“Microcredit and women moneylenders: the shifting terrain of credit in rural Senegal”
This paper analyzes the new role rural Senegalese women play as moneylenders in their agrarian communities. The shifting terrain of local credit institutions parallels contemporary trends in rural development: state-led agricultural cooperatives, which were introduced in 1960, formerly bolstered the position of elite farmers who lent out cash and grain to poor farmers during the dry-season months of scarcity. Agricultural cooperatives were abolished in the mid-1980s as a result of structural adjustment, and elite farmers have now shifted to market-based activities, no longer offering credit to neighbors and kin. During the same period, nongovernmental organizations, adopting a neoliberalist ideology, created a number of village banks that target women as the principal recipients of cash loans to be invested in income-generating activities. A significant number of these women choose not to invest this money in trade activities but to recycle the cash as high-interest loans to other farmers--emulating in new guise the earlier credit strategies of elite farmers. This paper examines the institutional changes unraveling in rural Senegal that contribute to the rise of a new class of female moneylenders during the contemporary epoch of neoliberal reform and offers ethnographic descriptions of women's moneylending practices.