How VSLAs can uplift people’s lives

Mary Khotiwa went from struggling to saving to successfully growing her business, showing how Village Savings and Loan Associations support a profitable smallholder sector.

VSLAs increase incomes – the case of tea farmer Mary Khotiwa                                 

Mary Khotiva is 42 years old and is a widow. Since her husband passed away four years ago, Mary has been struggling to take care of her three children. She used to work as a tea plucker but was laid off by the estate company. After this, life became extremely hard as she had no means of survival.

Mary’s fortunes began to change when her uncle decided to give her one of his tea farms to support her family. Since then she has worked hard to take care of the farm and is now a registered smallholder tea farmer under Thuchila Tea Association.

VSLA: Mary at the bottom left with her VSLA group members during a share out ceremony [Credit: ETP]
After attending a community mobilisation meeting conducted by the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) in 2017, Mary decided to join a local Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) group, which had been running since 2016 and so already well established. She started saving money, but at first was unable to take out loans as she was not able to make the required repayments for lack of an additional business other than tea.

When Mary was chosen by her group to attend ETP’s entrepreneurship training, she learnt how to start a business from scratch, manage it, and gradually grow it. Soon after attending the training, she decided to borrow MKW 40,000 (USD 52) from her group to start a business — selling vegetables and cassava. After a month, Mary made MKW 35,000 (USD 46) in profit, which allowed her to successfully repay her loan. Her business is still growing and is providing her with crucial additional income with which she is able to support her family.

The first time her VSLA shared out their dividends at the end of the savings cycle, Mary received MKW 166,000 (USD 219). With this money she was able to buy 10 bags of maize, cooking oil, soap, sugar and salt. She also bought three bags of cement to upgrade the floor of her house. When asked whether she would recommend other farmers to join VSLAs, she answered: “Yes, I am now able to provide for all my family’s basic needs. More farmers and workers should join VSLAs to uplift their lives.” Mary has now also planted fruit trees around her compound and purchased a fuel-efficient cookstove from a local production group.



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