Issue 18 – October 2011

Message from the Director



Members of the Kapaco club in their greenhouse - IFAD/D.Magada    

Rural women in Africa are engaged in many activities. They run the household feed the family, are involved in agriculture and, to make ends meet, they often generate additional income by selling goods or by running micro-businesses. Whether they make baskets, produce natural cosmetics, or sell food and drinks, they tend to operate on a micro-scale, generating low returns.  Furthermore, their enterprises are often undertaken on a part-time basis at home, where it is difficult to separate market and non-market work. Because of this, they do not consider themselves as entrepreneurs even if they are. In addition, in many countries they do not benefit from equal economic and social rights, which further prevents them from developing sound businesses. For instance, access to resources and finance, which are crucial to starting and consolidating a sustainable enterprise, is often limited to men by local tradition and customs.

Given these conditions, the economic contributions and entrepreneurial potential of women remain largely untapped. Recognizing this fact, IFAD is committed to addressing the specific needs of women entrepreneurs in poor rural communities at all stages of its programmes and projects, from design to implementation. This is usually informed by an analysis of gendered constraints and opportunities in the proposed programme. The promotion of entrepreneurial activities for women generally requires practical approaches based on analysis of the local business environment with a specific gender lens. This helps to develop interventions that respond directly to the gendered entrepreneurial issues that emerge. With help and support, women entrepreneurs are able grow their micro-businesses, move out of a cycle of extreme poverty and gain confidence to take on new ventures.

As this newsletter shows, by recognizing the untapped potential of women, many programmes and projects in the East and Southern Africa region have started to help women become successful entrepreneurs in their own right.

Ides de Willebois

General feature on women entrepreneurs

Poor rural women living in remote parts of the world are not usually considered as business people. However, many of these women are extremely entrepreneurial, making the most of any economic opportunity they encounter. They may operate on a small or micro-scale; but brought together, women entrepreneurs make an important contribution to the economic development of their countries. Unfortunately, their contribution is not always accounted for in national statistics and remains partly invisible because it is seen as an informal means of survival rather than as active participation in the country’s economy. The role of women is not only fundamental in ensuring food security and economic production, but their entrepreneurial activities are just as important in helping assert their social position and improve the gender balance. Since all of these factors are at the core of IFAD’s mandate, its projects and programmes are also focusing on helping to develop women’s business potential. 

Constraints for small and micro-enterprises

In many societies, particularly in Africa, women do not enjoy the same opportunities as men. A variety of constraints make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for women to be able to upgrade their production continuously. These include poor access to market information, technology and finance; poor linkages with support services; and an unfavourable policy and regulatory environment. These constraints are exacerbated by the need to compete in an aggressive business environment with rapid technological changes and the globalization of production, trade and financial flows. Even if many of the constraints are shared by micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises run by both male and female entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs often face additional obstacles linked to the local culture and their accepted role in society. For instance, in some countries women are not allowed to own land. In others, they face difficulties in accessing financial services, which by tradition and culture are reserved for the men in the community.

Women business owners face many more constraints and receive far fewer services and less support than men. Furthermore, men tend to take over production and marketing (even of women’s crops) when it becomes financially lucrative to do so. Social norms may prevent women from engaging in some enterprise activities.

When given the chance, women prove to be extremely capable business managers, full of initiative even when they have limited education or business background. What they often need is the right environment and the right training. “We find that women tend to be more reliable than their male counterparts but more conservative when taking risks,” said Ueli Scheuermeier director of RAVI, a company setup to improve access to markets and technologies in East and Southern Africa.

The key to enhancing women entrepreneurs’ access to economic opportunities is to provide them with access to assets, know-how, technologies, credit, and training to upgrade their entrepreneurial and business skills, whether in artisanal production or in high-tech industries. Increasing women’s voice in rural producer organizations is also important. IFAD makes special effort to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment by addressing these issues through the programmes it funds.

Making the most of the training provided

Pauline Samata, a single mother of four in Tanzania, has been able to set up a successful bamboo business with the help of an IFAD-supported project. She has since become a role model for the other women in her community. Her energy and entrepreneurial spirit enabled her not only to establish a thriving business for herself, but also to put in place a training workshop to allow other women to follow her example.

Thanks to a south-south exchange organized under an IFAD grant to the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Samata discovered the vast potential of bamboo. In the Philippines, she learned how to use bamboo to build houses, while in China she was shown how to make bamboo furniture and such diverse items as dustbins for offices, desks for schools, and scarves. "I did not know the marvels of this plant until the day IFAD and INBAR sent me to China and the Philippines for training," said Samata. "This is why I want everyone to understand the potential of bamboo, and the many things that they can do with this plant."

