Kenya: Citizens Turn to Community Initiative Currency to Stay Afloat

Families in the low-income neighborhoods of Nairobi are using a virtual community currency to pay for food during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 500 people a day are signing up to use Kenyan Red Cross-supported community inclusion currency (CIC), known as Sarafu, to get food, soap and other essentials.
Jane Mutuku, 49, lives in Mukuru Kayaba, a slum in Kenya’s capital that's home to at least 80,000 people. The mother of six does manual work, but those jobs have been hard to come by in the past few months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These days, she buys her food using Sarafu.

Mutuku said that for now, she has no money. "I looked for a job the whole of yesterday," she said, "but didn’t get any job. So I decided to use my Sarafu to buy food. I have no food at home."

Peter Odhiambo runs a food store in the area.  His store is one of about 100 that accept the community currency.

"I can use the Sarafu to buy goods in the area," Odhiambo said. "For example, if I want to buy rice from the big stores, I buy using Sarafu. For the things that are not available in my community, I turn my Sarafu points into local currency within our established groups. The groups help us to turn our Sarafu into Kenya shillings."

The shops in the area do about $10,000 worth of business each day using Sarafu.

Development of currency

Sarafu was developed by Grassroots Economics and U.S.-based engineering firm BlockScience. Financial contributions from donors are put into a community fund. The fund is then leveraged to create and back the community credit.

Roy Odhiambo, an innovation officer at the Kenyan Red Cross, said that "one Sarafu is equal to one Kenya shilling. So when we register the community, we are able to give them a token of 400 shillings. Now they are able to purchase basic goods and services within the community. This Sarafu is able to multiply if they are engaged in income-generating activities or even their businesses.”

Like hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who have lost jobs, the people of Mukuru Kayaba struggle to make a living.

For Mutuku, she will be able to prepare at least one meal for the day, thanks to the community inclusion currency.

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