Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Our 2016 Visit - A Few Observations

What a Year!

On Tuesday we started our training sessions in the afternoon.  The first day of training is always a bit slow as people straggle in.  This year is no exception.  By 1 PM there were only about 60 leaders in attendance.  This year there are more late-arrivals than usual.  It could be the heavy rains are at the root of the problem.  Since we have been here there has been a cholera epidemic that is closing off some areas and causing problems with the water supplies.  There was a major flooding problem in the Pawaga District (the north western part of Iringa) that has caused people to be evacuated and has resulted in whole villages disappearing.  There has been a large increase in cases of malaria.  Many of the roads we normally drive have been closed, etc.

Within the MFI team, Itiweni (the MFI coordinator), Peter (our field agent) and Itiweni’s daughter, Mercy, have had malaria since we arrived; today Nuru (our accountant) discovered that she has it.  At a few of our village visits attendance at our meetings has been low because the villagers are all at funerals, often due to malaria.

The rain has also delayed our building at Ipogolo.  First the contractor came down with malaria.  After he got better the roads were so muddy that materials couldn't be delivered.  Finally, when the rains stopped a couple of weeks ago, we got the materials delivered; however there have been so many sudden showers lately that the work still isn't done. 

On the positive side it seems that all of our work spreading the news about Iringa Hope is paying off.  Just a few nights ago we had dinner with Dave Benafeld, one of the chief NAFAKA agents here in Iringa.  NAFAKA is a development program funded by USAID that has given us a grant to develop our AMCOS.  He told us how impressed he was with our network and with Itiweni.  He had been reviewing the materials from our last year’s update meeting and was looking forward to this year’s program.  He wanted to attend but was going to be out of town and so was sending three of his employees to the program.  He will be funding more of our work this year.

Joan Mayer from USAID was likewise impressed by the Iringa Hope network.  She told us that they would be pushing to have our program included in their new rural credit initiative.

Today we learned that the District Commissioner is hoping to work with us to get a grant of 6 acres of land for us to develop in the future.  He is hoping that he can help us get a market center going for our AMCOS.  He knows that this will take some time, but he also knows that land is going to be hard to find soon and he wants us to have a location ready for when we need it.

We have been told by government officials that Iringa Hope is the largest network of its kind in Tanzania.  In fact, it is totally unique in the country.  It is also the only organization to have passed all of the government audits.  According to the District Commissioner, every other group in the country is struggling and many of them are going under. 

We have heard a lot of praise for the Iringa Hope network;  a network of communities that has been made possible by the financial support of our donors, the diligence of the Microfinance team in Iringa and the community leaders throughout the district, and the commitment and hard work of our members.  


The Iringa Hope leaders began gathering at our building early on Tuesday.

Our meeting room was filled with small groups talking about what was happening in their SACCOS.

Some people had come out from Dar es salaam to talk with us.  Just two years ago this would never have happened.

There were about 60 leaders at the opening session.  Itiweni thinks that we will wind up with a little under 100.  Many of the roads to our locations are still closed from the rains.

We met and chatted with our leaders over chai on the porch of the classroom building.

Many of the leaders have brought their children with them.

Itiweni did some baby sitting (baby carrying??)

There are multiple classes going on at once.  Jefa Duma from our offices gave a class on keeping your books.

The IDC building at Ipogolo is near completion.  The problem is that there is some outside painting and tuck pointing that needs to be done.  This can only be done when things are dry.  Unfortunately it keeps raining!  

Monday, March 7, 2016

At the University of Iringa

Today we held our annual “Iringa Hope Status Update” meeting at the University.  This meeting is designed to provide information to a variety of community, government, and NGO leaders regarding what we have been doing, where we are at, and what we hope to do this coming year.  We normally start with chai (tea) then move into a discussion of where things are at.

This year the update attracted about 50 people.  There were people from the USAID program, the NAFAKA program, the local and regional governments, a few businesses, and many others.  The District Commissioner of Iringa was at our meeting as was the Vice Chancellor of the University and a group of people from the Diocese.

