The field of microfinance is diverse because it is still evolving. There is no single approach, lending methodology or organizational structure appropriate for all situations. Therefore every model must be adapted to the local context and tailored to fit and reflect local needs. Best practices, as exemplified by the cases and examples presented in the workshop, should therefore be seen with this perspective in mind. They are by no means a comprehensive or systematic documentation but a selection that showcases the diversity of methodologies and approaches that have worked so far for the better interests of fisherwomen. The "success stories", as they were, are indicative of the effective delivery of microfinance and other support services to fisherwomen in particular and to larger fishing communities in general.
The cases summarized in this part of the report relate to the experiences, lessons and insights of i) SHG-bank linkage programmes; ii) a technology development and transfer project backed up by credit; and iii) microcredit for women within the framework of an essentially male organization. Diverse as the cases may be, the common theme running through them is the ultimate objective of uplifting the social and economic positions of women in fishing communities.
NABARD serves as an apex-refinancing agency for institutions providing investment and production credit for promoting the various developmental activities in rural areas. For its microfinance programme, the core strategy is the development of the SHG-bank linkage model to increase its outreach to the poorest. The strategy involves forming small, cohesive and participative groups of the poor, encouraging them to pool their thrift regularly and using the pooled thrift to make small interest-bearing loans to members and, in the process, learning the nuances of financial discipline. Subsequently, bank credit also becomes available to the group, to augment its resources for lending to its members. NABARD sees the promotion and bank linking of SHGs as part of an overall arrangement for providing financial services to the poor in a sustainable manner and also as an empowerment process for members of these SHGs. The SHG-bank linkage programme has proved to be the major supplementary credit delivery system with a wide acceptance by banks, NGOs and various government departments.
There are three models of SHG-bank linkages that have evolved over time.
Model I. SHGs formed and financed by banks. In this model, the bank itself takes up the work of forming and nurturing the groups, opening their bank accounts and providing them with bank loans after satisfying itself as to their maturity to absorb credit. Here, the bank acts as the SHGPI.
Model II. SHGs formed by NGOs and formal organizations but directly financed by the banks. In this model, groups are formed by NGOs (in most cases) or by government agencies. The groups are nurtured and trained by the agencies. The bank then provides credit directly to the SHGs after observing their operations and maturity to absorb credit. While the bank provides loans to the groups directly, the facilitating agencies continue their interactions with the SHGs. Most linkage experiences begin with this model, where NGOs play a major role. The model has also been popular with and more acceptable to banks, since some of the difficult functions of social dynamics are externalized. Around 75 percent of the total number of SHGs are financed under this model.
Model III. SHGs financed by banks using NGOs and other agencies as financial intermediaries. For various reasons, banks in some areas are not in a position even to finance SHGs promoted and nurtured by other agencies. In such cases, the NGOs act as both facilitators and microfinance intermediaries. First, they promote the groups, nurture and train them and then they approach banks for bulk loans for onlending to SHGs.
The following cases demonstrate the implementation of the SHG-bank linkage programme in five maritime states.
Kerala's long stretch of coastline, extending for over 590 km, accounts for about 10 percent of India's coastline. It also contributes nearly 27 percent of total fish landings and 22 percent of export earnings of marine products in the country. The fisheries sector is thus extremely important economically in Kerala, serving as the main source of livelihoods and income to some 330 000 fishers spread over 222 coastal villages.
Yet although Kerala has around 21 000 SHGs linked to various banks, very few are exclusive fishermen's/fisherwomen's groups. This is because the fishing population is not confined to certain pockets and people usually live as mixed groups.
In general, the relative success of the SHG model in Kerala can be attributed to the interlink between how the SHGs function as member-based organizations and how these impact on their microcredit activities. The organizational attributes include the homogeneity of members in terms of their economic status, leadership rotation, weekly group meetings where decisions are made collectively and savings collected and the freedom to craft their own bylaws that spell out penalties and sanctions for members. For its microcredit activities, both consumption loans and loans for productive purposes are provided for members. Funds are also made available to cover marriage, death and festivals.
Joining SHGs has freed members from the shackles of moneylenders and intermediaries and contributed to income increases, as illustrated in the following success stories.
