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Plateau lady farmers saving ‘peanuts’ to better their lives

In Plateau State, some female small-scale farmers shared their stories, telling how they pay school fees for their kids, buy land for agriculture and execute…

In Plateau State, some female small-scale farmers shared their stories, telling how they pay school fees for their kids, buy land for agriculture and execute other projects with a minimum of weekly N20 contributions. Their story is a heartwarming one. 

Local and international Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria have by no small measure contributed to the uplifting of the lives of the citizens, especially at the grassroots. These are mostly small-scale or subsistence farmers, and mostly women. Part of measures to alleviate the plight of these rural dwellers was the initiative of the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) scheme which commenced in 2015 and currently operating in five states of Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kebbi.

Oxfam Nigeria, working with partners in Benue, Nigerian Association of Nigerian Women (NAWIA); Plateau, COCIN Community Development Programme (CCDP); Nasarawa, Young Men Christian Association (YMCA); Kebbi, Development Exchange Centre (DEC) and Adamawa Christian Rural Development and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN) are implementing the VSLA initiatives in 25 local government areas of the five states.

The VSLAs are self-selected and self-managed community-based groups comprising a minimum of 15 and maximum of 25 individuals who meet regularly, mostly weekly or fortnightly, to save and, if desired, borrow for short periods, paying monthly interest at a rate set by the group.

After approximately 12 months, all savings and earnings are distributed back to group members. The earnings usually are distributed in proportion to their savings with the interest margin of five to 10 threshold payable annually by the loan beneficiaries.

Such was the case of Panyam District, Mangu Local Government of Plateau State where Daily Trust had practical experience of how the scheme works and also saw farmers working on their farms after the meetings.

Except on special considerations, the weekly meetings usually hold early on Thursdays for about 30 minutes, for up to an hour, before the farmers depart to their various farms.

During one of the meetings in Daika Community of the Panyam District, chairperson of the group, Mrs Tongdyen Damwesh told Daily Trust that the weekly contributions are in form of shares with minimum of N200 and maximum of N1000. According to her, there is the mandatory N20 weekly one, tagged ‘social fund’ where members can be given amount of about N1000 or more to sick members of for social engagements like weddings.

“If any of our members travel and for one reason or another cannot be around, and if there is a necessity for the family of the person, we take care of the family on the bill of our group,” she said.

Damwesh who is a mother of six, said the scheme has enabled them access to fertilizers, beneficial especially for dry season farming.

“According to our constitution, members got their share contributions back and were able to complete their houses, pay school fees of their children and able to finance their dry season farming. In our group those who get loans are required to pay ten percent which is N100 on every N1000, and this is based on the each member’s contribution (share value).

“Last year (2016), I got N50,000. I have never had such an amount in my life. What I did with the money include paying part of my children’s school fees and investing the rest in farming. I plant maize, sorghum, sweet potato and others,” she said.

She added that there were penalties to ensure discipline and success of the scheme including N20 for lateness, N20 for phone ringing and N50 for non-wearing of identification tag by members to the meeting.

The groups also designed a rhythmic clapping pattern for members depending on the amount and volume of shares purchased during the meeting.

Coordinator of the group, David Haggai, said the loans were not free to enable the groups get make some gains on investment and for the loan beneficiaries though members of the group to attach values to it. He said the Daika Community group was able to generate N1.5m in the first years of the group’s activities and were also able to donate cartons of chalk to the primary and secondary schools in the community.

He said the delays and other bottlenecks of securing bank loans have been addressed through the VSLA scheme. “As a farmer, your planning is tied to seasons and when you get a loan at a time that it not useful for farming, you know you will run at a loss. Before the [VSLA] loans are given out, the group would have ensured that the beneficiary conforms to the provisions of the group,” he added.

Also, the Project Officer of the CCDP Mr Josiah Mahwash said Microfinance Banks (MFBs) usually give loans to farmers at about six percent and that the VSLA is at five to ten percent.

He said the organisation usually links famers with the MFBs until the commencement of the VSLA which is easier to obtain and manage. According to him, there were over 200 groups in the domain and that member-farmers have benefited from subsidized fertilizer which apart from being bought at reduced costs also ensure that farmers are saved the challenge of buying likely adulterated fertilizers, even at higher prices.

Daily Trust also witnessed parts of proceedings at Fwangko Poret group, Konbring, Kinat, Dutsen Lamba, Jakatai and Kwahas communities, where the groups were trying to make the best of the scheme. 

The Field Officer of the Fwangko Poret group Miss Gift Mark said she has 38 groups to coordinate and that she is happy seeing hundreds of people benefiting from the scheme.

