How shared-interest savings groups can facilitate technology adoption


This presentation was given by David Miller of UC Davis at the Horticulture Innovation Lab's "Postharvest in Horticulture: Reducing losses and improving quality to capture high-value crops" event held July 24, 2014, at the UC Washington Center in Washington, D.C. 

Miller focused on how farmer-focused savings groups can facilitate adoption of new practices and technologies. Worldwide, there are savings groups with over 9 million members trained by Oxfam, Freedom from Hunger, Plan International, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, the Aga Khan Foundation, and others, living in 100 thousand villages in 65 countries. 

The model usually works with 15 -25 members who come together in a group and are trained by an NGO representative, with an illustrated manual to guide the
discussion. Each week, members gather to save and borrow. There is a member who serves as the box keeper, who takes the locked cashbox out of hiding and brings it to the group. Usually there are two locks with two separate members holding the keys. The group’s officers open the meeting with a recitation of the bylaws which the group established at the beginning. Each member in turn deposits her saving and repays the interest or principal on her loan. At the end of the cycle, each member receives back all that she or he saved, plus their share of the interest from the loans made by the group. 

We have found that many people don’t just join to save, but instead they actually save to join. Networking is a major element of group membership. Savings groups are multi-purpose, only partially about money. They are a vehicle for training and information sharing — including educational events. 

"What is extraordinary is that this massive growth has been achieved not through the complex business of building financial institutions, or farm credit bureaus, but by catalyzing the capacity of poor people to solve their own problems," Miller said. "They recognize that they hold many solutions in their own hands."

The project team wanted to know if they established shared-interest savings groups with members of agricultural communities, would other Feed the Future goals be advanced and how? If savings groups can be a catalyst for many things, can they be used to catalyze the adoption and adaption of hard technologies developed by the Horticultural Innovations Lab? 

The presentation discusses a 2-year pilot supported as part of a Horticulture Innovation Lab project that brought together farmer-focused savings groups. The agricultural community groups in the groups were not just farmers, but could include input providers, farm families, postharvest processors, transporters, collectors, wholesalers, marketers and other sources of capital.  The groups were also introduced to various farm-related technologies, including pest-exclusion nets, which became an additional topic for research and adoption by the team and the farming community members. 

See Miller's Shared-Interest Savings Groups slides with notes for additional details about the savings groups and how they worked in this Horticulture Innovation Lab project focused on creating a market niche for 'food-safe' vegetables in Cambodia.