Exploring the Connection Between a Savings and Credit Scheme and Conservation

“The availability of more funds has boosted our SACCO’s reserves and created more borrowing opportunities for members. This has in return facilitated a boost in the members’ livelihood improvement projects” Sebutozi David, Chairman Gitenderi Protect Environment group reveals.

Under the Leading the Change (LTC), Sida funded project, Gitenderi Protect Environment group received ten million Uganda shillings to boost their savings and credit scheme, with the purpose of increasing the reserve for loaning many members since their internally generated funds were not enough for all borrowers. The idea behind this is for the funds to support the establishment of alternative sources of income among the group members, who also happen to belong to a park adjacent community, bordering Mgahinga gorilla national park.

Since the group of 65 members received the 10 million UGX from IGCP in December 2017, about 29 members (14 of whom are women) have been able to borrow funds from the SAACO and do several profitable projects.

Some of the SACCO members in a meeting with IGCP staff

Some of the SACCO members in a meeting with IGCP staff

Lydia Nyirankunzi borrowed 340,000 UGX in January 2019 to restock their family shop after using most of its profit and stock to send children back to school.  Lydia says the shop is now back on its feet and she is hopeful that they shall make enough profit and also pay back the loan in time.  “I love that we have a place we can run to for rescue, and more so that we have more funds from which to borrow from. I also love the fact that as a woman I have access to funds that empower me to add value to my husband’s efforts. His admiration and respect for me has increased” Lydia says.

Fifty-two-year-old Serutokye Stephen shares how he also borrowed 200,000 UGX in December 2017 and bought two sheep for rearing. The sheep have multiplied to six and also provide him with manure that he uses on his garden – double gain he calls it. Serutokeye who is grateful for the money borrowed is already paying it back to the SACCO as expected. “The additional funds have helped us a great deal. They came in at a time when we needed more funds from which to borrow. I am blessed to be a member of this SACCO because it is growing us. It also feels good knowing that you have a safe place you can always run to for financial help instead of taking risks in the park”.

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Serutokye Stephen

In addition to this, William Sebuhinge also a member of the group who borrowed 700,000 UGX in December 2017 and bought Irish potato seedlings for planting shares about his benefits so far; “With the money borrowed I was able to buy and plant 3 bags of Irish potato seedlings. I harvested and sold 7 bags, kept 2 for planting next season and also raised enough for my family to eat. I have no problem paying back this money as agreed because the availability of these funds enabled me to purchase the seedlings with ease as opposed to the past when I had to struggle or buy very few seedlings” William narrates that previously it was hard to pay certain bills like school fees but with the loan scheme money, he can now borrow at low interest, inject in his projects and raise the money he needs for school fees or any other domestic bills.

According to the SACCO Chairman all borrowed funds are paid back within six months. Members are free to borrow any amount they need depending on one’s collateral and capacity to pay it back within the recommended period. Because most members relay on the harvest from their gardens to pay back, the SACCO gives a grace period to borrowers who are unable to pay back on time just incase their gardens were raided by problem animals. The interest rate on every loan is 2.5%. Members are allowed to pay the interest monthly while they mobilize for the principle or to pay both concurrently for those who can.

Commenting on the overall advantage of the savings and loan scheme, GAD says it has enabled them to fix financial problems in their homes, reduced financial stress and also helped them to conserve the environment, “ With the availability of more funds we are now in a better position to send and keep our children in school as well as well as engage more in conservation activities.” GAD says.

According to the Chairman of the group Sebutozi David, the availability of additional resources also opened doors for non-group members to borrow from the SACCO. David says because of demand from the community and the need to impact more community members, they opened up the initial SACCO reserve to non-group members for borrowing and ear marked the IGCP funds only for group members.

Commenting on why there are still less women borrowing funds from the SACCO, Bimenyera Apophia revealed that some women are hesitant because they lack knowledge on what livelihood projects to start up while others don’t have personal assets to use as collateral.  And in some cases, other women just fear being questioned by their husbands why they have projects and money of their own.   According to Henry Mutabaazi the IGCP Country Coordinator for Uganda, economic empowerment of women has unfortunately often led to domestic violence in some homes. In the past, the African culture never allowed women to possess anything of their own, unfortunately this practice still persists in some communities, and therefore this socio-economic status of women consequently makes them vulnerable and dependent on their husbands. Henry says, while it is pertinent to empower women economically the process has to involve their spouses to avoid any confusion and misunderstanding but rather promote peace and joint development in homes.

Apophia and Lydia

Apophia and Lydia

Asked on how they would define the connection between the credit and savings scheme and conservation, the members explained that the credit from the SACCO helps them address challenges that would have driven them to the park for solutions for instance; livestock rearing fills the gap for meat and brings in money to cater for other needs, hence limiting individuals from going to the park to poach for meat for sell or food. In the same vein, the alternative sources of income provide them means to afford basic needs like firewood, medicine, water, and food hence limiting them from going into the park for the same. Additionally, with the low interest rate for borrowing funds the money stays in circulation and yields continuous benefits.

Gitenderi Protect Environment group is a community-based organization based in Gitenderi parish bordering Mgahinga gorilla national park. The group is involved in several conservation activities including conservation awareness creation and maintenance of the buffalo wall along the park. They are one of the beneficiaries of the Leading the Change: Civil society, rights and environment project aimed at empowering communities to lead the change they desire to see in their communities and to actively participate in natural resource management in their localities.

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