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Expanding access to finance for smallholders one lease at a time

27.03.2017Ashley Olson Onyango, Programme Manager, Agricultural Finance

This post was originally posted on the Rural & Agricultural Finance Learning Lab website.

In rural sub-Saharan Africa, working in agriculture tends to be an extremely labor-intensive job with high risk and low payoff. As a result, new generations of farmers and other entrepreneurs are often deterred from pursuing a career in agriculture. This leaves the agricultural industry with ageing farmers and declining agricultural production. One potential solution, however, is the mechanization of farming which can help decrease the need for hard, manual labor, while also improving production, household incomes, and livelihoods. A shift to tractors and other machine-powered equipment is part of a broader strategy to improve rural livelihoods and make agriculture attractive for new generation of farmers.

Although this shift may seem easy, the challenge is that tractors and machine-powered equipment are expensive - and access to finance is frequently cited as a key barrier to increased investment and productivity for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers struggle to mobilize the resources required to effectively invest in their land without additional financial support, but at the same time, lack adequate collateral to access credit from financial institutions.

Financial Sector Deepening Africa (FSDA) and Nathan Associates recently published the Agricultural leasing market scoping study for sub-Saharan Africa, which directly tackles the barrier of adequate collateral. In fact, a key advantage of leasing is that it doesn't require collateral, since the lessor retains ownership of the asset for the duration of the lease contract. That being said, lessors still need to mitigate their risk by taking an initial down payment from lessees. Specifically, "in agricultural leasing, concerns around willingness to pay, crop failure, and asset depreciation all drive up the size of the initial payment required by financial institutions."

The required down payment on agriculture equipment typically varies by region and product. For example, in developed countries the required down payment is generally in the range of 10% to 20%. Compare this to developing countries, where the FSDA study found that in the eight reviewed - Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia - downpayments generally range between 20% to 40% of the value of the asset. This is a threshold that is above what most smallholder farmers can pay - creating a significant barrier to accessing leasing products, which ultimately holds back demand.

One recommendation to overcome this challenge is to establish a fund that would increase market access for financial leasing by reducing the credit risk of leasing companies. For instance, a fund could bridge the gap between what potential lessees are able to pay and what lessor's risk policy deems an acceptable down payment. If the lessee (farmer) can make a 10% down payment, but the lessor requires a 30% down payment, the fund could make up the difference by paying the 20% differential. The 20% would be paid directly to the lessor, so the lessor receives their full 30%. The lessee ends up only paying the ten percent that he or she is able to afford at that time. The 20% paid by the fund becomes a separate loan and with every lease payment from the lessee to the lessor, a percentage of that amount is paid back to the fund to cover the 20% loan.

A potential fund to make lease finance more accessible, as FSDA's report recommends, could address customers' needs for an innovative product that tackles the issue of adequate collateral for financial access. Furthermore, it could address the challenges that suppliers of such financing face by buying down some of the risk and making an entry into this sector more attractive. We might call this a "smart subsidy" that could be transformative if well designed and executed by strong partners (see Inflection Point for context on "smart subsidy").

To bridge the gap of finance and improve rural livelihoods, development financial institutions should ask themselves what role they can play in making this new form of finance accessible to the agricultural sector - promoting growth and mechanization for improved livelihoods through the fund. While leasing finance is just one piece of the puzzle, the country scoping sheds light on how to enter this space given the current state and where are the risks and opportunities.

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About the Author

Ashley Olson Onyango is the Programme Manager, Agricultural Finance at FSD Africa. Ashley has been working in the agricultural finance development sector across sub-Saharan Africa. Ashley previously spearheaded the development of a new lending portfolio with Root Capital, focused on domestic value chains and food security crops. After the launch, she managed the start-up of the portfolio and integration of the new portfolio into Root Capital's lending operations. More recently, Ashley has been consulting in the agricultural finance development sector with a number of clients and has joined the FSDA as a long-term consultant to manage its Agricultural Finance Programme. 

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