Tambacounda, Senegal. Never heard of that place? No worries, I hadn’t either until Kiva sent me to welcome our latest addition in the family, review their operations and help them launch their first agriculture loans on Kiva. The last 5 weeks were such an inspiring adventure, with an amazing team. And so please join me in welcoming MEC Aprovag as a new Kiva field partner in Senegal!
400 kilometres from Dakar, it takes a ‘mere’ 7 hours’ drive to reach Tamba, as locals call it, one of the hottest towns in Senegal. That’s what we call in the middle of nowhere, or rather at the heart of a very productive rural area, rich of mangos, bananas, pineapples, papayas, grapefruits and all sort of delicious fruits and veggies!
Isn’t it then shocking that these producers who bring us so much goodness every day, those without whom banana splits wouldn’t exist, are also the ones who struggle the most to access financial services, and to lead a decent life?! Thinking about it, it makes your banana splits taste a bit sour all of sudden, doesn’t it?
Well, MEC Aprovag has made rural poverty alleviation the core of their mission.
Today an independent entity, MEC Aprovag was originally set-up by Aprovag – an association of 12 banana cooperatives - to help gain access to financial services for its members. Working closely with agriculture technicians, MEC Aprovag has developed an array of financial and non-financial services to better serve banana producers and other farmers. From basic budget training before loan disbursement through to saving accounts and technical support to help farmers identify and access the right farming inputs, MEC Aprovag facilitates access to microloans and above all, helps them increase the quality and quantity of their production.
Unlike many producers, here the commercialisation of bananas is not the major problem. Indeed, there is a growing demand from both local and international markets for organic and non-organic bananas. In front of such demand, Aprovag, run and led by banana farmers themselves, has also created a number of solutions to commercialise their production, from the creation of two transformation units to create banana vinegar and other banana based products through to a shipping factory to ensure the best organic bananas can be shipped to local and international markets.
Buyers are here, so what is the issue and how can microfinance help?
Buyers want to buy the absolute best quality -fair enough- but they don’t want to help financing it- shame!
And as you know, quality and organic is a healthy but costly business!
Producers face the challenge to increase transparency, traceability, quantity and quality if they want to access international markets. This is where we, the Kiva community, can make a huge and measurable difference, very quickly.
Good quality fertilizers – the organic ones being much more expensive than their chemical counterparts- and optimum irrigation systems are what they need, first and forthmost. They need more capital so they can keep financing this critical expansion stage, during which the quantity of production is not yet enough to justify the cost of organic fertilizers, but yet they are so close to breakeven and succeed that they can’t give up now. The selling price of organic bananas is substantially more than non-organic ones. Health benefits of organic produce are undoubtable. Sustainability and profitability is around the corner, and a huge increase in the farmers’ livelihood will shorlty become a reality. Microfinance here is their only hope as noone else will finance them.
It’s a no brainer for us, though. This is a holistic and well thought-through approach, with solid measurable impacts.
My work with MEC Aprovag took me from the waterfalls of Dindefelo near the Guinean border through to Kedougou, and countless banana plantations in the region of the Gambia river.
I met and spoke to hundreds of farmers and banana producers and was amazed by how well organised they are and how access to microfinance has helped them and their children so far to improve their livelihood. From Isidor who has sent his eldest son to university through to Woury who managed to buy another ½ hectare to grow his plantations and open a shop to diversify and increase his income. You see, these farmers have their head well screwed on their shoulders, they don’t lack of ambition or common sense. Above all, education and health for the kids is their top priority. Many are those who send their kids to high school and universities when and if they can.
These farmers needed a strong institution to support them and MEC Aprovag was the fruit of their ambition. Although MEC Aprovag is now an independent entity from Aprovag, The team has grown quickly, and what a team! Leadership and community spirit here is a real force. Although this is the smallest field partner I worked with so far, they have nothing to envy to the big players on the market. Motivation, drive, hard work, strong work ethic and solidarity between the team members are what MEC Aprovag is all about.
Today, MEC Aprovag has also expanded its reach to all farmers in the region. Why limit their success to banana farmers when everyone can benefit from it?! And to go further, they have also launched a very successful ‘commercial loan’ for women, helping them access micro loans to grow their businesses in town.
After spending the last 5 weeks with them to help structure and launch their loans with Kiva, I have no doubt that MEC Aprovag will be a successful partner for Kiva and make a huge impact on farmers’ lives.
We have just published their first 5 loans on www.kiva.org, and I didn't have the time to publish this article that one loan was fully funded, within the first 10 minutes! Thank you!
We will need all the help of our community to welcome and support the extraordinary work that they do to promote agriculture development, increase livelihood in this region of the world. Follow MEC Aprovag here and help them channel more funds to our beloved farmers: https://www.kiva.org/lend?queryString=mec+aprovag.
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A French citizen residing in London, Marie started her career at the Financial Times (FT), working with financial institutions across EMEA for 5 years. Passionate about sustainable development, she quickly learned how financial innovation can support economic empowerment and build local capacity in developing countries. She then moved to the FT’s thought leadership team to engage opinion and industry leaders to discuss and share learnings on themes ranging from sustainable finance to transformational business and social innovation. She pursued her career at a climate change and international development firm to develop their private sector engagement in 2014, while completing an Impact Investing course at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School to deepen her understanding on innovative financial mechanisms in an international development context. More recently, she took over the direction of a small NGO to restructure its operations and develop sustainable development programs in Asia and Africa. With her multi-faceted experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors, Marie now wants to gain experience on the ground in a role that combines development, entrepreneurship and financial inclusion. Kiva is an exciting and thrilling opportunity to work directly with agents of change and see first-hand how microfinance can change lives.