FARM AND RURAL
WHERE CLIENT IMPACT HAPPENS
Financial inclusion stakeholders commonly describe their clients as “entrepreneurs”. To the extent that, based on their own initiative, they take the risk of selling a product or service in the market in order to generate income, they are indeed entrepreneurs.
But let’s be honest: the nuance behind the word “entrepreneur” is that it is someone who identifies an unmet need and creates an organized response to it. There is something proactive and systematic about what an entrepreneur does.
Few financial inclusion clients meet this higher definition of entrepreneur. Most sell a product or service because they have few other means of earning income, not because they see an opportunity. They often choose their business venture by copying ones that already operate in a crowded market rather than identifying an unserved niche. And they rarely build their expertise, differentiate their product or service, plan for growth, or even keep financial records.
Because they are reactive and unsystematic, most financial inclusion clients are simply maintaining their income-generating activity rather than specializing, differentiating, diversifying or taking any other strategy that might lead to growth.
It should not be a surprise, then, that statistical analysis has found little causal relationship between access to financial services and increases in income. The best evidence shows that most clients use formal financial services in tandem with (rather than instead of) informal services mostly as a tool to get by rather than get ahead.
ACCESS is committed to systematically understanding what aspects of client usage of financial services can lead to positive outcomes, especially in terms of income, and replicating those key success factors. Its farm and rural business development program addresses not only attitudes and skills, but also market linkage and other value chain-based approaches to making financial inclusion truly work for the rural poor.
TURNING LIVELIHOODS INTO BUSINESS
Most rural economic actors get by rather than get ahead because they run their farm or enterprise as a livelihood activity rather than as a business. The shift from conducting a livelihood activity to managing a business is first and foremost a matter of changing mindsets. Like its financial education program, ACCESS’s entrepreneurship development program begins by addressing attitudes before it enhances knowledge and skills, drawing on each client’s own hopes and dreams as the source of inspiration.
After gaining an understanding of the key characteristics shared by entrepreneurs––goal setting, commitment, motivation, risk taking, and decision-making––participants are equipped with the necessary knowledge of the concept of enterprise development and management, enabling them to assess the potentials of an enterprise and the areas for improvement that can contribute to an increase in income.
In order to acquire knowledge of the various aspects of an enterprise and to be able to assess weaknesses and areas for improvement, ACCESS also introduces participants to the enterprise development cycle:
- Idea generation (identifying opportunities)
- Formulation (preparing a business plan)
- Financing (start-up and/or expansion)
- Implementation (establishing an enterprise)
- Evaluation (reviewing performance)
- Organization and management (human resource requirements)
- Process flow (to manufacture a product or deliver a service)
MANAGING FOR GROWTH
Many rural economic actors receive technical and other business development support embedded informally in their commercial transactions. These services tend to be very basic and only help with day-to-day operations, such as information on quantity and quality, pricing, and the provision of short-term finance. While not harmful, this support often delivers more benefits the providers––often value chain actors with market leverage over the recipients.
There is very little support from these providers on even simple but effective management techniques such as keeping accurate and separate financial records, much less strategic support such as market research, product development, and market linkage that improve performance over the long term.
A full suite of management training is too costly to sustain and not always appropriate for the needs of the recipients. ACCESS’s approach is to identify the key skills that rural economic actors needs to scale up, and develop innovative, cost-effective ways to deliver that support.
VALUE CHAIN DEVELOPMENT
Although rural economic actors are independent, many are part of an integrated chain of economic functions and linkages. All the activities that connect a specific raw material to its various end-markets is collectively called a “value chain”. In rural value chains, market sizes differ dramatically among the actors. Available markets are usually much smaller for actors further up the chain (toward the primary producers), making it less attractive and riskier for them to invest in technical improvements or expanding production.
By understanding the processes involved in the production, distribution, and sales of a product or service, it is possible to identify the main sources of growth in a chain, the distribution of margins and profits, and the key leverage points of that can be enhanced in order for chain actors to deliver higher value and increase their income. Often, this is achieved through solutions that overcoming the consequences of being a small-scale producer.
ACCESS’s value chain research and development toolkit has been designed especially for rural producers of agricultural commodities and agri-entrepreneurs. It focuses particularly on market size and market linkage (for purchases of inputs as well as sales of outputs) in order to create incentives for investment and expansion.
MAKING LUMP SUMS USEFUL
RURAL INVESTMENT STRATEGIES
The promise of financial inclusion is that it provides the tools clients need to not only manage their personal finances but also take advantage of market opportunities to produce more and earn higher incomes.
In reality, however, most rural economic actors face complex choices when deciding how to best use the financial resources they are able to accumulate. Should it be saved (and, if so, in cash, in a deposit, or in-kind)? Lent to a family member? Used to purchase inputs for the farm or enterprise? Invested in new equipment or starting a new income-generating activity? If so, which equipment or activity?
Lacking awareness of all the possible options for their savings, and unable to compare returns and risks for the few options they are aware of, many rural economic actors either play it safe, putting savings into familiar but low-margin activities, or gamble, sometimes with disastrous results.
An advanced version of its financial education program, ACCESS’s rural investment strategy program works with rural economic actors to compare a defined set of savings and investment options, weigh the risks, and set goals and milestones toward making the best use of their money.