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The African Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (AFRACA) and International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) grant project the Rural Finance Knowledge Management Partnership (KMP) in East and Soutehrn Africa (ESA) wish to announce their joint Regional Rural and Agricultural Finance Thematic conference on the theme: regional experiences on knowledge sharing and networking in rural and agricultural financing”, to be held in Harare, Zimbabwe on 10-12 June 2015. The hosts of the conference include; the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, CBZ Holdings Ltd. and AgriBank Zimbabwe.

The conference will bring together approximately 200 participants from IFAD-funded projects in ESA and West and Central Africa (WCA), AFRACA member institutions, Development partners, Agricultural Investors, regional knowledge networks, farmer organizations, and other stakeholders within and outside the continent on a platform to reflect on knowledge management practice in the rural and agricultural finance field in the last 10 years.

The conference will focus on how knowledge sharing and networking has contributed to the development of appropriate, scalable, and sustainable rural finance systems in Africa that are needed to secure food security, improve rural livelihoods, and achieve economic growth.  It will explore the extent to which new knowledge and lessons from the new successes in rural finance are disseminated, transferred, and deployed in advancing rural finance. 

Furthermore, it will look at the various knowledge sharing and networking models/initiatives implemented by IFAD and other partners, and what role they have played in contributing to the rural finance in the region. An important focus will also be on what challenges, lessons, and best practices has emerged oover the years in as far as knowledge sharing and networking is concerned; and how KM practice can be furhter strenghtened for the benefit of development. 
KMP is a 10 year old project financed by IFAD. It is designed to simultenously tap inot and build its intellectual capital in advancing the field of rural finance. The partnership brings together collaboration and synergies that exists between various institutions involved in the promtion of rural finance in Africa. these include; IFAD suported programmes in ESA and West and Central Africa (WCA), AFRACA, AGRA, FAO, GIZ, CGAP and IFAD itself. This partnsership has since been institutionalised in ESA.
The KMP grant whose Phase III comes to a close in 2015, will be sharing its 10 years of experience in the promotion of rural finance in ESA. It is expected that the inputs from this conference will be used to define a new vision and strategy for KMP's Scale-Up Phase.  
You can make confirmation to participate in the conference online on our website www.ruralfinancenetwork.org

We look forward to meeting you in Harare Zimbabwe in 10-12 June 2015. 

Miriam Cherogony
KMP Coordinator 

Written by Maria Hartl, Senior Technical Specialist - Gender and Social Equity at IFAD

EXPO 2015: Si parla di donne

What is the link between food security, gender equality and microfinance? Participants at the EXPO Milan workshop on “Gender, food security & microfinance“, organized by the Fondazioni Pangea Onlus and Un Raggio di Luce Onlus, explored this topic on 13 May 2015. It was the first of a series of five seminars on “Finance for food”, sponsored by the Rete Italiana di Microfinanza RITMI and the Italian Sustainable Investment Forum (FFS). The aim is to identify and highlight the best practices in financing food security and sustainable agriculture, both at national and international level.

Panellists at the Finance for Food seminar at Expo 2015.
©IFAD/Ilaria Marcelli

In her opening remarks, Simona Lanzoni, PANGEA’s Vice-President and the moderator of the workshop, emphasized the women - food security nexus. She highlighted the importance of appropriate and context-specific ways to deliver micro-finance services to women so that they can contribute to the food security of poor families. To do so they need to be part of multiple interventions that complement each other.

“Is there a social dimension to food security?” Sabrina Aguiari (Tulane University Food Security Summer Studies) demonstrated how the concept of food security has evolved over time, from the World Food Summit 1971 to subsequent food summits in 1996, 2002 and 2009. She dwelt in particular on the four dimensions of food and nutrition security - availability, accessibility, utilization and stability. She also underlined the shift from a focus on the household level to the individual, which helped to highlight the gender differences.

Touching also on the right to food and the debate about food sovereignty, Aguiari emphasized the importance of a feminist perspective, in particular when considering women’s invisible and un-counted work in the care economy and in food production. In her view, women’s access to micro-finance should be seen in the context of the four dimensions of food and nutrition security. Each dimension required different financial inputs and services.

“Can women have access to productive resources to ensure food security?” That was the opening question of microfinance expert Smita Premchander who shared good practices and challenges from Sampark, a project in Koppal district, North Karnataka (India) of which she is the General Secretary. Formal and informal groups as well as individuals started income-generating programmes, established enterprises, and carried out other gender related activities, with the support of Fondazioni Pangea Onlus.