SHG saves a fish vendor from sharks/moneylenders. Madhavi is an illiterate scheduled caste woman. Her husband's death from tuberculosis drove her and her three children to starvation. She took up fish vending for a living, borrowing Rs90 every day in the morning and repaying Rs100 in the evening to a local moneylender. She joined the Valamangalam SHG in Alappuzha in 1996 and took out her first loan of Rs2 000 for fish vending in May 1997. That made a world of difference to Madhavi's life. She is now able to do more business and earn a comfortable margin, since she can save Rs10 after meeting all her household expenses. Today, through the SHG, she dreams about a future with two square meals a day, free from moneylender problems.
Fishermen have benefited from women's SHGs. People in the seventh ward of Kumarakom panchayat, Kottayam are mostly fishers who depended heavily on intermediaries for their financial needs. These intermediaries helped them to obtain money to buy new nets, repair their old ones or see to any other financial needs they faced. Some of the intermediaries were professional moneylenders and charged exorbitant interest rates. Others were fish traders and gave loans on the condition that the fishers sell their catch only to them, until the loan was repaid. Thus the people in the area were a highly exploited group.
When Kumarakom Vikasana Samithy decided to launch the Gramalakshmi programme in line with NABARD's SHG programme, the seventh ward was uppermost in their minds. There are four SHGs now functioning well with regular group meetings, weekly thrift and loans to their needy members. One of the purposes for which these groups have given loans to their members is to help them to buy new nets and to free themselves from the clutches of intermediaries. These groups have given about 15 such loans, with amounts ranging from Rs1 000 to 1 200 over six months. As a result, the fishers can now sell their catch to anyone who offers them a good price.
Significant changes in the fishermen's lifestyles have also been observed. Previously they used to harass women while under the influence of alcohol but now they have stopped and have started to respect their companions.
The Women's Initiative Network (WIN) project. SHG formation work started in the WIN Centre in 1996 in the Alappuzha and Ernakulam districts. It was a purely women's initiative whose purpose was the multidimensional empowerment of women and children in fishing communities. There are now about 348 SHGs in the WIN project, involving nearly 7 000 women. The SHGs have accumulated a thrift kitty of Rs15.3 million that serves as a revolving fund. The fund has now "revolved" nearly three times with women obtaining over Rs42 million as internal loans for consumption as well as for productive purposes. The track record of the repayment of internal loans is 100 percent.
Over 255 of the WIN SHGs are now linked to various local commercial banks through NABARD refinance. A total of Rs12 million was taken out as loans for income-generating activities. A zero tolerance principle for non-repayment is followed strictly.
The availability of credit has made a significant contribution to women's incomes. The WIN Centre reports that a study of WIN SHGs' income-generating initiatives has given women an additional income of Rs6 890 per year. On a daily basis, the increase is still low because of poor production and marketing practices. WIN SHGs would like to upgrade their technical skills and would benefit from assistance from technology, marketing and management professionals.
West Bengal is the highest consumer of fish and fishery products in India, with a per capita consumption of 15.6 kg compared with the national average of 8 kg. Over 1.1 million fishers, representing less than 1 percent of the total state population, are involved in the sector. The state has a huge natural resource base for freshwater as well as brackishwater aquaculture, contributing about 75 percent of total seed production in the country and nearly 23 percent of total production of farmed shrimps and prawns. Average productivity, however, is low even though considerable scope and prospects for expansion and diversification exist. Marine fish production has been limited because of a short coastline and yields believed to have reached their maximum sustainable levels. Any appreciable increases from this sector can only be augmented by mariculture of suitable aquatic species.
In the last five years, NABARD's refinance for the whole fisheries sector in West Bengal grew from Rs20 million in 1998 to about Rs68 million in 2002. Cumulative microcredit disbursements to all sectors to approximately 32 686 credit-linked SHGs was Rs224 million. These SHGs have been organized fairly recently (less than three years ago), indicating that many have not reached the stabilization stage. Average savings per SHG are Rs284 while the average loan size is from Rs1 000 to 2 000 per member. Microcredit is mostly used for production purposes rather than for consumption, as attested by the following cases.
Crab fattening and trading. Crab fattening has rapidly gained popularity in villages in the North 24 Paraganas district. Some 200 members belonging to 15 women SHGs are now involved in the activity. Moreover, 15 women's SHGs, covering a 5 ha area in the Sundarbans, have taken up this occupation. The culture period is from 20 to 25 days and crabs from the region have found their way to export markets in the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia. Two cooperative societies with mixed membership groups are engaged in the trading activity. Women members are fully involved, from feeding, segregation and grading crabs for marketing.
