Madagascar: Village banks change lives (by Patrick Andrisoa Andriamihaja for Farm Radio Weekly in Madagascar)

| July 4, 2011

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Vero Mampianina and her husband are farmers in Vakinankaratra, a village 170 kilometres from Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. For six years they have been depositing money in their village savings bank. The couple is pleased with what they have achieved so far. Mr. Mampianina says, “It was good that we saved the money or we would never have been able to buy [a] cart and oxen.” Now the couple plan to expand their farming operations.

Around Vakinankaratra, many farmers save part of the money they earn from selling their produce. Some, like Raharinoro Ivone and her husband, have even managed to build farms. For the past ten years, they have saved 30,000 ariary each month, about 15 US dollars, which is three-quarters of their monthly earnings. The couple was able to realize their dream of owning livestock. Ivone says, “Our savings have allowed us to purchase eleven cattle and build three new barns.”

Many other farmers have begun new activities. Raharivelo Masy is making pottery. She says, “My husband and I saved 20,000 ariary (about ten US dollars) [each month] for a year and a half. We managed to buy a lathe and some tools.” The couple makes about 20 flower pots per day. She adds, “We sell them for a good price each week.” Other farmers have started beekeeping, fish farming and raising poultry. Some women have set up workshops equipped with sewing machines.

The Malagasy government collaborated with the French organization FERT and the national NGO FIFATA to establish the village bank system. Village banks are decentralized and managed by farmers’ organizations. After farmers from Vakinankaratra were trained, they established twenty village banks, with over 10,000 members.

Each village bank is governed by regulations established by their farmer members, and requires a membership fee. Regulations vary from bank to bank. Farmers pay 1,000 ariary to open an account, a price they find affordable. The fees go towards the bank’s operating costs. Each bank is managed independently. If a bank has problems, the farmers’ organization that operates it tries to find a solution. The government and the NGOs intervene only when farmers ask for their help.

Previously, farmers in Vakinankaratra and the surrounding communities had few resources and opportunities. Only the most deprived municipalities benefited from grants given by local and international NGOs. Others had to depend on basic tools and hard work. Agriculture, livestock and handicrafts were slow to develop. But since the first village bank opened in 1986, farmers in Vakinankaratra have succeeded in improving their lives.