Uganda Not Worried China Will Seize Assets Over Rising Debt

Uganda’s growing debt is sustainable, and the country is not at risk of losing state assets to China, the country’s finance minister, Matia Kasaija, said this week.

Uganda’s auditor-general warned in a report released this month that public debt from June 2017 to 2018 had increased from $9.1 billion to $11.1 billion.

The report — without naming China — warned that conditions placed on major loans were a threat to Uganda’s sovereign assets. 

It said that in some loans, Uganda had agreed to waive sovereignty over properties if it defaults on the debt — a possibility that Kasaija rejected.

“China taking over assets? … in Uganda, I have told you, as long as some of us are still in charge, unless there is really a catastrophe, and which I don’t see at all, that will make this economy going behind. So, … I’m not worried about China taking assets. They can do it elsewhere, I don’t know. But here, I don’t think it will come,” he said.

China is one of Uganda’s biggest country-lenders, with about $3 billion in development projects through state-owned banks.

China’s Exim Bank has funded about 85 percent of two major Ugandan power projects — Karuma and Isimba dams. It also financed and built Kampala’s $476 million Entebbe Express Highway to the airport, which cuts driving time by more than half. China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation, France’s Total, and Britain’s Tullow Oil co-own Uganda’s western oil fields, set to be tapped by 2021.

Economist Fred Muhumuza says China’s foot in Uganda’s oil could be one way it decides to take back what is owed. 

“They might determine the price, as part of recovering their loan,” he said. “By having a foot in there they will say fine, we are going to pay you for oil. But instead of giving you $60 a barrel, you owe us. We’ll give you $55. The $5 you are paying the old debt. But we are reaching a level where you don’t see this oil being an answer to the current debt problem.”

China’s reach

Uganda’s worries about China seizing national assets are not the first in Africa.

A leaked December report in Kenya showed China was promised parts of Mombasa Port as collateral for financing a $3 billion railway it built from the port to Nairobi. Both Chinese and Kenyan officials have denied that the port’s ownership is at risk.

Reports in September that China was taking over Zambia’s state power company over unpaid debt rippled across Africa, despite government denials.

But the fear of a Chinese takeover of a sovereign state’s assets over debt is not completely without merit. Struggling to pay back loans to state-owned Chinese firms, Sri Lanka in 2017 handed over a strategic port.


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Despite Volatility in Retail Stocks, US Officials Predict Continued Growth

Despite the U.S. stock market recovery, Macy’s and American Airlines’ revised revenue forecasts for 2018 have sent their stock prices spiraling. Other retail stocks fell, too, including J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and Kohl’s. The reports come amid news of another iconic department store, Sears, fighting for survival. But U.S. trade and financial officials say the U.S. economy is on solid ground and will continue to grow for years to come. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.


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Government Shutdown Hurts Small Businesses

The 800,000 federal workers who are not being paid or are working without pay during the partial government shutdown were the first to feel its impact. But as Anna Kook reports, other segments of the economy are also being hurt, especially in Washington, home to the largest number of federal workers in the country.


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US: China’s Top Trade Negotiator to Visit Soon

U.S. officials expect a visit from China’s top trade negotiator this month in Washington, signaling that higher-level discussions are likely to follow this week’s talks with midlevel officials in Beijing as the world’s two largest economies try to reach a deal to end a tit-for-tat tariff war.

“The current intent is that the Vice Premier Liu He will most likely come and visit us later in the month and I would expect the government shutdown would have no impact,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Thursday in Washington. “We will continue with those meetings just as we sent a delegation to China.”

The U.S. government is in the 20th day of a partial shutdown with President Donald Trump, a Republican, and congressional Democrats feuding over funding and Trump’s desire for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

People familiar with the talks in Beijing said Thursday that hopes were mounting that Liu would continue talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mnuchin.

Higher level, key decisions

Talks at that level are viewed as important for making the key decisions to ease a festering trade war, which has disrupted trade flows for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods and roiled global markets.

Trump has demanded better terms of trade with China, with the United States pressing Beijing to address issues that would require structural change such as intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and other non-tariff barriers.

On Thursday Trump said the United States was having “tremendous success” in its trade negotiations with China. A spokeswoman for Lighthizer’s office declined to comment.

