Rwanda’s central bank receives acknowledgement for promoting financial inclusion

Rwanda’s central bank has received the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) Policy Award 2014 for its work promoting financial inclusion in the country. Its policies were hailed as “innovative and impactful”.

Governor John Rwangombwa tweeted after receiving the award that the accolade was in “recognition of Rwanda’s visionary leadership”, to which he attributed the success of the Umurenge Savings and Credit Cooperatives (Saccos) programme”, the New Times reports.

Umurenge Sacco was established in 2008 with the aim to boost up rural savings and provide Rwandans with loans to improve their earnings and enhance their livelihoods.

A total of 139 cooperatives under Umurenge Sacco have been awarded licences by the central bank to operate, Itezimbere reports.

These facilities have in just three years attracted over 1.6 million customers and serve, along with other microfinance institutions, almost the same number of customers as those of commercial banks, according to figures from the AFI.

Today, more than 90 per cent of Rwandans live within a five kilometre radius of the nearest Umurenge Sacco.

Commenting on the award, Gilbert Habyarimana, head of Umurenge Saccos at the Rwanda Co-operative Agency, said that “microfinance institutions and Saccos have enabled rural people to have access to financial services, save and lend to each other. This has led to the creation of jobs in the country as more people venture into different businesses with financing from Saccos,”.


Lack of financial access holds back MSMEs growth in Tanzania

The large size of unbankable micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) remains to be a major impediment that holds back the sector’s contribution to economic growth as well as efforts to lift masses from abject poverty.

Figures from the Ministry of Industry and Trade shows that there are about 3.5 million SMEs in the country but the number has never been turned into an investment opportunity by the financial institutions whose core business is lending.

Instead, a fraction of only 7 per cent of the total number of MSMEs has access to finance. Official data from the National Financial Inclusion Framework report shows that the level of financial access for people in rural areas is merely 8.5 per cent compared to 23 per cent in urban centres.

There are currently over 50 banks in the country, but access to finance is a major constraint to growth of SMEs that could contribute immensely to creating more jobs as well as driving up the economy.

One of the arguments always raised by lending facilities including commercial banks and other financial institutions is based on the risks which could arise when dealing with MSMEs and wherever a loan is secured, the cost becomes high to the extent of making the business financing unprofitable.

Thus, barriers to inclusion include ‘the supply-side barriers range from high interest rates, services that don’t meet demand side needs, costs, to inefficiencies of service delivery’. On the demand side, he cited information asymmetry, irregular income patterns and financial literacy.

Structural and regulatory barriers include stringent or lack of proportionate requirements for client onboarding, lack of regulatory framework for broad-based micro-finance services, and a lack of centralised national identification system.

Speaking at the closure of the financial and investments services week held in Dar es Salaam recently, the Industry and Trade Minister Dr Abdallah Kigoda made a wakeup call for conducting training and sensitization seminars to SMEs.

The financial week was aimed at enhancing financial literacy and education, and enterprise development training to the general public. Dr Kigoda said such activities help in bringing services close to the people who are investors in nature. Dr Kigoda remarked further, many people think that investors are only those with large capital.

That is not true. Farmers, entrepreneurs and even SMEs are also investors. There is need to ensure that such groups have leadership which coordinates their activities and abide by ethics, adding that this will help to address a number of challenges petty traders.

The minister underscored the importance of hawkers saying a number of current big businesses have evolved from SMEs. The government has made a reality several initiatives to ensure SMEs access the necessary financial support including SME credit guarantee, Hire Purchase scheme, National Entrepreneurship Development Fund, Small Entrepreneurs Loan Facility (SELF), and Jakaya Kikwete Fund.

With all the government efforts, the private sector in particular banks and other lending institutions have not assumed fully the key role in ensuring SMEs and other groups in the society become bankable and access loans for economic development.

It is from this point of view that the government came out strongly challenging the lending institutions to bear risks and collaborate with the SMEs to bolster their capacity to do business as well as contribute to economic growth.

