Ebonyi State Government Launches Digital Loan Portal Expanding MSME Access to Finance

Ebonyi State Government Launches Digital Loan Portal Expanding MSME Access to Finance

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In Nigeria, a digital loan/e-wallet portal launched by the Government of Ebonyi State on June 7, 2021, is now strengthening access to finance for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) including agribusinesses, addressing funding constraints and improving access to financial resources for entrepreneurs across the State.

In continuous discussion with the Ebonyi State Government’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Business Development, over the past year the USAID-funded Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity, implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), designed and developed a digital loan portal with connected e-wallet system. That portal has now been launched by the Ebonyi State Government’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Business Development to serve as the hub for delivery and coordination of their MSME Development Funds.

The MSME Development Funds are a collection of federal government and private-sector-driven loan and grant initiatives targeting eligible MSMEs to cushion the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses. This new user-friendly online portal and its integrated e-wallet, which serves to facilitate loan payments in Ebonyi State, is the first of several initiatives the Activity is engaged with to deploy ICT solutions that seamlessly manage the aggregation, documentation and disbursement of MSME funds at State level. The portal also enables the State Government to oversee loan utilization and recovery in collaboration with key financial institutions including Zenith Bank, First Bank and United Bank for Africa. Aligned with the Activity’s focal value chains, 50 percent of the MSME Development Fund is targeted at agribusiness MSMEs in the aquaculture, cowpea, maize, rice and soybean value chains.

The Ebonyi State Government is now piloting the use of the portal and has so far used it to disburse loans worth $169,427 (69.4 million Naira) to 609 rice farmers. These loans are supported by the World Bank’s FADAMA project through Ebonyi State’s Nigeria COVID-19 Action Recovery and Economic Stimulus (NG CARES) Program for Results. The NG CARES Fund is a World Bank initiative executed by the Nigerian Bank of Industry (BOI) that launched in September 2021 to provide state-level financing through targeted interventions in the form of subsidized loans, business and employment grants to support businesses.

An additional 392 farmers supported by the Activity will receive loans worth $109,086 (44.7 million Naira) upon completing their registration and verification via the portal.

With the loan portal and e-wallet now online, at least 6,000 MSMEs in Ebonyi will have access to NG CARES funds worth at least $14,642,360 (six billion Naira) over the coming months. The portal also presents Ebonyi State with a unique opportunity to leverage BOI’s microcredit platform, which will allow them to deliver more grants and loans to businesses in the state, providing targeted relief, restoring livelihoods and stimulating economic recovery for vulnerable households and MSMEs in the State as a result of COVID-19.

“The loan portal has and is going to open up a lot of opportunities for our state,” said Dr. Stephen Odo, Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Business Development, Ebonyi state, noting that it will further the state government’s drive to stimulate economic growth and job creation. “We are now looking at integrating all running agribusiness and MSME loans in the state for ease of management and recovery.”

As the Ebonyi State Government drives the growth and development of MSMEs, the Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity will continue to support the government to make financial processes less cumbersome and to expand access to financial services for agribusiness MSMEs across its value chains, increasing long-term agriculture sector development and food security in the state.

Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity Supports Social Enterprise to Increase Rice and Soybean Production for 500 Smallholder Farmers

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Farm on Wheels is a social enterprise that works with smallholder farmers in hard-to-reach rural communities of Niger State, Nigeria. The enterprise provides agricultural input credits to smallholder farmers in the form of seeds, fertilizers and agrochemicals, while also guaranteeing markets for farmers through a well-coordinated system.

To improve yield for farmers and ensure optimum supply of rice and soybean production, Farm on Wheels planned to disburse input loans worth over 24 million Naira ($58,151) to 500 smallholder farmers, including 100 youth during the 2021 wet and dry seasons, which fall between May 2021 to April 2022. To build staff capacity in preparation for the loan disbursements, the enterprise partnered with the five-year Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity, a USAID-funded activity implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) that works to strengthen the enabling environment for agribusiness finance and investment in Nigeria.

In August 2021, the Activity facilitated a master training for ten Farm on Wheels staff and extension agents, strengthening their knowledge and capacity on good agronomic practices for rice and soybean production. The training covered critical topics for supporting smallholder farmers such as communications, ethical work practices, good agronomic practices, group dynamics, leadership strategies, data collection and environmental compliance.

