Borrowing money did not come naturally to James Gachacha Chira. The 56-year-old, who farms a smallholding in the shadow of Kenya's Aberdare mountains, has a conservative streak that many farmers would recognise. Tales of bankrupted smallholders who lost their land to bad loans are common here, as are woeful stories of farmers swindled by corrupt co-operatives.
"I was afraid of borrowing money as I heard that farms are repossessed when you can't pay," the father of six admits. "So I never used credit before."
Gachacha was persuaded to change his mind after accompanying a friend one afternoon to a talk being given by a Kenyan agronomist at a local hall. Obadiah Ngigi had quit his well-paid job with Care International to pursue a private venture that he believes could transform the lot of Kenya's smallholder farmers.
Ngigi had spent months designing a green loans scheme that would offer cheap credit to small farmers in return for simple conservation measures. He grew up not far from the Aberdares' forested peak, where the soil was good enough to attract the attention of British colonists who decamped here in such large numbers that it came to be known as the white highlands.
These days, outside of a handful of big commercial farms, the land is divided into thousands of small plots, many of them on slopes where soil erosion has been accelerating. In the past 60 years, a third of the world's arable land has been lost to soil degradation. This has led to falling yields in much of Africa.
Continue reading HERE