"It's About Life," Not Just Agriculture

Editor's note: This blog is an update on Amim and his wife Husna who were featured in CGAP’s video about the Smallholder Diaries in Tanzania that was filmed in September 2014. As we saw with Amim’s household in the video, agriculture may be just one of many sources of income for smallholder farmer households. This post focuses on how Amim and his family have dealt with multiple unexpected financial demands, relying on their multiple, diverse sources of income as well as their social network. For more day-to-day information from the Financial Diaries of Smallholder Families, visit the project's Tumblr.

In late September and early October, following the video, Amim’s household was comfortably generating income. Husna was making money from selling soda, candy and soap. Amim sold rice and avocados and worked in neighbors’ farms for extra income. He continued his additional businesses of constructing mud-brick homes and other buildings in the village, fixing motorbikes and tailoring as well. When Husna and their daughter Hawa fell ill, Husna was able to pay for Hawa to see a doctor and to buy medicine for herself with the household’s income. When Amim subsequently suffered from a toothache and had to pay to have his tooth removed, he had enough money to pay for that as well.

Then Husna’s younger sister, who lived in another part of the Mbeya region, passed away following childbirth in October and Amim’s household entered a time of more carefully juggling incomes and expenses. For Husna to reach the funeral at her younger sister’s home, she withdrew all of her savings from her business. From her sister’s home, the family decided to continue the funeral procession to Dar es Salaam and Husna needed additional money to travel.  To cover the cost, Amim borrowed money from a friend and promised to pay him back in rice that Amim had stored at home.

Amim and son
Photo credit: Erin Scronce/CGAP

As Amim’s household recovered from the sudden expenses associated with Husna’s sister’s death, Amim received payment for one of his building jobs and, after paying his workers, decided to put the rest of the money toward a bicycle on layaway. However, while Husna was still in Dar, Amim and his son, Nassoro, fell sick due to the drinking water in their village being polluted. Amim took the bike off layaway and his money back in order to pay for Nassoro’s doctor visit. Because he did not have enough money for both of them to go to the doctor, he relied on money from his mother and brother to also go to the hospital.

Before Nassoro and Amim fell sick, Amim was nearly finished with building a room for the new school director in the village. He took a day off to go to the hospital with his son, which the school director would not forgive; the director now refuses to pay him (and the laborers he has hired for the job).

Without the money from his work and with little other income in November, Amim borrowed money from his mother in order for Husna to get home from Dar. Once Husna returned, she and Amim adopted her sister’s newborn baby. However, because the baby was born in another part of Mbeya, hospital policy dictates that during the first six months of the baby’s life, he must be seen at the same hospital, which is far from where Amim lives.

Now, Amim is left with a dilemma: In addition to farming in his rice fields and working for a wage in others’ fields, he must decide whether to spend the little time and money he has left to (1) take his nephew to the hospital in another part of Mbeya for his check-up, (2) go to the nearest government office (about two hours away) to see someone about the school director refusing to pay him for the building work or (3) continue delaying the decision and focusing on his rice fields.

Amim’s recent experiences demonstrate what a smallholder farmer household does when it has unexpected expenses. Amim and Husna are savvy savers, able to cover certain unexpected costs, such as Husna and Hawa’s illnesses and Amim’s toothache in early October. However, their household hit a point where they simply could not afford all the unexpected costs anymore.

Will Amim decide whether to pursue his unpaid fees, take his nephew to the hospital or simply keep working in others’ rice fields to earn income now and his rice fields to guarantee income at harvest time? In gathering such detailed information about households through the Diaries, we not only see that smallholder farmers like other low income population segments, struggle with managing cash flows, especially in times of emergency. But we also have the opportunity to follow up with households and understand how and why they make some of the decisions they do with limited time and resources and multiple financial demands. In understanding “why,” we hope to develop better products and services for smallholder farmers. Stay tuned!



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