What I Do: Borrower Interviews

As a Kiva Fellow, I go to the field to interview borrowers about the status of their loan and talk about the business, the family, and their dreams for the future.  Usually I do a short write-up to update the Kiva lenders, but sometimes I go overboard and write an essay.  This is not representative of most journal entries, but I found her to be such an interesting client that I wanted to share it.  I titled this journal update “Glenda’s Business and the Economics of a Half-Hectare Farm.”  It only went out to 13 people, so I’m hoping for a larger audience here*:

As part of my job as a Kiva Fellow I visit borrowers to get updates on their business, which we then send on to you, the lender. I was hoping to talk with some borrowers that had not yet had journals so that we could connect with all of the Kiva lenders that hadn’t received an update. By chance, I ended up meeting up with Glenda for the second time. As you may have noticed, I sent you an update about 3 months ago on her business. I have to say, Glenda and her daughter Ivy are two of most interesting, friendly, and successful clients I’ve met in my time here. Let me tell you why.

When I met Glenda last time, she was harvesting kalubay in big bushels. I asked her to take me through the economics of her planting business, which her daughter, who speaks fluent English from her 6 years in Singapore, happily obliged. For the Kalubay, she gets 100 pieces during the first harvest and 200 pieces of slightly smaller versions of the vegetable during the second harvest. Each harvest occurs every 3-4 days for two months. This gives her about 20 harvests in total. She gets a whopping 15 pesos per kalubay. During the harvest season she employs 2-3 people from the community, giving them a livelihood for the time.

Last time she was also harvesting okra, a small vegetable that looks like asparagus. She gets 3,000 pieces every day for three months. Every package of 100 pieces nets her 30 pesos, for a profit of 900 pesos per day. This is a tremendous profit for a woman with a 600 square-meter farm. But unfortunately, the expenses are high.

She has to pay at least 10,000 for labor and material costs, including fertilizer. Fertilizer is tied to oil prices, which are rising right now. This cuts directly into the profits of small farmers like Glenda. Despite having an gross income of 60,000, she nets 30,000 pesos per month. This is still a nice bit of money. But her largest expense, transportation, is also part of her dream.

Every day she sends her crops to Bacolod. The cost for transporting her goods is 200-300 pesos for each trip. In addition, her two neighbors also have to send their crops to Bacolod at the same cost. Therefore, between the three of them, transportation costs run as high is 1,000 pesos per day. She would like to get a loan from Project Dungganon and use some of the profits from her business to buy a multicab, which is basically a shrunken truck. It is half-pickup, half-regular truck. A new truck costs 300,000 pesos. If she could use it to transport her crops and those of her neighbors, she could pay off the value in a little under a year. That is a great investment, but it also highlights an example of a poverty trap. Right now, her system of transportation is inefficient, but she cannot afford the upfront cost of the alternative, even if it will save her money in the long-run. Here is where microfinance and development investment come into play. The capital allows them to break free of this trap.

In any case, I talked with Glenda and her daughter for a half hour about these things, before they showed me her farmland and gardens. As we turned the corner, I saw a dozen people sorting small tomatoes into piles of green and red. These are Glenda’s workers, helping out with the tomato harvest. They are seen here, along with Glenda, her daughter Ivy, and Ivy’s young 2 year-old daughter.

And here is my original entry from December.  Glenda was one of the first Project Dungganon clients I met in the Philippines:

We took a tricycle out to meet Glenda at her home first thing in the morning. The road to her home passes through many hectares of rice fields until reaching a small community, with Glenda and her family at the center of the activity. Today Glenda and her family and neighbors are packing vegetables into bunches of 100. Ladyfingers, okra, squash, and kalubay, or edible gourd, are the yield from the season’s harvest. Glenda used part of the loan from Dungganon Bank and NWTF for fertilizer for her husband’s farming activities, and is now preparing the rewards for sale at the markets of Bacolod over 50 km away.

Because of the favorable climate in the Philippines, crops can be planted year-round, without the need for the land to lie fallow. Hard work is rewarded with higher yields and greater income. There is some seasonality, but Glenda has her sari sari store to help her through those times. With her profits, she has already bought her house and appliances. Today her daughter is translating for us, describing their business, their successes, and the challenges. Glenda’s granddaughter is sitting on her lap – three generations preparing this year’s harvest for sale. They would like to buy more land on which to plant rice, but it is expensive, at nearly 1 million pesos per acre. There is a lot beside her house for 650,000 pesos, or $13,000, that she would eventually like to buy.

While I enjoy learning about the operations of a microfinance institution and the different programs offered by NWTF, this is still my favorite part of the job.   Meeting and interviewing clients, spending time in the field, and attending center meetings.   I never get tired of it.

The road to a client's home.

With my favorite branch manager, Linda.

The tomato harvest.

The sorting process.

At the bus stop,me and presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino

*Copywrite issues with Kiva prevent me from actually putting up a photo of Glenda or her daughter.

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