Banky Njie: Nema Matching Grant is less challenging to access now

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The Business Development Officer (BDO) of the National Agricultural Land and Water Management Development Project (Nema), Mr. Banky Njie, has reassured the many determined youths of the country who are aspiring to access the Matching Grant Facility but were finding it difficult, that it’s now “less challenging to access than before”.

In an interview with this medium, he explained that the latest innovative approach taken by Nema through signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with equipment suppliers to ease a good percentage of loan contribution supposedly by financial institutions, has paved the way for the Matching Grant to be more accessible to the youths and women of this country.

He intimated that developing strong and viable agro-industries requires a different mix of skills, policies and institutions from the traditional, mostly farmer focused, ones.

“Agribusinesses have a different objective function -maximizing profits- and often require an enabling environment to thrive. To fill this gap, a multitude of new policies, initiatives and institutions have emerged in The Gambia in the last two decades. These interventions, mostly designed to facilitate the participation of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), include the Matching Grant Facility in almost all the recent agricultural projects, Business Development Services, Contract Farming and public investment in Equipment/Machinery and Infrastructure Investments.”

Njie further explained that The Capital Investment Stimulation Fund (CISF) known as the Matching Grant Facility - within the Nema project - is designed to innovate, develop and build medium term financial services adapted to women and youth groups and individual-based SMEs in creating opportunities to engage in an agribusiness activity of the rice and vegetable value chains.

The rationale and benefits of the Matching Grant Facility vary. More importantly, it is meant for enhancing private economic activity. For this reason, it targets farmer groups and agribusinesses and are expected to increase their income or profitability, improve their competitiveness, facilitate their access to finance, and strengthen collaboration and the development of partnerships.

Matching Grant Tripartite

The Matching Grant Facility, as the name depicts, is a tripartite arrangement wherein the entrepreneur applying for the grant, the Nema Project and a financial institution (or more recently an equipment supplier) will all make varied percentage contributions.

 Since the initiation of the Matching Grant Facility in the Gambia, young people found it difficult to access the grant as the financial institutions were bit sluggish in the uptake, partly due to their governance policies as most of them operating in the country are governed from a ‘parent’ bank somewhere outside The Gambia and their decisions are not purely local. They generally see agriculture as risky, especially for young people, many of whom don’t have a bank account or good financial history. The prevailing high interest rate was also a deterrent to the young applicants. “...I must however say that, we partnered very well with Reliance Financial Services at first and they supported most of our initially applicants (although maybe only one or two were youths...”, Njie said.

According to the Nema Project Business Development Officer, “...we thought hard and at ‘mid-term review’ and we recommended to the International Fund for Agricultural Development(IFAD) some innovative ideas which included an increase in the (Nema) grant contribution from 45 percent to 60 percent and thereby reducing the loan contribution from the 3rd party to 30 percent (from 45 percent), which should limit their liability exposure and thereby motivate them to be more responsive, with the beneficiary (client) still contributing 10 percent.

“We also brought in the private sector as another option, and now we have signed MoU’s with up to six equipment suppliers, who are ‘less stringent’ in providing the 30 percent financing with zero interest rates, unlike the financial institutions. This is proving to be more appealing to young applicants”.

He also said that youths applying for the Matching Grant now, can actually have their Business Plans paid for by the project, because it was realised that if help is not given at the entry point – which is the submission of a ‘bankable’ business plan-then it is of no use, no matter how many innovative ‘sweeteners’ you bring on board. “So we are linking business plan writers (many of whom we have trained and coached) with potential applicants who have good business ideas anywhere along the value chains already mentioned above,” he indicated.

It could be recalled that on 21st June, 2019, the Matching Grant Facility has delighted fourteen (14) youth groups across the country by providing them with over sixteen (16) rice and cereal processing machines as well as oil pressing machines to support them. These were handed over by the Minister of Agriculture, Amie Fabureh at a colourful ceremony at the Nema headquarters in Abuko.

Youth Accessing Nema Matching Grant

Mr Njie went on to commend the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN) Gambia:  www.gyingambia.gm for collaborating with the Nema project to identify the youth groups across the country to support them in accessing the matching grant.

“We went around the country to sensitize the youths about our new initiative and we received lot of applications from that point. Just from that exercise, we have about 14 youth groups that we have supported. All of those who submitted their Business Plan’s were successful,” the Business Development Officer disclosed.

“All the youth around the community during our sensitization and information sharing have realised that the matching grant is now less challenging than before,” he said.

Talking on the successes registered with the Matching Grant Scheme, Njie adduced that the project was able to mobilise more funds and by year end 2019, they should be able to get 60 more businesses to access the ‘Grant.

He continued: “The matching grant is a partnership, and as such all parties should be willing to contribute after all due diligences are carried out. We have received over 100s of applications in which about 70 percent have been approved at our end. But if the beneficiary cannot come up with 10 percent, or if the 3rd party - Financial Institution or private equipment supplier reviews your business plan application (which we have no control over), and feel that it is not a viable plan for them to give their contribution that means, I cannot disburse the project’s ‘matching funds’ contribution.”

With over 40 Business Plans of new enterprises approved and disbursed, Njie is hopeful and confident that more young people across the country would feel comfortable with all these new measures to come forward and engage the Nema project, so that they could facilitate the process for young people to access the ‘grant’, and consequently go into their communities to carry out a profitable economic activity that would solve problems in their surroundings, whilst making money along the way, creating employment and contribute to the socio-economic developments of the country.