Central to poverty reduction in Africa is increasing productivity in the agricultural sector to increase the revenues of smallholder farmers. Approximately two thirds of Africa’s workforce is engaged, directly or indirectly, in agriculture. Yet, in most countries, less than five percent of net bank lending goes to agriculture. Smallholder farmers, the majority of farmers on the continent, are particularly underserved.
If these farmers had easier, better access to financial products and services, they would be able to save, borrow, and transfer money more easily, safely, and economically. They could then acquire agricultural inputs (land, seeds, fertilizer, tools, training, and manpower) more easily, improving yields and consequently incomes.
The lack of banking infrastructure in rural areas and the seasonality of income from farming are among several factors that make smallholders a challenging client segment to serve. By leveraging technology and increasing and sharing knowledge, the Foundation can experiment with and scale up models that benefit both smallholder clients and financial service providers.
The Mastercard Foundation believes that fostering effective and inclusive financial markets will not only enable smallholder farmers and other rural residents to access financial services and improve their lives — it will also help to drive business expansion and increase youth employment, the overarching focus of the Foundation’s work in the years ahead.
The Mastercard Foundation Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab (RAF LL) collects, analyzes, and disseminates what the Foundation and its 10 implementing partners are learning in their work on financial inclusion with Africa’s smallholder farmers. RAF LL fosters knowledge creation, sharing, and collaboration that lead to better financial solutions provided to more smallholder farmers and other rural clients.
The Learning Lab was created in 2015. Since then, it has produced a regular stream of reports, analyses, blog posts, webinars, videos, and in-person learning events. These enable development professionals, or others interested in the topic, to see the results of research and lessons learned in the Foundation’s US$152 million portfolio of projects related to improving access to finance for rural and agricultural activities.
Each year, RAF LL produces a learning report, an overview of the previous year’s most notable developments in making access to finance easier and better for smallholder farmers in a sustainable way. The Mastercard Foundation Learning Lab is operated by GDI (Global Development Incubator) and Dalberg.
The Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity (FRP) is a US$50 million challenge fund launched in 2015. Its purpose is to find, support, help to scale up, and learn from innovative ideas that expand financial inclusion to smallholder farmers and other economically disadvantaged people living in rural Africa.
Multiple challenges prevent the financial services and agribusiness sectors from developing the products and services that rural poor people need. These challenges include the high costs to traditional financial service providers of doing business in remote areas, the lack of staff know-how to design appropriate products, and the fact that many farmers are unaware of the benefits of accessing the formal financial system.
The Fund for Rural Prosperity seeks to find and support private-sector firms in Africa that respond to these challenges with innovative and/or scalable ideas that work. To date, the FRP has committed more than US$26 million to 21 firms in eight countries as they expand financial inclusion and make it easier for smallholder farmers to benefit from access to financial services.