Farm on Wheels’ field officer, Jennifer Ahnole, recalled her key takeaways after the training, noting, “The knowledge and skills I gained from this training will enable me to improve my field activities with farmers. I have resolved to take responsibility for my personal development and to keep improving my work.” She then highlighted how she has increased her environmental consciousness to ensure that possible negative environmental effects from farming activities are mitigated or eliminated.

Her colleague, William Bello, also a field officer, reinforced the group’s commitment to work as a team to achieve the goals and objectives of Farm on Wheels.

“My perception of work has changed,” he said. “I have improved communication with my team and can now engage better with the extension agents and farmers.”

The training enabled the Farm on Wheels staff and extension agents to cascade the information and skills they learned to 60 additional lead farmers in the Farm on Wheels out-grower network. The leads were then supported to deliver the training to the 500 smallholder farmers targeted for the enterprise’s 2021 wet and dry season input loans. The cascaded trainings are expected to introduce soybean and rice production best practices, enabling smallholders to obtain optimum yields and increased profits.

Over the next two years, the Activity will continue to support and improve the enabling environment and groups, such as Farm on Wheels, to deliver wholesome financial and business development support services to smallholder farmers in Nigeria, improving incomes, ensuring food security and tackling hunger.

Increasing Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurship in Nigeria

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Comfort Kumashe is a small-scale rice processor in the Gboko community of Benue State, Nigeria. Kumashe began her rice processing business in December 2020 to improve her livelihood and earn enough income to support her family and fund her undergraduate studies at the state’s university. Although she had a limited background in running a successful agribusiness, she persisted, partnering with the USAID-funded Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity at a youth entrepreneurship training in Gboko.

The Agribusiness Investment Activity is working across Nigeria to address the bottlenecks that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) face when trying to access finance. By targeting youth-owned agribusiness entrepreneurs, the Activity aims to improve the agribusiness enabling environment, particularly for youth MSME owners, and increase opportunities to access funding for their businesses.

Through a recent collaboration with the Nigerian Youth Chambers of Commerce (NYCC), the Activity organized a five-day entrepreneurship development training for 71 Nigerian youth, including 11 members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), working within the Activity’s seven focus states of Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Kebbi and Niger and five value chains of rice, maize, soybean, cowpea and aquaculture. As a result of the training, youth participants will become eligible to apply to the Nigerian Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) within the Federal Ministry of Youth. The training also qualifies them to become members of the NYCC, and as members, to access NYCC’s network of mentors and business development support providers for further business advice and assistance.

For five days, participants learned from a robust entrepreneurship curriculum ranging from lessons on idea conceptualization and business plan development to business management and leadership.

“The five days I spent at the training brought me out of my comfort zone,” noted Kumashe. She also highlighted how the training enabled her to learn customer relations, branding and digital marketing skills.

“I used to think that since my business is small, I should focus on selling only to the people I know. But now I know that I should think big and target more customers so that I can grow. I have now created a Facebook page for my business, added business cards for customers and am working on creating branded packaging for my rice instead of selling in open basins,” added Kumashe.

Similarly, Joseph Ornguga, another youth entrepreneur who also participated in the training, said he learned to take responsibility for his business failures to strengthen his enterprise’s operations. Ornguga currently owns a two-hectare rice farm in Benue State but is growing rice on only one hectare due to losses incurred the previous season.

“I realized that I was not keeping track of my business finances during the last farming season and I was about to make the same mistake again. I am now prioritizing putting my records in order,” he noted while describing how the training has set his business on the path toward growth and expansion.

Another participant, fish producer Priscilla Doughdough, said, “The training exposed me to design thinking; to understand the needs of my market and to design my products and services to meet those needs.” Priscilla, who has two years of experience running her business, said learning about record keeping, business plan development, asset management, customer relations and other concepts made her realize there was a lot she still needed to know about running a successful enterprise.

In addition to the entrepreneurship training, the Activity’s partner, NYCC, will provide participants with virtual and in-person business plan development support to help them turn their business ideas into viable plans capable of attracting finance or investments through mechanisms such as the Nigerian Youth Investment Fund.

The Activity is also exploring engagement with Sterling Bank’s Women and Youth in Agriculture Finance, code-named SWAY-AgFin fund, and LAPO Microfinance Bank to secure additional and alternate financing for these youth. Through support from the Activity, more youth will become credit and investment-ready, boosting their capacity to access finance and investments for their agribusiness MSMEs and strengthening the dynamism of Nigeria’s agribusiness sector.

Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity Supports Agriculture in Benue State, Nigeria

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The Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity works in Benue State, Nigeria, to strengthen the enabling environment for agribusiness finance and investment. By improving the enabling environment for agricultural sector growth, broadening access to finance, promoting and facilitating investment opportunities for agribusinesses to expand and scale up operations, and sustainably enhancing the performance of agribusiness micro, small and medium enterprises, the Activity is increasing the depth, breadth, dynamism and competitiveness of Nigeria’s agribusiness sector for improved investment and food security.


Local Maize-Cob Model Reaps Benefits for Maize Growers

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Through the USAID-supported maize-cob model, farmers have tripled their profits and are able to engage in profitable agribusiness development.

Typically, post-harvest handling processes for maize farmers in Rwanda are lengthy and done without adequate infrastructure. These inefficient post-harvest practices can lead to increased damage and post-harvest losses, particularly because of the presence of aflatoxins—a naturally occurring soil-borne fungus that contaminates many staple foods, especially maize and other cereals.

Aflatoxin contamination of foodstuffs is not only an issue in Rwanda. It impacts hundreds of millions of farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a recent study by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and funded by USAID. Although farmers in Rwanda have not been spared its devastating effects, collaborations with private sector stakeholders are now reaping a positive impact for farmers.

In Ngoma district, the Duteze Imbere Igihingwa cy’Ibigori (KODUIBI) cooperative is working to transform the lives of its 102 members, the majority of whom are women, by introducing post-harvest innovations that increase maize quality and improve production efficiency. Through their partnership with the Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze activity, KODUIBI was introduced to the maize-cob model from Kumwe Harvest Ltd., which reduces the time needed to aggregate, thresh and dry grains for market. Since 2020, Kumwe has supported smallholder maize farmers across 10 Rwandan districts by providing access to more consistent, efficient and better-quality harvests.

The maize-cob model itself could not have been successful without the preliminary post-harvest practices implemented by farmers such as gusharika  (drying in the sun). During gusharika, harvested maize is tied up and placed face-down in a row with the dry leaves shielding the cob away from water. Maize is then placed in shelters which reduces contamination to manageable levels, usually reaching required moisture content by buyers at 13.5-16 percent, which traditionally took about 10 weeks. The maize cob model borrows from this tradition, reducing drying time to 3-8 days, greatly benefitting farmers and enabling them to supply high quality maize to local agribusinesses.

The Kumwe maize-cob model was developed with support from Hinga Weze, a USAID project that aims to sustainably increase smallholder farmer incomes, improve the nutritional status of Rwandan women and children and increase the resilience of agriculture and food systems to the changing climate. Hinga Weze also links farmers to maize market premium buyers like AIF, who signed a contract with KODUIBI in Season 2019 A to deliver high quality, Grade 1 maize with a low presence of aflatoxins. In total, KODUIBI sold 300 MT of their maize compared to 14 MT sold during the previous matching season.

‘’For the first time our cooperative members were able to save and buy small animals to improve family nutrition and diversify foods at household level and get other sources of income” stated Epiphanie Murerwa, KODUIBI president.

Hinga Weze also works with financial institutions to develop client-friendly products that strengthen the post-harvest handing supply chain. For the upcoming season, 2019 C, Hinga helped Kumwe secure a financing service loan of $100,000 (1 billion RWF) from KCB bank to purchase professional grade drying and processing machinery and to increase the amount of maize purchased from farmers. As a result of their support to post-harvest handling, farmers have been able to improve their products’ value, nutrition and productivity.

Poultry Farming Through Care Group Model Transforms Rural Livelihoods

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Through the care group model, farmers have transformed their livelihoods

Nutrition continues to be a major public health concern in Rwanda, with 38% of children under five classified as stunted and 9% of children under five manifesting as underweight (RDHS 2014-2015). One significant contributor to stunting is a lack of dietary diversity among Rwandan children due to a lack of animal-source protein consumption, which can provide a variety of micronutrients that are difficult to obtain in adequate quantities from plant-source foods alone.

Dietary diversity is also a significant challenge in the ten target districts where the Feed the Future Rwandan Hinga Weze activity operates, including in Nyamagabe and Kayonza. To overcome this challenge, Hinga Weze adapted the care group model and mobilized households to join care groups as a conducive space for nutrition-sensitive agricultural education, peer learning, saving and chicken rearing to increase income and the consumption of nutritious foods for women and children.