​Few details on progress

More than halfway through a 90-day truce in the U.S.-China trade war agreed on Dec. 1 when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Argentina, there have been few details provided of any progress made.

Trump has vowed to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports March 2 if China fails to take steps to protect U.S. intellectual property, end policies that force American companies to turn over technology to a Chinese partner, allow more market access for U.S. businesses and reduce other non-tariff barriers to American products.

Ambitious timeline and hope

The timeline is seen as ambitious, but the resumption of face-to-face negotiations has bolstered hopes of a deal.

“We have the two sides back at the table. That’s encouraging,” said Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s head of international affairs, while speaking to reporters at an event Thursday.

China’s commerce ministry said Thursday that additional consultations with the United States were being arranged after the Beijing talks addressed structural issues and helped establish a foundation to resolve U.S. and Chinese concerns.

Commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters the two sides were “serious” and “honest.”

Asked about China’s stance on issues such as forced technology transfers, intellectual property rights, non-tariff barriers and cyber attacks, and whether China was confident it could reach agreement with the United States, Gao said these issues were “an important part” of the Beijing talks.

“There has been progress in these areas,” he said without elaborating.

China has repeatedly played down complaints about intellectual property abuses, and has rejected accusations that foreign companies face forced technology transfers.

‘Cordial standoff’

Discussions on those issues were an extensive part of the talks, said people in Washington familiar with the discussions.

Chinese officials listened “politely” to U.S. grievances, they said, but responded by saying that the Americans had some issues wrong and misunderstood others, but that some other issues could be addressed.

“It was a cordial standoff,” said one person familiar with the discussions. China has said it will not give ground on issues that it perceives as core.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said officials from the two sides discussed “ways to achieve fairness, reciprocity and balance in trade relations,” and focused on China’s pledge to buy a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured, and other products and services from the United States.”

The U.S. trade agency said the talks also focused on ways to ensure enforcement and verification of Chinese follow-through on any commitments it makes to the United States.

Steps taken

U.S. and Chinese officials made more progress on straightforward issues such as working out the details of Chinese pledges to buy a “substantial amount” of U.S. agricultural, energy and manufactured goods and services, sources said.

Since the Trump-Xi meeting, China has resumed purchases of U.S. soybeans. Buying had slumped after China imposed a 25 percent import duty on U.S. shipments of the oilseed on July 6 in response to U.S. tariffs.

China has also cut tariffs on U.S. cars, dialed back on an industrial development plan known as “Made in China 2025” and told its state refiners to buy more U.S. oil.

Earlier this week, China approved five genetically modified crops for import, the first in about 18 months, which could boost its overseas grains purchases and ease U.S. pressure to open its markets to more farm goods.


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Protectionism, Dysfunction Could Hurt US Businesses, Warns Chamber of Commerce

Rising global authoritarianism, trade protectionism and the weakening of global institutions threaten U.S. businesses, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned Thursday.

In his annual address, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said for now the U.S. economy is strong and business owners are consistently optimistic, crediting “deregulation and tax reform.”

But Donohue also defended the system of alliances and multilateral institutions set up by the United States after World War II – an implicit criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies.

“The U.S. and our allies spent the last 70 years working to expand democracy and freedom,” Donohue said. “Today, we face the task of rebuilding domestic consensus for supporting democracy abroad.”

Donohue also warned against domestic political dysfunction, including the inability of U.S. lawmakers to pass immigration reform.

The comments come amid a prolonged partial government shutdown related to President Donald Trump’s demand for Congress to provide funds to build a wall on the southern U.S. border.

Building the wall would fulfill a key campaign promise for Trump, who regularly portrays immigrants as a threat. Though he didn’t criticize Trump directly, Donohue said immigrants are crucial to the U.S. economy.

“Employers don’t have the workers they need at every skill level in key industries such as health, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation,” Donohue said. “Our nation must continue to attract and welcome industrious and innovative people from all over the world.”

U.S. lawmakers, he said, should reach a compromise that would provide legal protection for the so-called Dreamers, who came to the U.S. illegally as children. He also called for Congress to approve the “resources necessary to secure the border.”

Donohue also slammed Trump’s trade policies, saying tariffs on China and other countries are “taxes paid by American families and American businesses, not by foreigners.”

“Instead of undermining our own economy, let’s work with our allies to apply pressure on China and use the tools provided by the U.S. trade and international laws that we helped create,” he said.


