Geoffrey Ojok | June 30, 2014
Terefina Ayo stands in her field of maize and recalls the problems she and her fellow villagers used to face. Food was scarce and housing poor. The 54-year-old had difficulty affording her son’s school fees. Even the basic necessities of life were hard to come by.
But that has all changed. Mrs. Ayo says, “Acamanaros Village Savings and Loans Association [AVSLA] has made all the difference.”
Mrs. Ayo lives in Olio sub-county in the eastern district of Serere, about 200 kilometres from Kampala. Her savings and loans association meets every Saturday and issues small loans to members. Members use the loans to buy farming inputs such as improved seeds or to invest the money in small businesses.
Sarah Atim says the savings scheme increased her income. The 35-year-old mother of four explains: “In addition to the bull I bought to help me plough more land in March this year, I used the money that I borrowed from the association to start a small business.” Mrs. Atim buys maize from farmers and re-sells it to larger buyers.
Michael Okello is the chairperson of AVSLA. He says, “Before giving a loan, we access the reasons given by the borrower [for wanting a loan] and [assess their] ability to repay.”
He adds, “Farmers now have the money they need to invest in their crops because loan interest is never higher than 10 per cent.” As a result of these investments, households now produce increased amounts of maize, sorghum, cassava and groundnuts for sale.
Albert Emukeu is a trainer for village banks in Serere district. He says, “There are 150 VSLA in Serere district but Acamanaros VSLA ranks as one of the best.”
The association’s greatest achievements have been improving links between farmers and buyers, and getting higher prices for members’ farm products. Members bring their produce to the association warehouse after harvest, and then committee members seek out buyers offering better prices for bulk sales.
Like many of the members, Mrs. Ayo has successfully tackled the problems she once faced. She has expanded her maize acreage with support from AVSLA.
She says: “Besides [setting up] my produce business, I used the money I borrowed from the association to pay school fees for my son, Charles, to go to Serere Royal Academy and take his Ordinary level exams. I am happy that he will join a building and carpentry course next year.”
Editors’ note: Acamanaros is the Ateso word for “Let us agree.”