Three Years Ago
Jekoniah looks over his 1.5-acre farm in the Iringa Region of Tanzania and surveys his crop of maize (corn). The crop this year is no better than last year’s, which is not very good. Jekoniah didn’t have the money to buy the quality seeds or the fertilizer that would have produced a higher yield. He has nothing but his small mud hut that he shares with his wife and five children so no bank will give him a loan for better crop inputs. Microloans are not enough.
If the weather holds, Jekoniah will produce about five big bags of maize (about 120 kg. or 250 lb. each). So Jekoniah has a problem. His five kids are all teenagers so eat alot. He needs at least ten bags just to get through the year, though this is far from good nutrition.
He is one of the poor who makes less than a dollar a day. By international standards, he makes $0.42 per day but that number counts what he grows not what he pockets. To have any money he will have to sell some of the maize and make his family even hungrier. So if someone gets sick he will have to choose between medicine and deeper starvation. School for his kids is not an option. Amazingly, some families starve their children just to put them in school. They hope for a better life.
But actually, his life is more difficult: in order to plant next year, Jekoniah has to save some of the corn for planting. And by the time he gets all the way to the next harvest, he will probably lose 30% of this year’s harvest to bugs and rot.
Jekoniah lives with the cruel irony that the hungriest people on the planet are usually farmers. Generations have persisted like this. It is not a bucolic rural life. Farming is an occupation of necessity, not choice. Jekoniah is an ‘Average Joe’ among the poorest billion on earth. The majority of the poor on earth are farmers like Jekoniah.
It is harvest time and Jekoniah is bringing in the best crop they have ever grown – more than 25 bags. Things started to change for Jekoniah when he joined a farmer group organized by Pearl Foods, a Cheetah investment. He waited two years to join, verifying the success of his neighbors. He couldn’t take a further risk on a loan with his family living right at the edge until he was certain. Now he has a new life.
Jekoniah joined a small group of farmers that guarantee each other’s crop input loans. The local bank is willing to lend to the farmers because Cheetah has provided collateral and the sale of the farmers’ crops is guaranteed by Pearl Foods, one of Cheetah’s companies. It will cost him 5 bags to repay the loan, he will keep 10 bags for food (finally enough!) and sell 10 bags for around $280. This is the most money he has ever had and it is life changing.
It is also a community changed: rising farmer incomes mean the local health clinic has been upgraded, the villagers convinced the local government to improve the road, fields are being surveyed for land titles, and a church is being built. This is what it means to improve livelihoods and build economic development.