Today, Samata's bamboo business is flourishing. She has set up a workshop 10 kilometres away from her village and can now afford to pay local villagers to cut and collect the bamboo sticks. She also took the initiative to share her newly acquired skills with other women in her area, by creating the Mbeya Bamboo Women’s Group.

Together, they make a variety of products, such as baskets, chairs, tables and dustbins, and have even created a catalogue of their products to distribute to offices and hotels.

Furthermore, they have managed to secure a fixed revenue of 3 million Tanzanian shillings (US$1,900) by selling their products to Shoprite in Dar es Salaam. "The women make TZS 50,000 (US$31) per month," said Samata. "They use their income to pay for their children's education, and for food and medicine, and each month they can save at least TZS 5,000 ($3)." Samata's vision is to train as many people as possible. "I need to build more awareness among Tanzanians so that more people understand the many benefits of bamboo and learn how to use it for different purposes," she explained. "This way they can help themselves to overcome poverty."

In Malawi, another group of women has made the most of the training they received on how to graft mango seedlings under an IFAD-supported project. Before they took the training, the women farmers were selling mango seedlings at a very low price. With their new skills, they were able to improve the plant variety to produce more fruit and sell it at a much higher price. Today, their horticulture club keeps growing and they even plan to open a shop in the capital, Lilongwe (see story below).

Supporting budding enterprises

In many cases women entrepreneurs already have very specialized skills but they lack the vision to expand beyond their immediate environment. For example, they may know how to make a specific product and sell it locally, but they do not have the knowledge to increase their scale of production and find new markets. In this respect, IFAD programmes and projects can help them. In Madagascar, the IFAD-supported Programme for the Rural Microenterprise Poles and Regional Economies (PROSPERER) recently helped three microenterprises run by women to join forces to win a bigger contract to decorate Panama hats for the National Independence Day celebration. The initiative was very successful in the extent that it helped women understand the benefits of working as a team of microenterprises and aim at bigger markets. PROSPERER supports the development of more organized activities, while creating efficient business development services that respond to the needs of small and micro rural enterprises (see story below).

A similar project in Rwanda, the Rural Small and Microenterprise Promotion Project (PPMER), promotes rural microenterprises particularly for vulnerable groups, including women. It trains professional organizations such as cooperatives or business associations to provide support services to start-up businesses.  By receiving support from a local association or business group, young women entrepreneurs gain the confidence they need to further develop a business. The project is also supporting the development of a national policy and dialogue platform for SMEs.

Furthermore, women entrepreneurs often lack knowledge about the operational aspects of running a business, such as accounting, business plans and financial strategies. This hinders them from gaining access to the formal banking sector and prevents business growth. In this regard, IFAD programmes and projects can be very helpful in supporting business groups and associations to help women entrepreneurs increase their knowledge of business operations. Such associations can also help them develop their marketing skills to target wider markets.

Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit

In Africa, like elsewhere in the world, being an entrepreneur requires above all the right mindset to seize opportunities as they arise and turn them into a profitable business. Maimuna Omary Ikanga, a woman in her 40s in Tanzania, provides an excellent example of what can happen when you have an entrepreneurial spirit, even in a remote corner of the country.  Maimuna initially benefited from the warehouse receipt system setup by IFAD in the last decade. This system enables farmers to borrow money ahead of a crop sale, using the crop stored in a warehouse as collateral. This way, they can better bridge the often difficult gap between crops, and not sell them at a discounted price out of desperation.

In 2006, Maimuna had a good harvest, and thanks to the warehouse receipt system, she was able to store her grain until she could sell it at a better price. That year, she nearly doubled her income.  She invested her profits in a satellite dish, a television set and a power generator. With the nearest electricity source 15 kilometres away, this was a major attraction for the community. During the World Cup, she charged fellow villagers to watch football games on her TV set, and made more money than she could have imagined. Since then, she has become a chairperson of her local Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) and is now running a local online network that helps secure business transactions. “She is extremely entrepreneurial and she knows her maths in her head,” said Scheuemeier, who supports the regional network of entrepreneurs of which Maimauna is a member. Although she is literate, she is limited by her lack of English (she speaks only Swahili). But that won’t stop her. “I have a son,” she said, “and he can speak English and help me use the internet.”

