“Faftai!” Covid Revival Loans Finance Kava Micro-Entrepreneurs in Vanuatu

Claire KellyAsia and the Pacific, COVID-19, Field Team Blogs, Microcredit, Microfinance Partners

Since 2012, Lorina had worked at her own tourism business, selling souvenirs to tourists, particularly those who would arrive on cruise ships to Port Vila.  Lorina joined Whole Planet Foundation’s microfinance partner South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) Vanuatu in 2017.  She had previously been involved with a different microfinance program, however she found that SPBD gave longer loan terms which made the loan easier for her to repay.  She is now the Secretary for her SPBD group.  This means that she has responsibilities to count the group’s cash and make sure all accounts are reconciled.  In addition to her role as secretary, she is also a borrower of SPBD herself.  As of early 2020, she had invested her loan of 150,000 vatu (≈$1300 USD) primarily into her souvenir business.  However, on the days when the cruise ships didn’t come to Port Vila, Lorina was also selling kava juice in the evenings.

a group of people sitting around a table

Lorina (second from right) with her SPBD loan group.

Vanuatu has been lucky in that they have not been affected by too many cases of COVID-19.  However, when the borders were closed, the markets that depended on the tourism industry quickly became deserted and Lorina’s tourism business dried up.  In addition, Lorina’s partner works at a resort and his hours were reduced due to the tourism lull.  Therefore, Lorina decided to shift her business focus from souvenirs to kava.

woman standing in front of an empty kiosk

Lorina standing on the site where her souvenir shop used to be.

In response to the market closures, SPBD Vanuatu first provided borrowers with a 2-month grace period for loan repayment in order to allow breathing room for their clients.  Then they launched their “Revival Loan Product” with the aim to meet the needs of borrowers, like Lorina, who now needed to recapitalize new businesses.  Lorina took a Revival loan of 75,000 vatu (≈$670) in June 2020 and she invested in bags of kava.  It has not been easy to procure the kava from the islands during the pandemic as there has been lots of disruption to normal transport.  However, she has worked with relatives from her partner’s home island to source her kava.

A photo of kava root.

According to The Guardian, kava is Vanuatu’s largest industry (followed by tourism, coffee, cocoa and coconut).  And with the increasing popularity of local consumption, there are more than 300 kava bars in the capital city.  Lorina’s second business is high opportunity / high competition!  Her busiest days are government pay days and Sundays (when many other kava vendors are closed.)  She focusses on the quality of her product and customer service for her 20-30/week customer base.  Sometimes Lorina will get help from a relative if she is very busy.

The additional cash injection from the SPBD Revival loan meant that Lorina could keep a steady supply of kava products and tools for her business and also continue to pay for her 11-year old child’s school fees.  Lorina is saving money so that she and her partner can purchase a piece of land and build a family home.

Lorina standing in front of her kava stand.

As Whole Planet Foundation’s global partners and the clients they serve have all been affected by the pandemic in various country specific ways, WPF has tried to offer flexibility.  In the case of SPBD Vanuatu, this meant expediting approved funding and modifying the original project description so that SPBD Vanuatu could get fresh business loans out to their existing clients who needed to revive their businesses.  Overall, WPF has been impressed with the resilience of both our partnership network and the clients that they work with.