Holding a Diploma in Accounting, she said she has been part of the pioneer efforts of the scheme and that she has seen farmers acquiring lands or expanding their farmlands and getting fertilizers through the scheme. She said the contributory share of members serves as part of collateral as no one can take above three times the total share value as loan.

Chairman of the Fwangko Poret group Dastum Mangwe Habila, said he was elected at the leader of the group early this year, and that since last year when he joined the scheme after overcoming his initial skepticism, he has benefited immensely beyond his expectation.

Daily Trust witnessed the process of opening and closing of the ‘strong room’ labeled ‘Ogbonge’ by the box-keeper and the three key-keepers.

When the box was to be opened, the 30-year-old Habila, who is also a father of two, in a somewhat military order said, “Key keepers, open the locks. Box locker, open the box” and when the monies were kept in the box after the close of the proceedings, he also said, “Box locker, close the box. Key keepers, lock the box.”

At the Komoghos Group meeting, leader of the group Mrs Peninnah Augustine, has four children. She said that as a farmer and teacher, she was happy both her males and female children are ‘deeply interested’ in farming. “We have many challenges and that include children of today shunning farming and agriculture generally. They are mostly not interested, except few. We also have the challenge of fertilizer. One bag which we share is definitely not enough. We will do better if we have more bags to share,” she said. 

Mrs. Augustine also listed paying of school fees, renovation of houses and farming improvement among other benefits by members and herself from the scheme.

The Supervisor of the scheme in Panyam, Nanfwang Ibrahim, told Daily Trust that he has six field officers with 20 village agents to handle. He said each agent has five groups to monitor.

The trio of Nanlop Nangwang, Zakyes Yohanna and Asabe Philibus who are members of different groups took our reporter round their farms. While they complained about a lack of lack of water especially at dry season, bad roads and other challenges, they were quick to add that their spirits were lifted through the benefits of the VSLA scheme and urged the federal and state governments to look into ways of expanding the scheme to benefit others too.   

The Deputy Director of the COCIN Community Development Programme (CCDP) Mrs Josephine Goro, said their organisation is a faith-based one which believes Nigerians, like other human beings, are not created to be poor. 

Mrs. Goro also said it is the resolve of the organisation on realizing its “Poverty to Wealth” agenda that it partnered with like-minded individuals and organisations like the Oxfam VSLA initiative and that they have been helping individuals and communities especially in the Northern part of the country, irrespective of ethnicity or religion.

“The VSLA programme is highly beneficial. Even some members of staff are also members of the VSLA. And many people can testify to the obtaining loans, fertilizers and other benefits. The collaboration with Oxfam is a win-win for us. Our desire is to help the less-privileged,” Mrs. Goro said. 

Head of Programmes, Oxfam Nigeria, Constant Tchona, said that aside helping communities meet their basic financial needs as stated above, the project has significantly improved community cohesion and active citizenship in communities where it is being implemented. He said about 1010 groups have been formed so far comprising 22,925 members and that the project aims to reach at least 160,000 individuals or about 6500 groups by the year 2020. 

Tchona also said women who previously do not have voices or engage in community governance issues have become very vocal and confident, greatly improving their leadership skills. “As a result of the savings they have been able to make, the farmers who constitute the VSLA members, are now able to access improved farming inputs directly from the suppliers. Cumulatively, the associations have a total savings of N125, 574, 764 as of today and this figure is increasing daily. In Plateau State for example, Oxfam facilitated linkage between the farmers and Notore and are now directly buying products from the company from the money they save. 

“So far, they have ordered about three trucks this year alone. Many of the women in the groups have borrowed monies to expand/diversify their businesses which results in increased income and resilience,” Tchona said.

On his part, the Research, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Oxfam Nigeria, Abdulazeez Musa said the VSLA scheme is a unique model of increasing access to finance in rural communities and empowering them socially and economically. 

“Looking at the attendant benefits that come with the scheme, such as empowerment of womenfolk and marginalized communities to find innovative solutions for inclusive and sustainable economic development, platform for communities to accumulate assets so they can better adapt to shocks, access to markets using the assets as collateral credits and farm inputs like fertilizers, strengthening  community cohesion, builds trust among members through regular meetings and dialogues among others,” Musa said.

Musa said the scheme also goes further in changing the mindset of farmers who usually believe loans are free, and do not need to pay, hence entrenching the belief of self-reliance and community participation in development. He also said it is important for the government and general public to be aware of the scheme, as more communities adopt it to solve their financial challenges and other issues. 

Musa also said: “One of the major issues facing small holder farmers in Nigeria who constitute over 80 percent of the labour force is access to finance. The federal and state governments have come up with several initiatives like Anchor Borrower Scheme and other initiatives to address this issue but with minimal success due to several factors. The VSLA initiative therefore provides a very cost-effective and more sustainable alternative to addressing these needs.”

 

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