Savings for health: Harnessing rotating savings and credit associations to improve healthy food choices

South Africa has sub-Saharan Africa’s highest levels of obesity, with approximately 70% of women and 30% of men in South Africa either overweight or obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, which account for 51% of all deaths in South Africa. The country’s high levels of obesity are attributed to increased consumption of unhealthy, highly processed food. Access to highly processed foods is increasing, especially among the poor, as large food retail companies expand into low-income areas. This project aims to explore the potential of rotating savings and credit associations, known as stokvels, to address the obesity burden in South Africa.

Approximately 21% of South Africa’s 800,000 registered stokvels are grocery stokvels. These grocery stokvels, comprised mostly of low-income women, typically leverage collective buying power to garner discounts on groceries with a long shelf life from retailers and wholesalers. Most of these items are highly processed or energy dense foods, often of low nutritional quality. This project aims to determine the manner and extent to which grocery stokvels could be leveraged in order to increase demand for and access to affordable, healthy food in South Africa. A key anticipated result is the development of a refined and testable theory of change regarding the potential of stokvels to increase demand for and access to healthy, affordable food.

Project ID


Project status



30 months

IDRC Officer

Samuel Oji Oti

Total funding

CA$ 182,300


South of Sahara


Food, Environment, and Health

Project Leader

Estelle Lambert


University of Cape Town

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website