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Ugandan women and youth bet on group saving accounts to boost their businesses

NutriFish, a fish processing project of CultiAF, a partnership of the International Development Research Centre, Canada, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has been training the Cwarangota Women’s group in Dei, Lake Albert, to save money and keep financial records. The group’s savings are used to provide loans to their members so they can invest in fish processing and other income-generating activities, with the money paid back at an interest rate of 1%.

 “Before NutriFish, I was saving USh 500 per day [USD 0.13], and some of the members were not able to save anything,” says Amana Bashir, leader of the Cwarangota group. “NutriFish trained us, and from March to September 2022, we were able to save USh 990,000 [USD 265] as a group. Today, the amount has increased to nearly 3 million shillings [USD 800],” she smiles.

Amana says that by borrowing USh 50,000 [USD 13.4] from the group, she was able to double her processing – from two 20 kg basins of fish to four. She paid back the loan after one week, having sold off her stock, and had extra to put back into her business and pay her children’s school fees.

Booming agri-businesses

Group savings have also been used by women to diversify their agricultural enterprises. Kimono Magdalene from Kikondo landing site on Lake Victoria used savings to invest in dairy goat production, which has been a huge success. “Some of these goats give birth to two kids, others three, and others produce four and six kids at once. The minimum I can sell one for is USh 150,000 [USD 40], but the bigger ones go for USh 400,000 [USD 106]. I have also educated my children, and bought commercial plots and farming land,” she reveals.

For Eunice Muwanguzi, a widow and fish processor with 10 children, joining the group and building her savings enabled her to access a formal bank loan. “I used half of the money to pay school fees and the remaining to invest in processing Mukene [local name for small, silver fish].” Eunice was also trained by the project to fry and package small fish for a longer shelf life, and started receiving orders from customers in big towns like Jinja and Kampala. “That is how I managed to build a good house for my children – by frying and packaging Mukene.”

In Kikondo on Lake Victoria, Sarah Akware has also accessed formal bank loans to expand her fishing business. “Upon joining the Kikondo Mukene Processors group in 2019, I started saving. This allowed me to access a bank loan so I could buy my first boat. After finishing the first loan of USh 6 million [USD 1,600] in 2019, I got a second loan of USh 5 million [USD 1,335] in 2020 and bought a second boat.”

Prior to joining the group, Sarah had been saddled with unpaid loans and debts when her husband left, and spent most of her time working for fish processors who paid her USh 500 [USD 0.13] a day. “I am now a happy woman. I can go to a supermarket and buy enough food, cosmetics, and clothes. I pay school fees for my children who are healthy. We live like kings,” she enthuses. Sarah is also rearing chickens to sell eggs and mature chickens to supplement her needs. “At times, Mukene can flood the market, so chicken and eggs give me more income to pay fees and meet my family’s needs.”

Changing mindsets

 The NutriFish project, which is part of the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund – a partnership of the International Development Research Centre, Canada, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research – has also succeeded in changing perceptions regarding men and women’s roles. Drama performances given by saving group members are held in the local villages to portray united and successful families. As a result, men are now supporting their wives, paying their children’s school fees, and also participating in Mukene processing.

Akinyi Annet is a beneficiary of this dramatic approach. “One day, I went home and told my husband about a group that came to train us in how to save money and prevent domestic violence. He asked me who else attended that training, and I mentioned some of our friends and neighbors. My husband agreed to accompany me to the next meeting and he was so remorseful for not being a responsible father when he watched the drama of a united family. He promised to change and work hard to educate our children. That has stopped the fights in our home and the children are happy and healthy,” she says.

“The importance of belonging to groups and involvement in decision-making has seen change in the communities. Domestic violence has dropped by 30%, and women’s savings have increased by up to 100% in some groups. We are also seeing more men and women making decisions together,” says Jackson Efitre, Principal Investigator of NutriFish.

“As a project, we feel very happy that we can change the lives of these people. When we hear testimonies from beneficiaries, how they have been able to change the way they live in families, how they are able to own assets – with women owning boats – we want the transformation to continue. Together, we can make the small fish value chain more profitable

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