An Effort to Provide
This blog was originally published by Care2. By Hailey Tucker.
“This is their time,” Jimmy Nziku says, his voice striking a note of urgency.
Jimmy lives in rural Tanzania, with his wife Suzana and their four children. As we talk, Suzana sits next to Jimmy, wearing a traditional Tanzanian “mama-style” dress. The two-inch-tall capped sleeves rest on her shoulders, and a river of batik beige shapes tumble from her neckline to the floor. She nods in agreement.
“This is their chance to study.” Jimmy pauses, then continues. “For a while I was keeping pigs. I would sell them to help pay the school fees… at the time, the children were just in primary school.”
Still sweating slightly after hand-tilling a portion of his land for maize planting, Jimmy says that if he can accomplish nothing else in his life, it will be to educate his children well. “Education is important because it can help you later—you can’t get a job without it.”
Jimmy and Suzana are farmers by trade. They rely on the food they grow in one season to feed their family for an entire year. Though the couple farms five acres of land, for many years their harvests averaged just over 1,500 pounds of maize.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the average American eats nearly 2,000 pounds of food per year. At most, the Nziku family would have 250 pounds per family member per year. Often times the amount was less, since Jimmy and Suzana would wind up selling part of their harvest to pay for clothing, livestock feed, personal items—and school fees.
1,500 pounds of maize was simply not enough to sustain the Nziku family. “I was able to pay school fees, but it was very difficult for me,” Jimmy says. “I was getting so little from our farming.”
A New Day
The couple sits together on stylized varnished wooden chairs, in a large house with polished cement floors. No longer sweating, Jimmy appears relaxed. Looking at them now, it’s hard to believe they used to live hand-to-mouth.
In 2013, Suzana and Jimmy both decided to take out a loan with One Acre Fund, a social enterprise that supplies smallholder farmers in East Africa with the financing and training they need to increase their productivity and incomes.
That year, they chose to plant two acres with One Acre Fund, receiving quality seed, fertilizer, and agricultural trainings. At the end of the season, Jimmy and Suzana harvested more than 3,000 pounds of maize from those two acres alone.
“I was happy because I had enough money to send my kids to school and to start building this house,” Jimmy says, smiling.
The couple says the combination of higher quality seed and fertilizer, a flexible loan repayment schedule, and planting and fertilizer application trainings helped them break free of the annual cycle of harvest and hunger they’d grown so accustomed to.
“I especially value the trainings because after leaving, I can keep the knowledge forever. Even without One Acre Fund—I can manage myself without a loan if I must. I could now afford the good seed and fertilizer, and I know how to use them,” Jimmy says.
In 2014, the couple increased their loan size to receive four-acres-worth of planting supplies on credit. They also chose to purchase a solar lamp to help their children study at night. They were so pleased with the first lamp that this year, they purchased a second.
“Our children use the solar lamps every night to complete their homework,” Jimmy says. “All of our children’s grades have improved since we received them!”
For 2015, the couple purchased seed and fertilizer on credit from One Acre Fund for every inch of their land. They have high hopes for their harvest.
“If we’re able to harvest 50 sacks of maize, as we hope to, we will try to improve things in our house. We have so many things to do, especially for our children. School fees are costly. We were thinking of opening bank accounts for the children and saving money for them there. Savings can help later on as school fees will continue to increase as they move to higher levels of education,” Jimmy says.
Higher education is hugely important to the Nziku family. Suzana and Jimmy both completed high school, but neither was able to complete a post-secondary degree. Judith, their oldest daughter, will be finishing high school at the end of this year, and Jimmy and Suzana desperately want her to continue her education.
After a mostly silent afternoon, Suzana finally chimes in. “I’m looking forward to the future,” she says. “I’ll watch as my children get a good education. They will never lack food to eat or struggle with other needs. When this day comes, I can relax.”