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     Volume 6 Number 5, May 31, 2012


How credit improved the cow:
A credit union experience in Uganda
By Sheldon Wagner
CCA volunteer credit union coach Sheldon Wagner's long and bumpy journey to the small rural Ugandan town of Busiu was well worth the effort. There he was met by a man with a cow named Patience, and a new way to light his house and power his cooker.   
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Yefusa Nambafu with his cow Patience
Yefusa Nambafu with Patience the cow.

 At 64 (give or take a couple of years, he joked)Yefusa Nambafu was living on what had been his parent's land, and their parent's land before them. Until just recently, he had never lived in a home with an installed fuel source, or dependable powered lighting. He was excited to show us how his biogas plant worked and to relate how it had changed his life, and I was keen to see it in action.




The tour began with an introduction to the primary fuel source - a cow named Patience.


Previously, Patience only provided milk for Yefusa and his family. Now the animal's dung is providing both energy and light. The initial biogas plant is fairly basic - three concrete vessels connected by flow-through channels: a waste matter storage bin (in which animal waste and water are mixed together), a digester (a round, sealed tank to which a flexible gas line is connected), and a holding tank containing the final digestate material which can be used as compost and garden fertilizer.

The design relies on gravity and displacement to move the liquid waste material - which Yefusa referred to as `power juice'- through the system; a combination of natural heat produced by the sun and anaerobic bacterial activity inside the digester generates flammable gas (methane). The methane then travels along the gas line to fuel both a single-burner cooking stove and gas lamp within Yefusa's home.  

Thanks to this new fuel source, Yefusa and his family no longer have to collect as much firewood, or buy as much charcoal, paraffin or kerosene to provide cooking heat and light. The whole family now benefits from the gas burner stove, and from having light in the evenings to do important things like schoolwork.

Not only does the biogas plant require little in the way of maintenance, Yefusa estimates that the installation will pay for itself within four years.

Yefusa is very thankful that his local credit union was willing to provide the financing and support needed to make his dream a reality;a project the local bank turned down because the loan was just too small.

Yefusa was tearful as he shared how he expects this newfound source of energy to improve the lives of his family, and especially those of his four grandchildren, for many years to come.

I saw many other examples of individuals who have benefited from being members of a local credit union. Some were using loans to purchase bodabodas (motorcycles) to earn money by transporting people and goods. Another member I met used a series of loans to build and staff a primary school. It began with one teacher and 20 children in 2009, and now employs 13 teachers who educate over 500 children. Others have used loans to build small rice processing mills, to help pay for oxen and a plow to expand marketable crop production, even to fund the purchase of breeding stock to help grow a piggery - a business which now provides a good income for three families in a community I visited.

Sheldon Wagner and Denis Wabuyi
Sheldon Wagner with Denis Wabuyi (credit union accountant) in Busiu, Uganda.

This past January, coinciding with the UN's declaration of 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives, CCA once again sent 22 volunteer credit union coaches from across Canada into Ghana, Malawi and Uganda to provide guidance and mentorship to the management and Boards of more than 35 different credit unions. We focused on Board governance, fiduciary and operational best practices, loan and credit management, savings and capital-building, as well as dealing with marketing, cash security and IT-related issues.

What makes this program so uniquely effective (and so special to me personally) is that the training and support we provided has an immediate and positive impact on the credit unions we visit - on their staff, their management, and their boards. CCA's coaching program enables direct one-to-one communication and transfer of knowledge, financial skills and expertise learned by successful Canadian credit union professionals to those who are willing to learn and who can most benefit from the experience. The impact of this interaction improves the practices and strengthens the operations of member-owned, socially-minded credit union institutions which are trying to grow and best serve their communities' needs, often in difficult economic environments.

Today, just one-in-five Ugandans has access to formal banking services that we in Canada take for granted (such as having access to savings accounts, credit, loan products and insurance). More than half of all Ugandans remain completely `unbanked' by either the formal or co-operative sectors.

In rural Africa especially, credit unions play an important role in promoting the growth of local small and medium community businesses, and in providing financial support for a multitude of income-generating activities. This grass-roots growth leads to improved economic well-being of the credit union membership, individual empowerment, greater household and community stability, an orientation toward the future, and community participation by marginalized groups, such as women and youth.

Here in Canada, the services provided by credit unions and other business cooperatives are no less important to our communities. Indeed, more than five million Canadians now belong to a credit union. There is so much value to be gained from membership, whether you're a small business owner in Edmonton, a farmer from Saskatoon, or my friend Yefusa from Busiu, Uganda.  


- A Senior Manager of Treasury Operations for Capital Power Corporation in Edmonton, Sheldon Wagner coached credit unions for CCA in Ghana's Central and Greater Accra regions on a previous overseas mission In 2006, he undertook an assignment in Cambodia for CCA to conduct a field operations review of rural community banking practices, led financial management workshops, and helped to develop better principles of cash management to address the needs of Cambodian communities.















This publication is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Cette publication est réalisée avec l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada accordé par l'entremise de l'Agence canadienne de développement international (ACDI).