By Christine Bigler and Chantal Ingabire
As announced, we are back to give you an update about our ongoing and exciting financial inclusion project in the Northern Province of Rwanda. This second blog gives the reader background information on the core activities that led to the ongoing project. Concretely, this means in-depth information about saving group members and achievements of the project so far. The Rwandan team, together with Ulf Liebe, conducted a mid-term evaluation of the project last July. This mid-term evaluation is the basis of this second blog.
Setting up the project
The starting point of the project was a stakeholder meeting in Kigali held in February 2018. This meeting was a good opportunity to spread the idea of the financial inclusion project among government officials, farmers’ organizations, NGOs and agribusiness leaders. During the meeting, the research team explained to the audience the core of the project and received positive feedback from the participants. Agribusiness leaders already showed their interest in being part of the project.
The fundamental pillar of the project is that agribusiness employers offer contracts for two seasons (over twelve months) to their on-field casual workers, and the opportunity to join a saving group that has its own account. In these savings groups, the workers save a self-defined amount of their salaries as a group.
The project partner is Umurenge Saving and Credit Cooperatives (SACCO). SACCO is a local bank that provides bank accounts for the saving groups. The project officially started in September 2018 with three main contact persons from two districts, namely Kinigi and Gahunga. These contact persons work together with 28 commercial farmers or agribusiness leaders that employ on-field casual workers. These commercial farmers or agribusiness leaders offered their workers these new contracts and agreed to facilitate their workers’ saving groups. Many workers were motivated to be part of this financial inclusion project. For each group, the project opened a SACCO bank account and provided them with a hard-backed notebook. In this notebook, the savings group members write down how much each member has saved, as well as the rules and policy of the group. At the beginning of the project, it was a challenge for the group to keep the records for their savings in the notebook in a structured way.
Mid-term evaluation – expected results and unexpected twists
The mid-term evaluation was held in July 2019. We held focus group discussions with members of all saving groups and collected benchmark figures out of the notebooks.
Each of the 28 commercial farmers or agribusiness leaders set up one saving group with around six to eighteen group members. In total, 280 on-field casual workers benefitted from the project. At 75 percent, the majority of the group members are women, and the average age is 31 years.
All groups have kept records of every activity and have developed their own group rules. Most of the groups meet once a week and one group member deposits the saved money in the bank. Typically, the groups have a rotating system, which means every week another group member brings the money to the bank. This shares the responsibility between the group members and gives all members the opportunity to learn to deposit money. Per working day, an on-field casual worker saves between 100 and 200 Rwandan francs. This is between ten to twenty percent of their salary. At the time of the mid-term evaluation, all groups together had saved 1,103,250 Rwandan francs (around 1200 USD). Most of the saving groups had lent some money to group members. Reasons for borrowing money from the group included buying a pig or a sheep, or to pay for health insurance or school material.
The majority of the group members were satisfied with the project. Some project participants claimed that they can only save a small amount of money and that they would need more financial means to invest in a new business. Other group members shared their future business plans during focus group discussions. Two groups in Kinigi obtained some investment or financial support from outside. One group received from their agribusiness leaders a piece of land to grow onions. They expected to harvest around 700 kg of onions this year. The second group entered the potato seed business. They can use a store from their employers to store potatoes. The group bought 400 kg of potatoes during a time when the price for potatoes was very low. Now, they store the potatoes, and they will sell them when the prices are high. In the second district in Gahunga, 10 savings groups put their money together and rented one hectare of land. The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture bought improved potato seeds from Rwanda Agriculture Board and gave them to the group as a start-up investment. Currently, they have launched a business-oriented potato seed production. They are expecting 11 tonnes of high-quality seeds this year. These examples show promising results; some expected but others less so.
What is needed for a sustainable pathway of the project?
The project works towards a sustainable model, as it has potential to work without any external support. The majority of the group members claim their need for more training, especially with regard to business planning and different business models. The focus of the second half year of the project will be on this topic. This part of the project is needed to give the saving group members a sustainable way out of poverty.
We hope to see you back for the next blog about the end-term evaluation of this on-going and exciting financial inclusion project.