Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fish Outlet and Fashion Centre

That was the sign above a store we passed last week in the car on the way from Mulanje. Wasn’t quick enough to get a picture but just the idea of combining a “fish outlet” and “fashion centre” made me smile. Of course, one of the nurses we met in northern Malawi had a thriving business selling dried fish as well as used clothing from a couple of tables outside her home so perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all.

In fact, have noticed that many of the nurses who appear to be making a go of things in rural Malawi have some kind of business income beyond their nursing salary or even their locum payments (more on locums in a future post). They often grow maize (both for themselves and for sale) or keep chickens as well.

Not every nurse is necessarily a good farmer or businessperson, of course. But if you’re trying to figure out how to make nursing in rural areas more attractive, it seems you might pay attention to opportunities for creating outside income—and not just pocket change but real income for school fees and the like.

Professional groups like nurses might be a good target audience for micro-credit enterprises—provided, as always, things are done correctly with plenty of education about what it means to borrow money. One idea: loans for fertilizer that make higher crop yields possible.

Which brings up another point: lack of access to affordable credit. I’ve been astonished at the high interest rates in Malawi. If you can get a loan from the bank, the rate is around 25%. Micro-credit and private money-lenders charge a lot more.

I’ve seen a couple of billboards for Blue, the South African financial company, and met a man in Lilongwe who works for them. Their effective interest rate is 50%, he told me. I have been told of a local micro-credit group here in Neno that charges 60% (and apparently doesn’t have many customers.) The loans may be unsecured but at those interest rates, I can’t see how anyone can get ahead.

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