What you need to know:
- Salome Lodis’ dreams of becoming a pilot were shattered 10 years ago when she fell pregnant while in class six.
- At the tender age of 15, it became a painful life of shame and confusion as Lodis tried to figure out intricacies of motherhood in childhood
Salome Lodis’ dreams of becoming a pilot were shattered 10 years ago when she fell pregnant while in class six. As fate would be for a young girl in a typical Pokot community, she was married off to the young boy who impregnated her. He was in class eight. After they were married he left her in the village to continue parenting while he pursued his secondary school education at a boarding school.
At a tender age of 15, it became a painful life of shame and confusion as Lodis tried to figure out intricacies of motherhood in childhood. With her child tied on her back, barely weeks after delivery, Lodis could toil on a borrowed piece of land for hours on the shores of Swam River, where she grew irrigated vegetables in the drought stricken region. “All I cared for was just to get something to eat,” said the 25-year-old mother of four.
But Lodis is now a happy farmer. Through an initiative known as Business Savings Groups, Lodis is among 809 farmers from remote parts of West Pokot who have been trained on how to produce food under harsh climatic conditions, and they have formed village-based banks, where they keep and borrow money for investment in agribusinesses, and for their domestic needs.
“What we are doing is providing entrepreneurship as a tool for gender equality while taking care of the environment,” said Leah Okero, the country director for Village Enterprise, an organisation that is working in collaboration with the county government of West Pokot to empower women and build resilience to climate change through a project known as Women Economic Empowerment through Climate Smart Agriculture.
The farmers bulk their produce for better markets, and from the proceeds, each farmer is required to save at least Sh100 and above every week. “We save our money in a strong metallic box that is locked with three strong padlocks. One member is given the box to keep, while keys are given to three different members who then act as signatories,” said Lodis.
Based on the amount in the box, a farmer in need is allowed to borrow twice the amount they have saved and then repay with a monthly interest of 10 per cent. After one year, the box is opened for members to share whatever they would have saved.
“In collaboration with village elders and support from the county government, we usually send agents to assess levels of poverty at household levels, targeting individuals who have never engaged in any kind of business development and have never been in any savings group,” said Okero.
After the assessment, different groups are formed consisting of 30 individuals who are deemed to be living in extreme poverty, most of them women.
Group members are then taken through different trainings including climate smart agriculture techniques, selection of drought tolerant crops, livestock and poultry keeping, record keeping and above all, how to save as a team and how to access the finances from the group’s savings kitty.
After the training, the groups are further subdivided into teams of three to form simple and manageable business plans before they are given a collective grant of Sh12,600 as seed to implement the plan.
“When we were given the grant, we decided to farm sukuma wiki and ‘managu’ on an irrigated plot using water from River Swam, and indeed, using compost manure, soil moisture retaining techniques and using a rented money-maker water pump, we could produce and sell vegetables worth up to Sh4000 twice per week, which enabled me to save as high as Sh1,000 and sometimes more per week,” said Lodis.
After six months working in a group, she realised that her savings had grown beyond Sh15,000, enabling her to borrow Sh18,000. She topped it up with Sh7,000 from her M-Pesa savings and bought seven lambs that have since grown into mature sheep and have multiplied to 12.
When the saving box was ultimately opened in December last year, she had Sh45,000 in her name. “I used this money to purchase a plot at Lolkochoi market centre. My father was so impressed that he sold one of his cows to buy me iron sheets in order to develop the plot into a shop,” she said.
According to Okero, All the 27 groups under this initiative save their money in boxes because the nearest banks are over 30 kilometres away on unforgiving terrains that even the most resilient probox matatus have completely avoided.
“These are areas that are affected by insecurity, resource-based conflicts and with a very bad terrain, and therefore financial institutions have always shied away from investing or opening branches closer to these communities,” she said.
But for the locals, the village banking has given them a new lease of life.
“I kept on borrowing and paying back through which I increased the stock of my shop. I expanded my vegetable farm and bought a power saw, which I usually rent out for more income,” said Lodis, who also pays school fees for two of her children.
“This is kind of a miracle because in this community, the main duty of women is to produce children and keep doing so until you are not able to produce anymore,” said Lodis. “But today, I am a proud businesswoman, I own a parcel of land and livestock, which was unheard of among traditional enthusiasts in my village,” she said.
According to Isaac Ritakou, acting director for Planning and Budgets West Pokot County, there is clear evidence that lives of the communities are changing “and this has been captured in our County Integrated Development Plan that we will be implementing over the next five years,” he said.