Senegal: Women develop financing initiatives to boost their businesses

| September 28, 2020

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The number of funding programs and financial institutions in Senegal has expanded in recent years, and many are trying to appeal to women farmers. But many women feel the programs are not geared towards their needs. Women may have difficulty meeting the loan repayment schedule, particularly given the irregularity of their income. Many women also face high interest rates and do not own their own land, which can make their situation more precarious. Fortunately, women farmers are creating their own financial solutions. Marieme Wade is the women’s coordinator of the national union of market gardeners in the Niayes Zone. Her group offers social assistance and loans to member. Women are finding more success as farmers supporting other farmers.

Ramatoulaye Badji is a farmer and vendor in the Thies region, 70 kilometres east of Dakar, Senegal. In the afternoons, she stays at her stall in the Keur Abdou Khoye market, despite the heat of the day. She explains, “This is the time that clients come, so I take advantage to sell my products.” Keur Abdou Khoye is one of the largest vegetable markets in Senegal.

Like many other farmers, Mrs. Badji wants to increase her sales in order to increase her income. But she has difficulty accessing credit to grow her business, despite the increasing number of financing programs. She recalls her first experience bitterly. She says, “I spoke to a financing agent at the market the first time. But it didn’t go well.” A team of financing agents had visited the market to talk to women. She was convinced by the pitch, but the reality was quite different.

She explains: “We women farmers have difficulty meeting the loan payment deadlines because our resources depend on the varying frequency of our returns, which makes the rest complex. The banks don’t take this reality of our income-generating activity into account, especially in rural areas.”

While many farmers face similar experiences, women are in an even more precarious situation because they don’t have the right to own land. Owning land can be a requirement for receiving credit.

Funding programs and financial institutions have expanded in Senegal in recent years, forcing them to diversify their offerings to appeal to groups of women farmers.

Maty Ndoye is a member of the gender network of CONGAD, a platform for 178 national and international NGOs with headquarters in Senegal. She says there is a focus on economically empowering woman farmers. She says that Senegal is very advanced in developing financing options that favour African women.

In partnership with the African Development Bank, Senegal obtained more than five billion FCFA in financing ($8.9 million US) to offer innovative and tailor-made financial tools designed with women in mind. The stated goals of these tools include sharing risk between beneficiaries and financial institutions, and providing training.

Mrs. Ndoye realizes that the system for granting credit to women is not perfect. She says CONGAD is aware that the timing of loan repayment often doesn’t take into account the irregularity of women’s income, and that interest rates can be high.

Marieme Wade is the women’s coordinator of the national union of market gardeners in the Niayes Zone. Mrs. Wade regrets the approach of many financial institutions. She says: “We are being shown the financing facilities offered by mutual associations through the media. But I remain convinced that those who want to reach out to us have not taken the time to assess us and gauge our needs.”

She doesn’t understand financial institutions who say they want to help but ignore the particular needs of women in Thiès. But fortunately, financial institutions are not the only option for women who want to access credit.

Many women have developed informal social assistance and loan initiatives. Mrs. Wade says that more than a decade ago, women market gardeners in the Niayes zone established a crowdfunding group. They started with a daily contribution of 50 FCFA ($0.09 US) in 2011. Since then, the initiative has found success with market gardeners. She says, “Each contract month, we grant a symbolic loan of 35,000 FCFA ($63 US) to a member, with a low [interest] rate [just 2.5%] repayable over five months.”

Today, the group has a fund of 13 million FCFA ($23,250 US). This enables them to maintain an emergency fund for members who are struggling to pay their dues on time.

The women of Niayes have found success with this initiative and more women are joining. Recently a group of women organic farmers joined the group. Mrs. Wade explains, “We have granted them a very favourable financing credit schedule. We thrive on crowdfunding, which is today our lever for empowerment.”

While there is no shortage of women who use financial institutions and who are doing well, women producers in Niayes are relying on each other to increase their resources and returns.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.