The meeting opened with Tom giving a five year “Distinguished Service Award” to our volunteer Director, Interim VC of Resources Management, Enock Ugulumu.  Enock join us in 2011.  Since then he has served without pay as the Director.  Enock has been instrumental in many aspects of the program.  With over 17 years working in community development he knows many people and can get things done.  Tom presented Enock with a glass flame from the Board of Directors of Iringa Hope, USA.  We are sure it will be the first thing you see when you enter his office.

Tom invited people to interrupt him with questions.  He talked about the program for the next 90 minutes (he is a professor so what do people expect?) going over the various aspects of our work.  Joan Meyers from USAID was very interested in the broad reach of the program, the large number of women, and how it might expand further.  She asked about land holder rights, relationship to other programs, and a variety of related issues.   The District Commissioner wanted to know how we select locations and how he might get us to go to other sites.  He complemented us on, “The best run, most effective program in all of Tanzania.”  He asked if we might be willing to give training courses for other locations.  He wanted to know if we had materials that he might send to other parts of the country as a “model of what people should be doing.”  He was interested in seeing if he could get some of the communities ravaged by flooding, that the government is helping to rebuild, involved in our program. 

As Tom talked about Iringa Hope it became clearer and clearer to people that Iringa Hope is not a program, but is a part of the communities.   “Programs come and go.  They last one year, two years, maybe five years.  But Iringa Hope stays and is part of the community as long as the members find it helpful and support it.  It is a part of the fabric of the communities and helps them change to improve life for the people who live there,” Tom said.  The District Commissioner agrees 100% with this and says that this is really what Iringa needs.  He would really like to see Iringa Hope all over his district.

John Kiteve rose to tell the group that at the last national meeting of cooperatives Iringa Hope was cited as the “best network of SACCOS in the country.”  He said he was very proud that it is in his region.  He and the District Commissioner wanted to know if we might be interested in being a District level cooperative.  We are not sure what this would entail, but we tell them that we try to be sure that we can deliver on anything we promise, so we will have to think about it.

As the meeting broke up people were coming up and asking questions and expressing interest in Iringa Hope.  There were many suggestions of possible working arrangements, partnerships, and opportunities.  Mainly though, people seemed to want to thank Iringa Hope for the changes that they were seeing.

Tomorrow we start our spring training program.  We are expecting between 100- 160 leaders at this year’s session.  Itiweni is concerned that the heavy rains that occurred earlier this year might impact attendance.  She thinks that many of the villagers will need to be in their fields.  

We started with chai.  (It was actually a large breakfast.)

It was a very good meal.  The attendees took time to talk about what was going on.

We gave Enoch, our Director, a crystal flame award.  He has been our Director for five years now.

What do you expect when you give a professor an audience?  Tom talked about the status of Iringa Hope for 90 minutes.

District Commissioner Richard Kasesela would like to see us become a "District Level Organization."  We are not sure what that means.  He would also like to see if the government will give us some land to develop a "market center" here in Iringa for our members.

Attendees at the meeting included (from left to right) Anne Stella Mutoka (board member from Ipogolo SACCOS), John Kiteve (Regional Co-op Registrar), Richard Kasesela (District Commissioner), Dr. Joshua Madumulla (Vice Chancelor of the University of Iringa), Tom, Itiweni Luhwago (the MFI manager), Prof Enoch Ugulumu (Director of the MFI and the Interim Vice Chancellor of Materials Resource Management), and Pastor Nixon Mwitula (senior Pastor of Ipogolo).

USAID personnel were here as well (Joan Mayers from the USAID program shown greeting Richard Kasesela in the middle of this photo)

Itiweni with the group from NAFAKA (they have given us a grant again this year)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ipogolo – Our Last Village Visit

Today we went to visit Ipogolo, our last village visit.  This year we are only able to spend one month in Iringa so we will only be able to visit 18 villages.  Other years we have been here 2 months, so we have been to more locations.  Still, we have been to enough locations to get a very good understanding of how things are going.

