“Without access to credit, my life would have been very different and that of my children also.” These are the words of Assan Diarra, a member of the KAFO JIGINEW network of financial cooperatives, one of Développement international Desjardins (DID)’s partner institutions. The mother of six children and grandmother of eleven is known as the fish vendor in her village of Fana, in central Mali, since for forty years she has sold fresh and grilled fish.

If access to credit has changed her life, it is because Assan Diarra was careful to use it wisely and prudently. When she started her business, she ran into problems that made it difficult to reimburse her loan with the women’s group. “My daughter Djidika introduced me to the group and that is where I began with credit.” Respectful of the solidarity and commitment required by a group loan, she worked unceasingly to finally pay off all of her debt, something of which she is still very proud today.

This capacity to honour her financial commitments earned her the confidence of the loan officer at the financial cooperative in Fana who suggested she apply for an individual loan. This loan provided the leverage she needed to develop her family business and it was the beginning of an ongoing business relationship. “At first, our main problem was preserving the fish,” she said. Since she could not store large quantities, she had to buy fresh fish each day, which limited her sales possibilities. Despite the opportunities that she saw, she did not have the means to buy what she dreamed of, a freezer! “It was the loan officer at the financial cooperative who suggested I take out an individual loan. I am very grateful to her because this loan provided me with the 50,000 CFA francs (CAN $120) that I needed to buy my first freezer. I was very happy! Over the years, access to individual loans enabled me to invest and in my business and develop it. It also gave me the financial resources to build our family home, buy a cart, and purchase cattle and sheep to raise. For our family, credit has been indispensable!”

Assan Diarra’s children are also involved in the family business and they too have been able to obtain loans, thanks to their mother’s credit history and her guarantee. “I am also very proud of my grandchildren who all go to school. If the business had not been such a success I doubt that we would have had the means to provide them with access to education.”

While she has more than enough family projects to keep her busy, Assan Diarra is also committed to supporting other business projects. At the financial cooperative, she guarantees loans for women entrepreneurs in whom she believes, so that they too can be given the helping hand that was so useful for her: access to credit. “The loans that I was given by my financial cooperative were significant for my family and I want other women entrepreneurs to benefit in the same way.”

Beyond credit, the possibility of getting advice from employees at the cooperative pleases her greatly, since she is aware that she did not have the opportunity to benefit from education when she was young. “We don’t have much education, so when the people at the cooperative take the time to explain things and come to meet with us we appreciate it very much.” The advisory approach developed through the DID professionalization of agricultural credit methodologies project seeks to provide women entrepreneurs such as Assan Diarra with simple tools that enable them to better exploit their business activities. For example, Adama Malé, the loan officer at the Fana financial cooperative, is assisting the Diarra family in setting up an operating account which will help them maintain a profitable and sustainable business!