Photo: Grameen Foundation/ Riccardo Gangale
Ruth remembers clearly when things changed for her family.
It had been tough supporting her children while her husband struggled with alcohol. She spent her days working as a farm hand in her community in Kenya and her evening fetching water and firewood and preparing the family meal. It was hard to afford food.
"At some point, milk was a luxury," she explained. It was tough, but she was determined to keep her family in their one-room house, and her daughter, Mary, in high school. The turning point came when she learned about Musoni, a local microfinance institution that works with Grameen Foundation.
Musoni uses an all-digital model that allows its clients to receive and repay loans via mobile phones. Its approach is just right for Kenya where almost 90 percent of people have access to a phone, and farmers often cannot afford the lost time and money spent traveling to a branch office.
When Ruth joined Musoni, she saved up the little she had until she was able to get educational loans for her daughter's schooling.
Her third loan - a Kilimo Booster loan - gave her the break she needed for her family. Developed by Grameen Foundation and Musoni, Kilimo Booster is designed for smallholder farmers and offers repayment terms that match a farmer’s crop and cash cycles.
Ruth was able to buy a cow and rent plots of land to farm, and has continued to expand her business with additional loans.
Since Kilimo Booster’s launch in 2013, Musoni has disbursed over US$10million in loans to more than 6,000 farmers. Over the next year, Grameen Foundation will help it expand its outreach significantly through targeted marketing campaigns to reach even more farmers like Ruth.
In addition, Grameen Foundation with the support of Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, is helping Musoni enhance its technology system to make the loan application and credit evaluation process more seamless. This will also allow Ruth and other farmers to apply for loans and check their account balances directly on their phones instead of relying on the loan officers to provide that information. A new training program will also educate farmers on agricultural best practices and financial management – essential tools they will need to transform their small-scale farms to sustainable agribusinesses.
"Now I am no longer a farm hand but I employ farm hands to help in my farming. I now cultivate my own land and Musoni is there to give me money to buy seeds, fertilizers and increase the productivity of my farm," she said proudly.
Her home life has also improved.
She helped her husband through rehab and he now runs a metal spare parts business - and counsels others about drinking.
Ruth has big plans for the future. She wants to buy two more cows to increase her income and a motorcycle to transport fodder for the cows. She also wants to erect some houses for rental income.
And, she's always happy to encourage others to join Musoni.
Thinking back, she said, "We are living comfortably. We are well fed and well clothed. I now have piped water, electricity and I also cook with gas. I no longer fetch firewood. I am also able to take care of my grandchild without any problem. If I remember where we were before and the difference now, I feel like crying, 'God is great.'"