Ipogolo is one of the locations that is right on the edge of town.  As a consequence many of the SACCOS members work in town and are shop owners, etc.  Farming is common as well, but it is most often a second job.  The SACCOS here is fairly large, having grown to 93 families – or 595 people.  They have also started an AMCOS (Farmer’s co-op) here.  It is fairly new, with 43 families (or 275 people) belonging.  Last year this location supplied the ACMOS members with 280 bags of fertilizer.  The program was very well received as in other places.  Pastor Nixon (an old friend of ours) thinks that this fall there will be at least twice as many members, as people are hoping to join so that they can be part of the program.  The chairman told us that they would like to have over 500 bags of fertilizer this year.

We are building our first Integrated Development Center (or IDC) here.  It is a unique structure combining an office for the SACCOS and a small store/warehouse for the AMCOS.  It has been funded by the Peter J King Family Foundation, the same foundation that paid for the MFI building on the campus.  The structure was supposed to be completed by December, but the builder got sick and construction had to stop for a while.  When he got better the rains came.  As we noted, when we got here it had been raining every day for over 2 months.  There has not been this much rain in Iringa for many, many years.  Now it has quit raining and the IDC building is almost done.  We expect to see it completed next week before we leave.  Everyone here is very excited to move into the building.  It has gotten a lot of attention from various organizations in the area. 

When our meeting got underway, the SACCOS chair read his annual report. This SACCOS has grown its capital from a starting point of $3,000 to $18,000.  Last year they made a profit on their loans of almost $3,500.  Since farming is usually a second job here they were not hit as hard as other places by the low prices and poor yields.  As a result they had 100% repayment (they have had this every year since they started).  Like most of our locations they maintain a waiting list for membership.  This year they have 6 people working on joining.  Our SACCOS have been advised to limit membership so that members do not have to wait long periods to get credit.

Enock Ugulumu, the MFI director in Iringa, is with us today.  He is now the Interim Vice Chancellor of Resources Management for the University and so is busier than ever.  Still, he likes to go with us and visit the various locations.  He spoke for a few minutes on the benefits of having both a SACCOS and an AMCOS and how they complement each other.  Following his remarks, one of the members stood up to ask a question.  She noted that since this SACCOS is near town they have more loans being made to start small businesses (our rural mix is 85% farming and 15% business – mostly livestock – while here it is closer to 50% farming and 50% business – mostly small shops).  She said that most of those trying to start businesses have not had experience and so are struggling.  She asked if maybe we can give some training to help them.  Enock is the right person to answer this question.  Not only can Itiweni come and give a class, but Enock has run a business development center at the University for years.  He tells her that their SACCOS need only call and arrange a time and one of them will come to hold a class.  They are also welcome to come to the Peter J King Family Foundation Development Building, where Iringa Hope is located, and ask for some mentoring and they will get the help they need.

Before leaving we interviewed Yusta Sailale, a 59-year-old widow and mother of five children.  She has been a member here for 4 years.  She has a small clothing store as well as her farm.  She regularly borrows to stock her store and plant her crop.  This last year she borrowed $500.  She used half of it to upgrade her clothing store and used the rest to buy seed and fertilizer to plant her crop of maize.  After repaying her farm loan, plus laborers and transport for her crop, her profit from her farm loan was $150.  Her store netted a $50 profit, so, in all, she made a $200 profit from her loan.  She used her profit for school fees, household expenses, and to increase her savings by $50.  This year she has borrowed $550 and has once again split her loan between her store and her fields.  Her crops are looking very good this year, and she expects to be seeing more activity at her clothing store after people have harvested their crops, and therefore have some money to spend. 

We looked over the IDC building and then headed into town.  On Monday we have a large group of businessmen, government officials, and NGOs coming to the University to hear about what we are doing.  We do this every year and the interest has been growing as we grow.

We were met by Pastor Nixon.  We have known him for a long time.

They run a school here and even though it is Saturday the children were at lessons.  (Take a close look.  That is the IDC building in the background.)

We met outside in the shade of a tree directly in front of the IDC building.  They were busy working today.  The contractor had been held up by the rains and now wants to finish it.

Our Director, Enock Ugulumu, is with us today.  He likes to visit our locations and see the members whenever he can.

Before leaving we interviewed Yusta Sailale, a 59-year-old widow and mother of five children.  She has been a member here for 4 years.

