THE WATER MAN – part 2 of 2
Written by Elikanah Ng'ang'a, Social Performance & Capacity Building Officer - Oikocredit Africa
The Water Man story tells of one man’s determination to bend the Covid-19 curve, and provides lessons for Oikocredit partners, staff and investors. In this second part of his blog, Elikanah shares examples of what our partners are doing to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on their end-clients.
In the first part of this blog, I told the inspiring story of “the Water Man” (read part-one here). In the weeks after hearing this story for myself, and in collaboration with other colleagues, we decided to find out what Oikocredit partners are doing to mitigate the impact of Covid-19. Our partners will know from our due diligence process, that we ask questions about what happens when things go wrong for end-clients. Many understand Oikocredit’s mission, that we care what happens at the level of the end-clients and smallholder farmers. It is in the difficult times that we are all put to the test, such as this pandemic, and here is an opportunity to really understand the heart of our partners.
We received very encouraging news from our microfinance institutions (MFIs). Some of them had given repayment holidays to their end-clients during lockdown. Others are constantly communicating with their end-clients to try and understand the impact of Covid-19 to their business. Some have introduced digital payments and other Covid-19 protection protocols. During our conversations with the partners we noted that some had gone the extra mile.
Here are their stories, which are motivating and encouraging for us all. Their stories make us proud to work with Oikocredit, and to see our values influencing our partners to do more.
 Karongi Tea Factory, Rwanda: free mobile phones for smallholder farmers
Karongi Tea Factory (KTF) is one of our partners in Rwanda. The partner buys green tea leaves from smallholder tea farmers organised into cooperatives, processes and exports the tea. Three months ago, Covid-19 hit Rwanda and the government of Rwanda instituted measures to limit the spread of the virus. One of the measures introduced was digital payments to the farmers. After these measures were introduced, KTF noted that some farmers were not receiving their payments on time.
Investigations showed that some farmers did not own mobile phones. This led to KTF setting aside US$ 10,000 to buy mobile phones for the farmers. The organisation then partnered with a mobile provider called MTN which also trained the farmers and the phones were provided free of charge.
Oikocredit through capacity building, is partnering with KTF to grow 2 million high quality tea seedlings which will be distributed to 2,000 smallholder farmers. Despite the many challenges of Covid-19, this project has started well with the establishment of tea nurseries. With an ease to the lockdown expected soon in Rwanda, training for the smallholder farmers will recommence.
 Paem Company Ltd, Kenya: food support for casual workers affected by social distancing in the factory
Paem Company Ltd (Paem) is a new partner of Oikocredit based in Kenya. It is a small and medium enterprise (SME) that buys macadamia nuts from smallholder farmers and processes them. When Covid-19 hit Kenya, the SME being in the food industry was allowed to continue to operate, but was expected to follow Ministry of Health guidelines. Among the measures they were to follow were social distancing in the factory. As a result, around 114 casual workers were affected and sent home. While many organisations would choose to let the employees go and save costs, it was not the case for Paem. They decided to set aside funds to give to these casual workers for food until they were allowed to work again. Paem does not know how long they will need to continue doing this. But they understand that these employees need their support to survive more than ever before, because at this time, getting another job is next to impossible.
 Tugende, Uganda: cash transfers to motorcycle riders in lockdown
Tugende is one of our new partners in Uganda. The social enterprise finances low-income motorcycle riders in Uganda to acquire and own their bikes so that they can support their families with increased income. They do so out of the knowledge that many low-income bikers in Uganda do not own their motorcycles, they hire it from middleclass people which reduces their income.
When Covid-19 struck Uganda, the government instituted a total lockdown in Kampala with both private and public transport stopped. Motorcycles were also banned from carrying passengers. This affected the operation of Tugende and its end-clients. To ensure the riders continued in business, Tugende decided to give all its borrowers cash transfers for them to buy food. It also gave them repayment holidays and removed penalties for late repayment. While most organisations would stop at repayment holidays, Tugende decided to go further because it knew its clients were not making any money at all.
 Ecamom, Côte d’Ivoire: input contributions to smallholder cocoa farmers
Ecamom is a farmers’ cooperative based in Côte d’Ivoire and one of Oikocredit’s cocoa producing partners. The management of Ecamom reported that the lockdown had made cocoa beans collection fall by 50% in the months of April and May. It meant a heavy shortfall of income for smallholder farmers. This impacted the farmers ability to respond to basic household needs, and most importantly their planned investment to protect and prepare their farms for the next season's harvest.
The consequence of this is that most farmers could not afford the 20% cash advance payment for fertiliser and pesticides. In the years before, the farmers used to make this 20% contribution and then the cooperative would approach the supplier on the farmers’ behalf. The products need to be ordered from the supplier in April after the 20% advance payment is made by the farmers. But the farmers were not able to pay this year. The cooperative decided to advance this amount for around 800 farmers, totalling XOF 35,000,000 (around € 53,000).
The cooperative emphasised that their goal is to ensure the farmers survive this situation and are productive for the next season, where they hope Covid-19 will be behind them.
 Greenforest Foods Ltd, Kenya: farm-gate price increase for smallholder farmers
Greenforest Foods Ltd (Greenforest) is an agri-processor SME based in Nairobi Kenya. The SME buys and processes nuts and honey from smallholder farmers in Kenya and Tanzania. When Covid-19 hit Kenya the smallholder farmers that supply Greenforest were faced with higher labour costs. This was because social distancing measures meant less people working in the fields and, because the movement of people was also restricted, casual workers from nearby farms could charge more for their labour.
To ensure the farmers do not carry the heavy burden of increased cost, Greenforest increased the “farm-gate price” (paid direct to the farmer) to ensure smallholder farmers maintain the same level of income. Greenforest decided not to increase the price of their end products, so this cost was borne by them.
 Bufcoffee, Rwanda: providing heifers to smallholder coffee farmers for their children’s nutrition
Bufcoffee is one of Oikocredit’s SMEs that buy coffee from smallholder farmers in Rwanda. When Covid-19 hit Rwanda and the government ordered the schools to be closed, the organisation decided to do something that not many organisations do. They thought that since the children of their farmers will be at home and to fight Covid-19, you need to have good nutrition. So they decided to provide heifers to their poorest farmers. It is their hope that the milk from the cows will help give the children the nutrition they need when out of school and home with their parents.
 Impexcor, Rwanda: providing PPE at coffee washing stations
How do you maintain social distancing when harvesting coffee beans? This is the question that Impexcor, our coffee SME in Rwanda tried to address. The organisation decided to train farmers how to safely harvest coffee beans in the middle of the pandemic. Among other measures, they trained farmers to observe Covid-19 protocols on the farm, for example: to assign each coffee tree to only one farmer. They also provided farmers with free facemasks, sanitisers and soaps at coffee washing stations. “We need farmers to be in good health at this time, and in the seasons to come”, they said.
Oikocredit through capacity building is partnering with the organisation to train more farmers, not only in Covid-19 protocols, but also to get more income from their coffee trees, and to diversify so as to mitigate the ups and downs of coffee prices.
You can watch here John’s story “The Water Man”, as reported by Citizen TV.
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