For practitioners interested in establishing or strengthening the links between VSLAs and food security here are some recommendations that CRS and Floresta have developed based on their Practitioner Learning Program (PLP) research.

1. Integrate complimentary training programs into the VSLA training methodology. In addition to teaching communities about the VSLA methodology, CRS and Floresta discovered that an even greater impact on food security could be achieved by integrating VSLA activities with complimentary training programs. For example, it could be beneficial to provide extra training in basic business management to VSLA members taking loans for business start-up as this could support more profitable businesses, increased household income and (as a result) improved access to food security for household members. Supplementary agricultural trainings could potentially increase agricultural productivity and therefore improve food availability for VSLA households. Finally, a curriculum of nutritional and health training in VSLA groups could improve the health behaviors of group members and lead to improvements in food security through better utilization of food.  These are just a few thoughts for potential integrated programming for VSLA groups.  Specific programming should be designed according to the specific needs of an organization’s VSLA group.

2. Structure VSLA group savings, lending criteria and repayment schedules to take into account how seasonality affects member needs and capabilities. Development practitioners need to be aware of how seasonality can affect the economic status and food security of rural households.  Factors such as varying labor demands, high agricultural input costs and “hungry seasons” between planting and harvest can significantly affect the financial capabilities of VSLA members. Practitioners should work with VSLA groups to discuss their financial needs during different seasons and vary loan repayments, interest rates and/or regular saving contributions during vulnerable periods. This can help reduce the financial burden of the poor during periods when food insecurity is high.

3. Target financial education to VSLA members to increase financial literacy and reduce vulnerability. Many VSLA members in both Tanzania and Sierra Leone have poor financial literacy and limited cash management experience. It was noted during the CRS VSLA graduation process that group members receive large sums of cash, but often do not know how best to utilize these funds. Training in financial education such as cash management, budgeting, saving and bank services should be combined with other development and financial interventions. This could help to reduce vulnerability and food insecurity by improving household financial management.

4. Investigate collaboration with strategic partners and explore new and innovative technologies. CRS’s exchange visit to Kazhi Kadaimadai Farmers Federation (KKFF) in India highlighted many opportunities to integrate innovative technologies that increase the quality and quantity of information and activities available to VSLA members.  Strategic partnerships with organizations experienced in certain technologies are also an essential link to expand the range of services provided to VSLA groups. Innovative programs that meet the needs of beneficiaries can help to increase the chances of program success in strengthening the livelihoods and food security of VSLA group members.  Please read about the CRS exchange visit to KKFF for more information on using different technologies and establishing strategic partnerships.

5. Develop awareness within local communities of the role and impact of female VSLA members. CRS and Floresta’s research has shown that women are an integral part and highly active component of VSLA programs in both Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Women often use loans to start up small businesses and are also often encouraged to take leadership roles within VSLA groups. Practitioners should be aware that increased empowerment of women, both economically and socially through VSLA membership, can have both positive and negative consequences in the community. Promoting dialogue around these issues within the community and within households can help mediate discourse and positively empower women to continue to take part in their household’s food security.

6. Ensure transparency and efficiency in VSLA group transactions through the development of appropriate record keeping systems. This study compared the record-keeping systems in Tanzania and Sierra Leone, noting that there were strengths to both the CRS management information system and the Tanzania passbook system. A combination of the two systems helps group members better understand the details of their savings and loans, and also provides regular monitoring information for the implementing agency. VSLA groups will only be able to affect the food security of their members if financial transactions (and, ultimately the financial status of the group) are transparent and efficient.  In order to facilitate this, practitioners should explore introducing record-keeping systems appropriate for each VSLA group, taking into account various member needs, including literacy.

 Starting a VSLA program?

For other practitioners interested in starting a VSLA program please refer to the VSL Associates web page for an overview of VSLA as well as downloadable training materials and a management information system (MIS).

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