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In Bangui, conflict-hit farmers access bank loans
When Jérôme Saragba was shot in the throat by marauding armed men at the end of 2013, it could have been the end of a long life devoted to farming and feeding his community. Instead the 69-year old is fully recovered and bursting with energy on the track leading to the large ponds where he farms tilapias and carps on the outskirts of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
“It’s really time to get fully back to work. Almost all our colleagues at the farm fled during the troubles. We lost most of the fish production”, says Mr Saragba who has been a member of the agro-aquaculture cooperative in N'dress since its establishment 27 years ago.
For several weeks Mr Saragba worked at the farm a few hours a day while at night he would return with his family to the green bushy hills overlooking the fish ponds, where they would feel safe from attacks.
The 15-member cooperative in N'dress has invested in multiple activities. In addition to the fish farm, it grows bananas, cassava and vegetables sold on the local markets. The cooperative members have also built seven basins from which they harvest spirulina, a microalga considered as a high-protein food source.
Fully resuming the activity of the cooperative is a challenging task in a country still shaken by violence, where one million people have been displaced and the economic fabric has been seriously damaged by the 18-month long conflict.
“I meet a lot of very resilient people like Mr Saragba when I travel the country. They are farmers, cattle herders, fishermen. They are the hope, the backbone of the country’s economy. It’s crucial that we continue our development projects and that we support them to recover from the violence that destroyed so many families and so much infrastructure”, says Mr Alexis Bonte, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ad interim Representative in CAR.
As part of its project to Support the Establishment of a Sustainable Development Plan for Aquaculture in CAR, FAO created a small guarantee fund of USD 22 250 deposited at the Crédit Populaire de Centrafrique in Bangui. The project allows 30 aquaculture groups to obtain access to credit at a subsidized rate (1.25 percent) over a period of six to eight months. The first loan deals, including to the cooperative in N'dress, were signed at the end of May.
“Thanks to FAO, we have been granted a 700 000 CFA francs (approximately USD 1 500) loan by the bank. With that money, we’ve been able to buy fingerlings from other fish farms in Bangui and food for them” says Mr Saragba.
Although the cost of agriculture inputs have spiraled, the cooperative expects to meet its engagement and reimburse the bank on time since the duration of the loan matches precisely the tilapia and carp six-month cycle of growth.
“If calm returns durably and we can produce as hoped, we will be like a good student and reimburse our loan. Hopefully, we will then get another one to keep our work growing and maybe start a frog farm. The owner of a French restaurant in Bangui has already told us that he is interested to buy frogs”, says Mr Saragba.
It is likely that without the FAO guarantee fund, these farmers would never have had access to any kind of loan from local banks. The FAO CAR office is now planning to replicate this project to other sectors of activity and provide credit to women’s groups involved in vegetable production.