As we were heading to the car a group of children came running up.  They wanted Tom to stoop over so they could touch his head with their hands.  This is a sign of respect.  There were so many of them that came that Tom had to give up after a while and just say "Kwa Heri." (Good bye)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

At Nduli

After leaving Isimani we drove back towards town and stopped at Nduli.  Nduli is located north of town near the airport.  It is an easy drive and so gets lots of visitors.  As we drove up we could see that the church had recently been painted and the pastor’s house finished.  Everything looked fresh.

We were greeted by the treasurer of the SACCOS who told us that the members were gathering by the government building.  Nduli does not have a permanent set of offices so we normally meet outside under a tree.  Since the group wasn’t quite ready, we went to greet the pastor’s family.  The pastor has now moved into the new parsonage.  It is a very pretty house with rooms where visitors can stay.  The house has been under construction for a few years now so it is good to see it nearing completion.

From there we went over to the meeting.  The government building is a short walk from the church.  There was a group of about 30 members who had gathered to talk with us.  We have met many of them on previous visits.  There was one woman at the meeting who has made every SACCOS meeting since it began.  She always comes and takes notes.  There were other women who sat in a group and took and shared their notes with each other.

This SACCOS is very large.  It now has over 125 members and there are more people wanting to join.  The SACCOS has almost $13,000 of its own capital to lend and borrowed $10,000 from Iringa Hope last year, but still did not have enough to give loans to all its members.

Nduli also is one of the locations where we are developing AMCOS (Farmer’s co-ops).  The Nduli AMCOS is finishing registration.  It has 62 members at the moment but is expected to get much larger.  They are hoping to build a small building here to house their AMCOS and SACCOS.  We hope that we can help them with this.

Itiweni gave a talk about the importance of buying shares.  She then talked a little about the difference between an AMCOS and a SACCOS and how they should work together.  After she was done the leaders continued with their general meeting.  While this was happening we went to find a shade tree and sat there to talk with two of the members.

The first person we visited with was Leonora Malila, 45 and a widow with 3 children.  So far she has taken out 3 loans.  Her last loan was for $250 which she used to farm maize and sunflowers.  Here in Nduli the weather was not as dry as other places we have visited, so her crop was pretty good.  There was also a government maize buying program here so the prices were not as bad as they were in places like Isimani.  As a result her crop produced a profit of $680 for her.  She used $340 of this to send her children to school and used the rest of her profits to build a brick house.  The house is small, but she was very proud that she has been able to do this for her children.

We next talked with Bahati Chaula, 35 and married with 2 children.  He too has been a member here since the SACCOS began.  His last loan was for $150.  He too planted maize and sunflowers.  He made a profit of $250.  Since his children are still young he did not need to pay school fees.  As a result he was able to use his entire profit to buy bricks for a house.  This year he has borrowed $300 to again plant maize and sunflowers.  With the profits from this year’s crops he expects to complete his house and increase his savings.

Unlike other locations the members at Nduli all did well this last year.  They were able to repay their loans on time and in full.  Being on the edge of town Nduli also has many business people in this SACCOS.  Most locations give 85% of their loans for farming.  At Nduli the number is closer to 60%.  As a result this SACCOS makes loans year round rather than the once or twice schedule of most locations.  This means that Nduli is able to earn more interest (since their funds are loaned all year rather than for 6-8 months).  This last year their net profit was close to 5% - much better than most places where they earn 1-3%.

We left Nduli and headed for home.  We need to complete arrangements to meet with a Rotary Club in Morogoro.  We also need to talk over the upcoming meeting with USAID on now to make more capital available to the rural farmers.  This will be the first time that we have been invited to these discussions.  Previously USAID has tried to subsidize PRIDE and the CRDB bank to do this, however the programs have been largely ineffective.  They have been working with these two because they have large staffs in this area.  With our large network they have decided to see if perhaps we might be interested in their program.  We will see!

The pastor's new house is finished and he has moved in.  It has been under construction for a number of years.

Sandy showed his son pictures of one of our grandchildren.  His eyes got really big and he did not know what to think.