Women in 35 villages organized into 160 Self Help Groups (SHGs) and engaged in savings and credit activities. By regrouping 15-20 SHGs into cluster associations, they started to play an important role in designing credit systems, monitoring groups, auditing groups annually and implementing enterprise development activities. Women also registered as cooperatives. Premchander underlined the importance of savings, which enable women not only to hand out small credits to each other but also to take bigger credits on behalf of the clusters and then pass them on to members.

Paola Ciardi, International Consultant and Nepal Country Coordinator for Fondazione Un Raggio di Luce Onlus, reported about a project in Jumla (Nepal) with a focus on microfinance, agricultural development, food security and women’s empowerment. At the request of the community, the project trained female health facilitators, built water mills and restored drinking water systems, to lighten women’s workload.

In 2015, a special micro-credit fund for women was introduced. It includes a clause that requires husbands to sign a contract and agree to support women’s greater participation in decision-making. The project also trained 33 community gender facilitators (women and men) who monitor the project and have made commitments to promote gender equality.

Participants at the Finance for Food seminar at Expo 2015.
©IFAD/Ilaria Marcelli

In my presentation on rural microfinance and food security, I spoke about IFAD's experiences in empowering rural women through improved access to financial products (savings, loans, insurance, remittances transfers) and improved food security. Women make up a massive 72 per cent of the 19.1 million voluntary savers in IFAD-supported operations. My main message was that access to financial services must be linked to wider sustainable development processes including access to markets, value chain development, gender equality, strengthened local economies and political stability.

Overall, the expansion of microfinance since the 1990s has significantly increased women’s access to loans and savings, not only contributing to poverty reduction and financial sustainability, but also to a series of ‘virtuous spirals’.

First, increasing women’s access to microfinance services can lead to their economic empowerment enabling them to access significant amounts of money in their own right for the first time. Second, increasing women’s access to microfinance can increase household wellbeing (health, education, happiness). Even where women are not directly engaged in income earning activities, channeling credit or savings options to households through women may enable them to play a more active role in decision-making at household level. Third, a combination of women's increased economic activity and increased decision-making in the household can lead to wider social and political empowerment and gender equality.

Rural finance is key for agricultural production and food security, thus improving income, household food consumption and health. Women are important actors in agricultural production and food processing and preparation. Nutrition-sensitive agricultural programmes can channel investments into women-specific activities that have a direct impact on food and nutrition security and generate income at same time. These can include small ruminants, fishponds and aquaculture, horticulture and kitchen gardens and forestry products, just to name a few.

In the lively debate that followed the presentations, a number of important questions were raised:

  • Why is financial literacy so important? Financial literacy is more than reading and basic maths. And it’s more than learning about financial products, interest rates and the importance of paying back on time. It is about managing one’s resources, having a vision on where to go and which goals to reach. That’s why the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) is an excellent tool to enable beneficiaries, who often are illiterate, to draw up a vision, set a trajectory and to take one step at a time. 
  • How can we reach the very poor and most vulnerable? The Sampark project particularly targeted the poorest women who also have the least capacity to be able to give free time. Therefore, such programmes call for a lot of investments, by NGOs and donors, in terms of trainings and capacity building. At the same time, when resources are scarce, they also call for sacrifices from the women themselves. This means that such programmes need to be long term and well funded, and therefore can be only limited in scale. Matching funds and guarantee schemes are additional means to ensure inclusion of the poor, but always should be accompanied by training and mentoring. 
  • Why is women’s empowerment such a long process? In the case of Sampark it took 5-10 years to reach some levels of empowerment, which are different for every woman. The ‘virtuous spirals’ of women and microfinance demonstrate how long it can take to change mentalities and perceptions – of the women themselves, of men, be they husbands, fathers or brothers; of mothers-in law and other relatives who have a say on women’s mobility and actions; of religious and political leaders; and in case of rural finance, of policy makers and stakeholders in public and private sector. 
  • Why is the link to food security and nutrition so important? Women farmers and smallholders play a key role in agricultural production through their work on the farm, in the field or in the kitchen gardens. Women are also involved in food storage, processing and preparation. Access to credit or saving schemes, combined with training, can enable women to improve their skills in all sectors related to farming and food processing. Ultimately the greater availability of nutritious food ─ not only staples such as rice, but also vegetables and protein ─ combined with women’s improved knowledge about diets and food preparation will ensure greater food security, better nutrition of the family and reduce child malnutrition. 
Expo Milano.
©IFAD/Maria Hartl

Now to the EXPO. The workshop was held at the Cascina Triulza, a building on the EXPO site which was renovated and especially designed for use by civil society organizations. It took some hurdles to reach it. Although the EXPO had opened 13 days earlier, we were the first customers for our taxi driver to ask for this destination and he promptly left us at the back entrance. The long walk to Cascina Triulza enabled us to have encounters with huge crowds of school children and visitors and provided a good glimpse of many beautiful national pavilions along the way.

