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IFAD’s commitment to a market systems approach to inclusive rural financial services

There is increasingly robust evidence that promoting access to inclusive rural financial services shows positive impact at the microeconomic level, improving household welfare and local economic activities. Also at the macroeconomic level, the degree of financial intermediation is positively correlated with growth. Policymakers increasingly recognize that an inclusive financial market allows for more effective and efficient achievement of other policy objectives.

With almost four decades of engagement in more than 70 countries and more than US$3 billion invested in rural finance systems to date, IFAD has deep, multifaceted experience, a global network of partners working at the frontier of innovation and hundreds of different types of providers (commercial banks, agricultural development banks, microfinance institutions and financial cooperatives, village-based grass-roots savings and credit associations, and specialized finance companies, e.g. equity, leasing, insurance) that address the needs of the clients: rural poor households.

IFAD’s goal is to empower poor rural women, men and youth in developing countries, and to improve their incomes and food security. To do this, IFAD is working to expand access to a range of financial services in rural areas. These services are tailored to the needs of rural poor households, smallholder families and rural microenterprises.

Financial service providers need to be sustainable, providing relevant services over the long term and continually increasing their outreach to rural customers. IFAD also looks at the long term, working to build institutions that are able to allocate scarce resources efficiently, manage risk and reduce transaction costs.

Sustainable poverty reduction requires political will, good governance and sound policies. Governments have an important role to play, creating a conducive policy and regulatory environment in which responsible financial service providers can thrive and be effectively supervised.

IFAD catalyses global knowledge and country applications, and shares knowledge through publications, operational guidelines and building communities of practice (e.g. CGAP, CABFIN etc.). Its market systems approach to inclusive rural financial services entails understanding the needs of vulnerable low-income households and smallholder farmers, demonstrating pro-poor business cases, enhancing the effectiveness of rural outreach, supporting financial sector infrastructure development, and promoting the enablement of national policy and regulation. One of the approaches to better serve IFAD’s clients is through “toolkits” that cover industry best practice offerings such as:

  • Digital financial services (DFS), which fosters a culture of innovation that leverages new and emerging technologies to address smallholder-specific financial needs. As a member of the Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA), IFAD recognizes the benefits of replacing the use of physical cash with electronic payments, and of increasing the use of electronic payment systems in programmes and operations to promote financial inclusion, increased transparency and efficiency.
  • Youth access to rural finance, which has become a central concern of poverty reduction strategies. Financial services such as savings, loans and insurance are essential tools young people need to start an enterprise and increase farm productivity. Remittance products are needed for youth who migrate, to help spur local economies in the communities of origin.
  • Community-based financial organizations (CBFOs). There are many examples of how CBFOs bring financial services to rural areas, empower the poor and women in particular, enable rural households to better manage seasonal income and expenditure fluctuations, provide a safety net for life events, and allow households to invest and build assets. IFAD’s support in setting up, strengthening or upgrading CBFOs is designed with these types of social goals in mind.
  • Agricultural Risk Management (ARM). The inherent risks and vulnerabilities, especially of smallholder farming systems, are often a barrier that discourages private-sector investments in agriculture. In this context, ARM represents a key, innovative approach to matching demand with supply, and leveraging rural financing and investments. The Platform for Agricultural Risk Management (PARM) is a G20 initiative supported by IFAD, the European Commission, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Italian Government, PARM focuses on mainstreaming ARM into policy and investment plans of developing countries. PARM promotes rigorous risk assessment and a holistic and demand-driven approach to managing agricultural risks.
  • Index-based weather insurance. Extreme weather events and natural disasters such as droughts or floods can destroy crops, trap rural households in poverty, impede development and drain a country’s financial resources. Smallholder farmers in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the harsh effects of weather risks. Affordable insurance can help improve their financial security and protect their livelihoods in the event of a crisis. IFAD has joined forces with the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners to promote index-based weather insurance to mitigate these risks.
  • Remittances. The money that migrant workers send home—remittances—is a lifeline for poor people. These funds, which add up to more than US$450 billion worldwide, generally surpass foreign direct investment and development assistance combined. IFAD is working to unlock the development potential of remittances by linking them to other financial services, such as savings, insurance and loans. The Financing Facility for Remittances (FFR), based at IFAD, seeks to improve access to cost-effective and easily accessible money transfer services in remote rural areas. The FFR is funded by the European Commission, the Governments of Luxembourg and Spain, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Inter American Development Bank/Multilateral Investment Fund.

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