Value-added minced fishery products. About 150 members belonging to a fisherwomen's cooperative society in the Purva, Medinipur, North 24 and South 24 Paraganas districts and Bijipatuli in Kolkata are successfully engaged in the preparation and marketing of minced fishery products such as fish pickle, fish noodles, fish soup powder, fish papad and fish sauce.
Ornamental fish breeding and rearing. Together with their husbands, women have been involved in this business in Udayarampur village, situated in Bishnupur, attached to Amtala of the South 24 Paraganas district. Women, in between their domestic work, help the men in the nursing and feeding of fish. Men catch Daphnia (water fleas) as feed in the village ponds.
The fishery sector plays a strategic role in the state economy by contributing towards exports, food, nutritional security and employment generation in coastal and inland areas. The state ranked third in marine fish production from its extensive 720 km coastline and sixth in inland fish production in the country.
The cumulative number of credit-linked SHGs in the state accounts for approximately 66.5 percent (28 065 SHGs) of the total credit-linked SHGs in the region (covering the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa), involving a cumulative NABARD refinance of Rs402.23 million. Of this, however, less than 4 percent (1 089) only of both total SHGs and bank credit (Rs26 million) went to four coastal districts in the state. This indicates enormous potential for more credit-linked SHGs in the coastal districts for fisheries activities.
The involvement of fisherwomen in Maharashtra in pre- and post-harvest fisheries activities is substantial. Innovative fish marketing arrangements by fisherwomen's cooperative societies have reduced their exploitation by intermediaries. A particular case is cited below.
Transport for fish marketing. The Mirkarwada Mahila Macchimar Sakahari Sangh in Sakharinate, Ratnagiri is a cooperative society that operates within a radius of 50 to 60 km from Ratnagiri, selling fish at various bazaars and village markets. Managed entirely by fisherwomen, this society has purchased two trucks and two buses with financial assistance and has evolved its own transportation system. In order to avoid the inconvenience of using public transport, each member's fish is transported at night by truck to a specified market. The women follow early the next morning by bus, get off at their respective markets and are picked up on their way back, once the market has closed. Loading, unloading and other services at each market are organized by the society. The system has worked so well that fisherwomen in other places have formed their own societies to undertake similar activities.
The experiences of some fisherwomen's SHGs in Nagapattinam and Kanyakumari districts related below are illustrative of how the SHG concept can be a tool to improve the living standards not only of women members but of the whole community.
Fish marketing. The Anaiya villakku and Kanniyamman SHGs in Akaraipettai village were organized in 2001 with 20 members each. They were assisted by the NGO Avvai Village Welfare Society and linked with the Indian Overseas Bank. The groups have accumulated savings of over Rs80 000 and took out loans of approximately the same amount to be used as capital for fish marketing. Repayment rates were reportedly at 100 percent.
One of the major benefits in joining an SHG is freedom from moneylenders. With more capital at hand, fisherwomen in these groups have been able to upscale their fish trade by increasing the volume of fish they sell. Internal borrowings of members have also enabled them to provide for consumption needs, especially during closed or lean fishing seasons, and to take up other alternative income-generating activities such as milk vending, rice trading and other petty trade. They have also undertaken some group social activities for the improvement of their villages, such as clearing of drainage and the construction of toilets.
Lobster fattening. A fisherwomen's SHG at Kodimunai village in the Kanyakumari district undertook a lobster fattening project under the guidance of the Life Care Trust NGO. The group was assisted under the SGSY scheme and was given a bank loan. The land required for the activity was made available by the District Administration. The women stocked juvenile lobsters in cement tanks and fattened them for about three months. The annual recurring expenditure for this project was about Rs100 000 and netted the group an income of about Rs175 000.
Backyard ornamental fish breeding. Under the aegis of MSSRF, a group of 30 women in Keelamanaikudi, near Chidambaram, were trained in backyard ornamental fish breeding. The participating families were supplied with fish breeders, cement tanks, hand nets, pelleted feed, hand pumps and prophylactic medicines. The project demonstrated that the women could easily earn a minimum of Rs500 per month from the activity, which was supplemental to their other incomes from farm labour. This also ensured them a regular source of income even when there was no available farm work.
Andhra Pradesh has a long coastline of 974 km and is one of the most important maritime states in India. It ranks sixth in the country in marine fish production. Fishers constitute about 1.3 percent of the total population.