There were some challenges. Only a small group, most of them connected to the organizers, had gathered. Some EXPO visitors and school children ventured from time to time into the conference room, listened for a while and left again. Through the open windows, we could hear the truffle sellers go about their business and workers doing last minute work with their drills.

In conclusion, it was a pity that the event was not more widely publicized and covered by livestreaming in order to attract a larger audience. Ordinary EXPO visitors seem to have other priorities. Who would pay 36 Euros for a day pass and then sit 3 hours in a workshop when there is so much to see outside, the stunning national pavilions, the enticing food stands, the colorful videos and demonstrations? How many people would venture out from the centre of Milan, spend 30 minutes on subway and walk another 30 minutes to attend a workshop, even when in possession of a free ticket? To attract EXPO visitors, on site events need to be designed differently - short, with infographics or videos, demonstrations or simulation games.

For my part, I will definitely go back and visit the EXPO … at leisure!

In Kenya, IFAD has matched an innovative new technology with an innovative new multimedia campaign. In order to raise awareness of new Flexi Biogas systems, IFAD teamed up with Emmy Award-winning Kenyan-based communication agency Well Told Story to reach young people and their families through comic strips, radio, and social media.

The partnership was made possible by IFAD's Initiative for Mainstreaming Innovation, funded by the UK Department of International Development, as part of a larger project called Making Biogas Portable: Renewable Technologies for a Greener Future. Flexi Biogas is a cheap alternative to traditional fixed-dome production systems, which gives more people access to biogas – a  clean, renewable energy made from organic household waste.

In order to increase the project's reach, IFAD wanted to find a way to share information about the advantages of Flexi Biogas and fight the stigma biogas sometimes faces. IFAD consultant Silvia Sperandini reached out to Well Told Story, whose work she first encountered at the 2010 Agknowledge Africa Share Fair. She was fascinated by Well Told Story's multimedia approach and wanted to incorporate it into an IFAD-funded project.

"We wanted to bring it to IFAD and pilot its impact on our development interventions because no one was working on this at a project level," Sperandini explained.

With their comics, radio shows, and social media presence, Well Told Story reaches millions of young Kenyans each month – a huge potential audience for IFAD's message. Sperandini designed this km/communication component  and it was managed by the coordinator of the Making Biogas Portable project, Karan Sehgal under the overall supervision of Antonio Rota, Senior Lead Specialist - Livestock.

Well Told Story worked to create a multimedia campaign highlighting the benefits of biogas in order to contribute to its adoption. By the end of the partnership, Well Told Story distributed 1.95 million comic books, aired three radio programmes on 26 FM stations, and hosted discussions on six social media pages receiving more than 80,000 views per month. Additionally, Well Told Story designed and printed hundreds of posters for display in local schools.

Well Told Story's programmes are immensely popular with young people, and the campaign generated substantial interest, as measured by the volume of texts sent to Well Told Story requesting more information. Yet the campaign did not immediately lead to increased sales of Flexi Biogas.

For Sehgal, however, that's ok. In his words, the goal of the campaign was  "to set the scene for the future." It can be tough to break tradition, he noted, and traditional fuel subsidies can make renewable energies like biogas less competitive. But with Well Told Story's campaign promoting both the practical and environmental benefits of biogas, young Kenyans may be more willing to adopt Flexi Biogas systems or support other clean energies in the future.

Farms without farmers?

Posted by Ricci Symons Thursday, May 7, 2015 1 comments

Written by Caroline Mwongera, Postdoctoral Scientist in the Soils Research Area, CIAT.

Originally posted here

The next generation of smallholder farms in Africa may have no one left to run them.

A visit by a team from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in the Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya and Adjumani districts of Northern Uganda – a region that was embroiled in more than 20 years of civil war waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army – presents an alarming scenario for the years ahead.  Here we meet more than 158 farmers and are struck by the sentiments of the older farmers.

