THE BLOG
12/14/2012 06:41 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

Pioneering Green Technology, From 'Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories'

Venture is a rich and readable collection of true microfinance stories. It is written for anyone who would like to better understand the realities faced by the the aspiring middle class in the world's least developed countries, the range of factors that affect their prospects for working their way out of poverty, and how microfinance can impact their lives.

The entrepreneurs featured in this book are all members of Zidisha Microfinance, a web-based crowdfunding platform that allows low-income, computer-savvy entrepreneurs in developing countries to share their stories and negotiate microloans directly with individual lenders. As the world's first person-to-person lending service to eliminate intermediaries and connect individual web users and entrepreneurs across the international wealth divide, Zidisha is uniquely positioned to offer an undistorted depiction of the variety of individual stories and circumstances that come to play each time a microfinance loan is disbursed.

Each story paints an unforgettable picture: A 70-year-old goat farmer who relocates his home to better care for his ailing father, carrying the sticks and metal sheeting it was made from across the mountains on his back. A plump, beaming detergent saleslady who lives in a home no larger than an ordinary bathroom but has adopted five orphans. A cancer survivor who supports herself and two children by pounding millet for $1.58 per day. An irrepressible lady who supplies half of her neighborhood with much-needed IVs and other medical supplies by day, and by night checks into the local cybercafe to chat with Facebook friends on the other side of the world. A young man who has no arms but insists on working to support his able-bodied parents out of filial duty. An accounting student who pays for his university tuition by purchasing a taxi and splitting proceeds with a hired driver. A bright young lady who renounces college to care for her orphaned siblings and overcomes gender stereotypes to launch a thriving construction business.

At its heart, "Venture" is a tribute to the remarkable community of Zidisha Microfinance entrepreneurs and countless others like them -- a tribute to their grit, ambition and indomitable spirit in the face of overwhelming obstacles. We hope this book will help translate the statistics about poverty and the opportunities afforded by microfinance into human terms, and inspire readers to reach out and connect with their counterparts on the other side of the international wealth divide.

Story 10: Pioneering Green Technology

Wanjira Ngure's first business venture was a shop located in Mitimingi, a small town in the middle of the Rift Valley. The town is very remote and residents rely on small shops like hers to provide all of their necessary household goods: flour, cooking fat, shoes, mirrors, soda, grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. They also relied on her shop's generator to charge their cell phones (Mitimingi has no access to electricity), for which they paid a fee of about 13 cents.

Most people in the area rely on subsistence farming for their livelihood. However variable weather and market conditions can make farming a risky business. Wanjira's farm suffered during Kenya's recent two-year drought. Her finances were further affected during the 2007 post-election violence, when she and her husband James housed a number of families who were fleeing for their lives. Wanjira still remembers watching the homes of her friends and relatives burning on the hillsides close to the Mau forest, the home base of many of the violence's perpetrators.

Wanjira knew that in order to recover from her family's recent hardships she could not rely on traditional farming alone. She decided to open her own shop as an additional means to provide for her baby girl, Gladys. Wanjira would walk four kilometers each way from her home to her shop, Gladys on her back. She would then travel via public transportation, generally in the form of minibuses called matatus or refurnished lorries, to Nakuru city in order to buy her stock from wholesalers. The trip cost $1.25 each way and could take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on road conditions and how quickly the vehicle filled up with people. Wanjira took her first Zidisha loan of $382 to purchase inventory for her shop.

Then a year ago, Wanjira and James attended a seminar in Naivasha town. That is where they got the idea of constructing a greenhouse and using drip farming to irrigate their crops. A greenhouse kit that was being sold at the seminar cost around $2,600. James investigated further after returning and was able to construct his first greenhouse of fifteen by eight meters for around $600. They sold their shop in Mitimingi to arrange for this money.

The returns from the first greenhouse were so tremendous (James claims that a tomato crop inside the greenhouse gives fifty times more returns than a tomato crop of the same size outside the greenhouse) that they have now decided to gradually bring their whole farm under a greenhouse. They used their second Zidisha loan to increase the acreage under greenhouse production and to buy a drip irrigation kit. Now they have three greenhouses, all using drip irrigation and all made from local materials (plastic sheeting and local wood logs).

James has dug two tanks in the farm to collect rainwater. He directs water flowing on the road into his farm to collect it into these tanks, which he uses to drip-irrigate his crops for the whole year. The couple's future plans include lining the tanks with "dam liner," which is a plastic sheet that prevents water from being absorbed by the soil.

Wanjira and James have high hopes that their newly found source of income will be the vehicle to quality education and a better future for their daughter. Even at her young age Gladys is a bundle of energy, walking, giggling, and trying to get into all sorts of mischief. When I attempted to take a picture of Wanjira and her girl, Gladys wouldn't stop squirming and trying to talk, and Wanjira couldn't stop laughing.

Wanjira's Words:

Dear lenders, I met with [Zidisha staff member] Lauren who visited my shop recently. We shared a lot about Zidisha lenders. I was really amazed by the knowledge of the huge difference between Kenya especially in rural area such as where I come from and America. She was amazed to learn that we still do not have such "basic" necessities such as electricity, piped water, internet services. Indeed, from the place I come from most of this necessities are not available. To access internet services, for example, I travel to Nakuru town, a distance of 40 kilometers. The means of transport that we use is minibuses commonly called "matatus." The journey is usually rough and takes about one and half hours at least, sometimes even more time. We pay KSH 100 [$1.25] for a one-way journey to Nakuru. The poor road network makes things even more difficult especially when it rains...

My husband who is a teacher is also very passionate about farming. We have a small piece of land where we grows vegetables such as kales, cabbages, tomatoes etc. We have identified drought as one of the problems that most of the farmers face. About eight months in a year are usually very dry and as such green vegetables during this time are usually very scarce and very expensive.

Three months ago we were able to dig a rectangular pit of eight meters long, five meters wide and two meters deep. We then laid a polythene sheet of paper in the pit. The purpose of the pit was to collect runoff water when it rains. Then intend to use the water for irrigation during the dry seasons.

Since the amount of water is still limited (currently we approximate the volume of the water in the pit to about 40 cubic meters) we have been looking for the most efficient irrigation method. We have identified drip irrigation system as the most economical. Currently we are in the process of installing the system on trial basis. We have already bought the drip lines (lateral) and are left with only some few other components. Meanwhile we have already prepared the nursery for tomatoes. By the time the seedlings will be ready for transplant we intend to have the system ready. My husband is very optimistic about the project and plans to make the project even larger. The irrigation will cover about an eighth of an acre with about 1,000 tomato plants... I believe that with this loan I will be able to expand my irrigation system in our farm. I also believe that in not so long I will be hiring some people to work at the farm.

You may view the latest news and photos of Wanjira's business at her Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 10 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time: The story of a pharmacy clerk who launched a medical supply distribution business that improved the lives of thousands...

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