Since 2018, Hinga Weze has worked with communities to strengthen the capacity of care groups through trainings and coaching, mostly in good agricultural practices, nutrition, food safety, savings, gender and poultry farming. In Kayonza and Nyamagabe districts, Hinga Weze also introduced the Small Livestock Program to improve the intake of animal-sourced foods by increasing the local availability of small livestock, mainly chickens. This, in turn, helped families generate household income to purchase nutritious foods, while increasing access to meat and eggs for consumption.

So far, 46 care groups have received 9,200 chickens through Hinga Weze’s Small Livestock Program. After receiving and rearing their chickens, care group members were able to pay back $400 (400,000 RWF) through a pay-back model and to fund a second chicken production cycle. Care groups have also been able to generate incomes from egg sales, distribute 15 eggs for consumption to each member per month and use organic chicken manure in crop production and home gardens.

“Due to lack of skills and knowledge related to nutrition-sensitive agriculture and nutrition, we were ignorant about what contributed to malnutrition in our area,” says Masengesho, the leader of Imbereheza care group in Kayonza district.

The care group trainings equipped communities with skills on chicken farming, feed formulation and chicken rearing. For example, many care groups were supported to raise one-day old chicks, while some have even become agents for Uzima Chicken, a local chicken supplier. Similarly, Wisigarinyuma care group was able to raise 1000 one-day-old chicks until 35 days and sell 840 chicks to farmers outside of their care group.

Hinga Weze’s Small Livestock Program also provided a full package for supply agents and farmers to care for their chickens, which included vaccines and specialized technical trainings on chicken maintenance, poultry house standards, feeds, transportation, marketing, business development and general health standards for poultry businesses. This made the Small Livestock Program a de-facto business-provider for farmers and a nutritional conduit for households.

In addition to the chickens distributed as part of the Small Livestock Program, Hinga Weze distributed 86,400 chickens to 14,400 households (six chickens per household) across eight districts, which has greatly contributed to improving nutrition and dietary diversity. Through their weekly savings and joint household budgeting, farmers have increased their incomes and improved their livelihoods at the household level.

Hinga Weze is a five-year project funded by the USAID that aims to sustainably improve agricultural productivity, increase smallholder farmers’ incomes and improve the nutritional status of women and children.

Public-Private Partnership Improves Veterinary Regulations in Burkina Faso

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In Burkina Faso, livestock and animal husbandry producers rely on essential veterinary services to strengthen animal health, producer livelihoods and incomes. To create a more robust veterinary enabling environment and improve enforcement of Burkina Faso’s law 048-2017/AN governing animal health and veterinary professions, key public and private sector institutions convened for a workshop organized by the National Order of Veterinarians of Burkina Faso (ONV-BF) with support from the Feed the Future-funded USAID Yidgiri Activity, implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA).

From May 10 to 11, 2021 in Korsimoro, Centre Nord region, the workshop brought together 20 participants, including representatives of the Ministry of Animal Resources, ONV-BF and the Collective of Private Veterinarians (COVEP). The participants examined the results of a study done by the group on challenges faced by veterinarians across the country and proposed solutions to increase respect for the animal health regulations that mitigate these challenges.

Attendees then identified immediate priorities for the group, including monetary penalties to strengthen the enforcement of animal health laws and letters informing key agricultural sector apex organizations of the importance of these animal and veterinary public health policies. The workshop also passed resolutions to organize meetings with agricultural sector actors and distribute the texts of these regulations to relevant professionals, raising awareness of animal health regulations.

The Minister of Animal Resources and Halieutics, Dr. Tegwendé Modeste Yerbanga, presided over the workshop’s opening ceremony and acknowledged USAID Yidgiri’s initiative in convening the workshop. Continuing its support for the country’s animal health sector, USAID Yidgiri will organize another workshop to craft complimentary materials that further expand veterinary regulations. Together, these solutions will strengthen the enforcement of veterinary health laws, boost awareness of animal and veterinary public health and build the capacity of veterinary professionals to bolster Burkinabe livestock’s productivity and animal husbandry producers’ livelihoods and incomes.

Technology Adoption in Livestock and Dairy Sectors Lead to Better Animal Health and Increased Sales

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In Pakistan, approximately 65% of women work in the country’s agriculture sector—a majority of which are involved in livestock care and management activities such as calf rearing, cattle cleaning, milking and producing home-based dairy products like butter and yogurt. The USAID-funded Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA), implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), supports women smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs by working to increase their access to modern technologies and improve their management practices in high-value sectors like dairy and livestock.

