By Victoria Kabak, KF9, Nicaragua
As the holiday season fast approaches, I imagine many of you back at home are starting to make lists (checking them twice?) of presents or of people you’re going to buy presents for or even of presents you hope someone else gets you. It’s no secret that businesses in the United States – and in other countries – experience a significant uptick in sales in December.
But I’ve learned in the past few weeks that this phenomenon isn’t unique to the United States or to developed countries. Many of the borrowers I’ve met with recently have expressed to me that, even if business is a little slow right now, they’re optimistic for December since it tends to be their best month every year.
This got me thinking about seasonal changes and how different times of the year can impact the businesses of Kiva borrowers in distinct patterns. There are some obvious ways in which seasons and time impact their livelihoods. In addition to Christmastime, for example, those who work in agriculture are affected by when the harvest times for their crops are. Here in Nicaragua, working with Kiva’s field partner AFODENIC, I’ve recently learned from clients that tomato season ended just a few weeks ago and pitahaya season is coming to a close shortly.
However, there are several less obvious impacts that turning the calendar page has on microentrepreneurs’ work. These types of consequences – which are, of course, out of clients’ control – are not ones that had occurred to me before coming to Nicaragua. To share with you what I’ve learned, here are a couple of ways in which the time of year can have either a negative or a positive effect on borrowers and their businesses. Let me know in the comments if you can think of or have heard from clients about any others!
The School Year
In Nicaragua, the school year is just ending and the students are about to have their three-month break; the months of November, December, and January are to them what June, July, and August are to us. For some borrowers, the break is a boon. Rosa Maria Madrigal sells school uniforms, among other clothing, and she said that parents usually buy their children new uniforms in between the school years, giving her a bump up in sales. More than one owner of a pulpería – the local name for a sort of grocery store that sells a wide variety of products and is often run out of the front of the owner’s home – have told me they have been planning to add toys to their inventory in anticipation of a toy rush to keep children entertained while they’re not in school.
But one person’s boon can be another person’s loss. Maritza del Carmen Estrada Sanchez runs a snack kiosk in the schoolyard of a primary and secondary school, so when the school year ends, she shutters her kiosk. Fortunately, she is able to continue selling some food from her home during the off-season, though she said that doesn’t bring in quite as much income. It has been interesting to see how the same seasonal change can benefit some clients while being a detriment to others.
The Rainy Season
Nicaragua has two seasons: The rainy season, known as winter, runs from May to October or so, while the dry season, called summer, lasts from November to April. For some borrowers, the rain really puts a damper on their businesses. Luisa Ercilia Tardencilla Rodriguez said that the rain keeps clients away from her restaurant because they stay at home instead of going out to eat. Similarly, Maria Isabel Zapata, who owns a general store in a market, told me that the rain makes potential customers likelier just to go to a pulpería in their neighborhoods to buy what they need, rather than coming to the market.
The rainy season can also be seen as an example of one way that the same seasonal change can help one client and harm another. While the clients I mentioned above rue the rain, those who count on their crops to support their families take it as a welcome respite for what has been widely deemed to be an ongoing drought in the country.
* * *
While these sorts of seasonal impacts may be out of borrowers’ hands, the good news is that microfinance institutions can help ease any difficulties created by them by structuring loans with an awareness and sensitivity to these types of potential consequences.