In Srikakulam, the northernmost coastal district of the state, there are nearly 1 000 fisherwomen's groups, consisting of over 14 000 members, engaged in fish marketing, drying and salting. Approximately 500 of these groups are linked with and financed by banks with a cumulative loan amount of nearly Rs8 million. Some of the groups propose to scale up their operations in the second cycle of loans, which they intend to use for the purchase of iceboxes and minivans for fish transport. The groups also receive assistance from SGSY.
The importance of a package of services and interventions for women SHGs that includes appropriate technologies, credit, capability building, stakeholder participation, community organization and mobilization are highlighted in the following cases.
The Kerala mariculture initiative
The pilot field testing of the culture of oysters and mussels under the guidance of CMFRI scientists in 1994 has now grown into a lucrative business activity and alternative livelihood for over 250 families in about 15 villages of the north Malabar coast of Kerala. With an initial production of a few kilograms involving a few women, mariculture production increased to 1 300 tonnes in 2002 and the involvement of over 1 000 women and 250 men. The demonstration effect of this activity turned commercial venture has now spread to the neighbouring states of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra.
The beginning. Experiments and trials carried out by CMFRI in the 1970s and 1980s to test the feasibility of growing marine bivalves in the estuaries of the west coast of India also proved successful in the backwaters of Kerala. This prompted CMFRI scientists in 1994 to pilot the field testing and adoption of grow-out of mussels and oysters in the tiny village of Padanna in Kerala.
Community organization and mobilization. Bivalve mariculture is new to the villagers of Kerala. It was thus necessary for CMFRI to set up demonstration farms, followed by detailed training and interactive sessions to promote the technology. Village elders, interested village people, bank officials, village extension workers and district administrators took part in these sessions. As the field testing and adoption were carried out through village-level SHGs, local bodies or village panchayats identified women and organized them into SHGs. Each SHG typically had 13 members. The activities of the farm are carried out as community activities with the profits being shared equally. CMFRI provided constant technical support to the community.
The technology. Technology for the culture of the green mussel Perna viridis developed by CMFRI is simple and user-friendly. This species is a prolific breeder and the spat is available in the intertidal belts soon after the severe monsoon season of June to September. Fishers, mostly men, collect the seed from the rocky seashores and sell them to the mussel farmers at cost. Women SHGs procure the seed and prepare the seed ropes while men are hired to erect poles in the estuary. Women see to the routine upkeep of the seeded ropes. Harvest time is a mela (festival) during which all the villagers take part in the activities and sales.
The technology for the estuarine grow-out of the edible oyster, Crassostrea madrasensis, uses oyster shells as spat collectors. The shelled strings are suspended in the spat fall areas. Once the spat are collected, the strings are relaid to obtain optimum growth. Bamboo poles are used for suspending the oyster shells. The grow-out period is from seven to eight months. As in mussel farming, women take charge of the upkeep and marketing activities while men are involved in rack construction and harvesting of the oysters.
Financing support. Kerala was the first maritime state to recognize the potential of coastal mariculture and the appropriateness of mussel and oyster culture for village-level farm adoption. In 1996, the Kerala government extended the required financial support for mussel culture through the Department of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) scheme. With an average 13 members per SHG, the average loan amount given to an SHG is Rs76 800, 47 percent of which is subsidized. Subsidy was deemed necessary to popularize the new technology being promoted. Major expenditures were the purchase of nylon ropes and bamboo poles.
For oyster farming, the Brackishwater Fishfarmers' Development Agency (BFDA) project provided the financial inputs. Each SHG that had from 11 to 15 members received a loan of Rs8 800 per member, of which 45 to 50 percent was in the form of subsidy. The loan was repayable in five years with an interest rate of 12 percent per annum. At harvest time, BFDA deducts the initial loan amount from the sale proceeds and distributes the remaining amount equally to the SHGs.
Economic and social gains. The economic gains from mussel farming can give an SHG an average net profit of Rs12 800 in just about three months of grow-out period while profits from oyster farming can range from Rs700 to 25 000 per head. Thus the involvement of SHGs in mariculture activities has afforded them additional income that they have used for various family commitments such as repayment of various types of loans and, more important, day to day household expenditures during the lean fishing season, as well as for marriage, childbirth, death, etc. The contribution of women to household income and the freedom in economic decision-making at the household level have, to some extent, given them a measure of economic independence.
