- Beninese Minister of Agriculture Fatiou Akplogan has secured a US$ 10 million loan to "boost non-farm activities" in Benin's rural areas. Some 50,000 farmers are to get access to credits and new markets in a project that aims at diversifying Benin's rural economy.
Minister Akplogan himself jetted into Rome before the weekend to arrange the last formalities at the headquarters of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Meeting with Lennart Båge, head of the UN agency, the two on Friday signed the loan agreement that will give the Minister access to US$ 10 million to realise the ambitious project. The Cotonou Ministry provides another US$ 4.8 million from its own funds to the project.
According to IFAD, the new development programme" will make it possible for more than 56,000 rural poor people in Benin to gain access to financial services, technology and markets, increasing their well-being and incomes. Membership in financial services associations will also increase by about 50,000."
Mr Båge praised the initiative at the signing ceremony: "This programme will benefit farmers by introducing post-harvest technologies like storage facilities that protect crops from insects and pests and by linking farmers to markets through training programmes to improve the quality of products so they will more easily find a market," stated Mr Båge.
Farmers were also learn to market their products at trade fairs, and learn new non-farm income generating activities such as setting up shops or processing products so they increase in value, Minister Akplogan and Mr Båge announced.
According to IFAD, a major focus of the programme would be to "increase access to savings and credit through the consolidation and expansion of 200 village banks" called financial services associations. A network of these associations was to be expanded to include about 100,000 shareholders by the end of 2010.
The UN agency further emphasised that special attention would be paid to women and young people "who are particularly vulnerable because of limited access to land, financial services, information and training."
During previous agricultural development programmes in Benin, IFAD had observed that "women are often more active than men in starting new businesses, and they pay back loans sooner than men." Therefore, a special focus on women would increase the sustainability of the programme.
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