The Rural Finance Project (RFP) recently convened a two-day stakeholders' consultative forum for micro-finance institutions (MFI) in the country at the Wellingara Model Horticulture Centre in West Coast Region.
The forum was meant to finalise the annual work plan and budget (AWPB 2013-2014), as well as to review and validate the External Evaluation Survey Report on the impact of RFP implementations.
The annual forum was well attended in that it drew participants from the Gambia Women's Finance Association (GAWFA), National Cooperative Credit Union of The Gambia (NACCUG), Village Savings and Credit Association's Apex Body (V-APEX), National Village Savings and Credit Association- Technical Service Providers (NAVISACA-TSP), Micro-finance Promotion Centre (MFPC), Gambia Micro-finance Institutions' Network (GAMFINENT), Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG), Department of Agriculture (DoA), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Central Projects Coordinating Unit (CPCU).
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the deputy permanent secretary for Projects and Programmes at the Ministry of Agriculture, Ashme Cole, commended RFP for convening the annual consultative forum, which he said seeks to facilitate access to quality financial services. "We will review the Impact Assessment Survey Report, which will give the partners the opportunity to know the impact the project has made on the lives of the targeted beneficiaries," he stated. He urged partners to provide their inputs on the report to improve implementation of programmes in the coming years.
For his part, the RFP coordinator, Lamin JS. Fatajo, enjoined participants to take active role in reviewing issues that are of concern to the micro-finance institutions in the country, saying the industry is at a "cross road".
The micro-finance industry in The Gambia, according to Fatajo, is facing several challenges includingoperational modalities that translate the Gambia National Agricultural Investment Program (GNAIP) and the Agricultural National Research (ANR) policy objectives of using MFIs for savings, mobilisation and credit delivery. "The pronouncement emphasis by commercial banks for providing the necessary credit in the value chains without clear linkage with the MFIs can further slowdown little progress made in the MFI sub-sectors," he lamented.
The RFP coordinator went on to explain that the GNAIP implementation provided the framework for MFIs and the consolidation of the existing funds available within the sector. He however stated that the initial projects under GNAIP did not account for those funds, which he pointed out could have spelt out the role of MFIs in the value chain implementation.
Fatajo then tasked MFIs to endeavour more and show results and impact with a view to gaining credibility and acceptability. "This does not mean that the MFIs are not having impact on the lives of ANR sector beneficiaries. A recent survey conducted in VISACA communities indicated that 77% of the respondents obtained their loans from VISACAs, while 18% sourced their credit from other MFIs (NACCUG and GAWFA). This means that commercial banks are yet to have the required rural presence to become serious providers of rural finance to ANR sector beneficiaries," he further said.
He called on MFIs in the country to come together and form a strong partnership and advocate for an inclusive MF policy that can sustainably increase agricultural investment at all levels of micro, small and medium enterprise. "RFP will focus 2013-2014 implementations on piloting agricultural lending product. At policy and advocacy level, the project will collaborate with relevant stakeholders in the implementation of the long awaited micro-finance policy, organisation of micro-finance summit, as well as engaging the National Assembly and district authorities on their role in strengthening the industry particularly in the area of governance and loan repayment issues," he indicated.
Underscoring the importance of the annual validation, the RFP coordinator said it is essential for the project to be evaluated from an external perspective to show its progressin improving the lives of the beneficiaries. The deputy director, Planning Services Unit (PSU) of Department of Agriculture, Abba Sankareh, also spoke at the programme.