GSB In Brief
Nurturing Self-Help Among Kenyan Farmers
Maize is a staple food in Kenya, but farm families in the Kuria district are hard put to survive the months between harvests. Nuru International, a nonprofit cofounded by Jake Harriman, MBA '08, introduced the area's farmers to crop rotation and other modern methods in late 2008 and then offered them loans for fertilizer and high-yield seeds. The farmers could pay back the loans when their crops increased beyond what they needed to feed their families. Nuru ("light" in Swahili) is devoted to helping the poor not with handouts but by helping them help themselves.
Jake Harriman, MBA '08, left, and James Mango, discuss farming techniques in Kuria, Kenya.
The concept is deceptively simple and, as happens with many simple concepts, complications set in. The demand for maize soared globally. This looked good for future markets, but it caused the price of seed and fertilizer to skyrocket. Harriman, a Marine officer who served two tours in Iraq before coming to the Business School, put $50,000 down on an order of seeds and fertilizer and went to the States
to fundraise. He came back with another $125,000. The day the supplies were to be delivered, the agency wouldn't release them -- something about initial paperwork being on the wrong letterhead. After phone calls, faxes, and personal appeals, the seeds and fertilizer were delivered to the 450 assembled farmers who had been waiting for more than 6 hours.
"I was so proud of the waythat the Kenyan staff went into action as everything was falling apart all around us," Harriman wrote in his blog. "I am becoming more and more confident that they will be able to completely take over and run this project very soon."
This past summer's maize crop was four times that of last year. Their first harvest was a time for jubilation at Nuru, but reality soon set in. In late August, Harriman received a message that read simply, "Isire has just killed his brother."
Isire, one of Nuru's best field officers, had been attacked with a machete by an older brother desperate to have Isire's land. "Here, land can mean the difference between abject starvation, poverty, or death of one's children and a promising future for the family," Harriman wrote.
Isire wrestled the machete from his brother and killed him. "The death of Isire's brother was yet another sobering reminder to me of why I feel so strongly that we, as citizens of the developed world, must engage in the war that is being waged all around us," Harriman wrote.