculture program will be reevaluating program costs and restructuring staffing to be more efficient so that every Kenyan shilling invested in agriculture achieves its highest impact in the shambas (farms) of the extreme poor.
- Partner with M&E to generate adequate geographic information to meet strategic and operational needs in a sustainable way: Monitoring and evaluation is critical to generating the base information that Nuru’s Agriculture Program uses to evaluate whether it’s achieving its desired impact with extremely poor rural farmers. Specifically, we will combine participatory needs analyses and geographic information systems (mapping) to generate spatial information using appropriate technologies. Mapping will aid operations in analysis of agricultural and social data to determine if input loans are meeting socioeconomic needs in particular geographic areas of focus.
We look forward to sharing our progress updates in the coming months.
Matt Lineal is thrilled to join Nuru International as its first agriculture fellow in September 2011. Matt is dedicated to working with smallholder agriculturalists and rural communities as they interface with their natural and socioeconomic environment. Before joining Nuru, Matt worked with The Nature Conservancy and Peace Corps in Honduras, and throughout the U.S. Interior West with the USDA Forest Service. He earned his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and his MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University. Matt has experience in small plot sustainable agriculture, agricultural extension and project development.