“It is high time that commercial banks and other financial institutions bear risks and scrutinize new ways of establishing business relations with entrepreneurs,” said the Industry and Trade Minister.

The state and non state actors should put more emphasis on using technological systems to give education better ways of introducing financial services to various investors working in the value chain.

Some investors in the value chain who are in need of financial service are in agriculture, livestock keeping, mines, forests, fishing and service sector.

More emphasis should aim at supporting value addition for the benefits of our economy. Since lending is one of the core businesses of most commercial banks and other financial institutions, it is high time for the lenders to re-think their way of doing business with SMEs so that they could contribute to government efforts to alleviate poverty as well as growth of the financial business.

Also, lending institutions should commission studies on how banks could deal with SMEs in the best way to ensure win win situation between them and contribute significantly to economic growth.

It is thus important to concur with Dr Kigoda on the call for the financial and research institutions to cooperate with the government to ensure that the technological innovations particularly on mobile phone is used to benefit more the SMEs in financial services.

Published on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 00:25

Written by BUSINESS STANDARD Reporter


Rwanda: How Demonstration Farms Have Impacted Coffee Farmers

Celestin Hakizimana, 51, a resident of Giti Sector, Gicumbi District has been a coffee farmer for the last 30 years.

For a long time, however, he was earning peanuts – an average of Rwf100, 000 from his half-a hectare farm on a good season, only enough to enable him put food on the table and afford certain basics like clothing.

That was the situation until 2005 when Ocir Café (now the National Agricultural Export Development Board or Naeb) came into the picture. Then, Naeb started a coffee demonstration farm in the neighbourhood for local farmers to learn from the ‘centre of excellence’.

But they also provided coffee farmers around the area with free pruning equipment, seedlings and a field extension officer for technical advice.

“Since then my fortunes changed and I started registering far higher proceeds, nearly double the previous revenue. Thanks to Naeb support, I was able to expand my farmland to three hectares and I even planted another 500 coffee trees,” he said.

Today, Hakizimana says his farm accommodates about 2,000 coffee trees, which fetch him an average of Rwf800, 000 per season – eight times more than his previous revenue.

From the proceeds he has been able to construct himself a six-room house worth Rwf2 million, is able to pay his family’s health insurance premiums in time, was able to send all his three children to “good” schools – with one of them now a Masters graduate while the other two have graduated with Bachelor’s degrees.

“I have also bought two cows, which do not only give us milk but also manure for the farm,” he says.

Hakizimana adds that he has also bought another five hectares of land, where he plans to grow banana.

Best practices:

Mary Aline Uwizera, a Naeb coffee field extension officer in Gicumbi, says a number of programmes have been rolled out to boost coffee farming in the district.

For instance, between December 2013 and March 2014, her office gave out 186,000 seedlings, 80 litres of insecticide, pruning and spraying equipment worth Rwf950, 000 to farmers free of charge, she says.

Every year, she adds, the best coffee farmer in the district is rewarded with a cow, pruning and spraying equipment.

Felicien Bahizi, a Naeb coffee support production officer, in charge of Kigali and the Northern Province, says every village in his zone has a coffee demonstration farm, where residents learn best farming practices such as mulching, pruning, spraying and harvesting.

He explains that because of these efforts, coffee washing centres in the area have since grown from 19 to 23 (in the last five years).

Maurice Habiyambere, the operations manager of Project for Rural Income through Export (Price), a Naeb initiative, says about Rwf1.9 billion was dedicated to the project alone during the 2013-14 financial year.

Statistics from Naeb indicate that coffee acreage in the area increased by 10,000 hectares between 2013 and 2014, increasing the national acreage to 42,000 hectares.

And an estimated 10,000 farmers are said to have directly benefited from the various coffee demonstration farms countrywide in the same period. About 400,000 people are currently involved in coffee farming countrywide.

Farm gate price:

But Rwandan coffee farmers are not without challenges.

Hakizimana said the Rwf300 farm gate price currently being offered for a kilogramme of coffee beans is quite little compared to the energy and time invested.

“We would be happy if the prices were revised upwards, say to Rwf500 (a kilo),” he said.