In the Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya and Adjumani districts of
Northern Uganda the average age of farmers is 45.
Credit: Stephanie Malyon / CIAT

Young people are turning away from agriculture to drive
motorcycle taxis. Credit: Stephanie Malyon / CIAT 
“The youth are not interested in farming. They prefer migrating to urban centers to look for off-farm work and engage in petty trade, mainly operating boda-boda,” said one man, who has been farming all his life. Boda-boda is a term that is commonly used in East Africa to refer to motorcycle taxis.

Separate interviews with a team of 24 local agricultural experts reveal that the average age of farmers is 45 and young people between 18 and 30 are disconnected from the farm and realities of agricultural production. For this particular region, it has negative impacts on post-conflict recovery, given the role of youth in rural community continuity and agriculture.

Another visit to Bagamoyo, Kilolo, Kilosa and Mbarali districts within the region known as the South Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), confirms this story line. We speak to a group of 40 youths, who tell us that lack of social infrastructure and amenities lures them away from the villages.

Saidi, a 25-year-old man, explains the pull of urban life.

“Look at the life we are living here. We have been left behind by our peers in the cities. Life there is so much more glamorous and advanced. I would rather be struggling in the city with good paved roads, piped water and electricity.”

Africa already faces daunting challenges in achieving food security, and these are expected to increase with the rapid surge in population. But food security cannot be achieved unless the problem of a young population less interested in agriculture is addressed by policy-makers.

Can the entrepreneurial spirit of young people be
 harnessed to encourage them to turn to agriculture?
Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT
This worrying trend is being seen across the continent. The latest Montpellier panel briefing paper Small and Growing: Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture reports on the disengagement of young people from agriculture, a sector that is often seen as outdated, unprofitable and plain hard work.

Africa’s transformation can be realised by harnessing and enabling the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of smallholder farmers, young people and women in the rural economy, according to Agriculture for Impact.

The CIAT project Increasing food security and farming system resilience in East Africa through wide-scale adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices, funded by IFAD, is promoting awareness and use of appropriate climate smart technologies in the above regions. Through demonstration trials, the project trains smallholder farmers, young people and women in particular in using site-specific climate smart technologies that will improve their farm productivity and income, with enhanced resilience to climate change, and reduction of greenhouse gases.

Young people taking up climate smart agriculture farming will no longer be able to complain of feeling left behind.

The UN has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect the resource that feeds and waters us. Find out how CIATs global soils research team of soil scientists, ecologists and anthropologists are working with partners to protect and restore this vital resource.

By Estibalitz Morras (IFAD) and Catherine Mungai (CCFAS)

We have just returned from Nairobi, where we attended the 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA9). IFAD co-facilitated one session on Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) to achieve food security, increase resilience and enhance community based adaptation globally.

©IFAD/Estibalitz Morras

CSA is an approach that supports the more efficient use of resources; with less food losses and promotes a shifts towards more resilient smallholder farming systems. It links a scientific approach with traditional knowledge in order to create a sustainable food-secure population and enhance local capacity to adapt to climate change. CSA also has the potential to address some of the mistakes and shortcomings of conventional social and economic development that have contributed to social inequality, poverty and environmental degradation.

“CSA is often linked to new technologies that deliver an immediate boost to productivity or instantly show adaptation benefits – however this idea often bypasses smallholders, or has only short-term benefits,” said  Chris Henderson from Practical Action . “This is why we need to ensure CSA is relevant to Community Based Adaptation (CBA), especially to marginalized and smallholder farmers.”

In that regard, the technologies and approaches need to be: i) accessible; ii) sustainably used and iii) innovative, building on the wealth of local, traditional and indigenous knowledge and experience. Practical Action believes in helping small-scale farmers through technology to enable poor communities to build on their skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions.

Integrating Local and Indigenous Knowledge

Based on his experience working in the Mekong Delta, through the Project for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Mekong Delta (AMD), Pham Vu Bang (IFAD Vietnam) called for the recognition and respect of local knowledge and involvement of community members in planning. This is the approach applied in the ADM projects supported by the  Adaptation for Smallholder Programme (ASAP) of IFAD.

©IFAD/Ilaria Firmian

Bang made the point that; to enhance the resilience capacity of rural poor communities, it is agreed that we should let vulnerable groups and communities decide the best way for them to cope with the impact of climate change. New technologies is certainly a part of the solution, but should link to indigenous knowledge and farming systems to promote biodiversity and culture.

The importance of incorporating local knowledge into CSA was further elaborated by John Mbaria from Kenya’s Nation Media Group  who recommended the documentation and sharing of such knowledge and the integration of traditional norms and practices into local government and national policy processes.