Maimuna’s example may be exceptional due to her strong business spirit. However, many other women living in equally remote areas could also succeed. Since many of them are young budding entrepreneurs, they still need help to take their enterprise to a point where it generates sufficient revenue to be re-invested into the business itself rather than used for mere survival. With the support of an organization such as IFAD, this level of success can be reached by the many women who try to make a living using their business acumen, initiative and creativity.

For more information:

Stories from the field

Malawi: Learning new horticultural techniques to raise income



Sapithinka, chairperson of the Kapaco club - IFAD/D.Magada    

Lobi is one of the most remote areas in Malawi, located west of the market town of Dedza along the Mozambican border. It takes one hour travelling on a dirt track to reach the area. Until very recently, farmers could not grow enough to guarantee food security, but had to rely on erratic and limited harvests of vegetables and maize which often ran out before the next crop was harvested.

When the IFAD-supported Irrigation, Rural Livelihoods and Agricultural Development Project (IRLADP) came to the Dedza district, many smallholder farmers were given the opportunity to learn new techniques and find more profitable ways to earn a living. The six-year project, co-financed by the World Bank, aims to raise agricultural productivity and net incomes of poor rural households by providing an integrated package of support covering irrigation, agricultural/irrigation advisory services, marketing and post-harvest assets and services. IRLADP has been implemented in 11 districts in the northern, central and southern regions of Malawi.

Building greenhouses

One of the associations which took part in the project is the Lobi Horticultural Association. Formed in 1998 to grow mango and lemon seedlings, the association has 1,778 members, of whom 1,226 are women. It received a grant to help build greenhouses and purchase inputs and equipment such as wheelbarrows, plastic tubes and seedlings. “We submitted a proposal to IRLADP for one greenhouse, because we felt that’s what we really needed to improve our production,” explained Alice Guburu, secretary of the association. “Since we started working with the project, we’ve increased that number to seven,” she added. The association is divided into six horticultural clubs in three zones; each club operates two greenhouses which are responsible for the nursery production. The remaining greenhouse is run directly by the association for the benefit of all.

Grafting seedlings

Association members also received useful training in plant grafting; the farmers are now able to sell higher-quality seedlings, which bear more fruit, at a much higher price. “We used to sell ungrafted mango plants for MK 20 (US$0.13) each. Now we sell the grafted plant for MK 200 (US$1.32) each,” said Sapithirika, chairperson of the Kapaco Club, the most successful of the association’s clubs. “Before we had this knowledge and the structure of a greenhouse, our plants were dying or were destroyed by animals.”

The Kapaco Club, which has 45 members (42 of whom are women), accumulated almost MK 600,000 (US$3,973) in its bank account by producing and selling mango seedlings. In 2008, the club sold 1,500 ungrafted seedlings for MK 30,000 (US$198). In 2009, after learning the new grafting technique, the club earned MK 250,000 (US$1,655) from selling seedlings. Revenues rose further in 2010 to MK 300,000 (US$ 1,986), with a production of 1,500 seedlings. Members of the club grow eggplants, tomatoes and maize for consumption and sale. As in the other clubs, each farmer’s income depends on his or her production and quality of seedlings.

Selling and marketing

The project also provided training in leadership, nursery management and marketing. Each club is responsible for production and for managing the greenhouses, and the association is responsible for marketing and sales. “We have a marketing committee which monitors the seedlings to make sure they reach the right stage of maturity for selling, and which looks for market outlets,” Sapithirika explained. Sometimes the buyers come to them, and sometimes they negotiate over the phone or even travel to the buyers’ location with a sample of the seedlings. Their major buyer is a non-governmental organization, Concern Universal.

The association doesn’t take any commission on sales, but members contribute an annual membership fee of MK 150 (US$1). The association uses the proceeds from its own greenhouse to pay for its four employees - an office clerk, a watchman and two gardeners - and fuel for transport. The rest of the money, some of which is used to buy more farming inputs, such as fertilizer and seedlings, is deposited into a bank account in Dedza, about 40 kilometres away. “In 2010 we deposited MK 85,000 (US$563). For this year, we are waiting to sell the seedlings,” said Alice.

A brighter future



Mary outside her new house with her bike – IFAD/D.Magada    

Members feel that their livelihoods have improved substantially since 2008, when the project started supporting the association. “We have all benefited a lot from the project. We now have food to take us to the next season, many of us have an iron sheet roof on our house, we are sending our children to school and have been able to buy bicycles,” said Sapithirika. “We were also able to buy household items and fertilizer. We use our money to maintain the greenhouse and have invested in a milling machine to mill maize to feed our families. We now have visitors coming regularly to see what we are doing, and we have plans to open a sale outlet in the capital, Lilongwe.”