He also complained about the Rwf20 charged by Naeb on every kilogramme of coffee sold – for fertilisers purpose.

“The rate charged remains the same even when market prices for coffee have fallen.”

Pascal Mudahinyuka, the Gicumbi District agent of Enas, a private coffee buying and processing firm, said farmers need to put in more effort and improve the quality of their coffee so as to fetch better returns.

Hakizimana also decried the prevalence of coffee berry borer, a pest that attacks the cash crop, especially during the dry season.

Coffee is arguably the second most traded commodity globally, after oil, but is highly vulnerable to price fluctuations dictated by economic conditions in major consuming countries and global supply trends.

“Coffee prices at the world market keep fluctuating week in week out; for instance, last Saturday (August 23) a kilogramme went for $4.25, while two weeks earlier it was at $3.7,” said Robinah Uwera , the Naeb director for marketing.

Naeb says the number of coffee washing stations in country increased from 2020 in 2013 to 229 in 2014.

In 2013, the country had an output of 18,300 tonnes of green coffee, earning about $53 million in exports.

Experts expect output to increase to 23,000 tonnes this year.

Last year, demand for coffee declined by almost 18 per cent globally, leading to a sharp fall in prices to as low as $2.66 per kilogramme of processed coffee beans.

Gakenke District in Northern Province won this year’s Cup of Excellence during a recent competition to recognise the best Rwandan coffee.

The event was organised by Naeb in collaboration with Alliance of Coffee Excellence; the Ministry of Trade and Industry; Development Bank of Rwanda; Starbucks; and I&M Bank.

Switzerland and the U.S are currently the leading consumers of Rwandan coffee.

By Ivan Ngoboka


Embedded Education: Taking Financial Education to Scale

The past few decades have seen an impressive expansion of financial services to the world’s under- and unbanked populations. This expansion has not been without its challenges, including low-income customers of many financial service providers (FSPs) falling into considerable over-indebtedness¹ or signing up for services they do not use.² MFO’s own research³ and the research of others suggest that the limited financial capability of FSP customers is one of the factors behind these challenges. Hundreds of millions of people are gaining access to formal financial services with no education in basic money management principles and ways to maximize the usefulness of the new services to which they have access.4

Extending financial education (FE) to consumers is vital in empowering them to make informed decisions about the financial services they use and how they use them, including avoiding over-indebtedness and signing up for accounts they never use. But reaching the massive number of clients in need of FE in a way that is accessible and practical is a tall order. The Monitor Group report suggests it could cost from $7 billion to $10 billion using traditional, classroom-based approaches to provide education just to those who already have access now —a sum that is 10 to 15 percent of the total current asset base of microfinance institutions worldwide. If access to finance were extended to include the world’s 2.7 billion unbanked, the cost of building financial capability would rise further by a factor of at least three.

One way to deliver FE at scale and cost-effectively is embedded education. This is the process of leveraging encounters in a provider’s service delivery channels that exist primarily for non-educational purposes.

Over the past number of years MFO has been engaged in several embedded education projects, including three projects within its Consumer Education for Branchless Banking program in India, Philippines, and Zambia.5

From these projects we have learned that embedding education in the existing service delivery system of an FSP can have multiple benefits in comparison to traditional classroom training, because it:

  1. Lowers the cost of delivering education;
  2. Leverages “teachable” moments within the service delivery process; and
  3. Forces the service provider to secure and renew the commitment of front-line staff and key management personnel to educating customers, resulting in a more effective implementation process.

Embedded education’s efficacy6 rests on tested Adult Learning Principles. In particular, it gives consumers the opportunity to practice what they have learned because they are receiving their new knowledge in a context where they can apply it.

In addition, embedded education empowers front-line staff to interact with their customers in an informed manner regarding the technical use of the financial services they are providing and how a customer might use them as part of their good money management practices.

The key ingredient required to make embedded financial education work as a model is to keep the focus on the consumer throughout the process: design of the content, depth and mode of learning, packaging of tools and resources, frequency of exposure, mode of delivery, and positioning of the overall financial education program. But this focus on the consumer must also take into account the need to align the education program with the operational processes of the FSP and the priorities and interests of the front-line staff.

