Close to the foothills of Guatemala’s Tajumulco volcano, the San Pablo’s El Porvenir community is home to Zoila Emilma Hernández. At 48 years old, she is a mother of six and an active associate of Cooperativa Entre Colinas, a coffee co-op in the region.
Starting in 2015, she began trainings about nutrition and village savings and loans with the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Cooperative Development Program. The project, implemented by NCBA CLUSA, contacted the directors of the cooperative and began working with cooperative members to form communal banks. The proceeds from loans of these village savings groups would support the production of hen houses, increasing access to protein in the community—a major nutrition gap in the Western Highlands. The commercialization of meat and eggs would also generate complementary incomes for families.
Together with 15 women who belong to the communal bank in Colinas, Hernández started the production of laying hens—receiving technical assistance and training in the proper handling and vaccination of poultry.
"We take care of the birds in the house as a family, and if any of us go out we take turns taking care of everything," Hernández said. “After what we consume, we can sell [the rest] in the community.” This extra income is funneled back to the savings group, and has helped to support others through the community bank by generating capital for loans.
These group savings banks have helped to support small nutritional ventures across the region, educating women and men on the importance of saving while generating knowledge and skills for families to face the problems of food insecurity and develop new income initiatives.
Currently, the project has formed more than 70 savings banks and created access to rural loans of over $270,000 USD. Access to credit through these groups has proven a valuable opportunity for many women, who are now able to invest in their own activities of agricultural production, livestock and services. They normally would not qualify for formal banking loans.
In Santa Clara Cunén, a village in the Quiche region, 12 women organized themselves into one of the first communal banks. In a short time, they organized a committee and were able to open the group up to other women members—tripling their original group size.
Now they have a Board of Directors that manages their own funds, and they have been set up a group for livestock production and other income diversification activities.
With support from the project, they formalized in 2017 by registering with the municipality. They now have their books of records of savings and internal loans, maintaining and expanding granting credit to their partners to undertake different businesses.
Able to fund nutrition activities like raising poultry, they've not only increased food security in the region, but also access to credit and the formal finance system.