The SACCOS members were waiting under a tree near the government center.

This woman has been to every SACCOS meeting.  She seemed startled when we congratulated her.


These two ladies always sit in the front and take turns taking notes.

The group would like to build here, however the airport is being expanded and we are unsure what will happen here.

The first person we visited with was Leonora Malila, 45 and a widow with 3 children.  So far she has taken out 3 loans.

We next talked with Bahati Chaula, 35 and married with 2 children.  He too has been a member here since the SACCOS began. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

First to Isimani

Thursday we had a double header.  We went to Isimani first, and then made a stop at Nduli.  These villages are located north of Iringa Town on the road to the capital city of Dodoma.  The new Dodoma road was just finished by a Chinese contractor, and is pretty good.  The Chinese had built a compound along the road for their workers (the Chinese do not hire many locals, instead they bring in their own work force) which now stands empty.  They have left behind a lot of equipment as well – but it looks like it is pretty beat up and probably not working. The last few miles to Isimani is down a dirt trail.  The trail is dry now so it isn’t a bad drive. 

The town of Isimani looks pretty beaten up even by Tanzanian standards.  Many of the buildings are sagging, the roofs need work, and there are few buildings that look good.  This used to be prime territory for maize.  At one time Isimani maize fed large numbers of people.  At that time Isimani was the brand to buy.  But then the weather seemed to shift, the crops suffered, the quality of the maize declined, and the area started to go downhill.  When this happened the large farms that were here all closed up and moved.  Now the people here are all small holders (3-5 acres) and struggle with their crops.

Last year was not at all good for Isimani.  The weather was especially dry so the yield was very low – about 8-9 bags per acre versus a “normal” crop of 13-16.  In addition, as we have been noting, the prices were very low since the government had forbidden exports.  Many of the local farmers found there were no buyers at all.  Others, who found buyers, sold for $10 or less per bag whereas in a normal year a bag of maize fetches $25-30.

When we arrived we found the chairman (actually a woman) waiting along with a few members.  We were a little early so we decided to just wait.  Members slowly gathered.  The sun was getting very hot so we gathered in the shade of a building.  The Isimani SACCOS like many of our locations does not have a building.  They keep a desk in a shack of sorts and meet outside.  As long as it does not rain and you can stand the heat it works OK.

This SACCOS has 74 members and continues to grow.  The members are usually good at repaying loans, but last year’s crop was such a disaster that they had to reschedule things.  We think that this is one of the strengths of a locally owned and operated SACCOS.  When something like this happens the members gather and review things and plan how to handle the issue.  In this case they have waived the normal late fees and extended the repayment plans.  So far the repayments are on track and they will most likely slowly get everything repaid. 

As the meeting got underway, the chairman addressed everyone regarding their repayments.  After we greeted the group Itiweni gave a class.  We have been thinking that this is a good place to start an AMCOS.  We mentioned this to them last year and some of their leaders had asked to come to our training session for AMCOS.  It now turns out that they just went ahead and got started!  They were anxious to see if they could have their AMCOS join the Joint AMCOS for Iringa Hope.  They already have 85 members and are anxious to do things.

We asked them to bring us their constitution so we could be sure that they used the one they got in training.  When asked why they didn’t have Peter or Itiweni come and make sure they got started in the right way, the chairman told us that they thought they understood the process from when they started their SACCOS.  Additionally, they thought the training class they attended was very good, so they just went ahead.  We complimented them on their initiative.  We think that Isimani will do well with leaders like this.

We asked them if there were any other groups here that were helping the farmers.  They said that SIDA was here (this is a government funded program) but that it left after one year.  FINCA and BARC had also been here, but they were only here for a few months and then left.  They mentioned a few other programs but they said, “Everyone comes with a program for one or two years and then leaves.  Only Iringa Hope stays here.”  We reminded them that they were Iringa Hope so as long as they stayed Iringa Hope would be here. 

