As a mechanism of facilitating and sustaining economic growth and efficiency, ACFODE conducted two days training for 12 Village Savings and Loans Associations(VSLA) in Apac and Dokolo districts focusing on savings enhancement, loan management, record keeping and conflict resolution and management. The VSLAs comprise of men and women who also include people living with HIV. Majority of the members in the groups are women. The training took place from 15th to 19th March 2016 targeting participants from the six sub-counties of Apac, Akokoro, Chegere and Ibuje in Apac district and, Bata and Kangai in Dokolo district. The trainings were attended by 237 participants; 61 men and 176 women.
During the training, participants shared achievements and experiences on how they have been managing loans and mobilizing to increase group savings. Bringing spouses (husbands or wives) on board is one way of increasing group savings; Men and women in VSLA groups tend to mobilize their spouses to join their groups in order to increase the resource base and facilitate sharing of financial responsibilities in a home.
Members of Can Okanyo women’s group at their store of maize
Another way of increasing group savings is selling farm inputs; Most of the VSLAs in Apac and Dokolo are involved in farming (animal husbandry and cultivation) and this is their main source of income from which are able to maximize savings. Can okanyo women’s group in Kangai sub-county, Dokolo district is comprised of 31 members. The group received 500,000/= as grant from ACFODE last year. They added 700,000/= from their savings to the 500,000/= and bought 100 bags of maize (300/=@kilo). The group stored the maize and their plan is to sell it at a higher price (1000/=@kilo). They plan to use part of the money they will get to rent land for planting sun flower, part of it as loan capital and the rest for purchasing products for the next season.
Participants also shared challenges that they have been facing in their respective groups and at individual level. These included members who are not persistent while saving and those who are members in several groups. “In 2012, I was a member of Te okutu group in Ibuje sub-county where we used to save and share at the end of the cycle. I was able to get money and buy goats and also pay school fees for my primary children. I decided to join more groups so as to get more money, I was tempted to acquire loans from the various groups which accumulated and were difficult to pay back. By end of 2015, I was in five (5) groups. I was also coned by someone who used me to acquire a loan and they defaulted. As of now, I regret why I didn’t maintain membership in just one group. Am now selling all my harvest to pay all the loans but when all this is completed, I plan to dissolve all the rest and stay in one group which is Te okutu group.” narrated a participant.
The other challenge group members mentioned was being unable to meet targets after saving due to eventualities like sickness. “I have been in VSLA for four years. During the first cycle, I had planned to buy a goat and I did, during the second cycle, I had planned to buy a bicycle and I did. During the third cycle my bicycle was stolen so I had to buy a new one. During the fourth cycle last year I had planned to lay bricks and put up a permanent structure but I got sick and used all the money for treatment.” mentioned a participant.
A participant sharing her experience on meeting targets after saving
Participants from different groups also shared experiences on how they have been handling records and managing conflicts and basing on these experiences, facilitators were able to advise them accordingly. They were introduced to the eight (8) different records for VSLAs and these include; register book, welfare ledger, savings ledger, share value book, fines ledger loan ledger, pass book cash book.
According to group members, the main cause of conflict in VSLA groups is failure to disagree on how to share savings and accumulated interest. In Atye illero group Apac sub-county, they had 40 members. When they received 300,000/= from ACFODE, 20 members wanted to share the money and the other 20 said it must be loan capital. The 20 who disagreed left the group and the 20 who remained are using the money as loan capital for this current cycle. Other causes of conflict include; defaulting or delay in refunding loans, gossiping, misuse of power and absenteeism during meetings.
It came out clearly from the training that saving starts from one’s mind, it is not a balance of what one has planned to spend but rather a fraction that is first deducted from what one has earned. VSLAs maximize interest when more members borrow loans. Therefore the leaders have to ensure that every member of the group takes a loan.
VSLAs operate in a cycle therefore when members are not satisfied with the group, they are free to exit and not take part in the next cycle. This minimizes conflicts in the group. Being a member of a VSLA promotes behavioral change among individuals in the long run for example in terms of working hard. Members have to always work hard to ensure that they meet the obligation of weekly savings or paying back a loan after one month.
Based on the discussions during the training, ACFODE identified areas for future training and engagement of VSLAs including supporting child mothers within VSLA groups for example training them on vocation skills, training members of VSLAs on social entrepreneurship, value addition or branding and linking them to the regional or national market.
As a long term achievement, ACFODE envisages more VSLAs resulting from those that have been engaged hence forming co-operatives. ACFODE therefore emphasized during the training, that members of VSLAs act as trainers to other community members so that the successes spread across many parts of the project area. By the end of the training, all the groups developed action plans on how they would utilize the knowledge gained from the training. In their action plans, majority of the groups committed to review and put in place a group constitution and orient other group members on the VSLA methodology.
Gender & Economic Policy Department