Sauri, Kenya – George Aronyi dreams of one day buying a pick up truck. He is a planner who was laughed at when he told his father that he would build a nice home.
“One day I will get out and put up a good permanent house,” he said to his father.
The father of seven children managed to turn a challenge into an opportunity. After losing his job, he took advantage of the resources of the Millennium Village Project (MVP) and struck out on his own. With a growing business of selling milk and maize, he is not far off from getting that pick-up.
A telecoms worker in Nairobi, Aronyi was laid off in 2008. He returned to his home to the west unsure what to do next. His wake up call came in the form of a son being sent home for school over 100 KSH in missing school fees.
He decided to find a job to provide for his family, but was dissuade from doing so. Nevertheless, Aronyi secured employment as a landscaper. This is where things turned around. Having done such a great job as a landscaper, one of his customers thanked him by giving him a cow.
Milk from the cow and maize from his acre of land supplied enough of an income to get by, but he needed to expand. The MVP provided free inputs to his plot in 2005. It is how he learned to use fertilizer and improved seeds. By 2008 the subsidy was not available and more land was needed.
So he leased some. The seemingly simple solution was not common practice. Aronyi again saw resistance from family, friends and neighbors, but the results stood from themselves. He went from producing 5 bags of maize per season to producing 100 bags and hiring two workers.
“I feel like I pioneered by leasing out land,” he said.
One bag is set aside for each month for his family to eat and the rest is dried and stored for selling when the prices are better. Then there are the four cows that produce twenty-two liters of milk per day and two calves nearing ready for sale.
Loans were used for the construction of the house. A friend told Aronyi that he should go to Barclays bank to secure a loan and build the foundation. He listened and the foundation that was built soon gave way to a completed house in 2011.
He hopes to take out more loans in the future, but not through Barclays. The bank did not treat him fairly he says. The milk cooperative located in nearby Yala received support from the MVP beginning in 2011. It even helps to guarantee loans for members to buy cows, but Aronyi says he will not do it through there.
When cows go on sale, the best ones are bought first. A farmer has to have money available to make the purchase. The coop is too slow, he says. He knows that he has to pay an extra five percent interest for his loan through another bank, but it is worth the speedier turnaround.
A few years ago, this would not have even been an option. The MVP succeeded in convincing two banks to set up shop in Yala and start providing loans to farmers. Now, farmers like Aronyi have more options when it comes to banking. He uses a variety of services from M-PESA to traditional banking to withholding payments from the coop until the end of the month.
Money is still not as secure as Aronyi hopes. Though he speaks often of buying that pick-up, he will first get two more cows to produce milk. He might even lease more land, but it is getting harder since his neighbors are copying his practice. Plans are beginning to commence for Aronyi.
The rain hits hard on the metal roof of the house. When construction started in 2007, was criticized by neighbors. The home today stands proudly on his property, constructed of brick and floored with tile. Beams above set ceiling that will eventually be installed and muffle the driving drops.
Outside, a motor cycle leans next to a chicken coup that is under construction, to stay out of the rain. Aronyi has bigger dreams.
“I went from a wheelbarrow to a bike to a motorbike,” he said. “The pick-up will come next.”