Within these sectors, improved feed varieties and technologies play an important role in enhancing animal diets and health. Through its partnership with woman-owned agribusiness Farm Solutions, PATTA introduced improved feed varieties and feed formulation and nutrition practices to women farmers in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). By improving livestock nutrition, farmers were able to improve the quality of their meat and dairy products and subsequently increase their profits.

In early 2019, PATTA and Farm Solutions also held a series of women-centric awareness-raising sessions and demonstrations in villages across GB. Attended by a large number of women farmers, the events supported them to develop linkages with local dealers like Farm Solutions and motivated them to adopt modern, science-based feed for their cattle.

Farhat Bibi, woman dairy farmer, benefits from the adoption of improved feed technology for her cattle.

Farhat Bibi, a session participant and dairy farmer from the Barmas village in GB, learned the optimum amount of feed and timing needed to keep her cows healthy and productive. She also learned about and tried the improved ‘Barkat’ feed variety noting, “Its usage not only increased my yield of milk up to two liters per day, but also improved the health of my cattle. In addition to these benefits, the price of this feed is affordable for majority of dairy farmers.” Due to this increase in production, she now earns an additional 4,000 rupees per month in milk sales, which helps her improve her family’s livelihood and expand her business.

Reaching farmer communities across Pakistan with modern agricultural technologies, particularly in the most remote areas of the country, is vital for advancing agricultural productivity, increasing smallholder incomes and jobs and enhancing economic growth. While the current pace of technology adoption among farmers in Pakistan is slow, PATTA continues to promote enabling environments that allow smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs, particularly women, to invest resources in agricultural activities and increase technology uptake. By its end, PATTA anticipates that over 50,000 women will benefit from technology transfer, investments in agricultural technologies and awareness-raising initiatives.

Provincial Study Tour Promotes Stronger Agricultural Technology Enabling Environment

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As technology plays a larger role in increasing agricultural productivity, enhancing competitivity and lowering barriers to access, the adoption of affordable, appropriate agricultural technologies has become essential to improve rural incomes and livelihoods. In Pakistan, USAID-funded Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity’s (PATTA) partners closely with Provincial Agriculture Departments to increase farmers’ access to these technologies and support the modernization of farming communities across the country.

As part of this government collaboration, PATTA organized a four-day study tour to Punjab province in early 2021 for government officials from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The tour aimed to facilitate knowledge sharing between the two governments and to showcase the Government of Punjab’s new agricultural initiatives—specifically the region’s agricultural call centers, which were established during COVID-19 as a socially distant way to promote good agricultural practices, improved inputs and technologies and regional extension services to smallholder farmers.

On-site demo of high-tech precision agriculture technologies by Farm Dynamics Pakistan.

On the tour, KP officials observed a data collection system and a live stream of farmer queries and technical expert responses at a call center for extension services. Punjab officials also briefed attendees on their SMART agriculture initiative, which improves soil and productivity by issuing soil health cards, profiling the soil on farmers’ fields and conducting data recording and traceability analyses. They further shared key best practices including their International Organization for Standardization (ISO): 17025 analytical laboratory certification systems and their ability to improve analyses of soil, water, agrochemicals and fertilizer traceability.

In addition to meeting with government officials in Punjab, attendees visited several of PATTA’s private-sector partners. To demonstrate how these partners manage their agriculture and livestock technology businesses, the group toured agricultural machinery production facilities and a model slaughterhouse and were given an on-site demonstration of high-tech precision agriculture technologies.

The study tour not only strengthened linkages between officials and private sector actors from KP and Punjab, but it also showcased ways to improve KP’s agricultural productivity through the use of modern technologies. The leader of the KP delegation, KP Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Dr. Israr Ahmad Khan, expressed his appreciation for PATTA’s work to organize the visit and emphasized his government’s support for future collaboration with PATTA and its agribusiness partners.

By facilitating linkages and collaboration between provincial governments, PATTA helps modernize the agriculture sector in Pakistan and strengthen the enabling environment for agricultural technology adoption. This improved enabling environment will support PATTA’s work to lift barriers, enable awareness, and promote agricultural technology uptake across the country’s provinces, benefitting 132,506 small farmers by the end of 2021.