In a small village along the northern coast of Mozambique, a remote region where electricity is scarce and roads are nearly non-existent, a group of mostly women in colorful traditional dress are seated in a circle on the floor of a community building. One by one, each person stands and walks to the middle of the circle, where she hands a bill or two to another villager—the congregation’s de facto bank teller. “Two hundred,” says one woman, then waits for confirmation that the transaction has been recorded.
At first, this modest gathering doesn’t seem to have much to do with conservation. But here, in Serema, in Mozambique’s Primeiras e Segundas region, villagers are taking part in a savings and loan association that’s revolutionizing how they manage their financial and natural resources.
Primeiras e Segundas is one of the poorest regions of one of the world’s poorest countries, where 70% of the population relies on natural resources to live. For many, that means life is lived on the edge—often just one monsoon or bad harvest away from economic ruin. Families must work hard to keep food on the table and generate enough income to pay for essentials they can’t produce, such as medicine or school fees.
Along the coast, most households rely on a combination of fishing and farming to survive, eating much of what they produce and selling what they can. But overfishing and commercial fishing vessels have depleted fish stocks closer to land, which over time has forced villagers to fish farther and farther out to sea in their rickety, unreliable “dhows.” Agriculture provides an alternative to fishing, but yields are often low and climate change is shifting weather patterns in unpredictable ways, making farming increasingly difficult.
As pressures on ecosystems grow, people urgently need alternative sources of income beyond fishing and farming.