Rural Kenya is abuzz. Thanks to microloans, small farmers across the country are turning to beekeeping to supplement their income - with golden results.

Honey Care Africa, founded in 2000, is a business that provides amateur beekeepers with financing, training and access to commercial markets. Its 'Money for Honey' programme guarantees a fair price for the honey, which is then sold in local supermarkets. Beekeeping is an efficient use of land, as well as being profitable - and the bees pollinate food crops on neighbouring farms, increasing their yields.

Microcredit programmes like these are gaining popularity all over the globe: indeed 2005 has been designated the International Year of Microcredit. They involve lending often minute sums of money to poor people to set up or expand small businesses - something regular banks are often reluctant to do. Along with savings, insurance and asset transfer schemes, they are part of a growing mix of financial instruments aimed at the poor, known collectively as microfinance.

More than half the work force in many developing countries is self-employed. For the 500 million micro-entrepreneurs that run their own businesses, small loans can make the difference between bankruptcy and turning a tidy profit. When well managed, these small sums can catapult businesses into commercial successes that lift entire families - or whole communities - out of poverty.

Bag of corn: $1.40
Griddle for frying tortillas: $3.00
Monthly permit fee for roadside stall: $5.50
Cooking one's way out
of poverty: Priceless


Bundle of scrap cloth: $2.50
Thread, needles and pins: $1.40
Donkey for transport: $12
Embroidering one's way out of poverty: Priceless

In Andhra Pradesh, one of India's poorest states, the average worker earns $1.20 per day. Rural villagers often make less. For many years Gonuguntla Mariamma, born poor and married at age ten, hired herself and her children out as labourers in other people's fields, while the family's own 0.8 hectares of land could not be cultivated because she could not afford seeds or irrigation.

Then the Society for Helping to Awaken Rural Poor through Education (SHARE) came to her village. Gonuguntla borrowed money to buy a buffalo and sold its milk for profit. She took out a second loan and bought another. With the income from the milk sales, she revived the family plot and planted a grove of orange trees. What was once a dry wasteland now flows with milk and freshly squeezed orange juice.

photo: S. Ndwiga, courtesy of Photoshare

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