Following the general meeting Sandy and Itiweni spoke with Belta Kabelege, 42 and married with 3 children.  Last year Belta borrowed $450 to plant popcorn.  With the very poor harvest she wound up losing money.  She sold what she got for a crop and repaid $300 of her loan.  She, like so many here, has rescheduled her loan and is slowly repaying the balance.  She will have it all repaid in another month.  Last year we had talked with the members here about the need to diversify their crops.  This is what is done in many places so that if one crop is bad another might be better.  She and most of the other folks here have been studying how to best do this.  As a result this year she is planting sunflowers, soybeans, maize, and popcorn.  The crops are looking good right now due to all of the rain.  Most of the farmers believe that even if it does not rain anymore this season they will get a good crop.  Belta says that if she gets average yields she will earn over $1,800 from this crop.  We wish her well.

Then we talked with Fakii Tamaambele, 49 and married with 5 kids.  Fakii is a Muslim who has been a member here since the beginning.  (There is a large mosque here in Isimani so about 1/3 of the members are Muslims.)  Fakii has taken out 3 loans since he joined.  His last loan was for $450.  He used this to plant 5 acres of maize and popcorn.  With the poor harvest his field only yielded enough maize for his family to eat.  His popcorn was even worse than Belta’s so he got almost nothing for it.  He paid what he could on his loan and the SACCOS allowed him to renew the rest.  This year his crop looks very good.  He expects to earn at least $1,500 from it.  He will be able to pay off what he owes and still have $1,000 for the year.

It is sad to hear about the member’s struggles this last year.  It is however excellent to know that they have worked together with their SACCOS and neighbors to move ahead.  This last year seems to have been a problem all over the region.  Fortunately, it looks like this year will be a good year for most of our farmers.

On to Nduli!

The buildings in Isimani are looking pretty tough.  The members of the new AMCOS were hoping that this building might work for storage.

We enjoy the chairman (woman) here - she is a real dynamo.

The sun is very hot so we all crowd into the shade of a government building.

Itiweni uses an umbrella when she gives her lesson.  It is just too hot to stand in the sun.

The members of Isimani hope they can build a small building here.

Following the general meeting Sandy and Itiweni spoke with Belta Kabelege, 42 and married with 3 children.  

Then they talked with Fakii Tamaambele, 49 and married with 5 kids.  Fakii is a Muslim who has been a member here since the beginning. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Mwatasi is a 2 ½ hour drive from Iringa with beautiful views of the mountains and terrible roads.  You go out the same road as Kitowo and Pommerini, but when you get to Pommerini you just keep going.  The road slowly climbs the hills, going through some forested areas, fields, by small villages, and along ridges.  As you come into Mwatasi you see the way it is spread out along a ridge.  The village looks bigger than it is due to the way it spreads out, but it is only a few hundred households. 

We got to the church and were greeted by the pastor.  He is an old friend from Ihemi, our partner parish.  We first met him ten years ago when he was an evangelist there and we were teaching at the university.  Tom jokes with him about the fact his hair is still black but Tom’s is all white. 

The view from up here is wonderful.  You can see for many miles in all directions.  There is a lot of timber in this area which accounts for the large number of trucks we had to pass along the way.  This is bean and cabbage country.  There is still some maize grown here, but not so much as elsewhere.  This means that last year when the low maize prices hit many of our locations, Mwatasi was not affected very much.

We first had a 45 minute chai at the pastor’s house and then went to the community building for the general SACCOS meeting.

This SACCOS has not yet registered.  They started the process a while ago but keep stumbling on their paperwork.  The co-op act requires that they do it, so we cannot do it for them.  Peter was here three weeks ago with the co-op officer to help them get going on it.  The forms are about 20 pages in length and although people may be used to keeping simple records, filling out that long form is daunting to them.

Nearly all of the SACCOS members had gathered to see us.  There were only a few members absent, and they had left their apologies for missing the meeting.  One of the issues here is their need to borrow more capital.  They current have enough capital to make small loans to 20 members.  The problem is that they have 33 members!  They have been taking turns and making their capital stretch.  They can all see that if they could borrow more their incomes would go up a lot. 

