The Inclusive Finance Programme (IFP) team has been continuously brainstorming on what’s possible in terms of project implementation during this coronavirus pandemic period. Project mobility has been limited since March when the first cases of infections were reported within Kenya. The government effected several measures to minimize the spread of the virus, e.g. the cessation of movement in particular counties, a nationwide curfew, ban on group and social gatherings, the mandatory use of a face mask in public among others.
The project which encompasses five relevant interventions aims to push the ‘banking frontier’ down the poverty line thereby increasing access to financial services, through which micro-enterprises, subsistence farmers and low-income households can increase their economic activities and ultimately improve their livelihoods. As has been experienced globally, the pandemic has forced the project to apply ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions to forge ahead with its annual plans with the hope of still achieving the intended impact among the bottom poor.
The innovation lab intervention which comprises Warehouse Receipt System (WRS) and Contract Farming accelerated the deployment of affordable and easy to use digital agricultural solutions to support farmers in the rural areas who continue with their production as normal. The support was initiated to reduce post-harvest losses and has been disseminated using channels available to the rural smallholders. With improved internet and smartphone penetration in rural areas, the project chose to reach out to smallholders and farmer groups through the mobile application ‘WhatsApp’ which is being used to provide advice on good agricultural practices. The programme also shared apps that link farmers to lucrative markets and logistical services. All farmer group team leaders have been guided on the registration and use of these apps. Additionally, the project has also linked local input suppliers with the farmers for continuous access to farm inputs and finance. Apart from WhatsApp, engagement and monitoring is also being handled through telephone calls.
In April, a key milestone was achieved with the operationalization of a warehouse receipt system for farmers in Same District, Kilimanjaro region. Swisscontact facilitated the collaboration between government experts and farmers to reduce storage losses and ease financial access by farmers during the post-harvest period. It is expected that this timely initiative will help create greater food security in a region which has recently been faced with floods and a locust infestation.
Virtual collaboration has also been initiated using different platforms like zoom, skype and MS Teams.
“The project coordinators have been working round the clock to hold meetings with partners as well as host informative capacity building sessions with beneficiaries through participatory sessions that not only involve videos but case studies too. These sessions have been held across board with different cooperatives like the Kibwezi Housing Cooperative and some institutions of higher learning like Machakos University. The former to strengthen the institutional structures so they are able to address their clients’ needs and the latter to customize the microfinance skills course offering. The project is also using the Kenya Education Network Trust (KENET) web conferencing platform to develop short online courses in microfinance that will assist education institutions in facilitating e-learning during this time,” narrated Helen Masinde, the IFP Project Manager.