The city of Little Rock, Ark. Photo from: city-data.com
Heifer International is pleased to welcome Kiva Microfunds to the growing list of global solution-oriented providers such as Heifer, the William J. Clinton Foundation, Winrock International, Bridge to Rwanda and others based and working here in Little Rock.
While Heifer works with partner families one to one, through investments of livestock and training that build social capital and value chain opportunities, properly managed microfinance can be a powerful of change, especially for women.
Without organizations such as Kiva, poor women, lacking collateral, would not have access to the small individual or group loans—banks would never take the risk—to use to start or improve a small business that will spark the change that, with further help, can create deep impact that fosters resilience and sustainability.
Story by: Sok Nom, Project Coordinator for RCSA Contribution by: Prak Somathy, Communication and Networking Manager for Heifer Cambodia
Since 2010 after joining the self help group Stey Akphiwat Reakreay, or “Happy Development Women,” Mrs. Lang Sophea and her family members received not only physical inputs from the Heifer project, but also many trainings from which the household is able to use for increasing income and improving their standard of living. Late last December, Sophea had received another training on small business and micro-finance. After the training, Sophea has transformed this knowledge into real practice.
During last four months, Sophea sold two fattened pigs for 520,000 Riels (US $130) each. Her family allocated a part of the money, with some money loaned from the group, to start a small business — a grocery shop selling vegetables, fruits and foods. Sophea is able to earn a daily income in average of 110,000 Riels from the shop from which she receives a net profit of 50,000 Riels, or US $12, per day.
“Thank very much to Heifer Cambodia and Rural Children Saving Association (RCSA) for providing my family the knowledge on small business. Now we can get diversified incomes to support the family,” said Sophea. Last month, her family also took another part of the money from selling the pigs to buy a pumping machine which now has been used for pumping underground water to sell to villagers. Her family plans to expand this business while the villagers are more aware of using clean water.
Sophea gets up at 4:30 a.m. to cook and serve breakfast to costumers while her husband goes to a wholesale market to buy vegetables, fruits and other grocery things for sale. The breakfast is served until 8:00 a.m., and then she starts preparing lunch foods for selling. Meanwhile, with help from her children, she also sells vegetables, fruits and grocery things. Her shop is open until 6:00 in the evening.
“I had abandoned my illegal job in cutting trees and poaching wildlife at the jungle,” admitted her husband, Ein Dok. “We have created new jobs at home. We buy vegetables from market for selling at our shop. However, because now we have the pumping machine, we plan to grow vegetables to support our own shop.” Dok also plans to enhance the swine production as so far the family has two sows which are pregnant, which are expected to give birth next two months. The family also has a fattened piglet and 50 hens and chickens which remain from home consumption.
“I help feed the animals when my mom is busy at the shop because I have afternoon class. My dad cleans animals (pig) pens and troughs before we feed them,” said Sophea’s daughter, Thearom. “Besides doing household chores after school time, I do my homework, which is assigned by my teachers.”
Though Sophea is busy at her businesses, she never forgets group works and activities. She attends monthly group meetings regularly, sharing her experience in animal husbandry and participating in solving issues occurring in her community. She also pays attention to social work by contributing some money to repair her village road. During this period, because she is an active member in the group, the group members selected her as deputy leader of the group.
A few weeks ago, as a member of a Honduras Study Tour, I had the privilege of visiting the community of Tontolo, La Campa, in the Department of Lempira. Our group was invited to celebrate the Passing on the Gift® of chickens in the community by Nueva Amanecer Tontolo (New Dawn Tontolo), a group of 36 women farmers that formed four years ago and connected to Heifer through project partner Comision de Accion Social Menonita (CASM, Mennonite Social Action Commission).
Our drive took us up into the mountains and through a village with a distinct colonial influence– remnants of its history as a stopping point for the Spanish on their way to Guatemala. Eventually, even our fearless bus driver decided that the bus couldn’t navigate the path ahead, and we walked 15 or 20 minutes to join the POG party. Later we learned that our walk paled in comparison to that of many of the members of Nueva Amanecer, who walked an hour or longer to arrive at the POG ceremony that day, as they do for their meetings every month in the same location.
When we began to near the celebration, we were greeted by the joyous sound of a guitar accompanied by boisterous singing and clapping. After a couple of songs, Nueva Amanecer members and their families introduced themselves and the organization. In addition to training, group members had received cows, rabbits and native chickens, they explained, and their husbands help with the animals.
Some group members received biodigesters and ecostoves to boil milk. When necessary, Nueva Amanecer also functions as a small, rural bank that promotes saving and offers loans, with interest payed back monthly.
“I give thanks to God for the work that Heifer is doing and (for) supporting us as women farmers,” one Nueva Amanecer member said. We are poor, she said, but we have been working together to move our community and our families forward in a very organized way.
