To what extent can microfinance institutions use agricultural loans and training to reduce income and gender inequality in Zambia?
By Charlie Graver and Unnati Singh
The MicroLoan Foundation aims to strengthen the link between microfinance and female empowerment, by giving them more economic power to gain autonomy and decision-making powers. They launched an agricultural loan and training programme that reached 484 female farmers in Zambia which aimed to support female smallholder farmers through financial inclusion, poverty alleviation and food security. Microfinance plays an important role in tackling issues of poverty, food insecurity and female inequality in Zambia, where 58% of civilians live below the poverty line (World Bank 2015). Women living below the poverty line face additional layers of financial and social exclusion. This report analyses the findings that the agricultural loans and services provided to Zambian female farmers contribute to the eradication of income and gender inequality.
Methodology and Results
This report draws from primary research conducted by Microloan Foundation in Zambia, as well as an interview with Ms Malin Rosenkvist, their Director of Fundraising and Communications. Secondary research is used to substantiate these findings, to ensure that our report remains unbiased and corroborated. Each participant of the agricultural loan and training programme attended conservation farming training in modules such as ‘land evaluation and measurement’ and ‘establishing an agro-forestry nursery and transplanting’ (MicroLoan Foundation 2020). This training helps create more productive and efficient harvesting methods for the women’s farms - as well as promoting climate sustainable farming practices. The women were also supplied with inputs for farming as part of a business loan worth ZMW 1,230 per acre (Ibid.). The results were compared to a control group of farmers who did not participate in the programme.
Alongside factors such as high input quality and supervision, the training enabled women to improve their maize production techniques, generating impressive yields for the MicroLoan farmers. In 2019/20, maize yields averaged 4.7 tonnes, creating a Return on Investment (ROI) for Maize of 440% and potential average farm profits of ZMW 5,569 (see Table 1, MicroLoan Foundation), 3.8% above the control group average profits (of the same size and including loan repayments). The programme also taught the women crop rotation and supplied soya, a nutritious cash crop, for the women to start farming. Consequently, MicroLoan farmers achieved “double the yield of control group farmers”, at 259 kg per acre on average (Ibid.). The MicroLoan Foundation’s programme played a crucial part in this success, as control group farmers were found to typically use lower quality farm-saved seeds and did not have the benefits of the conservation farming training that the women had. Therefore, according to MicroLoan Foundation statistics, the ROI for Soya is 326%, with an average potential profit of ZMW 2,094 for the women (see Table 1, MicroLoan Foundation).
Table 1: Results Year 3 Maize Pilot Programme Zambia
Other studies by Bikbaeva and Gaibnazarova (2009) have also been conducted on the impact of microfinance on poverty reduction. Such microfinance and training programmes have spillover effects on the people of the local economy. Ms Rosenkvist agreed with this finding in the context of Zambia, stating that the success of the women receiving agricultural loans and training encourages the adoption of these techniques within the community. Women are the core participants of the microfinance programme and this can create issues when gender norms are challenged. However, Ms Rosenkvist adds that studies indicate an improvement in domestic relationships between men and women as a result of increased household income. This is based on interviews with over 200 women, which indicates that the presence of microfinance in Zambia has had a positive impact on income and gender inequality to a certain extent.
However, there are some potential weaknesses of this study. Firstly, the resources and reporting in Zambia can pose challenges for accurate measurement of yields and profits. Given that 90% of the participants were smallholders in small villages, the conservation techniques may have spread to the control group, potentially causing an underestimation of the effect of the MicroLoan project.
Furthermore, some MicroLoan farmers may not adopt their learnt conservation farming techniques to all aspects of their farming, often only using the MicroLoan farming methodology for the portion of land that corresponds with the inputs provided (MicroLoan Foundation). This leads to lower yields due to inefficient agricultural techniques.
Additionally, although relations between men and women are improving due to the economic dimension of microfinance, Mayoux (2000) finds that microfinance may neglect the political dimension that sustains patriarchal social frameworks. In other words, it is important to consider whether agricultural loans and training tackle the structural causes of gender inequalities.
This report finds that the provision of agricultural loans can have beneficial effects on income and gender inequality in Zambia. The women were able to generate profits above that of the control group, particularly with the introduction of soya and crop rotation as a direct result of MicroLoan Foundation’s project.
The issue of gender and income inequality is systemic in Zambia, but the project helped to improve female decision-making powers, household incomes and education levels. However, further research is required to monitor whether the project can create longer-term growth for the farmers, especially without close supervision. More research is also needed into whether the social and gender norms limiting female agency in Zambia will improve as a result of this programme.
This article was written in collaboration with MicroLoan Foundation - find out more about them here: https://www.microloanfoundation.org.uk/
List of References
The World Bank In Zambia. World Bank. (2020), from https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/zambia/overview#:~:text=Zambia%20ranks%20among%20the%20countries,poor%20live%20in%20rural%20areas.
MicroLoan Foundation. (2020). Maize and Soya Programme Zambia Report 2020. London: MicroLoan Foundation.
Bikbaeva, G., & Gaibnazarova, M. (2009). Impact of Microfinance on Alleviating Rural Poverty in Uzbekistan. Problems Of Economic Transition, 52(2), 67-85, from https://doi.org/10.2753/pet1061-1991520205.
Mayoux, L. (2000). Microfinance and the Empowerment of Women - A Review of Key Issues. International Labour Organisation.