Gongorgol is a village located in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region. It’s difficult to access—especially during the rainy season when it’s reachable only by crossing a river in a dugout canoe. Because they’re so isolated, the villagers have developed their own pathways to resilience with support from NCBA CLUSA’s USAID-funded REGIS-ER project.
The community-based self-management savings and loan system (in French, the acronym becomes SECCA) is one solution adopted by the “Kumtal Haaju” group in the village. Their name, in the local language Fulfulde, means “the one that solves problems” or “the one that helps achieve objectives.”
In Gongorgol, the 30 member all women’s savings group, “Kumtal Haaju,” formed from neighbors who grow sesame and okra together on a Bio-reclamation of Degraded Land site (BDL). After its second 8-month cycle, the group had saved 734,000 FCFA (over $1,300 USD). Thanks to member contributions as well as repaid interest from members taking out loans, the capital increased and each member received between 25,000 and 50,000 FCFA during the final sharing exercise (up to $100 USD, a large sum for small businesses). That opened a wealth of opportunities for its members. This group’s SECCA activities brought change not only broadly for the village, but at the individual household level, increasing economic empowerment for women, community-based solidarity and husband/wife relationships.
The Kumtal Haaju SECCA group created their own rules. When a woman comes late for the meeting, she has to pay a 50 FCFA fine and an unjustified absence will cost her 150 FCFA. This hardly ever happens. Above all, the members are aware of the advantages they will draw from their participation and take it seriously.
Members chose their trusted neighbor Fadima Molinga to be the group’s president. As a widowed mother of five, she is strongly committed to her community and also holds the role of lead mother in a mother-to-mother support group. She is also active in the hygiene and sanitation committee of her village. Fadima rallied the women for the savings and loan activity and upholds the internal rules they created.
“I’m proud of my group. It functions smoothly. Women are serious and regularly come to meetings. We strongly strengthened our solidarity, our connection,” she said.
Fadima has also benefitted from the group herself. Taking out a 35,000 FCFA loan to start selling gas, she now turns a profit and is repaying the credit and continuing her small business. She even managed to build a latrine in her courtyard without a subsidy. “Since we starting our SECCA activities, I don’t need to ask for help from anybody. I handle things on my own, and I can take care of my family, even though I’m a widow. What makes me feel so happy is that the group’s members are listening to me, truly,” Fadima said.
Thanks to her leadership, she was able to suggest new ideas for the group, including using the money coming from the savings to invest and purchase small ruminants. That idea came from a meeting she attended in Sebba, a neighboring commune, organized by the REGIS-ER project, which NCBA CLUSA leads in Niger and Burkina Faso, in collaboration with Caisse Populaire (a national movement of savings and loan cooperatives). Fadima was interested in the opportunity of investing in animals to fatten in groups, thanks to a short term credit taken out with a microfinance institution (MFI) to build animal assets. Thanks to the credit, each member of the group could buy three sheep or goats, including a female and two males. Well-fattened males could be sold to repay the loan and the female (and her offspring) could stay in the household’s flock to strengthen their production and nutrition, and ultimately their resilience.
Because their village was so isolated, seeking credit with an MFI looked complicated for the Kumtal Haaju group. Instead, they decided to use their own resources such as the money coming from the shared group savings, adapting the model described during the meeting to work with their resources. That was a winning bet as the group members could buy a total of 11 sheep and 21 goats.
The period for purchase at the end of June was favorable because animal prices are really low at the end of dry season when they are leaner. Then came the rainy season, with fresh grass, easily accessible. Animals didn’t require much additional food to increase their weight and stay healthy. Male sheep and goats were fattened in time for sales for Tabaski (the Muslim Aïd celebration in West Africa) and females joined the families’ flocks. SECCA members kept breeding them, building a financial guarantee for the women. During Tabaski, at the end of the rainy season, clients were numerous and selling prices profitable. Sheep were sold for a prices that doubled the return on investment.
Amadou Bossé, one of the Kumtal Haaju group member’s husband, says that the ideas are spreading. “When the ladies got a large sum of money from their savings, the men also started to consider creating a SECCA group.”
With coaching and support from the REGIS-ER project, the women have identified someone to support their bookkeeping and pay the cost of his services. This person supports them to keep the books properly, respect the rules they set and identify and fix potential issues or conflicts. Each woman gives him weekly 25 FCFA at the end of the gathering.
When the group started a new cycle in July 2017 (even earlier than most groups that start in September or October after the rainy season with more income), the savings share rose from 200 CFA to 500 FCFA because the women had increased their savings capacities, while also strengthening the volume of their income generating activities. They were most of all motivated by the savings shared at the end of the cycle, giving them the possibility to invest in livestock.
“We didn’t even ask ourselves the question whether we should go on. The SECCA is helpful, so everyone wants to stick to the system,” Fadima said. The group now hopes to be able to “hand this over to our daughters, because it has the power to improve [their] lives,” she added.
Learn more about NCBA CLUSA’s USAID | REGIS-ER project and other ways communities are building resilience in Niger and Burkina Faso.