Leaving no one behind: financial inclusion for rural people

By Alice Marks 


Women in agriculture: A female farmer (left) and agrodealer (right).

As delegates return from last week’s Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) event in South Africa, the notion that we must “leave no one behind” will be at the forefront of the minds of all of those who attended. This commitment was not only the theme of GCARD3, but it is also a key message in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris agreement. It hopes that everyone, all over the world, can be included on the development agenda, so that each individual can achieve the rights described by the SDGs.

For the agri-food research discussed at GCARD3, an important ingredient for this will be ensuring that farmers, many of whom are women, are able to participate in the processes from which they will benefit, such as research and innovation. For example, participatory research asks farmers what their needs are, and helps to make their ideas a reality – you can find case studies here. Another important ingredient will be using interventions that turn research into impact that is scalable, as well as ensuring there is efficient evaluation to help learn from good and bad experiences and improve interventions in the future.

Young people: risk and opportunity


Young people from the Aven cooperative who received support Technoserve

Young people in rural areas are a group that is at particular risk of being left out and left behind. Indeed, 60% of unemployed people in Africa are between the ages of 15 and 24. However, because agriculture and agricultural value chains are such important drivers of the economy in developing countries, the sector has the potential to provide many opportunities for employment, better more stable incomes, and potentially more sustainable livelihoods. [Read more…]

Accelerating change for smallholders with digital technology

By Alice Marks


Using drones for agriculture. Credit: Lima Pix (Flickr)

According to experts at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, we are sitting on the edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution builds on the third, which was the digital revolution, and is predicted to blur the lines between the physical and digital world through innovations such as artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, and the use of Big Data, which will integrate digital technologies into daily lives ever more closely. It is predicted to be exponentially fast and far reaching in its scope and impact, transforming entire production, governance and management systems in an unprecedented way. Whether this will mean “promise or peril” for humanity will likely only be clear with the benefit of hindsight, but optimists hope that it offers the opportunities to improve lives and help to eradicate poverty through improved connectivity and better access to resources.

The fourth revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, will build on the digital revolution, but there is still work to be done on bringing the digital revolution to developing countries, particularly to rural areas. Digital technology has the potential to accelerate change and reduce isolation for rural people, while agricultural development has the potential to support the reduction of inequality and diminish poverty gaps. Put the two together, and there could be a plethora of new opportunities for smallholder farmers. For example, electricity, internet and cell coverage can help smallholder farmers to access information on best prices, weather forecasts, and allow them to share knowledge and expertise. [Read more…]

Microfinance in Africa

ImageMicrofinance, “the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor”, has been hailed as a route through which those traditionally unable to borrow from banks can develop their businesses and ultimately escape poverty. The development of microfinance in its current form is credited to Dr Mohammed Yunnus in the 1970s, who went on to found the Grameen Bank in 1983 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006

The World Bank estimates that some 160 million people in developing countries are served by microfinance. In Africa, as of 2011, there are 8 million microfinance borrowers and microinsurance coverage has increased some 200% between 2008 and 2011.

The popularity and use of microfinance is growing in Africa, as can be seen from upcoming conferences in the continent. The Africa Microinsurance Microfinance Conference 2013 and the West Africa Microfinance Conference are set to take place in March 2013. In other parts of the world, the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development are hosting a seminar this month entitled “Joining the dots: financial inclusion for smallholder farmers.” The International Labour Organization this year has published a series of papers on microinsurance.

Microfinance provision has also expanded beyond business, and new initiatives such as Kiva allow individuals to provide microloans to projects in developing countries.

But experts warn that microfinance is not a panacea for poverty and is instead a tool that must be used responsibly. In some cases microfinance has led to people being trapped in a debt cycle and unable to escape poverty. A systematic review of the impact of microfinance in Africa by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) of the University of London lays out some of the pitfalls around microfinance.

For more information on microfinance, visit CGAP’s Microfinance Gateway, a comprehensive online resource on financial services for the poor.