Trizah Chebet has high hopes of buying her own land in Kenya’s Rift valley so that she can expand her agricultural activities.
Chebet belongs to the Mosop Women’s Group based in Rongai, Nakuru county, one of many self-help organisations that offer unsecured loans to women through table banking – a way to access and offer loans without going through a microfinance organisation.
Such groups are transforming women’s lives in a country where land is the prime asset for obtaining loans, and men have by tradition and custom dominated land ownership and inheritance.
Chebet joined her now 25-member group in 2012 and is already thriving on a rented plot she leased thanks to a loan of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (£140). Buying the land at current prices would cost her up to 500,000 shillings.
Members hold monthly meeting – Chebet has just attended her 20th – where their contributions, referred to as shares, are put on the table. Every member has a passbook to record her savings and each is entitled to a short- or long-term loan equivalent to three times her shares, up to a maximum of 500,000 shillings.
The group allows long-term borrowers to repay at a 1% interest rate over 36 months, while short-term borrowers are required to pay off the debt in a month at a 10% interest rate.
Chebet wants a long-term loan to buy a 50 metre x 100 metre plot of land to diversify her activities, and hopes to secure it by June. On the land she leased with the loan she obtained in April last year, Chebet planted beans. She harvested 15 bags of 90kg, selling them at 4,200 shillings. She made a total of 63,000 shillings, with which she repaid the loan and boosted her shares.
“All that is needed is the virtue of mutual trust, openness and honesty for the fellow members to guarantee me with their savings,” she says, adding that it is a relief not to have to provide collateral. If Chebet had an alternative, she would opt for a bank loan to acquire the land before prices double, but lack of assets limit her.
Jane Towett, a fellow member, considers herself “rich” since she began rearing goats with a 50,000 shilling advance. “I bought four goats and I am selling milk. I plan to sell them once they deliver and buy a dairy cow,” says Towett, who is also a member of two similar groups.
For Linnah Kirui, the group’s chairwoman, table banking has brought domestic harmony. “I no longer have conflicts with my husband over money,” says Kirui, who now runs a grocery store that she started with a 15,000 shilling loan. Kirui says that so far no one in the group has defaulted on a loan.
Jennifer Kigen, the executive director of the Rongai Social Economic Women Organisation, an NGO that educates women on table banking, says unsecured loans have given women financial freedom and a way out of poverty.
Table banking groups also provide practical remedies if a member gets into difficulty in repaying a loan. Kigen says: “In a genuine case, for instance a woman invested in planting beans and they failed, then members fundraise to clear the loan for her. She is then given another to invest in a venture of her choice.”
If a woman fails to honour a debt without good reason, she could face prosecution, but according to Kigen this has not happened so far in any of the country’s many table-banking groups.
“This is to the extreme and we haven’t received any such reports from the more than 500 groups we have worked with across the country,” she says.
Those groups represent more than 500,000 women, including Chebet, Towett and Kirui, who have used unsecured loans to take some of the financial initiative from men, although the imbalance in ownership remains stark.
The Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya indicates that only 1% of title deeds are singly held by women despite the fact that they make up half of the population and contribute 70% of labour in cash-crop production.
Eileen Wakesho, the programme officer for women, land and property rights at the Kenya Land Alliance, says: “Article 27 of the constitution outlaws discrimination of women in access to land or property. However, land and property ownership is largely determined by cultural settings in various communities.
“Unfortunately, women are subject to discrimination in the circumstances given. It is therefore challenging to ensure that the right to equal access to land and property is observed.”
A report by Kenya’s planning ministry on the implementation of theBeijing platform for action, an international framework on women’s empowerment agreed in 1995, shows that absolute poverty levels among women are at 50% compared with 46% for men.