My favorite part about my job as a program manager for Lutheran World Relief in Kenya is seeing how people’s lives are changed. I recently returned from a visit to two of our projects in Western Kenya: one is implemented by the Kimira Oluch Farmers Development Group (KOFDEG), and the other by APOKO, a consortium of five coffee farmer cooperatives. I heard so many stories about how people have increased their incomes. Each family has a lot of needs, but we heard how people can now afford health insurance, feed their families, buy seeds and tools, and pay their children’s school fees.
I visited several groups within KOFDEG and APOKO that bring together about 30 people to pool small amounts of money to give each other loans. These savings and lending groups really change people’s lives!
Take George Odongi, a member of KOFDEG. He used to farm sorghum and maize that his family ate. Through LWR’s project, a “lead farmer” from the organization invited him to learn about tomato farming. He decided to give it a try. He joined the project’s savings group, from which he borrowed about $30 to buy seeds and fertilizer. He planted tomatoes on his small plot of land, and when he sold them three months later made a profit of $300! He was so proud to tell me that he was able to send his eldest daughter to a really good high school. He intends to pay for all six of his children’s education and he hopes his daughter gets her Ph.D. or becomes a doctor.
Our projects in Kenya focus on making farmer organizations strong so that they are able to address their members’ needs. One of the members of APOKO, a coffee cooperative called Kabondo Farmer Cooperative Society, has a tree seedling nursery that LWR helped to establish several years ago. Commercial nurseries are very expensive. When a cooperative can subsidize and run its own nursery, its members have better access to the best plants that they couldn’t otherwise afford.
The cooperative grew and made enough profit to continue running the nursery, including buying seeds for improved coffee varieties, paying nursery attendants and selling seedlings. The cycle has continued many times.
Kabondo also set up a demonstration plot to show farmers how to tend the coffee trees to get the best yield – for instance, how to apply compost and how to prune the branches. With income from selling the coffee they grew, they planted even more trees and are trying new techniques. They showed me how they were experimenting with grafting branches from improved varieties onto established coffee trees.
It makes me really excited that cooperatives can continue doing things that LWR helped them start, and even expand their original efforts without direct support from LWR. The income Kabondo generates from coffee and seedling sales can be used to pay its staff and provide better services to its members. This gives me optimism that after LWR’s funding ends, these farmers will continue their operations without us.
My role is to helping our partners stick to the plans we developed together for their project. I coach the leaders of our partner organizations so that they gain skills to operate strong cooperatives, even without LWR’s support.
We’re planning for their future. What I saw with APOKO and KOFDEG really gives me hope for the farmers of Western Kenya.