Embedded education is a critical tool for empowering consumers to make informed decisions about the financial services they use and how they use them. This approach to education is also consistent with trends in financial inclusion, which put clients at the center. Furthermore, as I will discuss in another blog in this series, it is consistent with improving the bottom line of FSPs.

Posted by Guy Stuart, Ph.D., Executive Director, Microfinance Opportunities


300 Households for One Year – Results of the Kenya Financial Diaries

Understanding the cash flows and money management practices of the poor is a requirement for effectively designing financial services. Complex income scenarios and impossibly-thin budgets make finances for many poor people complex. It takes time and resources to capture such information in a meaningful way. Insight into these practices was sought in the ambitious Kenya Financial Diaries project, which included biweekly interviews with 300 lower-income households in Kenya over the course of one year. Results from the project were released earlier this week.

The Kenya Financial Diaries, a joint research project by Bankable Frontier Associates and Digital Divide Data, comprehensively tracked the transactions of households across Kenya using a customized, “intelligent” questionnaire. The questionnaire was tailored to each household’s composition, income sources, and financial devices used. As new information became available, the questionnaire adapted accordingly. Along with the quantitative records on their financial lives, researchers interviewed household members on their perceptions, stories, and life events affecting their finances.

The results?

Not surprisingly, lower-income Kenyan households face high volatility in income and consumption, they typically have many income sources, and family and friends make crucial contributions.

The income of the median household in the study fluctuated by 55 percent month-to-month and consumption by 43 percent. The median household had a total of 10 income sources throughout the course of the studied year. Some of these were individually counted sources from family and friends. If these “resources received” were excluded, the medium household number of income sources was five. These figures reflect how households piece together multiple income generating activities to form a whole, moving between projects and picking up extra work as available.

Support from family and friends comprised a significant portion of total income. This held especially true for rural populations and women. Money from family and friends made up 25 percent of the median rural household’s income, compared to 6 percent in urban households. Eighty-five percent of the women surveyed received this kind of funding, accounting for 33 percent of income at the median. Men were much less likely to receive money this way, and it accounted for only 4 percent of income at the median.

In terms of money management, a key priority among the studied households was maintaining ample liquidity for unexpected expenses. This takes the form of maintaining open lines of credit, social relations that could offer financial support, and, to a lesser extent, liquid savings. However, ensuring this short-term liquidity was found by the study to be one of the core challenges facing the sector. This is due in part to Kenyans being very “active” savers. Kenyans prefer to not leave money idle, but instead to set it to work, providing some immediate benefit for themselves or their social network. For example, savings often go towards a rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA) allowing another member to withdraw funds, a savings and credit cooperative organization (SACCO) enabling borrowing, or to buying a physical asset that is productive and has the potential to function as loan collateral. This leaves most savings unavailable in the very short run. The study calculated that the median household only had 10 percent of its financial assets in liquid form.

The lack of liquid savings has tradeoffs. On the one hand, allocating savings into illiquid forms helps individuals invest, however modestly. On the other, a lack of available capital can be detrimental and deadly. During the study there were instances of critical delays in accessing emergency health finance. Many cases involved treatment of malaria or other infections where the cost of care was below KSh 500 (about US$6)

Investing in the longer-term was another challenge identified by the study. ROSCAs are the most widely and successfully used investment instrument, but their payout average is low, only KSh 1,500.

Between savings and loans, Kenyans emphasize saving more than borrowing. At the end of the study, the median household had 129 percent of its monthly income equivalent in financial assets versus 53 percent in liabilities. Only an average of 9 percent of household savings are held in formal financial institutions.

The research identified aspects of existing services that can be improved to encourage usage. “Idle” savings services could offer interest on small balance savings giving clients the feel that their money is “working” and productive. Additionally, savings providers can instill prominent indications that even very small value transactions are welcome. This might take the form of incorporating the option of a low value deposit (e.g. KSh 20) on a mobile service interface. Other aspects cited were improving pricing transparency, increasing loan payment flexibility, and strengthening recourse systems. (The Smart Campaign offers tools and resources in these and other areas, here.)

