Across Kuria West, farmers are attending our base education events, joining Nuru and gearing up for the 2013 long rains planting season. At the Regional Training Center (the head quarters for Nuru in Kuria), the staff of Nuru Agriculture is busy processing information about new farmers, ordering and organizing inputs for distribution, and strategizing about how to accommodate the growth we expect. During this busy time, it is easy to focus on the upcoming year, but it’s also vital that the staff take time to reflect on 2012 successes and lessons learned.
2012 was a year of firsts for Nuru Agriculture in many ways. The agriculture program was growing and changing in ways that required the staff to adapt and troubleshoot on the fly. In spite of such uncertainty, the Agriculture Program still enjoyed many successes; including:
In 2012 we disbursed input loans to 2,783 farmers, a large increase from our 2011 operations. Scalability is a crucial piece of Nuru’s model, and scaling often requires quick thinking and innovation of the previous year’s operations. By successfully serving 2,783 farmers in 2012, Nuru Agriculture made big strides towards becoming a program that can handle exponential farmer growth.
To function in a financially sustainable manner, each input loan must also be collected upon. Loan collection in a remote, rural area requires a lot of manpower – our field officers and managers spent countless hours moving from farm to farm collecting cash, writing receipts and ensuring the payments made it back to the Regional Training Center. Loan collection is still ongoing but Nuru Kenya has had great success so far and the staff is nearing their repayment target a little more each day.
Trainings & Yields
Fertilizers and seed are of little use if a farmer does not know how to properly use them. In 2012, we trained all of our 2,783 farmers on eight different maize farming and input topics. Through our trainings and inputs, farmers saw large increases in their maize yields. They can translate these increases into household income and food security.
While the staff of Nuru Agriculture has much to celebrate, we also faced challenges in 2012. Some of our biggest ones included:
In previous years, farmers waited to pay their loans until harvest but in 2012 they were encouraged to practice continuous loan repayment; meaning they make small payments as they are able. This was a great first step but Nuru Kenya needs to take more steps to encourage and facilitate early repayment. Early repayment is great for Nuru and also benefits farmers. For instance, a farmer who owes only a small amount at harvest can sell surplus harvest for other uses such as school fees, can store maize to take advantage of higher prices, and they avoid the stress of paying a large sum at one time. Therefore, in 2013, Nuru Kenya Agriculture staff will be experimenting with strategies to increase early repayment.
Improving Market Access
Each harvest season the Nuru Income Generating Activites (IGA) program provides a fair, reliable market for Nuru farmers by purchasing their maize. Although maize purchasing is an IGA program, its success relies on close collaboration with the Agriculture program. This year, a mobile buying strategy was employed for the first time. Mobile buying entails trucks and buyers circulating around Kuria West to purchase maize. Overall, the strategy was a big success. Yet, as it was the strategy’s inaugural year, there were some kinks to work out in terms of efficiently communicating with farmers and running the operation’s logistics. Long term, the mobile buying holds a lot of promise as a financially sustainable way to provide market access, which is exciting for both IGA and Agriculture.
All in all, 2012 was an inspiring year that helped staff understand the Nuru Agriculture program’s strengths, recognize its areas for improvement and reconnect with their belief in its mission. As Nuru Agriculture prepares for new challenges in 2013, it will be essential for the staff to keep in mind the lessons they have learned and continually celebrate past successes.