For over sixty years, credit unions have been the go-to lending institutions for low income families in the country. With the introduction of the Belize Rural Finance Program, the members of the Belize Credit Union League now offer additional services to the residents of rural communities. Since its implementation in February 2010, the program has made it to all districts except Stann Creek; that is until today. The St. John’s Credit Union (SJCU) is providing a micro financing officer to implement the program in Dangriga. News Five’s Delahnie Bain was on hand for the signing of the agreement with the SJCU, which lays out the responsibilities of the league and the credit union.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

An Institutional Capacity Building Agreement was signed today, officially introducing the Belize Rural Finance Program to the Stann Creek District. The program is now operating in all districts and is facilitated by the members of Belize Credit Union League. And, as the name implies, its target is the poor population in the rural communities.

Ervin Perez

Ervin Perez, Programme Manager, Belize Rural Finance Program

“We know that there is a tremendous problem of poverty in both rural and urban Belize. Pour program addresses the rural problems and its goal is to reduce that poverty level by providing financial services; micro financial services to the low income households, women and youth in the country. There is, of course, an assumption made that by providing micro finance services to these individuals, we will be able to help them increase their income and assets and therefore, improve their quality of life.”

Corine Fuller

Corine Fuller, Executive Director, Belize Credit Union League Ltd.

“I think this program fulfills the philosophy of credit unions in Belize, which is people helping people. It gives us a tremendous opportunity to target need productive people in the rural areas, to improve their standard of living, to assist them to save and to build their capital base.”

Monitoring and evaluation officer, Lorne Solis, explains that the program takes a multi-faceted approach.

Lorne Solis, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Belize Rural Finance

Lorne Solis

“The first component, which as Ervin described, is a capacity building component, and that involve training and equipment support being provided by the program to participating credit unions to be able to provide the financial services to people in the rural communities. So that in a nutshell is the capacity building component. The second component which goes hand in hand with that is the shares and savings incentive. And that scheme is geared towards attracting new members to the credit unions. The way it is doing that is by providing a small incentive in the form of a grant to attract these members. The individuals who become a member of the credit unions and are eligible for the grant, will have to participate in training activities in order to get the grant. The third component is the rural credit fund and that we intend to launch in the next couple of months. And that is funds that are being made available to lend to the credit unions who would then lend to the final client.”

And while there are numerous benefits for the residents who apply to the program, according to the league’s executive director, Corine Fuller, it also helps to develop the participating credit unions.

Corine Fuller

“The benefits of this program will, of course, increase membership in the credit unions because we are—the focus is on increasing membership in the credit unions. Also, it will increase the capital base of the credit unions because as members begin to save and they keep their savings in the credit union, it will increase the capital base as well. The program will also provide significant resources to credit unions and the league to improve their capacity to provide services to existing members and their target members.”

But just how much funds are available to keep the initiative running?

Lorne Solis

“The entire project is just over six million US dollars. For the institutional capacity building component it’s about one point six million US dollars that is being made available to provide training, to provide buildings and equipment and to provide additional support that the credit unions need to provide the services. In terms of the shares and savings scheme, the total that is available is six hundred and thirty-three thousand US dollars. And for the rural credit fund, two point two-five US millions dollars is available to be managed by the DFC for lending to credit unions over the next five years.”

The St. John’s Credit Union also used the event to introduce Urceline Garnett, the program’s first female microfinance officer who will be operating in Belmopan. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

The Belize Rural Finance Programme is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Central American Bank for Economic Immigration, the Government of Belize and the Credit Unions.

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