(Tetun) Agricultural activities are the foundation of economic development in rural communities. When farming families have ready access to seed of improved varieties they can increase their crop yields and open the possibility to make profits.
Since May 2013, Seeds of Life has facilitated the integration of savings and loans (S&L) as a key activity of commercial seed producers (CSP) to assist the members in handling their financial assets.
The integration of savings and loans activity into CSP started from the sharing experience of three CSP (Naroman, Fitun-Leste, Raimean) who had learning visit to one of the most successful savings and loans groups in Oecusse region, the Community Forum Hit’ An Rasik in Aldeia Buqui, Suco Usi Tacae.
Since it was first formed in 2008, the 115 members of Hit’ An Rasik which is composed of members coming from the 13 existing farmer groups in Aldeia Buqui, has been able to save more than $43,000.
Simao Quelo, secretary of Hit’ An Rasik savings and loans group from Oecusse region.
“Previously, very few of our community have education, we have to travel to town to purchase goods and foods, during the rainy season we can’t go anywhere because of flooding from the river.
“Now, it is not that difficult anymore. Almost all of children and teenagers are now going to schools, foods and goods are available because some members have established cooperatives in our community.”
Anita Qelo, chief of Tacae Sele CSP, Oecusse region
“Before there is no hope for me and my family; I have no livestock, no land to plant vegetables and no money for my children’s education. But now I feel safe financially”
“From the loan I got from the group, I bought 0.5 ha rice field and use the result for home consumption. I support family members to study at university, I open kiosk and bought chainsaw and rent it to the community, and contribute to traditional ceremony.”
The S&L activity is now showing some positive impact on the lives of farmer members who implemented the S&L experience from Hit An Rasik.
Martinho dos Santos, chief of Naroman CSP, Aldeia Fatunesso, Suco Fahilebo, Bazartete sub-district, Liquica Municipality.
“Savings and loans help reduce poor people in our community. It’s changing our life. We started from successfully selling quality commercial seed and now we have saved more than $7,000 with 107 members in total.
“Now some of the members are able to send their children to study, improve their house, and open kiosks in their house and other small businesses.”
“Savings and loans activity is helping improve farmers and community life and also support agriculture development in the country.”
“Savings and loans help reduce poor people in our community. It’s changing our life.”
Francisco Talan, chief Fitun Oebone CSPG, Aldeia Bausiu Suco Nipani, Oecusse Region.
“Our Community Seed Producer Group (CSPG) has 11 members and from savings and loans activity in our group we now have $11,000 savings.
“I’m happy with this activity. In the future, when I’m too old to work, I don’t have to worry about the money because I already have retirement savings, and my children still can go to school.”
Joao da Cunha, chief of Natarbora Oan (ANO) CSP, Aldeia Rana, Suco Abat-oan, Natarbora sub-district, Manatuto Municipality.
“The community is really happy with savings and loans activity. It makes it easier for them to save their money and get loans, especially for emergency situation. And with small interest it’s not burdening the community.”
Laurentino Ximenes, Chief of Fitun-Leste CSP, Aldeia Samagia, Suco Tequinomata, Laga subdistrict, Baucau Municipality,
“We received business plan training from by MAP-SoL and IADE (Institution of Business Development Support) and after the training some members have established small businesses themselves”.
“We also want to establish group’s business. We proposed to IADE and State Secretary for Support and Promotion of Private Sector Timor-Leste (SEAPRI) to fund a business to distribute food and beverage for school feeding program”.
“The government officers in Baucau Municipality have approved the proposal and we are now waiting for the fund.”
Isabel Pereira, Chief of Lacabasi CSP, Aldeia Dilelo, Suco Meligo, Cailao sub-district, Bobonaro Municipality.
“Savings and loans activity is good way to improve farmers’ life. We just started in September 2014, but the changes are impressive.”
“Previously, I can’t afford to save money. Through the loan I have got from the group I am now able to improve my house and fulfill house necessities”.
“I hope, when the saving is increase, members’ economy also improve.”
S & L activities are not only about money and making a profit. They are also about building community organizations and their development. They provide a regular venue to discuss challenges and interests, build dreams and solidarity, promote learning processes, mobilize local resources and strengthen the social capital that helps ensure group stability.
As of February 2015, S & L activities have been integrated into 15 CSP with a total of 369 members. With the number of CSP expanding (now 58 across the country) and recently forming their own national association “ANAPROFIKO” MAF-SoL is continuing to provide opportunities to new CSP to be trained over a 12 month period so they establish strongly.