Increasing access to financial services for poor rural people through policy dialogue and strengthened institutions

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Increasing access to financial services for poor rural people through policy dialogue and strengthened institutions

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Uganda - Rural Finance Services Programme - June 2010

"Joining a SACCO opened my eyes, for long I did not know the benefits. All my enterprises now are supported by the SACCO, so why not value it especially at my age?" asks Paddy Musasizi of Ndeija Sub County, Rwampara District.

Musasizi is a member of Ndeija Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO). Before joining the SACCO, Musasizi used to struggle to find credit to expand his farming enterprises. Banks needed security which he did not have.

"The SACCO is more flexible and has been a good source of credit whenever one needs it", says Musasizi, a small scale commercial farmer. He grows sugar canes for sale and earns about UGX 20,000 (approximately USD 7) per day. He grows bananas, beans, vegetables, groundnuts and other food crops on the rest of his 3 acre piece of land for home consumption.

Ndeija SACCO is one of those that is part of the Rural Financial Services Programme (RFSP).  RFSP is an IFAD supported Government of Uganda project which has been under implementation since 2003 and has supported SACCOs in a bid to enable more Ugandans access financial services. Indeed, Musasizi's household is just one out of the 1.9 million households reached by RFSP. Currently, there are 545,687 SACCO members (59,813 of these are member groups with an average of 24 members per group) in the 735 RFSP supported SACCOs. Even with these benefits however, some members have suffered loss in instances where unscrupulous managers made off with all their savings. SACCOs belong to Tier 4, the most community based level of financial institutions, and have as such not been regulated by Bank of Uganda. The light at the end of the tunnel for such SACCOs is that Government is currently in advanced stages of putting into place Tier 4 Regulations which will ensure that individuals can no longer get way with swindling SACCO funds. This has been hard to enforce in the absence of such SACCO regulation.

To ensure sustainable SACCO development, RFSP has not only supported the SACCOs but also other institutions that work with SACCOs. One such organisation is Uganda Cooperative Savings and Credit Union (UCSCU), a SACCO apex body, with which the programme has supported 735 SACCOs. Government selected UCSCU to be the main implementing agency of the RFSP, but in 2008, four other organisations in the microfinance sector were brought on board to further strengthen SACCOs. UCSCU is one of the institutions whose operational and organisational capacities have been greatly reinforced with support from IFAD and Government of Uganda to support SACCOs better for increased sustainability. Strengthening institutions is a key tool for sustainability, and it takes time and commitment.

Prior to the government's intervention in the mid-2000s, UCSCU was a small, 7-staff organisation with 46 members, serving mainly urban, employment-based SACCOs. To implement the RFSP, UCSCU required rapid institutional scaling-up in 2008, with major new Head Office responsibilities and the establishment of fifteen regional offices. Currently, UCSCU has 73 members of staff operating in the head office at Maganjo as well as in the regional offices. Accordingly, UCSCU has been in position to provide training and mentoring for member SACCOs all over the country through the Financial Extension Workers (FEWs). SACCOs have received training in management, governance and savings mobilisation. SACCOs have also been supported with office equipment, operational costs and modular and customised trainings by the RFSP. These services have been critical in ensuring that the SACCOs grow stronger, remain strong and are able to provide financial services to their members effectively. The Board and management have embarked on implementing a business plan, as well as a strategic plan, to ensure that UCSCU remains a top notch apex organisation that promotes and supports SACCOs to be effective channels for access to financial services even after the RFSP comes to an end.

There are still many Ugandans who have no access to financial services such as savings and credit. According to a FinScope 2009 Uganda Report by Synovate (U) Limited, there has been an increase in access to financial services from 57% in 2006 to 72% in 2009 for the 18+ year old population. However, a good percentage of Ugandans especially in the rural areas still remain financially excluded and un-served (non-usage of neither Bank of Uganda regulated nor other formal or informal institutions…).

Supporting SACCOs and other community based savings and credit groups is important in bringing financial services closer to the rural people. This will further be made possible by having the relevant policies and regulations in place, as well as having strong apex bodies that support the development of sustainable SACCOs.