Mary, a 45-year-old mother of seven, is a member of the Lobi Horticultural Association in the Chikondano Club. She used to live with her mother, but she built her own house in 2009 after successfully selling grafted seedlings. “I grafted 370 seedlings in 2008, and in 2009 the association identified a market with Concern Universal. I was able to sell my seedlings for MK 200 (US$1.32) each, making MK 74,000 (US$490) in total. With that money I bought iron sheets for my roof, which cost me MK 45,000 (US$298). I also paid a boy MK 1,500 (US$10) to make mud bricks for my house and paid MK 20,000 (US$132) to the bricklayer to construct my house,” she explained.

In 2009, Mary grafted 400 seedlings, which she sold to Concern Universal through the association, earning MK 80,000 (US$530). “I bought a push bike with the money and put the rest in a bank account with the New Building Society,” she said. She keeps some of that money to buy farming inputs and fertilizer in preparation for the next season. She also bought maize for consumption, to take advantage of low prices, and stored it in her house. She also owns livestock.

Mary’s six youngest children, who are between the ages of 12 and 20, go to secondary school, although they are a bit behind because they started late. “I couldn’t afford to send them earlier,” she explained. Unlike primary schools, which are free in Malawi, secondary schools charge a fee. She is very proud of her eldest daughter, who has qualified as a teacher and is now working in the village. She no longer feels poor. “I’m not rich either,” she says. “I’m in between. I never thought I would have so much money in the bank.”  Mary doesn’t intend to stop there. She is quite ambitious and would like to have her own greenhouse to grow more mango seedlings and make more money this way.

The association’s other members share Mary’s vision of the future. They want more greenhouses to grow and sell more seedlings. “Our plan is to have at least 20 greenhouses for our clubs and association,” said Alice. “We’re already running out of space. Some of our members have to store the seedlings in their own house.”

For more information:

Useful links

IFAD in Malawi

Madagascar: promoting cooperation between microenterprises



Panama hats decorated with the national colours of Madagascar. - PROSPERER    

In Madagascar, there is a long tradition of small and microenterprises (SMEs), particularly in the crafts sector. However, they tend to stay within their immediate area with limited scope for development. The IFAD-supported Programme for the Rural Microenterprise Poles and Regional Economies (PROSPERER), which supports the development of organized businesses in this sector, has helped put in place an innovative collaboration between microenterprises.  “Madagascar is a dynamic country, with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, especially in the field of crafts, where knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. We’re trying to build on it to develop further,” said Benoit Thierry, Country Programme Manager at IFAD.

In 2010, the programme worked as an intermediary to complete a business order to decorate 10,000 panama hats with the national colours of Madagascar. The hats had to be made especially for the celebration of Madagascar’s independence that was to take place that year. The order was far too large for any one business, so the programme tried to bring together several microenterprises to take it on.

Three micro-businesses, all run by women, were selected to take on the job, and the overall work was coordinated by one of the three entrepreneurs, Joelle Rabevazaha, owner of Kalangita Creation  in Ampilanonana Ambalavao near the capital city, Antananarivo. Their job was to produce white, red and green ribbons to embellish the hats. “At first we had to make a sample for the client to choose before working on the actual order,” she explained. “However, the client took a bit of time choosing the sample, so we were left with only one week to produce all the ribbons.”

Joelle was responsible for buying the plain hats, which would then be decorated by the three microenterprises involved. “That was a huge cost for us, and we didn’t have the money to buy them,” she said. PROSPERER helped them obtain a down payment from the client to be able to buy the raw material.



Electric sewing machines powered by a generator were used to prepare the ribbons. - PROSPERER    

Each company was given its share of hats to decorate, and went on with the work. “We bought electrical scissors to be able to work faster, and in about four hours we managed to cut 620 ribbon strips,” said Menja, another entrepreneur involved in the venture. “And to be able to finish on time, I had to hire more people.” Menja owns a small business making dolls. All her employees are women and they work together in her workshop.

Both Menja and Joelle have electric sewing machines powered by a generator, as electricity is not available in their village. However Hanja, owner of the third business, also employs men, mainly to sew on traditional, pedal-operated sewing machines, which require more physical strength. They also use electric or traditional irons.

The three companies regularly communicated by phone to check the status of the order, following guidelines given at the start. The programme also hired a coordinator to check the overall quality of the work, and to make sure the standards were the same at the three workshops. She visited them every day and gave advice when it was necessary, as she was aware of the client’s requirements.  In addition, the business owners were training less experienced workers as part of the initiative. “We also had to train our employees, who were also doing a training course provided by PROSPERER,” said Joelle.

