Savings Don't Grow Older!
Updated: May 21
While selecting whose story to tell from the field, I got curious when the project team hinted about a widow who looked “young yet aged.” She is one of the best sweet potato farmers in the project. We drove to Chepkutumi village to meet 63-year-old Bibiana Suleiman a mother of five children. The excitement on her face would have been different years back when her 5-acre land was bare and she was poor. She had no idea how to better her life after her husband died.
Bibiana’s life revolves around VSLA, she is a member of Chepkutumi Tumaini women group where 8 other widows formed a group of 20 sweet potato farmers transacting weekly. “I was the best saver in the last share out with KES 10,000, I’m so proud. I feel like my husband never died, I don’t feel old because of what this VSLA thing has done in my life,” she said.
Life was hard
After her husband’s demise 3 years ago she lost hope, depended on neighbors for food and sought medical help while battling depression. “I depended on him fully, even the little money needed he had to provide because I had nothing to be proud of, “she said.
Bibiana had no idea how to access credit, she lacked the knowledge on agribusiness even though she practiced subsistence farming. “I couldn’t lend and for what use without a proper repayment plan or the skills to make money from this farm?” she said. The first GIZ training in their group was an eye opener for her, it changed her thinking, “After the sweet potato training I realized I was sleeping on gold, a huge land abandoned for neighbors to graze their cattle,” she said.
After GIZ trainings she still wondered where to access credit to plough the land, buy vines and other farm inputs to produce Sweet Potatoes. “This was just a dream until the VSLA training happened, besides, my household’s life has changed’’ She said.
Chepkutumi Tumaini women group has 20 members practicing VSLA. Their last share-out of KES 92,445 was disbursed to members and currently the group has accumulative savings worth KES 58,000 in just a few months after tasting the benefits of VSLA.
After the VSLA training Bibiana first saved KES 100 equivalent to a share. The group first lent her KES 3,000 but she managed to access KES 15,000 in total during the first cycle to plough land for planting sweet potatoes. I used the first loan from the VSLA to prepare half acre to plant vines for sale mostly to group members to plant. Bibiana was the highest saver reaping KES 10,000 during the last group’s share out.
“At the onset of COVID 19 in Kenya in March 2020, customers trickled at my door step to buy sweet potatoes, I had KES 30,000 gross income from the initial sale of the sweet potato, “she said. Bibiana spent part of the money to repay the group loan and bought her first dairy cow, “It was a “sweet experience” so I decided to expand the production to 3 acres. I expect to sell more in April when the market is ready in Mayanja, “she said.
Two things keep her going “God and VSLA.” “Borrowing cash from the group, investing in sweet potato farming currently covering 4 and half acre. I am able to sell and repay the loans, I have 2 dairy cows, 5 goats… I’m proud to be able to do this, thank you GIZ,” she said.