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Côte d’Ivoire: Women gain access to credit through village savings and credit associations (VSLAs)

It’s raining heavily in Kragui, a town in the Nawa region nearly 300 kilometres from Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Gohou Assiata Bamba is a mother of five and has been a cocoa producer here for 32 years, where she owns and operates a two-hectare farm. 

Like most rural women farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, Mrs. Bamba has faced many financial difficulties. She struggled to maintain her cocoa plantation and meet the needs of her children—breakfast in the morning and pocket money for school. 

These struggles led Mrs. Bamba to join the local chapter of a village savings and loan association, or VSLA, led by CARE International. The association enables members to save money and access credit. The group is called Limania, which means “Everything God does is good” in Malinké, a language spoken in Côte d’Ivoire. 

Mrs. Bamba is the president of the group, which has 30 members, including two men. Each week, every member contributes between 1,000 and 5,000 FCFA ($1.61 US to $8.03 US), depending on their needs and ability.

The group operates on a 52-week, or year-long, cycle. At the end of each cycle, the accumulated funds are distributed to each member in proportion to the amount they contributed. 

Members can also borrow from the group to finance their projects. The interest rate of the loans is determined by the members, and the amount borrowed cannot exceed three times their contributions. This helps ensure that members only take out loans that they can repay.

The group also runs a solidarity fund to financially support members during large and important social events such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

At the end of each cycle, Mrs. Bamba says that she usually receives 500,000 FCFA ($803 US). She says this money is precious to her.

She explains: “With this amount, I contribute to my children’s education costs. I have also been able to start up other activities such as selling traditional fabric and breeding chickens. The VSLA has changed my life.”

She says that other women benefit in similar ways from the group, which allows them to improve their community. Together, the members of the Limania Village Savings and Loan Association purchased a rice threshing machine to improve local rice production. With increased rice production, the women have regularly provided the local school cafeteria with food for school lunches. They have also used their increased income to purchase hygiene kits for the school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kassoum Coulibaly is a financial inclusion expert and project manager at CARE International in Côte d’Ivoire. He says that village savings and loans associations are an effective tool to strengthen social unity and solidarity amongst members, and help women access much-needed credit, which is otherwise hard to obtain from banks. He says the groups not only improve each member’s financial situation, but also improve gender relations in households, since women can contribute to their families and are not reliant on their husbands for money.

He says: “Village savings and loans associations contribute to the culture of savings, credit, and financial education of members. This helps to improve their living conditions. The system is very simple, but the result is strong.

Photo: Members of the women’s cocoa co-operative COPAZ, based in Kperedi, Côte d’Ivoire, pick higher-yielding cocoa seedlings. Credit: Nestlé.

This resource was produced thanks to funding from Unilever and in partnership with ALMA Production, Barry Callebaut, SACO and Cargill as part of the project “Sensibilisation des coopératives de cacao sur le genre et rediffusion de la série ‘Arbres de l’espoir’ en Côte d’Ivoire ” (or GARD) to raise awareness among rural audiences about deforestation and on gender issues.