Aquaculture in action: seeding the future with seasonal loans
A new trial which is helping to finance small-scale fish farmers in Sierra Leone has enabled them to grow their businesses and boost household consumption of fish
Tonkolili District in Sierra Leone’s landlocked Northern Province is one of the poorest and most nutritionally insecure regions in the West African country. One way of addressing the area’s problems is by involving poor farmers in small-scale aquaculture. With a focus on creating sustainable businesses, this approach has huge potential to increasing both fish consumption and incomes across the region.
Yet, despite the large number of perennial swamps suited to fish farming, the small-scale aquaculture sector remains largely undeveloped and poor farmers face several barriers when trying to establish fish-farming businesses.
Lack of access to credit is a common constraint. Community banks were only introduced in Sierra Leone around 2005, and commercial banks are unwilling to lend money to rural farmers whose production activities are deemed risky, who do not have collateral (eg title deeds for the family land they use) and who can only start repayments at the end of the four- to five-month season after selling their harvests.
To address this constraint, the Scaling up Aquaculture Production (SAP) project has partnered with Apex Bank, a microfinance institution, to make seasonal loans available to small-scale fish farmers. The project is part of the USAID-funded Feed the Future initiative implemented by WorldFish, an international, non-profit research organisation based in Malaysia.
The loans are provided through financial services associations (FSAs), which are community-owned financial institutions that extend loans to members to advance their farming activities and agricultural businesses. The FSAs are operated by Apex Bank, supervised by the Central Bank of Sierra Leone and supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the government of Sierra Leone.
In August 2017, loans were extended to 65 eligible fish farmers (42 men and 23 women, including 22 young farmers). Consideration was given to those who own or have access to land and water suitable for farming, who had already constructed their fish ponds and who were already working with the SAP project.
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