Credit Union Group Invests in Afghanistan
World Council of Credit Unions,Inc. (WOCCU) is expanding its Afghanistan project by $27.7 million with $8.3 million funding from the Microfinance Support Facility for Afghanistan(MISFA) and a $19.4 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In northern Afghanistan with MISFA funding, World Council is establishing five additional credit unions and points of service, designed as investment and finance cooperatives (IFCs), in order to comply with Islamic law. World Council will also provide continued technical support to two established IFCs in Sheberghan and Mazar-e-Shariff.
World Council will establish and support up to 20 IFCs and points of service in the northern, southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan with funding from USAID. As part of its Agriculture, Rural Investment and Enterprise Strengthening (ARIES) Program, USAID has granted $80 million to the Academy for Educational Development (AED). As an "associate" to AED, World Council will receive $15.4 million, along with $4 million in the form of a convertible subordinated debt-to-equity financial product to be invested in the project IFCs.
Though Afghanistan once boasted a strong agricultural export of livestock and horticultural products, private capital investment hasdropped in recent years and many farmers have turned to illicit opiumproduction to make ends meet. The three-year ARIES program aims to support people who have shifted away from this business by strengthening the agricultural sector with innovative agricultural lending and micro-entrepreneurial loans.
"The people of Afghanistan are proud and hardworking. They need nothing more than a bit of assistance from the rest of the world to help sort out their lives," says Randall Spears, World Council project director forAfghanistan. "The farmer wants to farm, and the trader wants to trade," he adds. "Although there are multiple challenges to be faced -- language, triballoyalties, even the recent influx of anti-governmental forces -- one stillgets the sense that these are a people that are on the move toward a better future," Spears continues. "We hope that this project will be one of those vehicles that will help drive them to that better future. In a land that isprimarily cash and carry, World Council is superbly placed to assist in thedevelopment of a microfinance structure for this region of the world."
The WOCCU-Afghanistan project began in 2004 with backing from MISFA. Credit unions were a new concept in the war-torn country, so World Council program staff worked with communities at the grassroots level to educate staff and potential members. At the end of 2005, almost 3,000 Afghans belonged to the two credit unions in Sheberghan and Mazar-e-Shariff innorthern Afghanistan.
"We've been planting seed the past two years, and it's bearing fruit," World Council deputy project director Edgar Comeros says. "The idea we'veplanted is still very new," he continued, emphasizing Afghanistan's fragile state. "And because it's new, we need to nurture it, be there and be with them."