Ireland farmer to fund Ethiopian 'credit union' initiative

EthiopianReview.com | November 26th, 2008

By Liam Horan | Mayo News

MAYO, IRELAND – MONEY raised by a Crossmolina farmer in Ireland will be used to expand a new credit union-style organisation in rural Ethiopia – and Anthony Walshe says the cash will ‘go a very long way to help struggling farmers’ in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Mr Walshe has just returned from a week-long fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, where he witnessed at first-hand efforts to boost the livelihoods of people living under the permanent shadow of possible famine.

“I was part of a delegation of fund-raisers brought to Ethiopia by Self Help Africa, an Irish humanitarian organisation that is primarily concerned with improving the lives of farmers in Ethiopia,” said Anthony.

“We visited a large number of small communities where access to finance is proving extremely useful. Self Help Africa have been instrumental in setting up these local credit union-type organisations called SACCOs – Savings and Credit Co-operatives.

“We met farmers – men and women – who have been able to improve their lives, and those of their families, by borrowing even small amounts of cash. I found it absolutely amazing how much difference even €50 could make. It can go a very long way to help struggling farmers. They can start with €50, and gradually borrow more and more up to €500.

“Farmers who previously had very little were able to buy some seeds, put in a water-pump, or start some bee-farming. This starts them on the road to a better life. The small amount of money they borrow gets them started, and inside a few years, many of them have expanded into all manner of activities.

“One farmer we visited had built a new house, gone into agro-forestry, started growing all manner of crops, and multiplied his income. He is even planning to open a barber’s shop now. He had made incredible progress, and managed to secure his family’s future.

“All of this was possible because of the start he got in the shape of a small loan. When I raised the €17,000, I told people I would travel to Ethiopia with Self Help Africa, and see how the money could be spent.

“I am delighted to say that supporting the SACCOs would be a marvellous use for the money. It will be like a ripple in water, spreading out to benefit other local people, and generating wealth in the entire community.

“We met another farmer who, after getting a small loan to start off, was able to borrow more and more until he could actually build a house in the capital city of Addis Ababa. He built it as an investment, has it rented out now, and that’s something he could never have dreamed of before Self Help Africa initiated the SACCO in his area.”

The SACCOs have recently turned to the Irish League of Credit Unions for help in providing a regional framework in Ethiopia.

Patsy Toland, who led the Self Help Africa delegation to Ethiopia, said the SACCOs were ‘making a huge difference in Ethiopia’. He added: “This is one of the most successful programmes we have introduced in Ethiopia. It supports people with initiative.

“We have found that a timely injection of capital, in the shape of a micro-loan, can be just what’s needed to get people started. The money donated by Anthony, and the people of Mayo, will have a profound impact.”

For more details on Self Help Africa’s programme in Ethiopia, and other African countries, log onto www.selfhelpafrica.com.

“Before Self Help Africa, I had no access to money. Now that I have, my life has changed”

SACCO CASE STUDY

“Having my own money means so much to me,” says Amarach Doyo. A mother of six, Amarach has brought about extraordinary changes on her small farm holding since first gaining a line of credit from Self Help Africa’s credit co-operative in her village of Snipil, in the district of Sodo, Ethiopia.

Amarach is proud of of the changes she has managed to make to her life.

The opportunity to change her life came in 2006, when, along with neighbours and friends, she attended a public meeting to discuss a new initiative that might help them in their lives.
“We went and we listened. We were told that we weren’t going to get anything for free, but we were going to be given the chance to do something for ourselves, if we wanted to,” she remembers.

Amarach became a founder member of Snipil Savings and Credit Co-Operative (SACCO).

The simple matter of getting access to credit has transformed life for Amarach and her family. She has become involved in dairy and vegetable farming, and can also carry out intensive fattening of her stock.

She has funded the purchase and installation of her own water pump, which means she doesn’t have to undergo a six-mile round trip each day for water. There is evidence of improvement everywhere on her farm.

“I started with a loan of €50, and I have borrowed larger figures since then once I showed that I could repay,” says Amarach, who recently spoke about her life to a 25-strong delegation of Self Help Africa fund-raisers from all over Ireland.

“Before Self Help Africa, I had no access to money. Now that I have, my life has changed. Next I hope to open a shop.”

The SACCO is one of more than 110 locally-based lending and savings institutions set up by the charity as part of its efforts to help African communities to work their way out of poverty.

“SACCOs are one highly effective way to help people who live in conditions of extreme poverty,” explains Self Help planning officer Workicho Jatano. “We invite local people to sign up, encourage them to begin saving money at a very modest level, and then after a short period provide them with a loan with which they can start their own small income generating business.”

As a result, more than 12,000 – mainly women – have become involved in Self Help’s Ethiopian SACCO programme, and have established businesses as diverse as textile production, cooking, catering, animal rearing and fattening, beekeeping, poultry production, alcohol distillation, and general trading.
Self Help Africa is an Irish development agency working to improve food and livelihood security in nine countries in Africa. The organisation is currently embarked on a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness, and funding for its work in these countries.