The first six months of 2012 were memorable in Kenya and for my company Juhudi Kilimo. We reached the historic financial milestone of “break even”. After three years of initial losses we are now making a profit. We were able to raise our required capital with some new investors such as Soros Economic Development Fund, Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Their funding should fuel our growth for the next several years. The journey was not an easy one. In 2008 I started with a small non-profit pilot program with a few thousand clients and about $800,000 worth in loans. The organization was losing about $20,000 per month. Now we are profitable and have over 13,000 clients working with us. Half of them are servicing loans worth over $2.5 million. It is fun to see the $7 million we raised go into our business system, help the rural smallholder farmers, come back out to pay interest to our investors, pay all our expenses, pay the staff salary and still be left with extra money each month to re-invest in the business. We have a cool new logo too.
One of the highlights this year was my overnight stay with one of our smallholder farmer clients in the rural town of Litein. This was a valuable experience for me because I was able to learn more about life as a smallholder farmer and witness the day-to-day challenges. After one of my managers dropped me off at the farm, I spent some time entertaining the small children who kept calling me “Muhindi” (which means “Indian” in Swahili) because they have not seen many other foreigners.
My next task was to milk one of the cows. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get about six liters of milk before my hands gave out. I learned that milking cows is hard work.
I have also tried my best to get in some personal traveling. Recently, a group of my friends took advantage of the low-season rates and rented a castle on the beach in the coast town of Lamu (the same place the pirates kidnapped all those foreigners). The castle was well insulated against any pirate attacks with its 20’ walls and massive iron doors.
I visited the Middle East including Lebanon and Jordan in April and June.
Beirut, Lebanon had an extremely modern and cosmopolitan feel while Jordan still maintained its historical roots in places like Wadi Rum (from the Laurence of Arabia story) and Petra.
Many have asked me how long I intend to stay in Kenya and my answer depends on how long it takes to get Juhudi Kilimo to the next level of operation where we really look like a thriving business. We are headed in that direction. So far, so good in Nairobi.