However, more than the economic gains is the impact on women's self-confidence and self-esteem. The experience of working in groups and shouldering collective responsibilities has enhanced women's skills in interpersonal relationships as well as in microenterprise management.
The Kerala initiative has provided some valuable lessons related to technology development and transfer to end users. One of these is that the gap between technology development and adoption could be bridged more successfully through participatory action plans where all stakeholders form part of the decision-making process. Future development plans to promote bivalve mariculture should take into consideration holistic approaches that cover all aspects of technology, environment, economics, credit and post-harvest, marketing, social, legal and policy issues.
Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Ratnagiri
Ratnagiri, one of five coastal districts in the Konkan region, is in the state of Maharashtra. It has a coastline of 167 km, offering immense scope for marine capture fisheries. Fishing is in fact a primary source of livelihood for those living along the coastal region blocks.
The fishing communities of Ratnagiri are one of the sectors being assisted by KVK, a grassroots-level institution that provides frontline extension services organized and conducted by scientists. CMFRI is also collaborating with KVK in mussel farming. Microfinance is extended to organized SHGs through the SGSY government scheme.
The KVK network. As the major extension arms of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), KVKs are activity centres with a strong training, demonstration and development base. They are scientific-based institutions that serve as links between the research and extension systems in the country. At present, there are 262 KVKs in India. Of this network, 33 have a fisheries component. Among others, KVK's objectives include the identification of technological gaps and training requirements of farmers and fishers and the subsequent design of production-oriented and need-based training modules. They also demonstrate appropriate and improved technologies in location-specific situations.
In the fisheries sector, KVK has provided training and demonstration in the modern techniques of fish drying, preparation of value-added fishery products, packaging and storage techniques and the repair and maintenance of fishing nets.
Women SHGs. Approximately ten SHGs in the district have availed themselves of microcredit to finance their fisheries economic activities. Each SHG has a membership of a minimum of ten and a maximum of 25. The savings contribution of each member ranges from Rs10 to 550, collected during monthly group meetings. The economic activities financed by microcredit include fresh fish vending, the purchase of crates for fish storage, mussel culture and value-added production of low-cost fish.
Financing. In 1999, the DRDA and the state government launched the SGSY scheme. SGSY covers all aspects of self-employment by organizing economically weaker sections into SHGs. Microcredit facilities are provided through regional rural banks, nationalized banks and lead district banks. Loans to SHGs are subsidized at 50 percent. Depending on group savings, loans of up to Rs300 000 are provided. Nationalized banks charge 11.5 percent to SHGs that in turn are onlent to members at interest rates ranging from 13 to 18 percent. Repayments are fixed at Rs200 to 300 per month, payable in five years. Recovery rates have reportedly been very satisfactory.
Impact. The results of coordinated technical, credit and marketing support to SHGs have improved members' financial and social positions. The average profit from selling more fish has increased from Rs1 000 to 2 000 per month during peak months of the fishing season. Improved storage and marketing practices have also resulted in better quality of fresh fish delivery. Participation in group processes and activities has also enabled women to develop their self-confidence and generally their social and communication skills. On a more personal level, women have gained more respect in their own homes and families, resulting in improved relations in the household.
SIFFS' inclusion of women in its microcredit programme presents an interesting case of a male organization that has had the benefit and experience of a more professionally run structure and in a position to provide assistance to an organizationally less-developed women's federation. The process created its own ambiguities and issues.
About SIFFS. As an apex organization, SIFFS has over 100 village-level fish marketing societies that are affiliated to five district federations. It has a membership of about 6 000 fishing units that employ around 25 000 seagoing fishermen in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. SIFFS was registered as a society in 1980 as a creative response to the perennial problems of fishers exploited by intermediaries, moneylenders and merchant traders. A new dimension that has made SIFFS a technologically oriented organization is its focus, among others, on the development and promotion of new technologies to enhance small fishers' capacity to compete for fishery resources and consequently increase catches and incomes. This intervention is significant because of the displacement and loss of livelihood resulting from competition from mechanized boats and the decline of fish catch in the near shore waters. In this regard, SIFFS runs a network of 15 boat-building and 20 motor service centres. It manufactures 300 boats a year and over 10 000 boats in use off the southwest coast of India are based on SIFFS designs.