For more on the findings of the Kenya Financial Diaries, read the report, here. Additional project reports will be released in the future offering closer looks at areas including payments, savings groups, and risk.

Climate change adaptation can help promote sub-Saharan African livelihoods – UN report

13 August 2014 – Investing in ways to adapt to climate change will promote the livelihood of 65 per cent of Africans, the United Nations environmental agency reported, warning also that failing to address the phenomenon could reverse decades of development progress on the continent.

Africa’s population is set to double to 2 billion by 2050, the majority of whom will continue to depend on agriculture to make a living, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

“With 94 per cent of agriculture dependent on rainfall, the future impacts of climate change – including increased droughts, flooding, and seal-level rise – may reduce crop yields in some parts of Africa by 15 – 20 per cent,” UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

“Such a scenario, if unaddressed, could have grave implications for Africa’s most vulnerable states,” he added.

In a new graphical report, Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa (KTAA) – Targeted Fiscal Stimulus Actions Making a Difference, UNEP details the implications of climate change, and provides examples of adaptation projects that range from forest ecosystem management to aquatics and agriculture.

The report describes sustainable examples of how countries in sub-Saharan Africa enhanced environmental and ecosystem resilience through the use of native plants and natural infrastructure, land plans and rainwater harvesting, among other examples.

The projects are integrated into national development policies which can strengthen and enhance the resilience communities against the impacts of climate change, while also contributing to the realization of the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to the report authors.

“By integrating climate change adaptation strategies in national development policies Governments can provide transitional pathways to green growth and protect and improve the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Africans,” Mr. Steiner noted.

The projects also highlight the urgency to act now in adapting to challenges, especially in developing countries where capabilities to respond to the magnitude of the problem are limited.

This year’s Africa Environment Day, marked annually on 3 March, focused on combating desertification on the continent and enhancing its agriculture and food security. The continent has lost 65 per cent of its agricultural land since 1950 due to land degradation, according to figures cited by UNEP. Up to 12 per cent of its agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) is lost due to deteriorating conditions and 135 million people are at risk of having to move from their land by 2020 due to desertification.


A report on Climate-Smart Development: Adding up the Benefits of Actions that Help Build Prosperity, End Poverty and Combat Climate Change

This report describes efforts by the ClimateWorks Foundation and the World Bank to quantify the multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits associated with policies and projects to reduce emissions in select sectors and regions. The report has three objectives: 1) to develop a holistic, adaptable framework to capture and measure the multiple benefits of reducing emissions of several pollutants; 2) to demonstrate how local and national policymakers, members of the international development community, and others can use this framework to design and analyze policies and projects; and 3) to contribute a compelling rationale for effectively combining climate action with sustainable development and green growth worldwide. By using a systems approach to analyze policies and projects, this work illustrates ways to capitalize on synergies between efforts to reduce emissions and spur development, minimize costs, and maximize societal benefits.

This report uses several case studies to demonstrate how to apply the analytical framework. Three simulated case studies analyzed the effects of key sector policies to determine the benefits realized in the United States, China, the European Union, India, Mexico, and Brazil. The sector policies include regulations, taxes, and incentives to stimulate a shift to clean transport, improved industrial energy efficiency, and more energy efficient buildings and appliances. Also presented are results of four simulated case studies that analyzed several sub-national development projects, scaled up to the national level, to determine the additional benefits over the life of each project, generally 20 years. By applying the framework to analyze both types of interventions, this report demonstrates the efficacy of this approach for national and local policymakers, international finance organizations, and others.

These case studies show that climate change mitigation and air quality protection can be integral to effective development efforts and can provide a net economic benefit. Quantifying the benefits of climate action can facilitate support from constituencies interested in public health and food and energy security; it can also advance the international discussion of effective ways to address climate change while pursuing green growth.

