When COVID-19 forced businesses to close and people to stay home in Kuajok, South Sudan, families had to spend their savings to survive. When things reopened, many were unable to restart their businesses.

But for widow and mother of four, Abuk Lino, her savings group enabled her to not only feed her family during the pandemic shutdowns, but to keep her small shop going after the village market reopened.

“I am lucky that I joined this savings group,” said Abuk. “My only hope for living during these hard times is our saving group. I got loans from my group, even when meetings were temporarily suspended. I used these loans to do small business to feed my family. I am lucky that my group has advanced money for me to continue with the business.”

With disruptions to markets and no access to banking services, savings groups continued to be a critical economic pillar in South Sudan during the pandemic. Groups offered members access to credit and the ability to stay afloat and bounce back during what has proven to be an economic crisis as well as a health crisis.

Skyrocketing inflation and the decrease in value of the South Sudanese Pound in local markets challenged the sustainability of savings groups in 2020. But groups that put their training to use and innovated, survived.

Take the Cinhuk Cien savings group, for example. After the 36-member group received training on livelihood diversification and investments, they decided to purchase a 30-acre piece of land and groundnut seeds. Groundnuts are a staple food and fast-moving commodity in the region. The group estimated their crop would yield about 200 bags of groundnuts at harvest, which would earn them 2.5 million SSP (about $8,000 USD).

The group’s vice chair, Mama Ayak, explained their strategy. “The South Sudanese pound is currently losing value, so keeping the money idle in the box is not earning members any profit. But investing this money will give them good return next season. Many members of the community have been affected because of Coronavirus and they have no money for farming during this season. We wanted to invest our savings in farming because next year there will be hunger in this community and many people will be looking for food to buy, so they will buy our groundnuts and we will get good profit from our investment,” she said.

Read the full article about village savings groups by Cathy Herholdt at Global Washington.