Lucia Zigiriza works in the ASAP-supported project  Post-Harvest and Agribusiness Support Project (PASP)” in Rwanda. She said that communities in Rwanda are involved in the planning and monitoring of land restoration, which feeds in to the National Strategy on Climate Change. Farmers are organized in cooperatives which monitor and share information. The project distributes climate information services to farmers such as weather forecasts.  PASP is also going to provide climate resilient storage facilities. Additionally the project creates access to solar driers, biogas fueled grain driers, and hermetic storage bags.

Monitoring and Up-scaling CSA

Monitoring CSA should not be about the rate or success of technology transfer – e.g. the uptake of new ‘adapted’ or ‘improved’ varieties. It should be about measuring the capacity of farmers and communities to identify, develop and use different agricultural practices.

Vijayasankaran from Samaj Pragati Sahayog in India pointed out that CSA is a holistic approach that requires multi-pronged investment and a multi-disciplinary approach towards participatory research. Water is the key to enhancing resilience of production systems to climate variability and climate change. Hence, public investment in water, especially low-cost solutions which could be taken up by smallholder farmers, lies at the core of CSA. While the role of private sector investments need to be emphasised, we need to recognise that scaling up of small, scattered initiatives on CSA is not possible without incorporating these into national government programmes with substantial investments sustained over a period of time.  

As a way forward, participants called for the up-scaling of successful climate-smart practices and services. This will entail a careful assessment of the barriers to the uptake of these practices by local vulnerable communities. Also, as mentioned by Caitlin Corner-Dolloff from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) governments, with support from non-governmental organizations, international agencies and research institutions, need to establish enabling environments, including incentives, to support community based adaptation through climate-smart agriculture. The pitfalls of existing programmes for food security and climate change resilience could be addressed by recognizing the vital role of CSA in ensuring access to and sustainable use of innovative solutions by smallholder farmers.  

For more information please see CBA9 session interview: James Kinyangi:  www.youtube.com/watch?t=12&v=w4c3UVOVwpU
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the panellists from the Session 11 of the 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA9).

Measuring and enhancing effective adaption in Rwanda

Posted by Ricci Symons Monday, May 4, 2015 0 comments

By Marie Chanoine

I have just returned from attending the 9th International Conference on Community- Based Adaptation (CBA9). It was attended by a broad range of stakeholders besides IFAD, such as; meteorological services, national natural resources management agencies, bilateral donors, international organizations, NGOs, and the private sector. It was a perfect opportunity to meet a diverse group of people all of whom are interested in adaptation initiatives.

IFAD's Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) is supporting the Climate Resilient Post-Harvest and Agribusiness Support (PASP) project in Rwanda . The CBA9 conference was a great prospect for PASP to be involved in, allowing us to learn more on effective adaptation initiatives that can be replicated in Rwanda. Throughout the sessions, researchers and development practitioners stressed the importance of capacity building, mainstreaming adaptation measures into national policies, involving the private sector and understanding the local context (challenges and opportunities) for tailoring a project that responds to communities’ needs.

However, I was quite surprised to see that most of the presented CBA’s initiatives focused on crop productivity and livestock while little attention is given to post-harvest losses.  Therefore, the presentation of our poster on Post-harvest and agribusiness in the PASP project was extremely appropriate to the CBA 9 theme “Measuring and Enhancing effective adaptation”.  Indeed, PASP is an ‘avant-garde’ project that enhances local capacity by supporting five main commodities, from harvest to markets. It is enabling smallholder access to financial resources for investing in post-harvest climate–resilient technologies (e.g. solar dryers or cooling systems). PASP also corresponds to the existing national policy and sectorial strategies and supports national climate change adaptation priorities. Post-harvest loss causes are not limited to pests, pathogens, spoilage and damages but also by a lack of suitable storage structure and an absence of management technologies and practices. Moreover, these losses are exacerbated by climate variability and climate change effects. That is the reason why there is a tremendous need to develop and strengthen adaptation opportunities for smallholder farmers.

How M&E is so critical for enhancing adaptation?

In the case of the PASP project in Rwanda, ASAP funds will facilitate a better understanding of how current and future agro-meteorological conditions influences harvest and post-harvest activities and estimate current losses and critical stages of the value chain. As a result, these activities will thus ensure that rural infrastructures and related investments are resilient to the changing climatic patterns.

PASP have only just begun to tackle these issues, however the determination of the project staff will ensure their success.