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Comoros: Resourceful farmer uses loan to launch successful business

Mohamed Ali Tabibou kneels to hoe his land and sow crops in his family’s ten-hectare field. Thanks to a loan, he was able to start a successful business growing tomatoes and lettuce.

Mr. Tabibou farms in Domoni, a village south of the Comoran capital of Moroni. His road to success hasn’t been simple.

As a child, Mr. Tabibou was diagnosed with rickets. Rickets is a bone softening disease caused by low levels of vitamin D. It has left him with a disability in his feet, but it hasn’t stopped him from working.

Mr. Tabibou took an interest in farming while still a child. He remembers, “When I was young, I followed my father to the field to help cultivate and harvest our crops.” Inspired by his father, he decided to study agronomy. In 2009, he left his village for the University of Comoros, where he obtained a degree.  Because of his naturally inquisitive nature, Mr. Tabibou was nicknamed the “researcher” by his colleagues at the university.

After his studies, he returned to the family fields in Domoni. That’s when he decided to start growing tomatoes and lettuce, crops he knew were in demand and would attract a good price.

To help start his business, he needed a loan. It wasn’t easy to obtain. After knocking on more than one door, a local development association called Shama Sha Mayendeleo provided him with a loan of 500,000 Comoran francs ($1,340 US).

Soidrou Ali is the grant officer from the association which loaned the start-up money to Mr. Tabibou. He remembers, “Mr. Tabibou presented a good proposal for his project, with all the guarantees of repayment. He [even] offered one of his fields as collateral.” In the Comoros, land is highly valuable, and very useful when attempting to secure a loan.

Each year, the “researcher” reaps two harvests. He can earn up to one million Comoran francs ($2,680 US) with each harvest, and was able to pay off his loan in one year.

Thanks to his success, Mr. Tabibou has been able to save money and help his family. He lists the ways he’s helped: “With my money, I built a house for my mother. I pay the tuition of my four brothers. I financed … my sister’s wedding. I bought a car for the family.”

Mr. Tabibou’s mother, Fatima Mbaé, markets the tomatoes and lettuce. She sells to clients in the market and some of the hotels in Moroni. Mrs. Mbaé is satisfied with the success that the business has already achieved. But there are still difficulties with overproduction and transporting the produce to the capital.

She explains: “In the country, there is … a lack of a cold storage facility for vegetables. This means that if we cannot sell all of our products, we are obliged to give them to our customers in the form of a loan. Often, we are not repaid and this slows us down.”

To overcome these problems, Mr. Tabibou wants to create an agricultural production and marketing association. He hopes that an association such as this would help create jobs in his village.