Kenya: Table banking schemes help women buy land (IPS)

| January 13, 2019

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Eight months ago, Mary Auma and her three children were living in a one-room house in an informal settlement. Ms. Auma’s family is from the agricultural town of Ahero in Kenya’s Nyanza region. To make her living, every day, she purchased large quantities of milk and resold it for a 10% profit.

But life changed for the better in February. Ms. Auma was able to raise the $1,500 US needed to purchase an acre of land and two cows. And she was able to move her kids to a more secure neighbourhood.

These changes are a result of Ms. Auma joining a table banking group two years ago. Table banking is an approach to financing that takes advantage of the social support already present in vulnerable communities. Groups of 15 to 30 members make weekly deposits into a communal fund, which they manage themselves. The members create and agree on rules. They decide which group members receive loans, and what the terms of repayment are. Group members depend on and are accountable to one another, which leads to high repayment rates.

Ms. Auma says: “With a piece of land, I could live on it, keep cows, chickens, and grow vegetables behind my kitchen. This is what I have always wanted, but I had no money to start these projects.”

While women can freely own and buy land in Kenya, less than seven per cent have title deeds. Women are crucial to small-scale agriculture, but often have great difficulty accessing land and credit. But with informal banking on the rise among rural African women, there is a chance that women will have increased access to land.

Table banking—called village banking in some places—is gaining popularity across Africa.

Francis Kiragu is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He says: “You need collateral to secure a loan from a commercial bank, and women generally do not have property. They are therefore unable to access credit to buy land. The concept of table banking is highly attractive to women because they loan each other the capital needed to acquire property.”

Irene Tuwei is a member of the Chamgaa table banking group in Turbo, a town in the Rift Valley region. She says, “Women are no longer hoarding pennies to share amongst themselves. We meet once a week and in just one sitting, 24 of us can now contribute up to 5,000 dollars.”

Since joining the group some years ago, Ms. Tuwei has acquired three motorbike taxis, some cows, chickens, pigs, and an ox plough. She harvests 80 bags of maize cobs from her land, earning $2,300 US each harvest. She reinvests some of this in her table banking group. She also plans to open a petrol station near a busy highway.

Many banks are now reaching out to table banking groups, offering special accounts and loans on friendly terms.

Ms. Tuwei says: “Before, these banks would never accept our loan applications because we did not have assets to attach while applying for them. Today, all 24 of us have been able to acquire land through loans received from the group’s savings.”

These kinds of banking schemes are particularly important because of alarming reports from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization that indicate world hunger is on the rise.

According to the Global Report on Food Crises 2018, the worst is yet to come. The report predicted that dry weather would aggravate food insecurity in a number of countries, including Kenya.

Female ownership of land is a crucial component of combatting this trend.

Allan Moshi is an expert on land policy in sub-Saharan Africa. He says that as more women take ownership of farmlands, they will be able to use their harvest for food and income. He explains: “Having an income is important as it increases their purchasing power. Rural women will then be able to buy foods that they do not have, therefore ensuring that their households are food secure.”

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Kenyan Women Turning the Tables on Traditional Banking and Land Ownership,” written by Miriam Gathigah for IPS News. To read the original article, go to:

Photo: Mary Auma Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS