The Fall and Rise of a Good Farmer
Basilio Rios’s first loan of 5 million Guaranies (US$1,000), took a few days to be approved and with it he was able to buy his first cow. And eventually, another loan from Financiera el Comercio allowed him to buy a milking machine. Now, seven years later of back-to-back loans, Basilio just imported a tractor from Spain to grow his business even more. “El Comercio is my support” declares Basilio while he proudly shows us his newly-arrived red tractor truck (pictured at the bottom of this post).
Basilio didn’t always have such success, however. Eight years ago, he lost nearly everything he possessed. He had to mortgage his home in order to pay for medical treatment for his 18 year-old son who was suffering from insect poisoning. And sadly, when his son died, he didn’t have anything left. Basilio is a tall, stout man, and his watery eyes sparkled when he told me, “I was left penniless.” Without his house and land, he needed to come up with another way to earn a living and support his large family. Milk seemed to be the best option, since its production needs very little land, and the rest is history.
As his business grew, Basilio was able to employ one of his sons who returned from Argentina, where he had emigrated. Basilio now owns 35 milking cows that yield more than 200 liters of milk a day. “So, what’s next?” I ask him. Basilio dreams of one day owning fifty milking cows so that he can have enough work to be able to send for his other son who has also emigrated, and reunite the entire family again.
It is almost time to go, and I wish Basilio best of lucks to achieve his goals. In return, he says to me, “The sky might bless us with sun, or it might send down thunderbolts and rain, but if we want to improve we have to keep hard work up!”
Cases such as Basilio’s teach me the greatest value in microfinance: if we put the right tools within reach of the right people, we will empower them to stand up against adversity, pursue their dreams, and (hopefully, like Basilio has done) improve their lives along the way.
The sun is now almost gone and the chilled wind reminds me that it is wintertime here. Chickens run around the courtyard and Basilio’s wife covers the flowers with plastic lids, as they are expecting frost tonight. The second milking session of the day is about to begin and cows are already lining up, so we let Basilio go back to work. Enio, the credit officer that has accompanied me on this visit, and I jump in the car and speed back through never-ending fields of short bright green turf on our left – “soja,” I learn – and tall yellowish wheat on our right, all while Enio praises the qualities of Basilio as a client. “He has been breaking his back to pay on time” for seven years now. I realized that we have just witnessed the epitome of a perfect customer: hard-working, reliable and profitable. Enio tells me that he hopes there are more clients out there like Basilio. Growth goals are aggressive at El Comercio and he has to increase his loan base significantly in the coming months.
Unknowingly, Enio has taught me the second lesson of the day: in order to make microfinance work, it has to be a profitable business too!