Annie Barclay is a 52-year-old farmer from Garpue Town, Central Rivercess District, River Cess County. Like many other farmers in her community, Annie lives on farming using traditional methods to cultivate cassava and rice on a small farmland. Annie wants to produce enough food to feed her family all year round and sell the surplus for income to support her family, but lack of finance has been her challenge.
"I used to grow cassava and rice only on a small portion of my family farmland. I had no means of getting credit to make a bigger farm until the PARTNERS Programme came to our community and helped us organize a savings and loan association. Nowadays, I can get loans to pay for labor to expand my farm size and buy plantain suckers for my new farm. This year, my family is making an extra farm to grow plantain using the savings I made with the Farmers Savings and Loan Association last year. I also used part of my savings to pay for my children's education". Says Annie Barclay.
Annie's story is not an exclusive one. It is the reality for many farmers in Liberia, where most farmers' access to finance is almost non-existent. There are no banks or other financial institutions where these rural dwellers can access credit. However, through the PARTNERS Programme, an agricultural intervention funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, farmers in seven counties have received support to establish savings and loan associations.
Mobilizing community savings
The PARTNERS Programme seeks to improve nutrition-sensitive agricultural productivity and sustainability in 7 counties of Liberia: Bomi, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Kru, Margibi, Sinoe, and Rivercess. Recognizing that lack of access to finance is a challenge to farmers increasing their production, the Programme introduced the Savings and Loans Associations concept to the beneficiary communities. Two types of associations were introduced: Farmers Savings and Loans Associations (FSLAs) and Community Savings and Loans Associations (CSLAs). The FSLAs were established exclusively for farmers, while the CSLAs are for any other residents in the community and whose members are primarily women. Each group comprises a maximum of 30 members, who pool their savings to create a fund to which members make regular savings contributions and from which they can also borrow. The groups are established to create and support a strong savings culture in the communities and allow for a safe space for the rural poor to save and access small loans.
According to the Head of Project and Consortium Coordinator of the PARTNERS Programme, Joseph Ashong, the Savings and Loan Associations are part of a broader approach to building prosperity, thereby improving the farmers' resilience against shocks. "The Community/Farmers Savings and Loans Associations teach their members how to save and provide an opportunity for them to access credit and loans to invest in their farms, do other businesses, pay for their children school fees, and provide for their household needs," he said.
Progress to date
Since 2018, 443 Farmers and Community Savings and Loans Associations have been established across the seven counties. The associations run a complete cycle of 12 months, during which members save an agreed amount weekly. During this period, they can access short-term credit or collect their lumpsum savings at the end of the cycle.
Between January and September 2020, a total of 34,421,680.00 million Liberian dollars (the equivalent of $173,137 US-Dollars) was mobilized as savings by the Farmers and Community savings groups. Most associations have organized the share-out for their first year of savings. Annie received her first share out in June 2020 and has started her second year of saving. Due to the results from the year one savings, she can now contribute more and will be able to borrow a far larger amount. Per the Savings and Loans Associations rules, one can only borrow the amount they have contributed to the fund.
She said, "During the first cycle, I didn't have enough money, so was only able to save 12,000.00 Liberian Dollars and use the money to buy a bundle of zinc [roofing sheets] to add to the two already in safekeeping for my house".
For the PARTNERS Programme, this indicates the success of the saving initiative with the farmers.
"The challenges are real. The impact of the Community/Farmers Savings and Loans Associations is real", Joseph Ashong concludes.
ABOUT the PARTNERS Programme
The PARTNERS Programme is a 5-year intervention (January 2018 to December 2022) funded by the European Union and implemented by a Welthungerhilfe (WHH) led Consortium consisting of three other international NGOs (Concern Worldwide, ZOA, and SPARK). The Programme aims at improving the productivity and sustainability of nutrition-sensitive agriculture in 7 counties of Liberia: Rivercess, Grand Kru, Grand Cape Mount, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Bomi.