“Our lives have changed since we started the savings group. For us, it is more than just saving money, it’s an investment, a way of building a better future for ourselves, our families and the community", says Christine Nalutaaya, a smallholder farmer who is part of the Alinyikira Savings Group in Kisuuma village, Kalongo sub-county, Nakasongola District in Uganda.
In a typical village like Kisuuma, the majority of people are smallholder farmers and are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, in an area prone to more frequent and longer dry spells and drought, erratic rainfall and lack of transportation and access to farming materials and credit.
To combat these challenges, farmers using World Vision’s Household Engagement and Accountability approach* formed a group that helps them to save money to buy materials such as hybrid seed and fertiliser and to feed their families and pay school fees for their children.
World Vision’s Community Mobilisation and Engagement Manager, Moses Kadobera, says that once households have been clustered, they are encouraged to start a savings group. In their respective household clusters, members are then trained on the Savings for Transformation (S4T) approach, business skills and entrepreneurship, which helps them to save regularly, borrow from their group's revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate.
“This approach is as empowering as it is self-sustaining. Every household cluster is responsible for identifying its own priorities, resources, and solutions to address issues they face,” says Moses, the brainchild behind the touted approach that has been applauded by the Government of Uganda and has since been scaled up in all World Vision operation areas across the country.
The Alinyikira Savings Group was formed in 2018 as one component of World Vision’s Resilience and Livelihood programme.
The programme uses the Building Secure Livelihoods project model that involves improving access to finance through S4T, changing behaviour through Empowered World View, and improving production and entrepreneurship through local value chain development and business skills training interventions.
At the end of each saving cycle which runs for 12 months, the money is shared according to respective individual savings, plus interest earned from internal borrowing and penalties. The group strategically schedules the distribution of profits during critical times, such as the onset of the rainy season or the start of the new school term when money is most needed.
Savings group are making a difference in the lives of many farmers in Kisuuma village. Christine (37), who often depended on Government agriculture subsidies, used her shares of savings to buy seeds. “You can’t depend wholly on the Government assistance”, says Christine. “Sometimes the help from the Government comes but too little, too late.”
Apart from savings contributing to farming inputs, they also enable group members to send their children to school. Godfrey Kibalikoba (57) is Christine’s husband. Together they are blessed with eight children (four girls and four boys). He says that they are able to pay school fees for all their children, which was a big challenge before they joined a savings group.
Seeing all our children attend and stay at school without being disrupted for lack of school requirements, including school fees, brings me happiness as a father,” says Godfrey. “I am very confident that our children can go to school and attain a good education because of the savings group.
Savings groups are also changing the lives of women farmers. Women who choose to join become better connected socially within their village and are more likely to hold leadership positions. This allows them to make decisions at household and village levels.
A good example is the case of Christine, the chairperson of the Alinyikira Savings Group. Established in 2018 as part of World Vision's Resilience and Livelihoods Programme, Alinyikira Savings Group is one of 267 supported savings groups in Nakasongola District. Christine used her savings plus profit shares to start a soap-making business which now helps her to sustain her household.
In a month, Christine produces between 80-100 litres of liquid soap earning her UGX80,000-UGX100,000 (US$22-27) per month. "I’m happy to be part of the group because I’m able to take care of my family and make a meaningful contribution towards my household expenses", she says.
Now, Christine is on the diversification journey to secure her family’s future. Already she has two cows, grows a variety of high values crops such as cassava, maize and beans, and she is practising Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration on her two acres of land.
Out of a total of 5,691 men and women in 267 savings groups in Nakasongola District, 3,724 are women, making up 65% of the membership. At the national level, World Vision has supported the establishment of 10,040 saving groups across its areas of operation. With a membership of more than 280,000 community members, women comprise 65% nationwide. As of now, accumulated savings stand at UGX19.2 billion (US$5.3million), benefiting nearly 800,000 children. Out of these, more than 81,000 are children registered under World Vision's sponsorship programme.
Stories told by farmers from Kisuuma village show that savings groups can be an effective and complementary approach to financial inclusion and to other development initiatives that can benefit the community as well as the country as a whole.
With enough food, a bigger family house nearing completion, and her community united with families now working more together than before, this is a dream come true for Christine.
Christine says with a smile: “I am overjoyed. I believed this to be true, and now I know it for a fact. I am living the dream. As a community, we wanted the fish but you taught us how to fish for ourselves. Now we have the fish in abundance in terms of knowledge, skills and mindset change. We’re providing care and support to our children both at home in school. God bless World Vision and all its supporters and partners.”
*The Household Engagement and Accountability approach empowers households to identify their own priorities, resources, and solutions to address issues they face. Household members are encouraged to save regularly, borrow from their group’s revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate.
Written by Caroline Adong – Project Officer (Resilience and Livelihoods), Henry Mugisha - Technical Programme Officer (Resilience and Livelihoods) and Fred Ouma - Development Communications Coordinator, World Vision in Uganda