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Evening Standard - UK - 9 July Islamic banking , United kingdom. Friday, 7 July Islamic finance provides Kenyans with cushion against drought.

Hamara Hujale tries to keep an eye on two squirming children and a pot of simmering ugali — a white doughy dish — as she reaches for her buzzing phone. After speaking a few words, she hangs up and scribbles in a wrinkled notebook.

Hujale, who lives in the northeast Kenyan town of Wajir, used to make and sell kitchen utensils, "mostly to pastoralists who would use them as dowry for their daughters' weddings". So I had to find an alternative," she said.

Access to credit is critical to help communities prepare for and cope with increasingly frequent climate shocks like droughts and floods, experts say. But in this Kenyan region bordering Somalia, where over 90 percent of the population is Muslim, few banks or institutions offer financial services that comply with Islamic law, which bans gambling and speculation, including interest-bearing loans, said Diyad Hujale, a programme coordinator at Mercy Corps, a charity, and no relation to Hamara.

To remedy this, in a project helped set up the county's first private cooperative offering financial products in accordance with Islamic principles — such as interest-free loans, with no fees for late payment. Gladys Mutisya, manager of the Wajir sacco, said it targets "the unbanked: Diyad Hujale explained that while Sharia-compliant financial services already exist in Nairobi, the capital, and elsewhere in the country, they are too far away and expensive for local residents to access — so the braced programme supported the sacco to hire and train staff in Wajir.

The toughest challenge in this largely pastoralist county is prolonged drought, which Hamara Hujale said "affects everyone". In addition to her kitchen utensil business, she used to herd over goats - but drought has claimed many of them. Catherine Simonet of the Overseas Development Institute ODI , a London-based think tank, said that families with little or no disposable income are most affected when drought hits. Repeated droughts create "a vicious circle where they not only have no alternative income if they have lost their harvest, for example, but they are also made more vulnerable to the next shock", she said.

To avoid this situation, Mutisya said the sacco's clients tend to take out loans in "good times", such as the harvesting season, when they can most easily qualify for loans. They then hold the cash as easily accessible savings, so that in dry periods they can buy food and fodder for their animals to survive. While many clients use the sacco as a way to boost their cash on hand, others like Hamara Hujale take out larger loans to set up their own businesses.

That fills a key gap in the market that is not met by other banks or institutions, Diyad Hujale said. Simonet concurred that the potential for pastoralists to launch businesses is often underestimated.

Key to the sacco's model is trust, said Mutisya. We assess the viability of our clients' business ideas and we train them on issues like accounting. To minimise risk, the financial institution often lends money to groups rather than individuals.

Her dream, once she has repaid the loan in full, is to "buy a bigger car to serve as a taxi in rural areas". Since the sacco opened, about accounts have been created, Diyad Hujale said. But "we're only present in a 20km radius around the town, when the entire county needs us," he said. He hopes mobile phone technology will allow the initiative to expand and reach more people through an online platform, without the need to physically meet with an agent.

Simonet said a mobile service would make particular sense for pastoralists. So to them a physical branch or agents don't make sense," she said. Business Daily - Kenya - 7 July Africa , Islamic finance , Kenya. Tuesday, 4 July Islamic finance gets on its feet in North Africa. Arno Maierbrugger - Gulf Times - 4 July Africa , Islamic finance , North Africa.

Monday, 3 July Analysis: Can GCC Islamic banks escape the oil-price cycle? What was unthinkable, or at least not admitted, just years ago is beginning to happen in Islamic finance. They acknowledge that Islamic banking and financial services have largely failed to innovate at the speed they were expected to, and are got caught in the image warp of not being much different from conventional banking.

It is also admitted that, just like several other businesses, Islamic finance appears to be caught in an oil-price cycle, definitely in the Gulf and wider Middle East region.

While acceptance of ground realities is a positive sign, what seem amiss is collective efforts to tackle the challenges in an already fragile economic environment. But is this the only challenge and what needs to be done about it? Diagnosis as well as prescription differs with different stakeholders and so does priorities.

He says that current problems faced by Islamic finance relate to absence of common regulation and harmonization. According to him, these challenges have hit the growth and performance of the industry as a whole. However, he hastens to add that this could also be attributed to slowdown of global economic activity, which remained fragile with an uneven growth, thereby affecting Islamic business activities all over the world.

Hamdi, primary challenge for Islamic finance emerges from drop in oil and energy prices, which negatively affect growth of oil-exporting countries. There are industry insiders who have been making similar arguments for a long time now.

Damak, very few Islamic banks have set aside significant amounts of profit-equalization reserves, which they build in good years and use to smooth returns, if needed. That said, owing to their relatively low cost bases, GCC Islamic banks should be able to protect their profitability somewhat over the next two years. It would be unfair to suggest that it is all doom and gloom in the industry. In almost two decades, Islamic finance industry has indeed launched many policies to modernize its financial services.

According to him, as for oil price, both Islamic and conventional banks are affected and it is a matter of business cycle.