Nuru’s farm loan program is a critical foothold program for us here in the community. The farm loan program involves Nuru purchasing high quality inputs (fertilizer and seed) so that famers can dramatically increase their crop yields (400%-500%). At harvest, the farmers repay the loan and have plenty left over to feed their families for the next season (families currently go hungry for half of the season). Lastly, they reinvest in next year’s inputs without the loan.

Sounds simple, right?  Guess again. The saga of our purchasing, transporting and distributing the farm loan inputs is a saga of epic proportions. To read the whole story, check out the full blog post at For the short story, read on…

We have 450 farmers in the program…that’s a lot of freakin inputs to buy up front. I had budgeted for a price point slightly above market rate in 2007. When we discovered that there was a huge spike in prices, though, we found ourselves way underfunded for the program. The government offered a subsidy, but because of a government scandal involving some MPs buying up all the subsidized fertilizer, there was a ripple effect around the country and distribution sites began experiencing shortages. There were even instances were riots broke out just north of us because groups of farmers had paid for fertilizer, but when they arrived to pick it up to plant this season, it was gone.

Because of these shortages, scandals, etc., the national NCPB branch in Nairobi was trying to get ANY excuse to cancel large orders of fertilizer. When we placed our order in November, we had to submit massive amounts of paperwork documenting every farmer in the program and the amounts they would be receiving. We also had to obtain a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture stating that we were, indeed, serving farmers in the Kuria District, and not just buying the fertilizer to sell across the border in Tanzania. It took me A LONG time and NUMEROUS meetings with the ministry to get that letter.

After the 4th or 5th meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture (mind you, I have to walk an hour to get to this place every time), I received a handwritten letter approving the purchase of our inputs. I took the letter to the NCPB and they finally allowed us to place the order – assuring me that the order would be in mid-December. We wrote a check for the equivalent of $50,000 to put a down payment on the inputs and place the order.

After MANY meetings and phone calls, we finally got the fertilizer into the local branch of the NCPB and they cashed our check on Feb 3. Still no sign of the seed, though, so I made the decision to cancel with NCPB seed order and source a private supplier in a town 3 hours north. Jumping through massive hoops, we were able to source the seed directly with the manufacturer and get it into a holding location in the community on the 4th…ready for issue on the 5th.

Morning of Feb 5…chaos. Our trucks showed up to pull the inputs out first thing in the morning at 7:00am. NCPB would not release the fertilizer! They said that the national NCPB branch in Nairobi had ordered them to not issue our fertilizer to us. I was already on location at one of the issue points in Taragwiti village. James, one of our Nuru Field Officers tried to get a hold of me to let me know what was going on, but I was in a serious cell phone dead spot in the village. He sent a runner to get word to me. When I received the message, I was FURIOUS. Nairobi was claiming that we didn’t have the proper paperwork in. I immediately called the national branch. They informed me that they had canceled the order because the letter I had submitted in November WASN’T ON THE RIGHT LETTERHEAD! Are you kidding me?????  It was now 9:30am. The farmers had shown up at 9:00am ready to go. We had to go into crisis action mode.

After convincing the national branch manager to let us send him another letter on proper letterhead, Philip, our CDC (Community Development Committee) Chairman, running around to find a fax machine in the nearest village, and the national manager driving 45 minutes to SEE THE AUTHORIZATION FAX WITH HIS OWN EYES, the fertilizer was released and could be loaded onto trucks for delivery in Kuria.

After several other unbelievable setbacks, including one of the trucks breaking down, all the farmers received their inputs. They began planting last week and the rains arrived right on schedule.  It was a true miracle that the farmers received their inputs on time.  Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong – even after detailed contingency planning. I was so proud of the way that the Kenyan staff went into action as everything was falling apart. I am becoming more and more confident that they will be able to completely take over and run this project very soon – and lead their people out of extreme poverty forever.