Loan products for men. Credit is a primary society intervention to keep intermediaries at bay and ensure independence in the marketing of fish. SIFFS' credit programme has evolved over the years and is now being implemented using the following channels: i) village societies that own funds (from savings and profits); ii) local bank loans accessed by the society for members; iii) federation revolving funds; and iv) SIFFS loans based on SIDBI bulk loans under its microcredit scheme. The last channel has become the dominant source that provides over 50 percent of total credit to members.
The salient features of the microfinance programme for men include the following.
Lending policy involves a two-stage screening process. For society screening, a rating system is based on repayment performance; for individual screening, it is based on fish sales for the last one year as well as past credit performance.
Loan amount is linked to repayment capacity as judged by fish sales. For non-motorized boats, loans can range from Rs5 000 to 10 000 while for motorized boats, loans range from Rs20 000 to 50 000.
Loan purpose is principally for replacement of equipment (boats, motors, nets).
Interest rates. Loans taken from SIDBI are charged at 11 percent, onlent to federations at 14 percent and given to fishers at 16 percent.
Loan term and repayment. The loan period is 36 months and repayment is linked to catches, i.e. a fixed sales value (normally 10 percent of sales) is deducted at source on a daily basis.
Life insurance policies are taken out for all members together with an old age savings scheme based on monthly savings of Rs50 per member.
As of March 2003, total loan amounts disbursed were Rs66.4 million with a cumulative repayment rate of 87 percent. The average loan size was Rs10 996.
Entry of women's organizations into SIFFS' microcredit programme. In the 1990s, district federations in Trivandrum and Quilon organized the women in their villages around savings and credit. Previously, fisherwomen were also organized in varying degrees by NGOs. These groups, however, served mainly as fora for social issues, usually revolving around health and education. Savings and credit were not always the core activities.
Quilon's women's group was a subordinate entity without any organic link to the federation and has recently been disbanded. The Kanyakumari federation has also recently organized women, following the SHG model and is now integrated with the SIFFS microcredit programme. Other groups, which were previously provided loans on a pilot basis, have discontinued loans from SIFFS.
SNVF was integrated into TDFF and started its activities in 1992. It was a fairly large group of over 2 000 members that catered for the primary needs of women in the fish vending business. Microcredit was a critical intervention for these women since it helped them break free from the clutches of moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest. However, working with and within the TDFF setup was not without tension. SNVF felt its interests were not fully being served by integration with TDFF. Because of leadership and other organizational problems, it subsequently split from TDFF and is now a separate fisherwomen's federation.
Loan products for women. The SIFFS foray into microcredit enabled it to reach out and provide assistance to women's groups with which it had historic links. According to SIFFS, these women's groups were largely managed without any significant professional support and, as such, were unable to cope with their members' needs and demands for credit. They sought SIFFS' help to fill the gap since SIFFS was in a position to do so. SNVF, in particular, struggling with the split from TDFF, received financing from SIFFS, under the following terms.
Loan policy. A general "fisherwomen's" loan is given without specifying the purpose a priori. The income-generating activity is left entirely to the ingenuity of the women.
Loan amount ranges from Rs2 000 to 10 000. This amount is lower than that given to men.
Loan purpose is principally for working capital for fish vending and other petty trade.
Loan term and repayment. The loan period ranges from 12 to 18 months, with a longer period allowed for larger loans.
Interest rates charged to SNVF stand at 14 percent, and are passed on to women at 18 percent. This is a larger spread than for men since the SNVF needs them more for its own sustainability.
Loan insurance. SNVF members are covered by the SIFFS life insurance portfolio.
SIFFS's lending to SNVF in 2003 will be around Rs3 million with cumulative repayment rates of approximately 90 percent. Credit requirements are still higher than SIFFS' capacity but SIFFS believes that the absorption capacity is still weak and will thus increase lending to SNVF in a gradual manner.
SIFFS recently introduced a new loan product that responds to the special needs of certain fisherwomen who travel in groups to distant markets and buy large quantities of fish for drying and selling during the lean season. A loan of Rs10 000 to 20 000 is given to these women, payable in five months (as the returns are realized only after four months). The principal is paid at the fifth month but the interest is paid monthly. This new loan product is proving to be a success since many women are availing themselves of the facility.
An example of how the SIFFS loan products helped a member and her family to work their way out of poverty and into self-reliance is clearly illustrated in the case of Bridgette from Kerala.
