Last week, Acumen Fund invited marketing guru Seth Godin to visit Juhudi Kilimo near one of our offices in Kitale, Kenya, a farming town in the Rift Valley near Moun Elgon. Alongside fellow Acumen investee Western Seed, we reflected on our shared mission to help smallholder farmers become small businessmen and businesswomen. At Juhudi, we work in very rural areas to provide financing and training for agricultural assets. Most of our clients take a loan for high-yield dairy cows or finance other livestock or equipment to expand their farms.
During the workshop, Seth talked about how amateur farmers continue practicing agriculture like their parents and grandparents. These farmers aren’t measuring, testing, and improving their farming systems as businesses. We find that many of our clients have remained with what they know because the risk of what’s new seems too great. A common livestock disease or small market slump can be devastating for a smallholder farmer. These farmers are understandably risk-averse. So when we are invited to begin working with a new farming group, we don’t start with interest rates and insurance, but with the idea of farming as business.
Seth shared the story of another Acumen investee, India’s VisionSpring. They offer reading glasses for as little as $2.50 so that many poor workers can continue to see and earn an income. Salespeople found that in the few seconds between trying on a pair of life-changing glasses and taking them off to select a style, clients often changed their minds and decided not to purchase glasses. VisionSpring experimented with making the sale while the glasses were still on the client’s face and they could literallysee the difference the glasses made. This small change led to a significant jump in sales.
For Juhudi’s clients, that personal vision doesn’t come at such a specific or sudden moment. It usually happens when one farmer is talking to another. In each group, there are one or two clients, often group leaders, who developed real business plans and became professional farmers through Juhudi’s financing and training process. These farmers are our best marketers. Our COO, Benjamin Kimosop, who travelled in Kitale with Jacqueline Novogratz earlier this year, spoke about how there is often a cultural barrier to talking about success in rural Kenya. People feel exposed, like all their cards are on the table . Our challenge is to inspire these professional farmers to break that barrier by sharing their stories and spreading that success from their farms to their communities.
Rachel Brooks is Marketing and Communications Director at Juhudi Kilimo.