Oikocredit much appreciated in Senegal
Blanca Méndez, communications officer at Oikocredit International, talks about the 2013 study tour to Senegal. Each year we organize a study tour for investors, members and volunteers to meet local staff, partners and clients to see first-hand the opportunities and challenges involved in our work.
Why did you select Senegal for this year’s study tour?
“Oikocredit’s been operating in Senegal since 2004. Although 75% of the population work in agriculture, much of the country’s rural areas remain underserviced in terms of electricity, drinkable water, agricultural equipment and irrigation.
Oikocredit has invested almost € 22 million in Senegalese agricultural enterprises and microfinance institutions (MFIs) to provide people with access to finance to improve their lives. We have been working in Senegal for almost ten years, so this study tour is a great way to show what we have done and what challenges remain. It’s also the first time our investors are visiting the region.”
Which partners did you visit?
“After spending a few days in Dakar, we flew to Ziguinchor, in the southern region of Casamance, one of the poorest parts of the country, to visit U-IMCEC, a cooperative-based MFI with eight branches in four locations across the country. Staff told us about the enormous local demand for microfinance and introduced us to their clients.
Among others, we met with Bineta Diallo, who, despite being illiterate, runs a fabric and textiles shop employing four other women. Bineta got a loan from U-IMCEC four years ago to start her business, which has been growing ever since. The business has enabled Bineta to send her children to school and her eldest daughter to university”.
What was your personal high point of the tour?
“We visited a place in the Bignona region of southern Senegal named Kataba 1 and were greeted with music and dance by around 250 members of the Copex-Sud farmers’ cooperative. They were full of praise for Oikocredit Senegal in helping the cooperative develop. It was a great experience to meet with these people and hear how the cooperative had changed their lives.
We heard about how Oikocredit had co-founded a new company, Les Saveurs du Sud, to process mangoes for export, along with tomatoes, beans and cashews produced by the cooperative’s women’s association.
Copex-Sud’s first vice-president, Lamine Diassy, told us they trusted Oikocredit because it took the risk and also trusted them. He said he couldn’t wait to see mangoes from Les Saveurs du Sud in a Dutch supermarket this summer! Hearing those words and seeing the enthusiasm was most certainly a highlight for me.”
How do you think Oikocredit’s work can benefit as a result of the study tour?
“A study tour is not only about gathering pictures and figures; it is about understanding the circumstances and challenges of our work. Study tour participants now have a clearer picture of Oikocredit financing and the often long processes, which can take years as in the case of Les Saveurs du Sud.
I think it was also important for investors to meet our colleagues in the field. Finally, the tour has inspired the participants to promote Oikocredit among current and potential investors, so we can continue our work. In that sense, the study tour has succeeded.”