One thing they didn’t know was that their partner has sent more capital for them.  Peter had gotten the co-op officer to write a letter so that we could let them join Iringa Hope now rather than wait for their final registration.  As soon as that happens we will send them more capital.  With the new funds they will be able to make small loans to everyone.  Peter helped them finish the paperwork so we could take it with us.

As we come into the meeting we were greeted with singing and dancing.  The chairman told Tom that news of the gift had leaked out.

The meeting went on with lots of good questions about how they could increase their own capital, how they work within Iringa Hope Joint SACCOS, what is their next step towards forming an AMCOS, etc.  This group is involved and wants to move ahead.  We left the meeting with two members to interview while the rest of the group stayed to continue the business meeting.

We spoke with Maneno Gavile, 41 and married with 3 children.  Gavile has been a member since this SACCOS started.  He has taken out 2 loans.  His last loan was for $150.  He combined this with some money he had to plant and fertilize his field of beans.  He hired 2 laborers to help him plow and later weed his fields.  He and his wife harvested and sold the crop.  After repaying his loan and paying his expenses he found that he had earned a $350 profit.  He used it to buy bricks and mortar and metal sheeting for the roof of the new house he built.  He didn’t have enough money to finish the house, but they have moved in – even unfinished it is better than their hut.  He wanted to take another loan this year, but there just is not enough capital to go around – so he said he would wait until the next time.  Maneno is on the SACCOS loan committee and could probably have gotten a loan anyway, but he takes his responsibility very seriously.

We next talked with Cecelia Ngendelo, 42 and married with 4 children.  Cecelia has also been a member of this SACCOS since it began.  Her last loan was for $50 which she used to farm beans on ¼ acre.  She had a good crop but needed to hire a helper so she only earned $60 from her loan.  She used this profit to send two of her children to primary school (While officially free it actually costs about $25-30 to go to primary school here).  She did not take out a loan this year since she did not have a plan of how to make money.  She has been thinking about it and has talked with some of the other members looking for ideas.  She told us that she now has made a plan and so would be applying soon.  The SACCOS will not give anyone a loan without them having a plan as to how they will make a profit.  We are glad to hear that this rule is working to ensure that members make good use of their resources.

After they served us lunch, and Peter loaded the back of the vehicle with pears and potatoes that he bought, we headed down the road.  On our way to Iringa we got a call from Itweni telling us that the local USAID people want to have dinner with us tonight to talk about Iringa Hope.  We always look for opportunities to share the story, so it might be a late night.

Lots of lumber trucks on the road.  They tend to take their share from the middle so we need to crowd the ditch.

The scenery is beautiful as we drive along the ridges.

We drive by many "villages" consisting of 5-10 houses.

Spread along the ridge Mwatasi looks bigger than it is.

The view from the pastor's house is stunning.

Peter gave the chair some advice on finishing the forms for registration.  Though technically not legal the co-op officer decided this was OK.

The meeting room was full.

When the members learned that once they finished registration they could get more capital they broke out singing and dancing.

Almost all of the board members were here.  There were only a few who were out of town.

We spoke with Maneno Gavile, 41 and married with 3 children.  Gavile has been a member since this SACCOS started.  He has taken out 2 loans. 


We next talked with Cecelia Ngendelo, 42 and married with 4 children.  Cecelia has also been a member of this SACCOS since it began.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Today Was Mgama

Today we visited Mgama.  Mgama is an easy drive southwest of Iringa, 30 minutes down the tarmac followed by 15 minutes on a pretty good dirt road.
The weather was beautiful when we left Iringa; we have had very nice weather since the rain stopped.  The days are a little hot (today was 81), but the humidity is good so the day is very pleasant.

Arriving in Mgama we met a representative from the board and a handful of other SACCOS members. The Mgama SACCOS is large and we have always had a good turn-out when we visit.  However, a grandfather from the community died last night, and the entire village had gone to his funeral, including the pastor and most of the SACCOS members.  It is frustrating when this happens, but easy to understand, as so many people in these villages are related to each other.

We were happy to see the familiar face of the SACCOS secretary, William Duma, as he arrived on his motorcycle.  We met Mr. Duma 15 years ago when he was teaching at one of the Ihemi preaching points. He has just retired, but is remaining active as one of the leaders of the Mgama SACCOS.  We were joined by two more board members, and a few other SACCOS members.  We were sharing the community building with few government officials from the agricultural department, who were training some of the farmers on improved methods. The funeral seemed to have cut into their attendance as well.