In this report, the chapter 1 provides background information on the pollutants covered in this report and identifies opportunities to achieve both local socioeconomic and global climate objectives by reducing emissions. It also introduces new modeling tools that enable broader economic analysis of emissions-reduction programs. Chapter 2 explains how these tools can be combined to develop an effective framework to analyze policies and projects. Chapter 3 demonstrates the framework, using several policy- and project-based case studies to estimate the multiple benefits of emissions reductions from a regional or national level. Finally, Chapter 4 explores the challenges to operationalizing the framework and presents conclusions from the study.

To download the report go to:

Online peer lending could boost SMEs

The evolution of peer-to-peer lending platforms has given small businesses another way to access financing despite renewed lending scrutiny.

Speaking in parliament recently, trade & industry minister Rob Davies complained that “developmental credit”, the kind used to start or sustain a small business, for example, “hardly features” in South Africa.

Instead, in the wake of African Bank’s collapse, the focus has been on the evils of unsecured credit, extended solely for short-term consumption, keeping low and middle-income earners trapped in a cycle of debt.

Many financial institutions are wary of lending money to start small businesses, or expand existing ones. But with the evolution of online platforms that facilitate peer-to-peer lending, or P2P, there may soon be a new way for entrepreneurs to borrow the money they need.

RainFin is a locally grown peer-to-peer marketplace that connects lenders directly with borrowers. RainFin, in partnership with a company called M2North, is making it possible for small businesses to access funding via its peer-to-peer platform.

The offering is being introduced in a phased approach, but according to RainFin CEO Sean Emery, it will be “the first peer-to-peer lending platform to small businesses” in South Africa. Alternative lending through peer-to-peer and crowd-funding platforms has grown rapidly in the developed world, generating billions of rands worth of loans, at rates that are cheaper than those of traditional banks.

Individuals who invest on the platforms as lenders also typically get returns that are better than those offered by banks. Proponents see these platforms as the emerging online competitors to banks, but this has not stopped large financial institutions from investing in them, including in South Africa.

US investment banks have taken to lending through major peer-to-peer sites, and in March this year Barclays Africa, via its South African unit Absa, bought 49% of RainFin.

For large financial institutions, there is “a big, big cost in serving SMEs [small and medium enterprises]”, said Emery, particularly when it comes to assessing the business in order to offer financing. In addition, the regulatory burden on businesses is high and the SME sector in South Africa is notoriously volatile. Through its partnership with M2North, and the data it can provide, Emery says RainFin can make assessing small enterprises and their loan origination highly competitive.

According to Emery, M2North enables SMEs and large industrial companies to exchange procurement documents and acts as an electronic intermediary between large companies and their supplier base. Small businesses registered with M2North can now register with RainFin and opt in to share their existing data with the peer-to-peer platform.

Using this information, RainFin is able to assess the credit-worthiness of a business, much like performing credit checks, and provides a risk rating on the individual borrowers using its site. Investors or lenders signed up to RainFin will then be able to lend to small businesses as they would to individuals.

The data provided will enable RainFin to calculate things like a business’s estimated cash-flows, and since many SMEs using M2North have supplied large companies, it can also access things like a firm’s black economic empowerment status and VAT registration.

The loans will initially be small, up to a maximum of R250 000 over a duration of six months. Emery is aware that this offering is breaking new ground. “No one’s done it like we want to do it,” he said. There is not a 50-year history of credit scores and models for small firms in the same way there is for consumers he noted.

“Anybody who lends on the RainFin platform to these SMEs is going to be establishing a new lending paradigm,” he said. Developing credit models? Barclay’s Africa, through Absa, is set to market RainFin’s services to borrowers and lenders across the country, according to Stephen van Coller, chief executive of the investment bank.

Barclays Africa can do both lending and borrowing with known or unknown counterparts through RainFin’s website.  “This can change the industry massively,” said Van Coller. The bank is also expected to invest in the SME offering, alongside other individual lenders, as this newer leg of the RainFin marketplace launches.

In future, RainFin hopes to publish the loan data and history, enabling other players to use it to develop their own credit models, and potentially provide better insight into the performance of the SME sector. The lending platform is not a bank, but adheres to the requirements of the National Credit Act.

