our impact :: conversations
A Time for Optimism
Conversation* with WILLIAM MWANGI, Vipani Farmer, July 2, 2007
After a long day at his farm, 54-year old William Mwangi was tired, yet excited to go home. William and his wife, 52-year old Flora Nduta are building a new house. Beside their mud house is a partially completed cement house. They liked to see it slowly taking shape.
They had recently purchased a water pump, hired a full time farm helper and expanded their farm. They have healthy looking French beans, maize and potatoes in their farm, and they are looking forward to a good amount of money.
They could not remember a time that they ever felt this hopeful.
William starts his story, "I had trained as a mechanic and a driver. My job kept me away from my family a lot. Yet, my income was never enough. My wife's small banana business helped us to get by, but nothing was left after paying for food and school fees of our four children. Before Vipani, our combined earnings were less than Ksh 30,000 a year (US$1=70 Ksh)."
"I thought there had to be a better way to earn a living. From 1974 to 2001, I started buying and selling bananas, which my wife continued as her full time business; I worked in a hotel; I became a newspaper vendor, then a meat vendor. While these sustained my family, none of it moved us from where we were."
"In 2001, I decided to try my luck as a farmer. We have only 0.5 acre of land, so we rented 2 acres for farming."
"I started by growing tomatoes. But the timing was not right. When it was time to harvest, there was a glut in the market. I lost Ksh 10,000 on my first farming venture."
"Still not deterred, I planted French beans next. But I did not have a ready market, so I sold my produce to a broker. The estimated sale was Ksh 20,000 but I was paid only Ksh 4,000. I decided to try again and this time I got a profit of Ksh 7,000, although I felt cheated because I knew that the broker's price was much too low."
"Other farmers in our village advised me to do contract farming of French beans. But it was still an uphill battle. The company rejected so much of my beans for various reasons; usually, rejection was more than 50%. By 2005, I felt defeated, and I thought it was better to abandon farming."
"But by chance, I heard a fellow farmer talking about Vipani."
"I decided to give farming another try, and joined Vipani in February 2006. Things changed rapidly from then on."
"My first sale of French beans with Vipani was for a total of Ksh 21,000. This was from a crop that I already planted before I joined Vipani, which I could not sell by myself. My family was so excited with the new money that came in, that we thought we could start construction of our house; this time, a permanent one made of cement. To start, we purchased sand. We saved the rest to prepare for our son's wedding."
I sold my second crop of French beans for a total of Ksh 15,000. We bought a dairy cow with our proceeds.
From June to August 2006, I also made Ksh 11,000 from butternuts and watermelons, and we paid our son's dowry with this money.
"I expanded my farm for my 3rd crop of French beans. I harvested about a ton of beans but most of it was rejected by the buyer; and only 400 kg was paid for. I only managed to earn Ksh 10,000 out of the Ksh 30,000 which I expected. This was a painful experience but it made me appreciate the need to grow other crops as well and lessen this kind of risk.
"But I didn't give up. In December 2006, I sold my 4th crop of French beans for Ksh 14,000. This time, we bought timber for our house."
"Between January to March 2007, I got Ksh 50,000 for my French beans. I invested half of it for a 5 HP water pump. For our house, we bought cement, and we hired a mason and laid the foundation. We aim to finish our construction this year. We have plans to expand our livestock and purchase land which my two sons can farm with me." According to William, an acre of land goes for about Ksh 200,000 and Ksh 250,000. "Raising this kind of money requires good planning and an effective back-up, which we are progressively putting in place."
"I fell sick with malaria in April, and this stalled our progress, but our family was able to absorb this set back. If I got sick back then when we did not have much money, it would have been catastrophic for my family."
"Vipani has revived my family's life. In one year, I have done so much in my farm and acquired a lot of assets. We have bought a dairy cow (Ksh 15,000), four pigs (Ksh 12,000) and five sheep ( Ksh 7,000). I have also employed a permanent laborer for Ksh 3,000 a month.
My previous attempts to earn a living in the past 30 years were so discouraging; I did not feel alive. It has taken Vipani only 15 months to give me and my family a new lease in life. We earned a total of Ksh 150,000 in 15 months, which was a substantial increase in our family income. We believe if we continue to get assistance from Vipani, our income will double to Ksh 300,000 by the end of 2007."
His wife, Flora, agrees."My husband has been helping me grow my banana business, which got a boost with additional capital from our earnings from our farm. We wish Vipani success. We wish that, like us, many farmers would be able to realize what they are capable of achieving through Vipani. The last 15 months with Vipani have seen us grow significantly. We've managed to start constructing a new house, and bring our farming to a new level. There is much more to look forward to in life now."
Patrick Maina and Julius Ngoro, Vipani staff, spoke to William on June 7, 2007
Vipani strives to
R E A C H
every farmer in a community who is stuck in the cycle of poverty.
Reach the poorest.
Enable every farmer.
Advance local support.
Catalyze local economies.
Help generate incomes.
Vipani has the potential to reach millions of poor farmers throughout the developing world.