Agriculture is a way of life for most people in Mali. The vast majority of cultivated land is used by small farmers for subsistence agriculture. Previous research has shown that returns to agricultural investment are high, but in practice many farmers do not take on profitable investments. Can microfinance help alleviate constraints to investment among small farmers?
Underinvestment in agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, hybrid seeds, or labor is thought to drive low crop yields in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Several factors may help explain why farmers fail to invest in such potentially profitable inputs. It is possible that they are wary of the riskiness of adopting new agricultural methods or tools—if they invest and their crops still fail, they will have even less money than if they had not invested at all. Farmers may also lack the capital necessary to purchase these inputs, and be unable to obtain credit to finance investment in their farms. Microfinance services are intended to address such constraints, but microfinance institutions often emphasize small business clients and do not structure products to target or facilitate agricultural lending. Can microfinance help alleviate constraints to investment among small farmers?
Context of the Evaluation:
In Mali, agriculture represents 80 percent of employment and about 37 percent of Gross National Product. However the agricultural sector is dominated by subsistence farming supporting single households. This study takes place in the region of Sikasso, within the ‘cercles’ of Bougouni and Yanfolila. In these areas, cash crops like cotton, maize, sorghum, millet and groundnuts are most frequently cultivated. To generate additional income, women in the area often work in the production of shea butter and men in gold-mining.
Details of the Intervention:
Soro Yiriwaso is a Malian microfinance institution whose mission is to increase economic opportunities for poor Malians, especially women, by offering durable financial services. At the start of the study, Soro Yiriwaso did not offer financial services in any of the study villages. Out of the main 200 study villages, Soro Yiriwaso began operations in 90 randomly selected villages. In these villages, officers promoted the ‘Prêt de campagne’ product, a group agricultural loan offered to women who form an association specifically for the purpose of receiving and managing the money. The loans averaged around 32,235 Francs CFA (65 USD), and were offered at the start of the planting season, to be repaid with interest after harvest.
Grants Treatment: A randomly selected group of farmers from the villages that were not offered the ‘Prêt de campagne’ product, as well as those from the ‘loan’ treatment group who did not receive a loan were provided with a grant of 40,000 Francs CFA (80 USD). These grants were given to both men and women before the planting season, with no restrictions on how and when they could spend the money.
Savings Treatment: Another randomly selected group of farmers from the villages that were not offered the ‘Prêt de campagne’ product were offered a savings product designed jointly by Soro Yiriwaso and IPA. The savings product required women to decide on a target savings amount and deposit plan immediately after the harvest season, but they were only allowed to withdraw savings at the beginning of the next planting season. A small non-cash bonus was given to women to incentivize adherence to the savings plan.
Fertilizer Treatment: In order to evaluate the returns to fertilizers, and why small-holder farmers do not use more fertilizers on their plots, 23 separate villages were randomly selected to receive grants of different amounts of fertilizer. Women farmers who cultivated rice in these villages were assigned to receive one of three different quantities of fertilizer: no fertilizer, the officially recommended quantity, or half of this recommended quantity.