I have never met Jake Harriman, the founder of NURU, but given that on behalf of the Greater Impact Foundations we are considering support, I though it more than prudent to get to know him as much as possible. So, I found this video on the NURU website. It is worth a few minutes.
So, it is clear from the video that Jake has his head firmly affixed to his shoulders. And, from my recent due diligence in Isibania, Kenya, and the surrounding villages adjacent to the Tanzanian border, the interventions NURU has applied to enable the poor clearly works.
The progress they have made building a leadership network, not only of committed NURU staff, but including local village elders who live with the challenges of extreme poverty day in and day out is impressive. And the results speak for themselves. The four interventions that Jake refers to in the video, agricultural training, financial inclusion, health care and education were on full display on my field visits. Of the four, some are more robust than others as they are at different stages of maturity. However, all are trending in the right direction.
On the agriculture & financial Inclusion side essentially everything begins with training and initial inputs (seeds).
The NURU team of 44 field trainers (all Kenyan) teach farmers in groups of 8 – 15, visiting farmers on a weekly basis after initial training. There are roughly 2,125 farmers in the network. This network is made up of local cooperatives of anywhere from 25 – 200 farmers with a rotating locally elected leadership team including a chairman, secretary and treasurer. Farmers are given an initial one time zero interest loan of about 8,400 Kenyan Shillings ($83 USD). This allows for the purchase of qualified seed, fertilizers and pesticides. But first they are required to go through training.
The results are impressive and, of course, I am sure that generally they select the best performing farmers to visit, so it is important for me to visit the full range including some who have dropped out of the co-op so I can fully understand what is happening as they scale. An average farmer has one acre of land on which more often than not they are growing corn. Before the intervention the yield from this one acre ranged between 2 – 4 bags (90 kgs./bag). After the intervention yields jump to 10 – 14 bags. Surely, other farmers do not achieve this output, but it is equally true that the drive of the individual farmer plays a big role in the outcomes.
Farmers are required to contribute to a cooperation savings & loan program weekly and cannot remain a part of the cooperative unless they repay their loans in full before the next planting cycle. For some farmers this gain covers key items like putting on iron roof on their home (replacing a thatched roof), paying school fees (expensive), costs for the next seasonal planting which could include diversification to other crops, as well as saving a small sum for the future.
This is just an example, but clearly one can see a pathway to sustainability at the farm level, especially when one discovers that participation in the loan program with full repayment is well above 95%. I think that one of the big reasons the participation is so high is because of the quality of the leadership at the cooperative level along with the ongoing support of the field officers.
So, at the beneficiary level we can see a pathway out of poverty. The bigger question is absent donor funding how does NURU continue to scale. There is an answer, though admittedly it is still evolving.
NURU has two big for-profit enterprises at different stages of development, an egg business and a decentralized dairy business. Pilots for both have been completed, though the egg business is much further along. A Kenyan ex-Unilever/Nestle commodities executive has joined NURU. His story is interesting but tangential to this story. This is what I have learned.
The egg business is up and running currently with 30,000 layers (hens) scaling to 100,000 this October. I visited the new ten-acre production facility upon my return to Kisumu yesterday. It is massive. I now know more about the egg business in Kenya than I ever would have conceived possible. Perhaps it is good for this conversation and idle cocktail chatter at the most, but I found it compelling. I have rough numbers, but I will receive shortly the full plan with the P & L. In short, the business will do two big things. Once it breaks even it will generate annually somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 K USD annually which will be ploughed back into NURU’s non-profit side to allow them to scale and serve more farmers in southwest Kenya. Equally important, the egg business will buy all of the maize for chicken feed for up to 700 farmers directly eliminating the middle man and as the farmers diversify they will also buy their soybean, millet, sunflower and sorghum crops giving them direct market connectivity. Currently, NURU acts as the middleman on behalf of the farmers, aggregating crops from the cooperatives and selling on their behalf. This will continue but eventually be displaced by the direct purchase of feed raw materials for the egg business.
The diary business is less developed, but the plan is interesting. Some farmers have no livestock. Many have at least one cow. Some have several. These are local cows that produce two to six liters of milk daily, enough for subsistence and maybe a few shillings in the market. The plan, over time, as they have done with seeds, provide small loans so that all farmers in the cooperatives can have at least two cows. The magic is in the use of artificial insemination from Jersey cows who can produce up to 20 liters per day. Just as they are doing with the egg business NURU will aggregate all the milk process it and return the profits to NURU’s non-profit side to further scale. Farmers will have cows for milk and meat or sale as meat once the cattle dairy productivity declines, which it does. This is also true with the chicken business.
So, that is it in a nutshell. NURU has a business model that when fully operational will self-fund their non-profit initiatives. It is a great model, one which I know other non-profits who must continually reach out to donors to do the good work they do might think about. I understand it won’t work for everyone, but for those it does it is a beautiful thing.