Cows and Microfinance: Simply Bovine

By Peter Marchant, KF10 Azerbaijan

Cows are a perfect microfinance investment, and it’s not just their perfumed smell and cuddly good looks.

As a Kiva Fellow I have gazed upon the ample forms of innumerable Azerbaijani cows. I have sullied my boots in great piles of cow poo and dodged a charging cow with a girlish yelp and extreme lack of coordination that elicited fits of laughter from bemused Kiva borrowers. I have inhaled the pungent scent of cattle in close quarters from the Iranian border to the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. I have seen cows in every stage from the pasture to the plate through the eyes of Kiva borrowers who farm, butcher, and serve them for their livelihood.

Cows doing what they do... not much

It often seems that every borrower in Azerbaijan uses their loan for at least one cow. Those with primary income from other businesses often purchase a cow as well. Barbers, shopkeepers, accountants and beekeepers all own cows or want to. I must admit that at one point, I despaired at the thought of seeing yet another cow. Perhaps, you too have come across borrowers looking to buy a cow (or sheep or goat or pig) and clicked past hoping to find the borrower weaving carpets from leopard hair or distilling passion fruits into jungle whiskey. But the cow, dirty, omnipresent, and pedestrian, is a perfect microfinance investment. In addition to looking good and smelling better, cows are:

  • Accessible: In Azerbaijan everyone knows something of husbandry. If not, their neighbor, uncle or grandpappy surely does.
  • Flexible: Families can drink the milk or make butter, cheese, and yogurt. They can sell these products, consume them domestically, or do some of both. Importantly, they can vary this equation daily. If a big expense comes along, you can sell a cow in Azerbaijan within a week to raise capital.
  • Easy: I have spent a lot of time trying to take an interesting cow photo (and as you can see above, failed rather completely). It is extremely difficult because cows do almost nothing almost all day long. But this means they are easy to care for. Borrowers can devote themselves to other pursuits and raise a few cows to supplement their income or diversify their food intake.
  • Low Risk: For all the reasons above, cows are low risk. Microinsurance programs like the one Kiva Fellow Kevin Chaissan documented in Kenya can further mitigate the risk.

So next time you see a cow on Kiva, before you continue on in search of that passion fruit distillery, take a moment to consider the manifold microfinanced magnificence of this ungainly ungulate. They may not be sexy, but cows are good business.

Peter Marchant is a Kiva Fellow serving his first placement with AqroInvest in Azerbaijan. Click on Azerbaijan Borrowers for a list of Azeri borrowers currently on Kiva or check out Supporters of Azerbaijan to join the Azerbaijan lending group.

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