Village savings and loans help farmers

Niger: Village savings and loans associations help farmers survive drought (Trust)

Zeinabou Halidou can’t stop smiling as she counts money. Several other members of her village women’s group laugh and tell jokes as they operate machinery to grind nuts and produce soap and oil.

This scene in Tchouridi village is a big change from past years. Then, the women entered the bush to search for wild fruits to feed their families during droughts and poor harvests.

Tchouridi is a farming and pastoralist community in the Tillabèry region of western Niger. In recent years, local people have faced more frequent droughts, unreliable rainfall, and other pressures from climate change.
But now, these women’s families have enough to eat even during bad times because they are investing in other ways of making money, beyond farming.

Mrs. Halidou and the other women in the group formed a village savings and loans association after receiving training from the NGO, CARE International. In these kinds of groups, members pool their money together and lend it to members on a rotating basis. The funds are repaid with interest.

Mrs. Halidou says, “The tools we have been given and skills we have gained have given us opportunities we could never have imagined.”

The savings group is self-managed and doesn’t rely on external funding. Members collectively decide what interest rate to charge borrowers, who is eligible for a loan, and what the money can be spent on.

Penda Diallo is a senior resilience advisor at CARE International. She says village savings groups have helped many communities combat the effects of climate change, by giving women the opportunity to diversify their sources of income. She adds, “By investing in [village savings and loans associations] and supporting women to … learn new skills separate from agriculture, they can become more resilient to climate change.”

Huddled around an oil press in the heart of a crowded village in Tillabèry, Roukaya Jibo and several other women gossip, laugh, and tell jokes as they take turns feeding sesame into the device, which pumps out oil into plastic soda bottles.
Ms. Jibo is a member of the women’s savings group. She says the group used to respond to poor harvests by dipping into their limited savings, or by selling shawls made from millet stalks. Now they can also rely on money from selling oils and soaps.

She adds: “Making oils and soaps to sell at markets used to be foreign to us. We are still scared of climate change, but we now have solutions to help make sure we have some financial security, and enough to eat.”

Fati Boubacar is the head of a union of 90 women who belong to three savings groups. She says women in savings groups play a crucial role in supporting their families financially. But, she adds, the current challenge is a lack of good markets for their products, since they sell their goods only at local markets.

Ms. Boubacar explains, “Selling at the market makes us feel useful, but we need big buyers and more support and training to move forward.”

For women like Mrs. Halidou, being part of a savings group and understanding how to better adjust their activities to deal with climate shocks has made a difference in their lives. She says, “We can now cope better with climate change; we can help our husbands and support our families … we feel more empowered and valued as women.”