Next was the main event: not one, but two Passing on the Gift ceremonies, which marked the first POG for Nueva Amanecer. Each POG recipient would be receiving 20 chickens and one rooster each, and seemingly everyone in the community crowded around the chicken coops to witness the special moment. During the second ceremony, community members (and a Heifer employee or two) gathered together to catch some elusive chickens for the POG:
After the chickens were finally rounded up, the woman giving the chickens (right), beaming with pride and confidence, and the POG recipient (left), with a joyous smile on her face, talked about what the ceremony meant to each of them:
The event was as moving as it was inspiring, and I was honored to be able to share the moment with such an empowered group of women who are finding ways to work their families and community out of poverty.
Nueva Amanecer fits into the larger project picture as a part of “Sustainable Food Systems in Copan and Lempira,” a Heifer umbrella project that involves 2,058 families in 43 communities in western Honduras. In addition to generating livestock products and diversifying family agricultural production, the project promotes the use of agroecological and soil conservation practices as well as the use of animal waste as a source of alternative energy via biodigesters.
Also, “Sustainable Food Systems” is one of the three projects that you can help fund through the Honduras umbrella project match. Any gift you give will be doubled by an anonymous donor and will help thousands of families improve their nutrition and income!
Nueva Amanecer’s president (right) helps prepare one of the organization’s members to pass on 20 chickens and a rooster in the community of Tontolo in Honduras.
This afternoon, Dero and I got to visit the Heifer Uganda office. I had the chance to meet a handful of my colleagues and to see where they do their work. A particular treat was meeting Beinempaka Athanasius, who is the program coordinator for the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program. At the bottom of this post is the profile for this project, to give you a little context.
The other five countries under the larger umbrella project are Burkina Fasso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania. In Uganda, a project participant must pay at least 70 percent of the cost of installation. That 70 percent can come from their own savings or through a microcredit loan from a grassroots cooperative. The remaining 30 percent comes from external funding. Currently, there are three different sizes of units available to participants: 6 cubic meters, 9 cubic meters or 12 cubic meters. There is talk of adding a model in 4 cubic meters. The cost of the smallest unit (6 meters) is approximately U.S. $700. To Dero and me, that sounded like nothing. But to Heifer Uganda staff, as well as the participants, that’s a mighty hefty sum.
A challenge that this project has faced is cultural acceptance of the biogas units. To combat this, Heifer Uganda has worked to sensitize communities to how the units can help them. They even have a mobile unit they take with them to make demonstrations. It is often easier to get a family to buy into the concept of using their livestock’s waste to make fuel for cooking and lighting; human waste (which produces a great deal of methane and acts as a catalyst to speed up the breakdown of livestock manure) is another story. Each time a biogas unit is installed, however, a pipe is connected to the composting toilet, but the valve is not turned on until the family agrees to it.
Mobile biogas unit.
Heifer Uganda staff showed us a handful of biogas stovetops and lamps. Until recently, the project imported the stovetops from China. They soon realized, though, that they could teach people to make them locally and less expensively. Surprisingly, the lamps imported from China cost less and are more efficient than anything that can be made here in Uganda. There is such a high demand in Kenya for the lamps, in fact, that you can find them in markets across the country.
The bottom stovetop is the import from China.
The one on top was designed and made in Uganda.
This is the Lotus2. It is the newest biogas stovetop being made in Uganda.
Although biogas has been catching on in Uganda and the other countries participating in the project, it appears that because of the struggle to market the units, as well as the time it takes to train the technicians, promoters and service providers, Heifer Uganda will fall short of installing the target number of biogas units. With such an exciting and promising appropriate technology, it is easy to see how ambitious a project might become, planning to install too many in too short a time.
But there’s absolutely no doubt that these units are changing people’s lives. I look forward to visiting, and sharing with you, families who already have biogas units installed and in use.
What do you think? What would it take to convince you that biogas is the way to go? What questions do you have about biogas?
–Photography by Dero Sanford
Uganda Domestic Biogas Program
The growing demand for fuel has resulted in pressure being exerted on the environment. Trees are cut to provide wood and charcoal for cooking, and burning of fossil fuels has had damaging effects on the environment. Smoke from burning of fuel wood is a hazard to human health. In addition, the cost of domestic fuel is much higher than most households in Uganda can afford. Biogas provides a cheap alternative source of energy for cooking and lighting. The Uganda Domestic Biogas Program therefore aims at addressing this gap by developing and disseminating domestic biogas in rural and semi-urban areas offering the Ugandan population the benefits derived from the use of clean biogas for cooking and lighting and using the bio-slurry to increase agricultural yields with the ultimate goal to establish a sustainable and commercial biogas sector in Uganda.
