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Improving coastal livelihoods in Kenya


Communities in Lamu seascape on the northern coast of Kenya rely on the sea. For most people, artisanal fishing is the main livelihood source. But coastal and marine habitats in Kenya are facing a multitude of threats. Unprecedented population growth, habitat alteration, intensive and unsustainable expansion of agricultural practices, destructive fishing techniques and large-scale developments such as the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor are all putting increasing pressure on the environment. And the impacts of climate variability are further accentuating these challenges.    

You may have read my earlier blog about my visit to WWF Tanzania to learn from their experience in the development of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), which are also known as Village Community Banks (VICOBAs). In this blog I want to update you on some of the happenings since that trip.

We’ve been implementing VSLAs in the marine programme in Kenya since 2014. They are one element of a suite of interventions aimed as diversifying the livelihoods of coastal communities so as to reduce dependency on natural resources and build resilience to the pressures being faced on the coast.

Rukia Aweso and her group Tarazaq VSLA during a record keeping refresher training at WWF field office at Mkokoni ©WWFRukia Aweso and her group Tarazaq VSLA during a record keeping refresher training at WWF field office at Mkokoni ©WWF

A VSLA is a group of people who save together and take loans from those savings. VSLAs run in ‘cycles’ of about one year, after which the accumulated savings and the loan profits are shared out among the members based on individual contribution of the members. VSLAs mean that people don’t have to travel long distances or open a bank account – things which would be impossible for many member of the community – to get access to a loan. The groups also have a strengthened sense of social cohesion and when emergencies strike there’s help readily available to members.

VSLAs have also provided a platform through which to engage different sectors of the community in conservation issues. Meetings always start with a discussion of issues linked to the environment, sustainable fisheries and marine turtle conservation. Through the VSLAs, we’re able to help improve livelihoods whilst furthering the conservation message.

We’ve now helped to establish 15 VSLA groups in coastal communities in Kenya. And they’ve saved more that £11,000.

One of the VSLAs that we’ve been working with is called Tarazaq and it’s based in Mkokoni village. The group has ten members and it’s on its second savings cycle. It’s been great to see that all members of the group have experienced benefits as a result of being part of the VSLA. And there have been some fantastic examples of entrepreneurship too! One member, Rukia Aweso, took out a series of loans to start up a café. The business has been a great success as she now has a constant source of income, whereas before she had none. The profits she’s made have enabled here to pay for her children’s school fees and supplement her husband’s income for running the household.

Mkuu Shelali (Rahma VSLA) when she was training as a Community Based Trainer (CBT). © WWFMkuu Shelali (Rahma VSLA) when she was training as a Community Based Trainer (CBT). © WWF

In Kizingitini village, Mkuu Shelali from Rahma VSLA is also a very happy woman. She was able to get a loan from her VSLA when an emergency arose and her husband’s fishing vessel was damaged. Without his boat, Mkuu’s husband was unable to go fishing and therefore provide for their family. A loan from the VSLA meant that the boat could be repaired quickly and Mkuu’s husband was able to get back to making a livelihood. Mkuu told me that: “these groups are far more beneficial than we had initially thought!”

WWF’s work in Lamu seascape is part of WWF’s Coastal Kenya Programme, which is gratefully supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Size of Wales and the UK Government through the Department for International Development.

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