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Jaguar Land Rover to Cut 4,500 Jobs, Starting in Britain

Jaguar Land Rover said Thursday it will cut 4,500 jobs as the carmaker addresses slowing demand in China and growing uncertainty about the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.

The luxury carmaker, owned by India’s Tata conglomerate, said the cuts will be in addition to 1,500 people who left the business in 2018. The cost-cutting program will begin with a voluntary reduction program in the U.K., where some 44,000 people are employed.

 

The latest job losses follow on from last year’s 2.5 billion-pound ($3.2 billion) turnaround plan that was designed to deal with many of the headwinds facing the company — Brexit, rising trade tensions between China and the U.S. and new European emissions standards combined to push Jaguar into the red in the three months to Sept. 30, compared with the same period the year before. The company also announced further investment in electrification.

 

“The next chapter in the story of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands will be the most exciting — and challenging — in our history,” CEO Ralf Speth said in a statement. “Revealing the iconic Defender, investing in cleaner, smarter, more desirable cars and electrifying our facilities to manufacture a future range of British-built electric vehicles will all form part of building a globally competitive and flourishing company.”

 

Christian Stadler, professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School, said Jaguar was facing a “perfect storm of challenges,” with the drop in Chinese sales being the most immediate problem.

 

“That is JLR’s biggest market, but car buyers there are reluctant to make expensive purchases as the economy is growing at its slowest rate for a decade and the country is locked in a trade war with the U.S.,” Stadler said. “At the same time Chinese dealers are demanding better terms, which JLR has resisted.”

 

The cuts will not just be bad news for the Jaguar staff, Stadler said. Thousands more workers in the U.K. are part of Jaguar supply chain to the carmaker — jobs that will now also be at risk.

 

“Brexit is another factor, with businesses increasingly concerned about the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which would mean tighter border controls,” he said. “That would cause massive disruption as the U.K. car manufacturing industry is so closely integrated with Europe.”

 

Also Thursday, Ford signaled “significant” cuts among its 50,000-strong workforce under plans to make it more competitive. The Dearborn Michigan-based company also said it would shift to more electric models.


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India Establishes Job Quotas for Poor Upper Caste Members

India’s Parliament on Wednesday approved a bill providing a 10 percent quota in government jobs for the poor members of upper castes who have been excluded from existing quotas for low-ranking castes.

The Congress party and other opposition parties supported the legislation, but criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for getting it approved just months before the national elections, in an effort the opposition claimed was aimed at winning votes.

The Modi government surprised the opposition by unexpectedly moving the bill in the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday and getting it approved. The upper house adopted it by sitting late into night on Wednesday during the final day of the current parliamentary session. The bill now only needs the approval of India’s president, a formality, to become law.

Discrimination under the caste system was outlawed soon after India’s independence from Britain in 1947. But the system’s influence remains strong and the government has sought to redress discrimination against those on the lower rungs by setting up quotas for government jobs and university spots.

Until now, 49.5 percent of government jobs and places in state-funded educational institutions were allocated to the lower castes.

The economically poor among higher castes have been clamoring for a similar quota to improve the quality of their lives.

Modi on Wednesday hailed the passage of the bill in Parliament in a tweet as a way for younger, economically disadvantaged Indians from higher castes “to showcase their prowess and contribute toward India’s transformation.”

Opposition lawmakers, including D. Raja of the Communist Party of India and Satish Mishra of the Bahujan Samaj Party, a party representing the lower castes, said the government provided the job quota to upper caste Indians to save embarrassment from its failure to create 2 millions jobs every year as promised after coming to power in 2014.

“Job quotas are being provided as a substitute for jobs,” said Ashish Nandy, a well-known political commentator.

The new law will face a test in India’s Supreme Court, which has put a 50 per cent cap on job quotas in the country based on social and educational backwardness.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the job quota for upper castes would not be affected by any court restrictions because it was introduced because of an economic need.

Critics have said the lower castes should be strengthened through education rather than quotas because many jobs and university spots that have been reserved for them remain empty.

 


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With Farms Atop Malls, Singapore Gets Serious About Food Security 

Visitors to Singapore’s Orchard Road, the city’s main shopping belt, will find fancy malls, trendy department stores, abundant food courts — and a small farm. 

