Esther Muiruri's viewpoint
Interview with Esther Muiruri, general manager of agribusiness for Equity Bank in Kenya. Equity Bank’s vision is to transform people’s livelihoods socially and economically by providing modern and inclusive financial services
Equity Bank has been very successful in agricultural financing with smallholder farmers. Why don’t more banks take a similar approach?
With agriculture financing there are challenges and risks. However, instead of fearing the risks, we need to see the opportunities, work to mitigate the risks, and explore what interventions can be developed to help smallholder farmers. The reason why some organisations do not currently work like this is because of their perception of risk. But financing is a process and we need to work with farmers to develop an effective risk mitigation strategy.
So how can bankers better understand farmers in order to provide effective financing?
Banks need to establish a relationship so that they understand the farmers, who also develop an understanding of banks. You then have a win-win situation and can develop solutions that are acceptable to both. In addition, we should bring in other players who work with farmers, who can work in partnership and support both farmers and financiers. This way, everybody understands the situation and can work to fix problems rather than leaving farmers on their own; working in partnership is a mitigation against risk. We also train our financiers in relationship management so that they not only visit the farm to talk about finances but they offer a level of extension service. The farmer then feels that we talk their language and understand their circumstances; we develop a working relationship by following their activities and supporting them to address any issue that arises.
What advice would you give to other banks who are developing financial tools for farmers?
Any tool that is developed needs to be understood by farmers. You can develop a very good insurance product but if farmers do not understand the concept of insurance then it becomes a challenge for them to take up the product. So every tool needs to be supported by really effective communication so that farmers understand exactly what are the pros and cons of each concept and how it works for them. Our approach has always been to start with a level of training to explain, to create awareness and to sensitise them so that by the time they are taking up the facility, farmers know what to expect and there are no surprises.