Kenya: Women use a rotating savings scheme to help each other survive a drought (by Pius Sawa for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

| October 10, 2011

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Florence Nzambuli is an inspiration to many women in her home village of Mutomo, in Kitui South Constituency, eastern Kenya. It is difficult to make a living through farming in this dry region. But with Ms. Nzambuli’s guidance, a women’s group has found a way to cope with drought and rising food prices.

It last rained in Mutomo in 2009. Ms. Nzambuli had a good harvest of millet and cassava that year. But many others did not. So Ms. Nzambuli shared the harvest with her community. She says, “Imagine a mother comes to me crying, asking for some food to take to her starving children. I would rather fast and give [food] to the children.”

Ms. Nzambuli says that mothers bear the burden of feeding their children and husbands in hard times. With relief food contaminated, no livestock to rely on, and no paying jobs available, mothers in Mutomo put their heads together to work on a solution.

In 2010, with guidance from Ms. Nzambuli, the women formed a village savings scheme. The group has 20 members, and each member contributes 100 Kenyan shillings, about one dollar. The group raises around 2000 shillings, and then lends the money to one member. Ms. Nzambuli explains, “When you get the money, you travel to the nearest town and buy vegetables like tomatoes, onions and cabbage. You come [back] and start selling them.”

The women meet once a month. Each month, the borrower repays one hundred shillings plus five per cent interest, until her loan is repaid. According to Ms. Nzambuli, this is how the women cope with the drought and with rising food prices.

The group is not registered. They are simply helping one another as neighbours. Ms. Nzambuli encourages women in other villages to form similar groups and raise money to be used as capital for each member’s income-generating activity. She says, “This is the best way for us, because we are friends and we cannot punish mothers who fail to pay.” If a member fails to make her payment, she is asked to do some work for the group.

Ms. Nzambuli says that, as individuals, the women cannot borrow money from banks or micro-finance institutions because of the conditions they impose. In fact, the women fear these institutions. They worry what the banks might do if the women defaulted on their loans. She notes, “As women, we don’t have land titles, so paying back such loans is a danger. Imagine if someone came to your home and took away your donkey. What would you use to fetch water from miles away?”

The drought continues in Mutomo. The women don’t know when the rains will come, so they pray. But Ms. Nzambuli and her women’s group have started digging shallow wells. If they find water, they will start kitchen gardens, planting vegetables in sacks and other containers. She offers some strong parting words of advice: “People should go back to the old food crops like millet and cassava. These crops are drought-resistant and they can mature fast.”