Bridgette and her vegetables. Mampally is a Catholic fishing village 40 km north of Trivandrum, the capital of the state of Kerala. Bridgette, aged 51, has been an active member of the fisherwomen's society at Mampally for the last seven years. A bold lady who knows her mind, she married Lakshmanan, a Hindu labourer, three decades ago, causing a local social upheaval. While the fisherwomen of Trivandrum district are generally dynamic and large numbers of them are involved in fish vending and trade, Bridgette sensed a business opportunity in vegetable selling and shifted to this activity 14 years ago. She started a small retail shop at her home, selling vegetables in the village. Income from this small business, together with that of her husband from collecting copra, helped her bring up her two sons and a daughter.
As a member of good standing, Bridgette regularly saved Rs1 per day and was thus eligible to obtain loans from her society, which is affiliated with SNVF. She was among the first to receive SIFFS loans and started with a loan of Rs5 000 for the first couple of cycles. When SIFFS introduced a new loan product, Bridgette was again one of the first to use this facility, concurrently with her regular loan. She borrowed Rs10 000, to be repaid in one instalment at the end of four months, which helped her tap the peak season market and make a handsome profit. This year she has taken her second seasonal loan from SIFFS.
The regular credit flow from SIFFS enabled Bridgette to double her earnings from Rs50 to 60 (US$1-1.2) on a daily sale of Rs1 000 (US$20) to 100-120 (US$2.2). This was largely as a result of interest saved from borrowing from moneylenders and vegetable merchants. With the SIFFS loan, she is now able to look for better deals from competing merchants and consequently secure lower purchase prices for her vegetables. This is especially critical during the festival season of September to December when demand for vegetables increases dramatically and Bridgette typically needs a higher working capital for bulk purchases.
With the subsequent loans from SIFFS Bridgette has been able to help her married son develop his business - running a small shop for "fancy" items - and has also repaired and enlarged her house. Instead of hiring someone to help her in her business, she decided to make it a truly family enterprise by taking in Lakshmanan whose copra work was not doing well. Today she feels that her family is close to self-reliance and has increased her savings to create an extra cushion in case of future crises. Bridgette has clearly worked her way out of poverty thanks to her dynamism and business sense. However, she acknowledges that it is also in part thanks to the regular credit flow from SIFFS that has helped her stop the leakage of her profits to moneylenders and wholesale merchants.
Issues and dilemmas. The integration of women into the SIFFS microcredit programme is a fairly recent development. As such, SIFFS' future direction in this regard is still unclear, particularly as it grapples with the following questions.
How will SIFFS integrate women's groups into its structure? Will it not dilute its nature, which is essentially a male organization with production issues?
Is the alternative to encourage a separate federation dealing with women?
In areas where women are not so enterprising as the Trivandrum fisherwomen, how can income-generating activities be developed?
What sorts of groups are to be promoted, particularly in terms of repayment modalities: SHGs or SNVF-type daily collection systems?
How will SNVF and similar federations be made viable? By scaling up microcredit or by diversifying services and businesses?
Ambiguities and gender issues will need to be sorted out and clarified as SIFFS continues providing financial services to women. Some thoughts and reflections on gender issues affecting marine fisheries are attached as Annex IV. Another perspective of the gender issue relating to SNVF and TDFF is presented in the paper on the experience of FWWB. This paper is attached as Annex V.
Varada Grameena Bank initiatives
Bailur, a small village in Bhatkaltaluka, Uttara Kanada district in Karnataka state mainly depends on rainfed paddy crop and fishing activities. Most fisher families are below the poverty line.
Microfinance programme helped to alleviate poverty. The initiatives of the Mavalli-Murdeshwar branch of the Varada Grameena Bank reformed the life style of the Kasturba fisherwomen's self help group, which was formed in 1999. They started saving by contributing Rs10 per day/per member and initiated internal lending from their savings for marriage, consumption needs, medical purposes, education, and businesses other than fish vending. Each member received financial assistance of Rs 25 000 - Rs10 000 in the form of subsidy under SGSY and Rs15 000 as a loan from the bank. As a group they realized the economic constraints of fish vending, particularly the lack of transport from harbour to markets. They bought a minivan, fish crates and boxes. This resulted in an increase in income and supply of quality fish to consumers.
Kasturba SHG achieved a turnover of Rs2 million in 2002. All members attempted to become literate. Study tours were organized to enhance cohesiveness and women's day was celebrated.