 

Comcrop’s 600-square-meter (6,450-square-foot) farm on the roof of one of the malls uses vertical racks and hydroponics to grow leafy greens and herbs such as basil and peppermint that it sells to nearby bars, restaurants and stores. 

 

The farm’s small size belies its big ambition: to help improve the city’s food security. 

 

Comcrop’s Allan Lim, who set up the rooftop farm five years ago, recently opened a 4,000-square-meter farm with a greenhouse on the edge of the city. 

 

He believes high-tech urban farms are the way ahead for the city, where more land cannot be cultivated. 

 

“Agriculture is not seen as a key sector in Singapore. But we import most of our food, so we are very vulnerable to sudden disruptions in supply,” Lim said. 

 

“Land, natural resources and low-cost labor used to be the predominant way that countries achieved food security. But we can use technology to solve any deficiencies,” he said. 

 

Singapore last year topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Food Security Index of 113 countries for the first time, scoring high on measures such as affordability, availability and safety. 

 

Yet, as the country imports more than 90 percent of its food, its food security is susceptible to climate change and natural resource risks, the EIU noted. 

 

With 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City — and with the population estimated to grow to 6.9 million by 2030 — land is at a premium in Singapore. 

 

The country has long reclaimed land from the sea, and plans to move more of its transport, utilities and storage underground to free up space for housing, offices and greenery. 

 

It has also cleared dozens of cemeteries for homes and highways.  

Agriculture makes up only about 1 percent of its land area, so better use of space is key, said Samina Raja, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo in New York. 

 

“Urban agriculture is increasingly being recognized as a legitimate land use in cities,” she said. “It offers a multitude of benefits, from increased food security and improved nutrition to greening of spaces. But food is seldom a part of urban planning.” 

 

Supply shocks

Countries across the world are battling the worsening impacts of climate change, water scarcity and population growth to find better ways to feed their people. 

 

Scientists are working on innovations — from gene editing of crops and lab-grown meat to robots and drones — to fundamentally change how food is grown, distributed and eaten. 

 

With more than two-thirds of the world’s population forecast to live in cities by 2050, urban agriculture is critical, a study published last year stated. 

 

Urban agriculture currently produces as much as 180 million metric tons of food a year — up to 10 percent of the global output of pulses and vegetables, the study noted. 

 

Additional benefits, such as reduction of the urban heat-island effect, avoided stormwater runoff, nitrogen fixation and energy savings could be worth $160 billion annually, it said. 

 

Countries including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia could benefit significantly from urban agriculture, it said. 

 

“Urban agriculture should not be expected to eliminate food insecurity, but that should not be the only metric,” said study co-author Matei Georgescu, a professor of urban planning at Arizona State University. 

 

“It can build social cohesion among residents, improve economic prospects for growers, and have nutritional benefits. In addition, greening cities can help to transition away from traditional concrete jungles,” he said. 

 

Singapore was once an agrarian economy that produced nearly all its own food. There were pig farms and durian orchards, and vegetable gardens and chickens in the kampongs, or villages. 

 

But in its push for rapid economic growth after independence in 1965, industrialization took precedence, and most farms were phased out, said Kenny Eng, president of the Kranji Countryside Association, which represents local farmers.  

The global food crisis of 2007-08, when prices spiked, causing widespread economic instability and social unrest, may have led the government to rethink its food security strategy to guard against such shocks, Eng said. 

 

“In an age of climate uncertainty and rapid urbanization, there are merits to protecting indigenous agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods,” he said. 

 

Local production is a core component of the food security road map, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore, a state agency that helps farmers upgrade with technical know-how, research and overseas study tours. 

 

Given its land constraints, AVA has also been looking to unlock more spaces, including underutilized or alternative spaces, and harness technological innovations to “grow more with less,” a spokeswoman said by email. 

 

Intrinsic value

A visit to the Kranji countryside, just a 45-minute drive from the city’s bustling downtown, and where dozens of farms are located, offers a view of the old and the new. 

 

Livestock farms and organic vegetable plots sit alongside vertical farms and climate-controlled greenhouses. 

 

Yet many longtime farmers are fearful of the future, as the government pushes for upgrades and plans to relocate more than 60 farms by 2021 to return land to the military. 

 

Many farms might be forced to shut down, said Chelsea Wan, a second-generation farmer who runs Jurong Frog Farm. 

