Conservation Finance

Village Savings and Loans Associations

Around the world, the discovery of life-changing information is almost always marked with the expression, “I wish I had known this earlier!” This incidence is today playing out in the villages of Mkunguni, Kwale County, Kenya, where men older than 50 are only now embracing community savings schemes. Hitherto, including in Mkunguni, chamas or table-banking programs or merry-go-rounds were the preserve of women; today, men are joining the club of what are formally known as Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) schemes. The Malema (basket trap) VSLA has been in existence for a little under two years, bringing together mostly fishermen members to pool together funds they can later loan out to individual members at low interest rates. In effect, they are substituting the commercial banking process which give barriers to credit access.

Our journey to supporting the Malema VSLA began in 2019 when we developed gear-based fisheries management options to enhance fisheries sustainability and boost livelihoods. CORDIO co-designed a basket trap-modification with the fishers of Mkunguni Beach Management Unit (BMU), resolving to increase the mesh size of their traditional basket fishing gear for ecological and socio-economic advantage. Relatedly, the question on how the fishers could secure funds for continued construction and maintenance of the modified basket traps – and how they could enhance their livelihoods in general – then came up. We realized instantly that we had to devise a sustainable finance strategy. 

Several ideas were considered, including forming a fishers’ cooperative or starting a savings and credit organization (SACCO). However, the option of using a proven method within every member’s reach appealed the most. The Malema group of fishers chose to launch a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), following in the success and footsteps of their all-women BMU counterparts, the Mama Karanga (women fish vendors) self-help group. The Mama Karanga VSLA had empowered its 15 members to actively engage in fisheries management and to diversify their income…with resounding success!

The modified basket traps now used by the Malema Group

It is this success, therefore, that motivated the Malema group to talk to the Mama Karanga VSLA group for advice and to adopt the VSLA sustainable finance model. CORDIO supported their training, starting with testimonial sessions from the Mama Karanga women’s group. Following this training, done in conjunction with the community and social development department of Kwale County, the men began the VSLA process. They developed a constitution and bylaws to guide them, registering their group through the county’s social services department and, thereafter, opening a bank account to deposit savings.

They approached the VSLA process with great enthusiasm, aiming to make up for decades of making ends meet with only their respective fishing incomes. After three months of consistent weekly savings, carried out during their regular Tuesday meetings, they commenced the process of lending out loans in line with the established bylaws. Members provided justifications for their loan applications to ensure proper utilization. These loans served various purposes, including boat and boat engine repairs, school fee payments, and house repairs, among others.

CORDIO staff and the Malema VSLA at their 2023 share-out meeting. Savings are reconciled ahead of a new savings year. 


Among coastal Muslims, there’s a deliberate pace in various endeavours, including development. In the past, our forebears were engaged in fishing, a tradition we continued for many decades. Regrettably, there was a lack of guidance on savings. Despite an entire high season’s work, there was nothing left to save. Personally, hailing from Tanga where my relatives reside, I’ve lived and fished in Kenya. During that time, saving proved elusive. In the event of personal matters like a death or social obligation there, affording even transportation became a challenge, despite my daily fishing efforts. However, today, things have changed. Now, if I require funds to journey to Tanga, I simply reach out to the group’s treasurer. This support allows me to travel there with dignity and resources, a marked improvement from my previous empty-handed struggles”.

Mzee Boi


I took out a loan to purchase solar panels for my home. I did this mainly to ensure round-the-clock supply electricity in my home so that my children can continue with their schoolwork uninterrupted. At night, their study environment is ideal to do homework even there is a power disruption. Blackouts are a common problem in this area but, thankfully, after purchasing solar power system, my children can enjoy electricity 24/7. This area benefits from ample sunlight, making solar a cost-effective option with minimal maintenance expenses. Indeed, this has been my primary reward so far for being a part of this chama. 

Umaya Hamza


I borrowed a loan to support my eldest daughter’s education at Taru Girl School in Samburu Sub-County. She’s currently in her fourth year. Previously, she would attend school with unpaid fees and gradually settle the balance as I could manage. However, in the past year, the situation has become more challenging. The school now requires students to start with no outstanding fees. Even if they have a small balance like Ksh. 500, they’re sent back home. This is puzzling, especially considering that the transportation cost to the school is Ksh. 2000. They end up spending more on transportation than they owe in fees. As a result, I’ve taken out four loans to ensure I pay the fees on time and keep her in school.  


Fish Dealer and Group Secretary

When we started this journey of savings, I also decided to take a loan. Once I took the loan, I constructed on my land a housing unit of two rooms. You can see, right behind here. I put up the roof, and what now remains is just some finishing so that I can use it.  

Hamadi Bakari


Madam Siti, the Community and Social Development Officer for Ramisi Ward in Kwale County, also shared her thoughts. She said, “CORDIO has consistently stood by us, continuing to support our community. We’ve come a long way together with CORDIO, starting from scratch with groups in Mkunguni, Mwaembe, and Munje BMUs. The transformation in the community is evident, and it’s all thanks to their dedicated and honest support for community projects. It’s reassuring to know that they continue to monitor and assist the groups, ensuring their success.”

Among the various conservation enterprises that CORDIO has been backing, the VSLA stands out as a highly impactful and effective force in community empowerment. It serves as an exemplary practice that is worth sharing, allowing others to learn and adopt its principles. The localized approach of the VSLA lends itself to greater ownership and simpler management, ensuring continuity and long-term sustainability. This is a model I wholeheartedly endorse and would recommend without hesitation!

Written by Caroline Njeri, Research Assistant