The program will target 12,160 biogas households in the five-year project cycle. Biogas technology as local knowledge has not been institutionally operational in many parts of Uganda, and the introduction will be a considerate and phased approach. During the first six months, at least 120 biogas plants will be constructed – 90 demonstration and 30 regular plants. The program will start in more densely populated areas, particularly where dairy activities are common (e.g., where Heifer Uganda, Send A Cow and other NGOs have placed cows). Outreach will be improved by making use of partnerships particularly with NGOs, local councils and religious communities active in remote areas.
A multi-stakeholders sector development approach will be used and is based on the establishment, over time, of a market for domestic biogas installations and accessories, in which a well-informed demand side (i.e., in which clients who know what they want and recognize quality and value for money links up with an equally capable supply side that provides the market with quality products at competitive prices and with adequate after-sales services). Such a market is expected to reach a volume that allows a significant number of constructors and credit providers to maintain an economically-sound and profitable level of turnover. In the process toward market development, the government, civil society organizations, and other players in the public and private domain have a role to play, in addition to the main actors in the market.
Particular attention will be paid to vocational training and business development. In Uganda, there are few contractors and skilled masons. No hard data is available on the presence of appropriate construction companies willing and able to build, maintain and repair bio-digesters. Most of the registered construction companies are located in the urban centers. In the past, numerous artisans have been trained in all kinds of masonry and have now established their own micro-enterprises, often not registered as a company. These artisans have the basic knowledge to qualify for the bio-digester mason training and are ideally situated in the villages. If there are not enough registered construction companies available to satisfy the demand, self-employed artisans will be approached to form bio-digester construction teams. The perspective is that these teams will transform into small but full-fledged companies in the long run.
The microlending industry is getting a lot of scrutiny in India and Bangladesh lately, where critics say the exorbitant interest rates cry out for tighter regulation. But in Haiti, microloans are a shining hope for people who would have otherwise lost their livelihoods in the January quake. The New York Times took a look this week at how the bruised microloan industry in Haiti is expanding to meet demand as people attempt to rebuild. For people opening and operating small businesses in Haiti today, microcredit is the only show in town despite high interest rates of 30 to 55 percent. And the nonprofits and for-profit groups that provide microloans in Haiti are struggling right alongside their clients after many loans had to be written off when so many borrowers lost their lives or homes earlier this year. The New York Times headline reads “Can Microlending Save Haiti?” The answer is, probably not by itself. But it’s certainly a good tool to consider as governments, NGOs and the Haitian people work together to get lives and the economy back on track.
Microcredit was the talk of the town for much of the past decade, especially in southern Asia, where visionaries like Muhammad Yunus brought small loans to poor entrepreneurs. Yunnis, who founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
The idea exploded. Everybody wanted in. Banks and companies began making loans, often with high rates of interest; the poor were borrowing money. In India, the total amount of microloans reached about $4 billion. But all this unregulated growth formed what we call an economic bubble, similar in ways to the U.S. housing crisis. And like all bubbles, this one was bound to burst.
India’s rapidly growing private microcredit industry faces imminent collapse as almost all borrowers in one of India’s largest states have stopped repaying their loans, egged on by politicians who accuse the industry of earning outsize profits on the backs of the poor. …
Initially the work of nonprofit groups, the tiny loans to the poor known as microcredit once seemed a promising path out of poverty for millions. In recent years, foundations, venture capitalists and the World Bank have used India as a petri dish for similar for-profit “social enterprises” that seek to make money while filling a social need. …
But microfinance in pursuit of profits has led some microcredit companies around the world to extend loans to poor villagers at exorbitant interest rates and without enough regard for their ability to repay. …
Sound familiar? It should.
Now some Indian officials fear that microfinance could become India’s version of the United States’ subprime mortgage debacle, in which the seemingly noble idea of extending home ownership to low-income households threatened to collapse the global banking system because of a reckless, grow-at-any-cost strategy.
Resourceful is a word often used to describe Heifer project participants. But nowhere have I found it more apt a description than for the project participants I’ve met in Vietnam.
Resourceful looks like Ma Xuan, 33, who, along with her husband worked as a seasonal laborer, and brought in only $20 a month to feed her family of five. But after training from Heifer, the gift of two cows and small microcredit loan, Ma Xuan has increased the family’s income to more than $260 a month. It also looks like Hoang Anh Tuan, 50. A savvy businessman before he lost everything in the mid 1980s, Tuan took his microcredit loan of about $100 and invested in growing beans. He made $950 off his initial investment, and is now one of the most successful farmers in his group. He is also sending his son to college, and just bought a new bicycle for his eldest daughter to ride when she starts a school for students gifted in mathematics, physics and chemistry next week.
Hoang Anh Tuan with one of his three cows near his home in Gia Lam Village
While Ma Xuan and Tuan are standouts, each farmer I’ve met has become an entrepreneur in their own right. Some have opened small stores, others have diversified their farms by raising chicks, ducks, geese, pigs and even pigeons. Some have coffee trees, fish farms or grow peanuts. But however their success has come, for each family I’ve met, it all started with the gift of a cow.