A LOAN LIFE
Time flies when you are growing tea. One moment it’s 1999 and you are 27-years old, getting into tea farming, as Patrick Kiplagat was. You are a greenhorn; you don't have many farming tricks up your sleeves, or much to your name regarding earthly possessions but you are keen to understand the language of the soil. You have a small piece of land in Kipchabwe, three kilometres from Kapsabet, 40 kilometres from Eldoret, the home of uber athletes. It’s only an acre, something at the bottom of a hill with trees and wet rich soil. It’s your first piece of land, bought for a small fortune of KES 300,000. You clear it and plant tea. Because everybody is planting tea. Tea is in.
Suddenly it’s 2020 - 31 years later - the world is ailing, masked and sanitised. Kiplagat is 48 years old and sometimes he looks back at his journey with bewilderment at how fast time has flown but also how, somehow, he has achieved the much he has achieved.
“You can’t do anything without a loan,” he says. “You can only grow if you take a loan.” His life feels like one big loan, taken from the savings Sacco instituted by Fairtrade Premiums. Every farmer worth his soil belongs to a Sacco. He’s a member of two, Chebukaptich farmers empowerment projects and Chebukaptich Sacco because sometimes you have to kill two birds with two stones.
What has happened in his life in 31 years? For one, he got married. (But he didn’t take a loan for that). “That was in 2002.” He says. He then got four children; two in high school (teenagers) and two in primary schools. “I have paid school fees using the proceeds from farming. My mom was a teacher but my father was a tea estate manager, he also schooled us from farming. I think I got into farming because I saw practically what it was capable of doing.” In 2018 he took KES 500,000 loan from the Sacco to build a cottage. "I'm a Nandi and in our culture when your sons have been circumcised they should live in their own house because now they are men." He says. "So, I started building a cottage for the two boys. It’s 70% done now.” The house features two bedrooms, a toilet, bathroom, a common room and study room. The young men will be soon moving in and they will find manhood therein. So, he’s proud of that not only as a man but as a man who respects culture and tradition.
This year, before COVID poked its nose in our lives, he took another loan, this time for KES 400,000. "I want to buy a shamba and set up a dairy unit there.” He says. “I want to have five cattle in there and practice semi-zero grazing. Cattle are important for our people, not only for milk used for domestic consumption but also sale."
Not everybody can farm, just like not everybody can fold their tongues. (Was it called a discontinuous variation in biology?)
"The secret of farming is a clean shamba. Don’t allow weeds to settle in. Don’t use harmful chemicals to disrupt them. We have a list of authorised and environmentally friendly chemicals that Fairtrade encourages us to use. Things have changed, practices that were common before now are not allowed. For instance, we now use jembes to weed, not chemicals which are bad for the soil.”
The Sacco is now also giving specific loans to farmers who want to buy fertilizers - mostly MPK, at 10% interest. Kiplagat just bought 20 bags for KES 51,000. "Farming is lucrative, about 90 per cent of youth in my area are into farming.”
Lastly, there is his beloved Subaru Legacy, that he bought from a small loan he took many moons ago. Don't get him started about that car or we will be here the whole day.