Saving for change in Zambia: an early start matters
Serving a dual purpose of financial inclusion and promoting good nutrition
Purity Makomero meets with other members of her savings group in the shelter of a local church in the heart of the community of Mulenga in north-western Zambia. The Tukwantakane (meaning ‘working together as one’) group meets every month. At 15, she is the youngest member of the group.
“I would like to buy more than just nice clothes and food. I would like to buy something bigger, like a bicycle,” says Purity, “even if it’s second-hand, which I can use to go to school for many years. That way, I can finish my education and become a nurse.”
The savings group Purity belongs to is also a Nutrition Support Group, serving the dual purpose of financial inclusion and promoting good nutrition under the Scaling Up Nutrition Phase 2 (SUN II) programme.
Hunger and malnutrition constitute real and present risks in Zambia, with stunting sitting at 35 per cent nationally. The SUN II programme targets vulnerable groups including pregnant and lactating women, children under 2 years of age, and adolescents like Purity with multiple interventions to reduce the drivers of stunting. All women from 15-49 years old are eligible to join savings groups like the one Purity is a part of.
Women make up more than 70 per cent of the agricultural labour force in Zambia and play a critical role in enhancing food security and nutrition, as they are usually primary caregivers. In most places, like Solwezi District, with a high prevalence of undernourishment and a stunting rate of 25.8 per cent, women farmers have significantly less access to land, information, finance, and agricultural inputs. This is where savings groups help break the cycle of malnutrition and stunting – by providing easy access to low-interest loans, and thereby empowering women both economically and socially. In Solwezi District, where Tukwantakane is located, 193 Saving for Change groups have been formed and 66 of these groups are currently saving.
Purity says she got the inspiration to become a nurse after the first meeting of her group. A lesson on ‘What Is Good Nutrition?’ was taught before they began saving. She says she has been pleasantly surprised at the skills and knowledge she has received as a participant.
“It might not seem like a big deal to some people to save a 50 kwacha ($3), but it makes me proud to know that I am saving for a good cause. It’s for my own future. I am learning how to be responsible with finances no matter how little and that you can never be too young to save,”
The Tukwantakane Savings Group, formed in January 2022, has a membership of 25 breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women and adolescent girls. Most of the women and girls who were not saving before they joined the savings group became members for similar reasons: the perceived importance and benefits of the groups themselves, to save money, to learn how to grow their money, to improve their lives and to lessen food insecurity. The first meeting involved establishing the rules of the group; thereafter, they declared their monthly savings and each member was eligible to receive a loan.
At least half of the members took loans to buy and re-sell food and other items. Others mentioned using loan money for farming or gardening inputs, food, medicine, and education costs. Each member commits to save at least 50 kwacha per month and the savings cycle runs for 9 months, after which they will share out the money based on savings and interest accrued from loan repayments.
As she places her money into a blue bowl, she declares openly what the breakdown of her savings is this month: “I was very shy, but the group is helping me feel more confident to speak in front of people because we have to declare loudly how much we are repaying and saving.”
This month, 8th-grader Purity saves another K50, bringing her total savings to K100. An additional K5 goes towards Tukwantakane’s social fund. Each time a member makes a deposit, a small portion is allocated to the social fund. Social funds can be accessed by members to cover emergency expenses such as funerals or medical costs.
Coming from a cultural environment that often teaches that children must be seen and not heard, Purity finds it empowering to belong to a group where her voice matters, and her aspirational ideas for empowerment of vulnerable women and girls can be shared.
“I feel lucky to that I am learning how to create a savings plan at a young age, and I look forward to developing other skills like becoming a promoter of good nutrition like some of the other members who have received that training,” Purity says. Her single mother trades in tomatoes and other agricultural produce, like many of the women in Tukwantakane, and belongs to a savings group of her own.
As a Nutrition Support Group, Tukwantakane savings group also promotes good maternal, infant, and young child feeding practices to its members by providing them with nutrition information. The right messages help inform the members to make choices with their savings, such as diversifying their diets through the crops they choose to invest in for consumption or as cash crops.
With seven months of saving left to go, Purity is hopeful of three things – that she will buy a bicycle in the very near future, that she will become a community champion promoting good nutrition, and that focusing on her education will unlock the potential in her to become a nurse.
The Government, with technical support from the World Food Programme, Care and iDE, through SUN II, has so far trained over 1,400 animators in Saving for Change, who have sensitized over 9,000 community members of whom 86 per cent are women. There are currently 502 Saving for Change groups.,
SUN II is a four-year initiative led by the United Nations in 17 districts in support of the Government of Zambia’s First 1,000 Most Critical Days Programme Phase II. It is supported by the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany through the KfW Development Bank, the Republic of Ireland, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and UK aid from the British people.