The three partners managed to produce all the Panama hats required and deliver them on time for the Independence Day celebration. In the process they learnt that by working together, they can aim at larger markets, which previously seemed out of reach.

So far, PROSPERER has selected 14,500 small businesses, of which 13,000 have already been trained or received support services. The overall target is to support 48,000 SMEs by 2015.  “The idea is to work with people who already have a small business because they already have the experience and knowledge of buying raw material, transforming it and selling it. They already have an entrepreneur’s mind,” said Thierry.

As part of the programme, advice is given on how to develop and present a business plan to obtain start-up funds from a micro-finance institution. Also, training courses on marketing, leadership and management are provided. “Before the programme, we didn’t consider ourselves as entrepreneurs. We had no idea about marketing or leadership,” said one of the entrepreneurs involved.

However, the ultimate goal of PROSPERER is to bring together all the SMEs of a given sector into an association to be better organized. In this regard, the experiment with the panama hats was a first step, showing that it is possible to cooperate. “We are aiming to have well organized business sectors. The various networks already exist but they are rather informal. We want to communicate the message that together we are stronger,” said Thierry.

For more information: 

Useful links

Uganda: Diversifying into natural cosmetics



Ms Segujja selling her products at a trade fair    

Grace Sseguja is the founder and manager of NALUSCO, a company that makes herbal soap and skin-care products. Before she became an entrepreneur, Grace was a rural housewife who reared chickens to supplement her husband’s income and contribute to the family’s welfare. Grace and her husband Joel have ten children.

Her entrepreneurial spirit had appeared earlier on when she won a local radio award for having the best chicken enterprise. But for Grace, that wasn’t enough. She was ambitious and wanted to do something else, but had no access to funds to help her start a business. “I did not have the money to start any business, although I had the ideas,” she said.

In 2006, Grace joined the Masaka Elders Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO), which was supported by IFAD’s Rural Financial Services Programme (RFSP) in Uganda. She was assured that she could access some capital to start her enterprise. Her idea was to produce soap and cosmetics, and her fellow village farmers encouraged her to do so. The RFSP works to increase the capacity of the poorest rural people to save, acquire assets and invest in production and enterprises, by increasing the outreach and sustainability of selected SACCOs. Grace’s SACCO, based in Kimanya–Kyabukuza Sub County, Masaka town, has 2,463 members.

In 2008, Grace took a loan of 300,000 Ugandan shillings (US$115) from the SACCO and, together with her husband and children, started making bar soap. At the start, they produced only three bars of soap per day, with each bar selling for UGX 1000 (US$.38). After paying back the first loan, she obtained a bigger loan and bought a machine, which enabled her to boost production. Her husband resigned from his job in the accounts section of Kitovu hospital to work full time in what has now become a family enterprise. Grace and Joel have since widened their scope by opening another plant in Kampala, adding body jelly to their product line, packaging their product to target a wider market, and acquiring a pickup truck to transport their products.

They use family labour exclusively to do their research, production, product testing, sales, marketing, and financial management and accounting. All their children are either actively involved or working as apprentices to learn the trade.

Grace attributes her success and fame to the help she got from the SACCO.  “I am now known all over the country because of my business thanks to the SACCO, which trusted me and gave me a loan to start my business,” she said.

Eric Kizza, the SACCO manager, is pleased that the SACCO gave Grace an opportunity to explore her potential and develop a booming business. “When Grace joined the SACCO, she had nothing much to her name. She started by getting a small loan, which she used and paid back promptly before she could get another. She has not looked back, and right now she can access bigger loans not only from the SACCO but from commercial banks as well if she so wishes,” he said.

NALUSCO’s main challenge in the near future is to make their products better known on a wider market. The company needs to accumulate funds to market their products through the media, rather than only relying on a stall at markets and trade fairs.

For more information:

Useful links

News and events

Grants and loans approved by the September 2011 Executive Board




Loans and grants to be submitted to the December 2011 Executive Board




Regional Grants

Upcoming / Recent Events

Missions and Workshops









Appointments and staff movements

Mr Robert Creswell joined the ESA division as the Financial Management Officer as of 1 September 2011. Previously Mr Creswell worked in the Audit Division.

Mr Norman Messer joined the ESA division as the country programme manager for Madagascar. Previously Mr Messer worked in the Belgium Survival Fund and the West and Central Africa Division.

We say farewell to Mr Ides de Willebois, Director of ESA, who will become the Director of West and Central Africa as of 1 November 2011.