The government should enact an agro-financing policy to address the challenge of limited access to credit and, hence, boost lending to the sector.
According to agro-economics experts, lack of funding is hurting the industry, and could greatly affect the export sector and retard growth if the issue is not solved.
Alfred Mutebwa, the Ministry of Agriculture price project for rural income through export programme co-ordinator, said an agro-lending policy is essential to compel commercial banks extend credit to rural farmers to undertake modern farming and enhance productivity. Mutebwa noted that commercial banks have completely shunned the sector.
"We have engaged banks for a long time, but they won't listen. All they want is to make money in lucrative businesses," he said.
This was during a workshop on agro-financing organised by Ministry of Fiance to discuss a report by central bank which indicated that only 4 per cent out of total loan portfolio was allocated to agricultural sector.
Eric Rwigamba, the director general for financial sector development at the Ministry of Finance, noted the government's objectives of increased productivity, rural development and solving youth unemployment cannot be achieved without developing the financial sector in regard to the agro-lending.
Alex Kanyankole, the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) chief executive officer, urged banks to scale up agro-financing products if Rwanda must attain double digit economic growth.
"We need to come up with a new approach on how banks can extend credit to farmers. We can't keep using excuses of 'high risks' to refuse farmers credit to develop their enterprises. The approach must compel banks to do business with farmers," Kanyankole said.
Peter Rwema, the the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Rwanda director for research and development, noted that using micro-finance institutions could solve the problem if they are supported.
"Agro-productivity can best be enhanced through financial institutions whose primary role is to alleviate poverty by taking financial services to the rural people at affordable rates. The approach to the whole value chain must be addressed using a bottom- top initiative, which commercial banks can't do," he pointed out.
Rwema called for dual partnership for commercial banks to make a contribution to the agriculture industry.
Januario Mucyo, the Bank of Kigali relationship manager for non-businesses, noted that unless farmers are organised in co-operatives, it will be hard for banks to extend credit to individual farmers 'with no capital flow'.
"Unless there is crop prioritisation or farmers are organised in groups, it will be difficult for commercial banks to invest in agro-financing at the lower level," he said.
Innocent Bulindi, the Business Development Fund Rwanda boss, said the tendency of banks segregating between big and small agriculture players in the value chain is counterproductive. "The question is not lack of liquidity, but rather the tendency by banks to shun small players in the industry."
Frank Bakx, Rob-bank technical adviser, advised that the policy should be clear on how much money banks should commit to the agriculture sector if it is to have an impact.
"It's imperative that such a policy commits banks to extend loans of say 10-15 per cent of their loan portfolio to the agriculture to help the sector develop," Bakx said.
According to statistics from central bank, only 4 per cent of the banks' total loan portfolio is allocated to agriculture despite the sector employing over 80 per cent of the population and contributes about 35 per cent to the country's Gross Domestic Product.
Why set up an agricultural bank?
Rutebwa noted that the need to establish a specialised agriculture bank is key to addressing the problems farmers are experiencing.
Agriculture has been the main driver of growth and poverty reduction, pulling one million people above the poverty line over the past five years. About 45 per cent of Rwandans are considered poor.