Over the years, many development experts have been engaged in poverty reduction strategies with no significant change or improvement. Governments have provided macro level investments (roads, electricity, water, etc) for long term poverty alleviation with minimal results translated at household level. Now, we are asking, what are the missing links to eliminate the poverty cycle that many people are trapped in?
In my home district of Sheema, as well as in other greater Ankole sub-region, local Non-Governmental Organizations with support from international agencies like USAID are implementing models that appear to be generating interesting results with hope of massive impact on household income. The most common strategy is savings and loans associations at community/village level, commonly known as “Akabox”
In a village saving group, up to 30 self-selecting community members form a group, identify group leaders, meet and contribute cash on weekly basis, pulled money is loaned among members at small interest fee, and at end of the cycle of 12 months, members repay loans, dividends paid out and share/cash out accumulated savings. They then start another cycle of savings. This community initiative to generate household income appears to be gaining momentum and almost every household is a member of the group.
However, many local leaders and NGOs do not seem to appreciate how these boxes can spur economic growth through increased food production, livelihoods, nutrition, youth employment skills, productive household assets, and better welfare for children (health and educations) and elderly (housing and clothing) members of our society. Instead, these boxes are turning out to be political platforms for several aspiring candidates to make their case. Instead of helping members of the groups to outgrow poverty, improve their welfare, and cause sustained community economic growth, group members are messed up hence risking group cohesion and purpose for which they were formed.
In other countries like Tanzania, where there is less political interference in group cohesion, we are observing significant changes in cumulative savings to billions of shillings (millions of dollars), groups investing their cash in agriculture increasing crop and animal yields through better access to quality seeds, fertilizers, farm inputs, land, pesticides, extension services, post harvesting gains, storage, value addition, marketing and access to formal banking services. Participating members now enjoy sustained food security, income, household assets, ability to pay healthcare, improved nutrition for children, meet educations costs of their children, better or improved housing facilities, clothing and general welfare and social relations.
Any sensible politician at any level would be supporting this community initiative. Can we design ways to promote such community agendas across board in all our poor rural and urban populations without political manipulations?
The writer a public health specialist and Country Director, Pathfinder International in Uganda.