Fisherfolk group starts the journey to financial literacy through a savings program

by May Anne Ramos, UN Online Volunteer

September 6, 2021

Members of the United Fishermen’s Association of Capiñahan during one of the general assemblies in 2019 as part of the preparation for the kick-off of its biodiversity-friendly enterprise Photo: DENR-SMARTSeas PH/2019

The Filipino proverb “Kapag may isinuksok, may madudukot” underscores the importance of saving for life’s unexpected expenses. The members of the United Fishermen’s Association of Capiñahan (UFAC) in Bais City, Negros Oriental have started their journey to financial literacy and developed good savings habits thanks to the establishment of their savings club.

Akala namin noong una mahirap mag-ipon. ‘Yung ibang members ayaw sumali kasi baka hindi daw nila kaya (At first, we thought it was difficult to save. Some members did not want to join because they thought they will not be able to commit),” said Leonito Torres, UFAC vice president. But when the other members saw the benefits of saving, they were encouraged to save, too. “Nagsimula kami sa maliit na halaga lang para hindi maging alanganin para sa mga miyembro (We started saving small amounts so the members would not be put in a compromising position).”

UFAC’s savings club was established by Rare Philippines through the support of USAID’s Harnessing Markets to Secure Futures for Nearshore Fishers project. It was later sustained through the Vibrant Oceans Initiative of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which ran in parallel with the DENR-SMARTSeas PH Project in Tañon Strait Protected Seascape. UFAC was one of the eligible people’s organizations in the area that was awarded a low-value grant to establish their biodiversity-friendly enterprise (BDFE). This initiative boosted UFAC’s Capiñahan Eco Tour, which will soon offer eco-tour guiding, snorkeling set and boat rentals, and food catering services.

UFAC’s savings club and BDFE sustain the association’s efforts towards marine resources protection and conservation. They help UFAC members improve their well-being and earn from a sustainable livelihood while co-managing the Talabong Mangrove Park. Through saving, they are able to manage their finances and deal with unexpected life events.

The municipal water of Bais is part of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape which is the largest marine protected area in the country under NIPAS. Photo: DENR-SMARTSeas PH

UFAC developed a set of guidelines to help the members understand how the savings program works and how their money will be managed. The savings program is composed of 25 individuals, some of which are not members of UFAC.

UFAC realized that saving is a component of financial literacy, which will help them manage their resources properly and be ready for future emergencies. “Ang laking tulong sa amin nito lalo na sa mga bantay-dagat kasi minsan delayed ang suweldo nila. Hindi na sila masyadong nag-aalala ngayon kapag wala pa silang kita (This is a huge help to us especially to the sea patrollers because sometimes their salary is delayed. They do not worry as much now when they have no income),” Leonito explained.

In every association meeting, a member deposits PHP25 as savings and pays PHP10 for the group’s social fund. A member who was absent from the previous meeting or who has incurred tardiness also pays a penalty.  UFAC allows an account holder to buy up to five shares for more savings. All account holders keep a passbook, which, according to Leonito, boosts the self-esteem of members.

Masaya sila na nakakapag-ipon na sila kahit nagsimula sa maliit na halaga. Nakikita nila sa passbook nila, nagkakaroon sila ng kumpiyansa (They are happy that they can save starting in small amounts. They gain self-confidence when they see their savings grow in their passbook),” Leonito explained. Their payout is scheduled nine months after the start of a savings cycle or in December in time for the Christmas celebration.

The savings program also has a credit scheme to help people avoid going to loan sharks that offer loans at extremely high interest rates. UFAC members may avail of the “membership loan,” which comes with a loaned sack of rice and must be paid within three months with interest. Non-association members may also apply for a loan but with different payment terms.

Leonito also shared that they were trained to assess loan applications, manage loan schemes, and implement appropriate documentation to record the members’ transactions. They also value transparency, thus, all members are informed of the collection status and other concerns on the savings program every week.  Additionally, the savings program inspires the members to be smart in spending money and in setting financial goals for their association.

Gusto pa namin na mas mapalawak ang aming samahan at madagdagan ang kaalaman sa negosyo at kita ng mga miyembro (We want to expand our group and gain additional knowledge to improve our business and increase the members’ earnings),” Leonito said.