It vets the borrowers on its site through credit checks to declare earnings, monthly expenses and requires that they give permission to validate their credit standing via the credit bureaus. According to RainFin, an average of 350 customers per day, representing an average R7,5m in loan value, register with the site. After detailed screening, however, less than 10% qualify, resulting in around 18 new loans, valued at around R400 000, being listed on the site each day.

RainFin has also introduced its own risk grading system. It indicates both the borrower’s historical default rate and RainFin’s internal grade assigned after moderation of the specific loan by the user. This grade provides a guide to the average interest rate lenders have offered to borrowers according to these scores.

Concern about the spike of unsecured lending in South Africa has resulted in calls for heightened regulation. Under the recently amended National Credit Act, the department of trade and industry has proposed new regulations. These include prescribed affordability assessments. Emery said he welcomed the affordability assessments, as they would protect borrowers who could not afford to take on additional debt.  — (c) 2014 Mail & Guardian

By Lynley Donnelly


Forget greenhouses, agronet technology is the in-thing


You have heard of cases where mosquito nets have been used for other purposes, such as fishing or protecting vegetable gardens. Well, the idea around agronets is not too far from what farmers and fishermen do with mosquito nets, only these nets are made specifically for farmers.

Agronet technology involves the use of agricultural synthetic nets that have been tested and can be used in managing key pests in horticultural crops.

Pests account for up to 30 per cent of harvestable yield losses, according to Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. The nets, also known as Eco-Friendly Nets (EFN), can reduce up to 90 per cent of pesticide use on crops.

As the push towards organic farming gains more interest among local small-scale farmers, the use of nets in the farm to protect crops from pests is an idea that farmers are warming up to.

One such farmer is 39-year-old Wandeto Benedetto from Mathira, Nyeri County, whose journey with agronets came just by chance.

Wandeto grows tomatoes, cabbages, kales, cauliflowers, brinjals, spinach and capsicum using a green house facility on his two and half-acre piece of land.

“I first heard about the nets from my sister, who asked me to give them a try instead of buying another greenhouse. I needed to see what these nets do so I travelled from my farm in Nanyuki to Nyahururu, two hours away to see for myself,” he remembers.

At the Nyahururu demonstration farm, he saw how a farmer was using nets to cover tomatoes and cabbages on his farm. The nets, he thought, looked pretty much like mosquito nets although they were specially designed for a farm and the tomatoes looked healthier than those in his greenhouse.

“That’s when I decided to take the risk and get some nets. I dug into my pockets and bought two kinds of nets, one that is specially made for tomato farming, and the other for horticultural crops. I then pitched them on a whole acre of land,” he said.

He invested Sh8,500 for the multipurpose nets and a further Sh12,000 for nets specially made to grow tomatoes.

The output from the tomato production increased from five crates to 12, while the period of maturity was halved from four to less than three months.

He says that due to the heat that nets provide for the crops, it has reduced the period of maturity, especially for his second farm in Karatina. The nets have also reduced attacks from pests, since many insects are not able to successfully penetrate inside and attack the crop.

“Since the crop is under cover, a lot of insects such as the white fly and other pests do not get to the plants, therefore I do not use as much pesticides as before,” says Wandeto.

He notes that the nets are three times cheaper to put up and maintain compared to greenhouses, thus suitable and affordable to many small-scale farmers. His sales of tomatoes has increased from Sh15,000 to about Sh50,000.

“The physical barrier that is the net is made of specific mesh size and held up in a way that prevents entry, and development of the pest on the crop. The net is also made with technology that creates micro-climate conditions to favour the crop, thus increasing its performance,” says Lusike Wasilwa, assistant director of Horticulture and industrial crops at Kari.

The agronet, first tested in Kenya and Benin, has shown impressive results in guarding crops against attacks from pests and a number of diseases. The cabbage and tomato nets act as physical barriers that deny pests such as Lepidoptera and leaf miners from accessing the crop, thus delaying other pest infestation and offering protection against cold, wind, hailstones and heavy rains.