Fortunately, the SACCOS secretary and board members were able to supply us with the information we like to get from each SACCOS that we visit.  This SACCOS has 111 members with 34 working on joining.  The male/female ratio at this SACCOS shows that there are about 70% men.  The explanation for this was that in this area there is more opportunity for the men to work.  As a result most of the married men stay here rather than go looking for work.

 Last year this SACCOS made 110 loans.  The members decided that they would share the available capital equally among the borrowers so each was lent $160.  Many of the borrowers took their loan in the form of fertilizer that we shipped to them.  They all thought this was a great idea and they hope we will continue with it. 

The loans were all paid back on time and in full; this despite a year of drought followed by poor markets.  When Tom congratulated them for accomplishing this, the secretary responded with “What else would we have done?” We like this attitude.

This SACCOS currently has $7,500 in capital.  Last year they borrowed $10,000 from Iringa Hope.  They are hoping to borrow over twice as much this year, but will be grateful for anything they get. 

When asked about other programs in the area that are helping the farmers, the members mentioned a few bank programs and a government program.  All of them charge 5-7% per month with repayment beginning the week after they get the loan.  By the end of 6 months they must have repaid the loan plus interest.  With crops just being harvested in 6 months, these programs are of no help to the farmer.

When asked about starting an AMCOS, they shared some ideas that they have been considering.  There is a now-defunct government AMCOS in the village they could restart, which might save paper work and cost. Unfortunately government projects are always viewed negatively so even if the constitution were to be changed, villagers would likely be suspicious of the organization.  There is a new AMCOS in Lupembe, a village not far away from here, but that is also a government AMCOS.  Although it has an “improved” constitution, no one believes that it will be successful.  They have all lost money and seen these come and fail so no one wants to get involved with another one.

They told us that banks have also come here and then left.  Last year, they said, One Acre Fund came and promised they were here to stay and they are now gone.  However, they remain confident that Iringa Hope is sustainable and will stay here as long as their members are diligent to create business plans, work hard and faithfully repay their loans.

Going forward with thoughts of developing an AMCOS, the mentioned that one of the board members has a small shop they can use.  They also have some warehouse space available.  They are going to have a meeting after our training session next week to see how many will pay the fees and buy shares.  They would like to get started in time for harvest season.

Sandy’s interview today was with Betty Mwikanalo, 47 and married with 5 children.  Three of her children are married, but she has one in college and one in secondary school. We spoke with her last year as well, so it was interesting to see how she was doing after a disappointing farming season.  Last year Betty was one of the farmers who suffered from the drought, and even more from the very low prices for maize.  She didn’t even bother to sell her maize, but kept it for food.  She was a person whose loan had to be extended.  Last year she was so frustrated with the market price for her product that she was thinking about switching to raising beans as a cash crop.  We had advised her that diversity might be a better way to go, so if the market price of one crop is low, another might be high. This year she has again borrowed $165 taking it all in fertilizer from Iringa Hope.  She has planted one acre of maize, one acre of sunflowers, one acre of tomatoes and one acre of soy beans.  She said that her crops all look very good and the prices this year are about average.  She thinks that if all things stay as they are she will be able to sell her harvest for about $2,000.  This would mean that after paying her laborers, repaying her loan, and deducting her other expenses she will earn about $1,400.  We wish her all the best.

Tomorrow we are going to Mwatasi.  It is a 2 hour drive down some pretty bad roads.  We are preparing to shake, rattle and (hopefully not) roll. 

At Mgama we meet in this CCP (the major political party) building.

As we talked with the chairman up rode our friend Duma on his motorcycle.

Tom sat with the leaders and members and talked about how things were going and what they thought about having an AMCOS.

Sandy went and talked with Betty Mwikanalo, 47 and married with 5 children.

Betty Mwikanalo is 47 and married with 5 children.  Three of her children are married, but she has one in college and one in secondary school.