Jamii Development Fund Launched
I am streaked with mud from coming home in the rain and the neighbors’ scruffy puppy curled happily around my legs smells distinctly of the rotten vegetables from the garbage pile she was just playing in. On a normal day I would march into the house, try to de-grime myself and start cooking dinner. But it’s my last week in Kuria. The new team has taken over my cooking and water duties, I’ve handed off my Nuru phone and Aerie and I are almost finished transitioning the CED program. The puppy at my feet is not aware of these massive changes, although she will probably give me a parting gift of ringworm. After this week, my normal day may no longer involve sitting inside a maize granary to wait out a rainstorm before I can go home from work.
The rains are early this season. So planting has to be started at the same time that farmers are frantically drying maize under the uncooperatively damp sky to repay last season’s farm inputs. At Nuru, February has also been a collision of events. It’s our first go at running maize buying operations in the Nuru granary, and the Agriculture and CED programs are both involved in the logistics of coordinating 7 different buying stations. Foundation Team 4 has arrived, and transition is underway in almost every program. Finally, the first official round of JDF loans is being issued!
7 loans were given from the Jamii Development Fund as part of loan product pilots in December, but this first round of loans truly launches the JDF. They are open to any Nuru farmer who has successfully repaid 2 seasons’ of farm input loans, saved enough money to purchase farming inputs instead of borrowing, and attended a financial planning workshop. By making progress towards independence from Nuru farm input loans, additional lines of credit will be available to these members, formally linking the JDF with our savings initiatives. For this round, loans will be available for the payment of school fees (primary and secondary education) and farm labor or equipment (hired labor, plough oxen, etc.).
These requirements are pretty high. Even farmers with good income from the harvest would have had to do some planning to qualify for a JDF loan. This is intentional. We don’t freely offer large capital loans. I know there are differing opinions on this and I understand why many organizations try to immediately address lack of access to capital, one of the biggest obstacles to economic development. But I don’t think credit is intuitive and it’s not the only answer to economic development. As we continue to develop and expand the Jamii Development Fund as a community-led initiative, it will only become more important that our clients are trained in financial planning and loan management. On our part, we’ll need to remain responsive to community needs. For example, the timing of the rains has brought on a need for short-term loans. Since school fees and repayment of farm input loans are due before many farmers have harvested, they may be forced to seek high-interest, short-term credit from loan sharks. We are currently exploring loans that will allow members to affordably meet cash flow needs during the crucial period before harvest.
For now, the CED managers are seated around a table wedged between ceiling-high stacks of maize sacks in the Nuru granary. The light is filtered and gray before the oncoming rain and the ground is coated with stray maize kernels. Aerie surveys the granary floor and comments “You know, if we swept up all this maize we’d probably get a sack or two.” Which is the same thing I said a few weeks ago. Must be a CED thing. Peter and Moses, who are coming along nicely in our OCD ways, are scrawling meticulous notes in their field reports. We are reviewing more than a dozen applications, but the field managers are taking the lead. They have visited the homes and businesses of the applicants to verify income information and evaluate repayment capacity. The process is clunky for this first try, but will undergo iterations and improvement in the weeks to come. I’m sad to think I won’t be here to see those developments, but I feel fine letting go of the program. It’s been humbling to work with such a great team.