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One small step: Empowering micro-, small and medium businesses across South Asia

© Alex Hudson/Unsplash

It is something of a paradox that, while there is broad agreement that micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are an integral part of the economy in developing countries, they remain underserved.

MSMEs are vital to achieving decent and productive employment, particularly in the developing world, where they help keep economies afloat. In South Asia, on average, they account for over 40 percent of GDP. They also drive livelihoods – especially those of women and young people.

Yet millions of MSMEs don't have access to capital to grow their business. That’s why IFAD works with governments to invest in rural MSMEs and agribusiness, spurring productivity, improving incomes and livelihoods, and creating jobs.

Here are some stories of how IFAD investment has helped women and men across South Asia grow their businesses and build better lives.

Bangladesh

Reshma Begum had always wanted to rear goats. “Money was always short. My husband is a day labourer and we never had enough to take care of ourselves and our four children,” she says. “We did have some land that we weren’t doing anything with. So I thought, why not rear goats to support the household income. But they all died, and we were left with more debt than before.”

Things turned around when Reshma met a value chain facilitator with IFAD’s PACE project. In 2016, she received training on goat rearing through PACE, along with a loan of US$235 to buy four mother goats.

Within a year, Reshma’s goats birthed 13 calves. In 2017, Reshma turned a tidy US$1300 profit by selling 10 goats, enough to pay for her eldest daughter’s wedding. Now, there are never fewer than 30 goats on her farm.

Reshma’s goat business has been so successful that she’s gained some local fame. Her husband was able to leave his day labourer job and now works alongside her. There’s enough to send the children to school. And Reshma hasn’t stopped dreaming: emboldened by her success, she wants to double the number of goats on her farm.

Bhutan

Sangay Jamtsho, 32, quit his job as a primary school teacher to become a farmer. “I am the son of farmers. Ever since I was a young boy, all I wanted was to run a dairy farm,” he says. So, eight years ago, armed with a US$32,000 loan from the Rural Enterprise Development Cooperation and the Loden Foundation, he returned to his home village to start the business of his dreams.

That bought him six Holstein Friesian cows and some basic equipment. In 2018, thanks to the IFAD-supported CARLEP programme, Sangay was able to upgrade his cattle sheds and buy more dairy equipment. He also got training and hands-on practice with clean milk production, fodder development, and more.

He has gone from strength to strength. Currently, he produces more than 40 litres of milk every day for the milk processing unit in Yangtse town. With CARLEP’s assistance, Sangay has also opened a dairy product outlet in the strategically located Doksum. This outlet, which links milk producers to markets, boasts daily collections of more than 500 litres of milk. Dairy products like milk, cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, butter, clarified butter (ghee), curd, and churned curd (lassi) are also sold there.

Sangay isn’t stopping there. Though he already makes between US$150 and US$290 a month on average from dairy, he’s decided to diversify. Together with his wife, Sangay now supplies pullets to the Dzongkhag livestock sector, earning another US$430 a month. The next step? He plans to expand his milk processing unit. “This was the best decision I ever made. I’m doing what I always dreamed of, and it’s paying off,” he says.

India

Nazima has been running a saree printing business in the famed weaving district of Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, for seven years now. For Nazima, long employed as a wage labourer at another saree shop, everything changed with a loan from the IFAD-assisted PTSLP programme. “I received an interest-free loan of US$2380 through my village-level federation,” she says. “I added my own funds of US$410 and started my business – Ababeel Saree Printing. It was a proud moment.”

The benefits of running her own business have been huge. Nazima was able to pay for her daughter’s wedding and educate both her children. In eight years, Nazima has made a total of US$89,400, including a tidy US$39,700 profit. She’s paid off her loan in full and now employs women from the Hameed Aandavar self-help group to which she belongs.

“I am grateful that I could get an interest-free loan, as a poor woman. I could start this business with my skills and knowledge and I’m glad to have been able to pay it forward by employing other women like me,” she says. 

Nepal

After years of toiling away in Saudi Arabia, Ram Bahadur Bhandari returned to his native Nepal. He wanted to put the skills he’d developed abroad to good use. The answer came through an encounter with the IFAD-supported Samriddhi project during a workshop on agricultural supply chain development.

Ram wanted to set up a centre to sell fresh produce in Sunsari district. He had enough funds to get started, but he needed to source the fruits and vegetables. That’s where the project came in. “Samriddhi coordinated with farmers’ groups. The initial agreement was for vegetables produced by seven groups. I couldn’t have set up the business so quickly if it hadn’t been for the project’s support,” he says.

Today, Bimbika, as his centre is called, collects six tonnes of produce every day from 800 producer groups – and Ram is adding even more groups to his list. He jointly owns 30 sales outlets across four cities with young migrant returnees, and employs five people at Bimbika and another 30 at the outlets. He plans to open more stores in Dhankuta and Kathmandu to accelerate business and deliver vegetables safely, without spoilage, from farm to consumer.

Sri Lanka

Maheshika Dilrukshi is the director of Canal Corner Flower Garden in Balangoda – and a serial entrepreneur. Her first business was selling pharmaceuticals, but it folded after an accident took her away from it. Undaunted, Maheshika became interested in floriculture. For help with her next venture, she applied to the IFAD-supported SAPP programme.

“The first time I submitted my proposal to SAPP, they rejected it but encouraged me to develop it further. I am someone who keeps on trying, so I kept at it, and was finally successful,” she says. “I set up Canal Corner Flower Garden as a market space, providing a platform for hundreds to sell their products. We also provide capacity trainings in association with SAPP consultants to boost productivity for floriculturists.”

Today, Maheshika sources from over 180 farmers in the floriculture industry, most of whom are women.

Learn more about IFAD’s work in the Asia and the Pacific region.