 

“It’s getting tougher because leases are shorter, it’s harder to hire workers, and it’s expensive to invest in new technologies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

 

“We support the government’s effort to increase productivity through technology, but we feel sidelined,” she said. 

 

Wan is a member of the Kranji Countryside Association, which has tried to spur local interest in farming by welcoming farmers’ markets, study tours, homestays and weddings. 

 

Small peri-urban farms at the edge of the city, like those in Kranji, are not just necessary for food security, Eng said. 

 

“The countryside is an inalienable part of our heritage and nation-building, and the farms have an intrinsic value for education, conservation, the community and tourism,” he said. 

 

At the rooftop farm on Orchard Road, Lim looks on as brisk, elderly Singaporeans, whom he has hired to get around the worker shortage, harvest, sort and pack the day’s output. 

 

“It’s not a competition between urban farms and landed farms; it’s a question of relevance,” he said. “You have to ask: What works best in a city like Singapore?” 


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Images From Space Help Map Extreme Poverty

The fight against poverty is getting help from a new direction: up.

Satellite imagery is helping researchers map areas of extreme poverty. It may help officials identify faster and more accurately when development policies and programs are working, and when they aren’t.

Eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

Experts usually measure poverty by using census data and household surveys. But these tools are expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive. Countries typically do them only once every several years.

On the other hand, satellites map the entire surface of the globe at high resolution every several days. The imagery is getting better and cheaper as a growing number of public and private satellite networks go into service.

What satellites see

Researchers have used the brightness of lights in nighttime photos to estimate a region’s economic activity. Others have applied machine learning to identify richer and poorer villages from satellite imagery. Another group sorted wealthy and impoverished villages and neighborhoods based on building density and vegetation cover.

A new study takes the most detailed look to date. Within a single village, it distinguished the poorest individual households from their wealthier neighbors with 62 percent accuracy.

The study focuses on Sauri, a village in rural Kenya that was part of the Millennium Villages Project, a large-scale poverty alleviation experiment. Detailed information on each household’s income and assets was collected in 2005.

In satellite images of the village, researchers measured the size of each dwelling and studied the agricultural land surrounding it.

Not surprisingly, smaller homes generally housed poorer people.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that poorer households tended to have more bare farm fields in September. In this part of Kenya, that usually means farmers are preparing the land for a second crop.

That’s a risky undertaking, said University of Edinburgh geographer and study lead author Gary Watmough, because the late-season rains fail up to half the time in this region.

“Generally, [late-season planting] is only done by the poorer households because it’s a necessity,” he said. “They either don’t have enough land or they need to have that insurance, just in case something else goes wrong.”

Satellite imagery also found poorer households’ fields were growing crops for shorter periods of time.

“When we looked back into our field data, we could see that often poorer households were actually not planting their crops in their own fields as early as others,” Watmough said. “That was because they were contracting themselves out to plant other, wealthier households’ crops first.”

The money they earned went toward buying seeds. But that meant their own crops had less time to grow.

Exciting and a little scary

The study is a big step forward, demonstrating “the potential for satellite data to distinguish between the wealth of you and your neighbor,” said World Bank economist David Newhouse, who was not involved with the research. “Which is scary, a little bit, but also somewhat exciting.”

He suggested that privacy concerns would need to be addressed before it could be scaled up.

Also, the markers of poverty found in this area will not be the same everywhere. The approach would need to be tailored to different locations. And the system’s accuracy — 62 percent — is not great on its own.

“I think the science is pretty far ahead of the practical feasibility,” Newhouse said.

It’s probably best not to rely solely on satellite data, experts say. The charity GiveDirectly used satellite images to target donations to people in villages with a high proportion of thatched roofs. These villages were considered worse off than those with more metal roofs.

But people figured it out. Some claimed to live in thatched-roof structures next to their metal-roofed houses in order to qualify for donations.

“This is really a way to use the data, but it’s also an example of how people can quickly game it,” said remote sensing expert Damien Jacques. GiveDirectly has since changed its methods.

There’s power, however, in combining satellite data and on-the-ground surveys.   

“Using the two types of data, one that is cheap to collect and very frequently available to complement traditional data that are expensive to collect and not frequent, you can get the best of the two,” Jacques said.

