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1.1 Background information

Rural finance encompasses the full range of financial services such as loans, savings, insurance, payment and money transfer services, offered by formal and informal financial institutions and used in rural areas by households and enterprises as a means of improving or sustaining their livelihood choices (Making Finance Work for Africa, 2008). It includes agricultural finance, which refers to financial services ranging from short, medium, and long-term loans, leasing, to crop and livestock insurance and covering the entire agricultural value chain. Agricultural finance is dedicated to financing agriculture related activities such as input supply, production, distribution, wholesale, processing and marketing (FAO, 2016).

Absence of efficiently operating rural financial institution is a serious constraint on sustainable rural economic growth in Africa (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 2003). This is because two thirds of Africa’s populations are resident in rural areas and requires adequate finance for their economic activities which are mostly agriculture based (International Labour Organization, 2014). The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2004) points out that lack of access to finance in rural areas and in the agricultural value chain could be linked to slow and uneven entry of formal financial institutions into rural areas. The FAO added that, factors such as poor infrastructure and widely dispersed populations in rural areas raise transaction and information costs, thus further hindering the spread of financial services. In addition, title and property rights can be difficult to verify in rural areas, posing problems in the use of collateral to obtain fund. Subsidized lending programmes for rural recipients, seasonal nature of farmers’ income, long maturation period of farm produce, and high risk factor associated with farming have also contributed to obstructing the development of a sustainable rural banking sector (FAO, 2004).

Despite these difficulties, formal rural and agricultural finance have been making advances in Africa, with innovative financial services and improved risk management on both the client and institution sides with the sole aim of bringing buoyancy and stability to rural economy. The most promising approaches include flexible credit schemes, value-chain finance, insurance products, promotion of financial literacy and the use of new technologies like GPS mapping (FAO, 2004). Prominent examples are the introduction of index-based weather insurance schemes in Malawi, financial literacy campaigns in Ghana, the spread of mobile banking in Kenya (FAO, 2004) and the Rural Finance Institution Building Programme (RUFIN) in Nigeria (IFAD, 2008).

While it is well understood in Nigeria that financial exclusion of the rural population stunts development, fewer than 2% of rural households in Nigeria are estimated to have access to any sort of institutional finance (World Bank, 2008). A study by Obanasa and Maduekwe (2013) cites the improvement of financial systems as a key growth pillar for the agricultural sector. Lack of rural access to financial services in Nigeria not only retards rural economic growth, but also increases poverty and inequality (World Bank, 2008). Financial access increases incomes through productive investment, helps create employment opportunities, facilitates investments in health and education, and reduces the vulnerability of the poor by helping them to smooth their income patterns over time (World Bank, 2008).

Aside from the launching of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) in 1966, to cater for rural development projects and programmes in Nigeria, the following are efforts by Nigerian government in achieving sustainable rural finance: establishment of the Nigerian Agricultural and Cooperative Bank (NACB) in 1973, Rural Banking Programme (RBP) in 1977, People’s Bank of Nigeria (PBN) in 1989, Community Banking System (CBS) in 1990, Self-Help Groups (SHG) Linkage Programme in 1991, Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) in 1994. Efforts made after 1990’s include: establishment of Nigerian Agricultural Cooperative and Rural Development Bank (NACRDB) in 2000 now known as Bank of Agriculture (BoA), Trust Fund Model (TFM) in 2001, National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) in 2001, Small and Medium Enterprises Equity Investment Scheme (SMEEIS) in 2001, Agricultural Credit Support Scheme (ACSS) in 2006 (World Bank, 2008), and RUFIN in 2006 (IFAD, 2008). Some of these programmes ended without achieving the core objective for which the programmes were launched. This is evident in the current level of poverty in the rural areas which stood at 80% as at 2012 (IFAD, 2012) as against 41% in 1985, 49% in 1992, and 51% in 1996 (Aigbokhan, 2000). The failures could be linked to incoherence and/or default in implementation of programmes policy documents. It could also be associated with lack of clarity on the extent to which evaluation have informed evidence based policy.

Evaluation refers to objective assessments of a planned, ongoing, or completed project, programme, or policy. It is the systematic review and assessment of the benefits, quality and value of a programme or activity (Ajayi, 2005). According to FAO (2003), evaluation is purposely done to determine achievements of development programmes vis-a-vis the set aims / objectives. Food and Agricultural Organization (2003) also pointed out that evaluation techniques can serve to improve implementation and efficiency of programmes after interventions have begun, provide evidence as to the cost efficiency and impact of a specific intervention within and between policy sectors. Evaluation especially continuous / on-going and stage by stage evaluation are important because they expose lapses associated with achievement of programme objectives thereby affording opportunities for adjustment.

Impact evaluation on the other hand, assesses the intended and unintended changes that can be attributed to a particular intervention after about 5 to 10 years of existence (World Bank Group, 2012). Impact evaluation is structured to answer the question: how would outcomes such as participants’ well-being could have changed if the intervention had not been undertaken? It seeks to answer cause-and-effect questions. In other words, impact evaluation looks for the changes in outcome that are directly attributable to a programme (Gertler, Martinez, Premand, Rawlings and Vermeersch, 2011).

Rural Finance Institution Building Programme which was initiated in 2006 and became effective in 2010 is currently in its impact year (RUFIN, 2011). The programme is a strategic means by which the rural micro financing sector will be developed and strengthened in order to deliver adequate, efficient and sustainable financial services to the rural poor. The objective of the programme is to develop and strengthen the performance of member-based non-bank rural finance institutions to enable them develop to sustainable Rural Microfinance Institutions (RMFIs) and establish linkages between them and formal financial institutions in Nigeria. Rural Finance Institution Building Programme lays the foundation for the long-term development of a sustainable rural financial system that will eventually operate throughout the country (FMARD, 2015; Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission [NIPC], 2015; RUFIN, 2011).

It is being financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Ford Foundation, the Federal Government of Nigeria, state governments of Nigeria, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), participating banks and micro finance institutions (MFIs) in Nigeria (IFAD, 2015; RUFIN, 2010). Under the programme, the following categories of non-bank micro finance institutions i.e. cooperative societies, unions and cooperative finance agencies, neo micro finance institutions and grassroots/informal finance institutions, would be supported in the needed areas of capacity building and access to loanable funds with appropriate linkages to micro finance banks/institutions and commercial banks for credit delivery to the rural populace (FMARD, 2015; RUFIN, 2010).

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