ENJIL DISTRICT, Herat Province – Ghulam Nabi, 48, holds the handle of a metal bucket with his calloused hands and fills it with wheat grains. He pours the grains into the mill’s feed chute, and the coarse grains are ground to fine flour. The noise of the power generator breaks the rural quiet of the village. Near the mill, children play in the water and rest under trees.
Ghulam Nabi founded the mill only a few months ago in his home village of Noqra in Enjil district in Herat Province. He bought mill machinery using money from a loan provided by the Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA). “Before buying the flour mill machine, I was unemployed and had a hard time,” he says. “Thank God, I took a loan from the VSLA and started the mill. Now I run the mill and have employed two other workers as well.” All the villagers bring their wheat grains to his mill to be ground to flour.
A short distance from the mill, members of the Noqra VSLA have gathered in a house for a regular meeting. First, the Saving Groups (SGs), which make up the VSLA, collect the weekly savings of 20 afghanis (approximately $0.30) from each member. The weekly savings make them eligible to take out a loan in the future.
After the collection, members discuss problems, successes and potential projects for the community. “The association has led to people uniting and solving their problems quickly through sharing them on this platform,” says Abdul Ghafor, 58, chair of the Noqra VSLA.
The VSLA is a direct result of activities of the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP). Started in 2010, AREDP is a program of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), which aims to increase employment and income of rural men and women and enhance economic mobilization and activities by organizing the rural poor into Savings Groups, Village Savings and Loan Associations, and Enterprise Groups (EGs).
The program provides technical support to these groups so as to build a financial discipline through savings and internal lending practices. AREDP receives funding support from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).