And remote sensing data on its own can be helpful in places surveyors can’t go, such as Yemen or North Korea, or in the wake of disasters.

But it’s not clear that changes in poverty are visible from space. That’s something Watmough and colleagues will be investigating. They have survey data from Sauri from 2005 and 2008. The next step is to look for differences in the imagery.

“Nobody has ever looked at how poverty has changed over a time period and looked at how a satellite image has changed over that same time period,” he said.


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Savings But No Title Deed? Loans Help Kenyan Women Turn Idle Land into Gold

For the women of Tuluroba village’s self-help group, the goal was simple: use their combined savings to buy cattle, fatten them and sell them to the beef industry for slaughter.

But there was a problem.

“We had no land to graze the cattle. Nor could we obtain a loan from a bank to buy land, because as women we do not own title deeds,” said Fatuma Wario, who chairs the 13-strong group.

That is common. Few women in Kenya have land title documents, and few are getting them: Since 2013, less than 2 percent of issued titles have gone to women, the Kenya Land Alliance, a non-profit, said in March 2018.

And because getting a loan from a mainstream bank requires collateral — typically in the form of a land title document — most women are locked out of the chance to start a business.

In the end, the women of the HoriJabesa group borrowed money from an institution that loans money to women’s groups without requiring land title. Instead, the cash from their savings underwrites the loan.

In Wario’s case, that meant switching their savings account to the bank that was prepared to extend a $1,000 loan. Using that money and some of their savings, “we bought cattle and hired land to graze our stock.”

That was in 2017. Doing so meant the group could rent 10 acres (4 hectares) of pasture at a cost of 30,000 Kenyan shillings ($300) annually.

Interest on the loan is 12 percent per year. In their first year, they earned $10,000 from their investment — with each fattened head of cattle bringing in a $30 profit.

Thousands benefit

The first step for Wario’s group was to become a partner with the Program for Rural Outreach of Financial Innovations and Technologies (PROFIT), which is funded by the U.N International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

David Kanda, an adviser at the SNV Netherlands Development Organization who has seen the impact PROFIT has had on women like Wario, said about 60 women’s groups in eastern Kenya alone were benefiting from the PROFIT program.

“Apart from livestock enterprises, the program also supports women to do poultry and bee-keeping on hired land.”

The program began in December 2010 and is scheduled to run until June this year. After that, it will be evaluated with an eye to continuing it, an official from AGRA said.

Getting a loan requires that the person be an active member of an agribusiness network. She can then apply to a farmer-lending institution for a loan as an individual — in which case her share in the agribusiness network is her collateral — or with her group, as Wario’s collective did.

The Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), a government agency, is one such lending institution.

To date, said Millicent Omukaga, AFC’s head of operations, more than 40,000 women in Kenya have benefited from non-collateralized loans. None of those loans has gone bad.

“Our aim is to double the number … of women beneficiaries. But the overall aim is to see them financially empowered so that they can fight for their land rights.”

Grass bounty

That has proven the case for Mabel Katindi, a widow who lives in Kathiani village in Machakos county, 195 kilometers south of Wario’s village.

The 42-year-old lost her husband a decade ago. Since then she has had to fight off relatives trying to chase her and her three children from the one-acre plot she inherited.

The problem is that her late husband did not have a title deed. As it is ancestral land, it fell under one title deed held by the eldest member of his family, she said.

And without title, Katindi could not get a loan to finance money-earning ventures on her acre.

“Our land is not very good for growing food crops because the rains are not enough. Feeding my children alone has been the most difficult task,” she said.

But after joining the local women’s organization in 2017, Katindi learned that, as an active member of the agribusiness group, she could use her share to apply for a loan.

In March of that year, she borrowed 50,000 shillings from a savings and credit cooperative, and used that to plant drought-resistant brachiaria grass on half an acre of her land.

The grass has thrived, she said.

“Demand for the grass is very high because it makes cattle produce a lot of milk. It also does not require a lot of rain to grow,” Katindi said.

Each bale of grass earns up to 300 shillings, with the half-acre generating 100 bales each year. She uses the other half-acre to grow staple foods for the family.

“My children are all in school. I do not have to worry about feeding them,” Katindi said, adding that the financial returns from the loan had also helped to mend relations with her late husband’s family.

“I even use some of my money to support the relatives who wanted to chase me away from the land.”


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