Many cocoa-growing communities do not have access to formal financial services like banks or building societies. This means that saving money can be difficult, leaving families vulnerable to fluctuations in their income, or at risk if unforeseen funds are suddenly needed, for example if someone falls ill and needs treatment. The Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) scheme enables men and women to invest frequently, even in small amounts, keeping their money safe and earning interest.
Currently, 3,000 farmers within the Nestlé Cocoa Plan are participating in VSLAs. These small groups comprise between 15 to 25 people in the local community who save together. The schemes are simple and transparent, but powerful. They allow members to build their savings more easily, which in turn contributes greatly to improving the security of the household. Savings are maintained in a loan fund, from which members can borrow in small amounts. Savings activities of the group run in cycles of one year after which the accumulated savings are distributed back to members in interest. Each member is given a passport that is stamped with each investment, and is appropriate for groups with limited literacy and numeracy skills. All transactions are carried out at regular meetings in front of all the members of the Association, to ensure transparency and accountability. The money and passbooks are kept in a lock box in the community, safeguarded by the group box-keeper between meetings. There is no ledger; only the starting and closing balances of the funds are recorded, mainly through memorisation, at each meeting.