Impacting investing in West Africa [interview]
Oikocredit’s support associations in the United States and Canada recently met (virtually) with Yves Komaclo, Oikocredit’s Investment Manager for West Africa, to get his perspective on our work in West Africa. This article is based on the conversation that took place.
Yves is responsible for Oikocredit’s portfolio of inclusive finance, agriculture and renewable energy investments in West Africa.
What inspired you to work for Oikocredit, Yves, and what has kept you here for more than 12 years?
When I learned about Oikocredit’s mission and its work across West African countries from Senegal to Nigeria, I felt inspired and wanted to be part of it.
Oikocredit is like a well-resourced global-scale cooperative and social impact investor, with a powerful collective commitment and a pioneering and insightful approach to development finance.
I’m proud to work for an organisation that is passionate about serving low-income people and communities in the region. Seeing the impact of Oikocredit’s work and being able to support our partner organisations has kept me here for so many years.
In which countries are Oikocredit’s West African partners located?
Our partners are spread across the region, where we have worked since 1994.
The countries where we have partners are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
Oikocredit’s name is well known in these areas, especially in agriculture and microfinance.
How would you describe the types of investments Oikocredit makes in West Africa?
In West Africa we currently invest in financial inclusion, renewable energy and agriculture to help low-income people achieve lives of dignity.
In inclusive finance, Oikocredit supports microfinance institutions and selected banks that provide funds to micro- and small to medium enterprises (MSMEs).
In the renewable energy sector, we support off-grid solar domestic energy for under-served households on a pay-as-you-go basis using mobile technology. Solar electricity has tremendous developmental benefits in Africa, with local mini-grids especially suitable for dispersed rural populations.
Agriculture is also important in our region as a key sector for tackling poverty in a sustainable, planet-respecting way. We invest in certified organic and fair trade coffee and cocoa cultivation (cocoa is especially important in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana) by smallholder farmers to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
We also focus on crops where women’s participation is high, such as maize, rice growing, and cashew trees – which were originally planted to combat desertification in the Sahel.
It is essential to involve women in the entire value chain as it ensures additional income for households and supports community-level initiatives that encourage women’s participation.
With Oikocredit’s new 2022-2026 strategy, we will be expanding our focus sectors to include education, health, housing, and water and sanitation. In West Africa we will be prioritising social housing and low-cost education, as those are key needs in our region.
Can you share about how investments can support gender equality and prevent children from being more at risk to child labour?
Women’s and children’s vulnerability is a real and grave risk in West Africa and in Africa in general.
Oikocredit takes this very seriously in its policy development and investment decisions. Attention to women and gender has always been central to our investment criteria.
We continue to finance microfinance institutions that primarily cater to women who still lack access to formal banking services. Access to finance (credit, savings, microinsurance) is a critical step towards women’s empowerment.
Beyond microfinance, we invest in selected value chains with good gender workplace practices, such as cashew processing.
The key challenge is to increase women’s participation in cash crop production to boost their contribution to household income and reduce their dependency on men.
We try to partner with organisations that have progressive practices, and we select certified cooperatives that implement gender equity policies and facilities and have a large proportion of women producer members.
Similarly, in working with certified cocoa cooperatives, we reduce the risk of financing cocoa produced with child labour. We follow up certification audit reports and their implementation and conduct our own regular monitoring of the cooperatives and plantations.
Is there a partner in your region that stands out to you?
There are many partner organisation that are doing great work in West Africa. Since we’re on the subject of gender equality and child labour prevention, Entreprise Coopérative Kimbe (Ecookim) especially stands out.
Ecookim is a union of cocoa and cashew producer cooperatives in Cote d’Ivoire that reinvests a substantial part of the certification premiums back into smallholder communities.
As a result, schools have been built, village savings and women’s loans associations have been established, and revenue generating activities for youth and women have been facilitated.
The cooperative has Fairtrade and UTZ certifications, with members having access to technical and capacity building assistance, training and pre-purchase financing.
At Oikocredit, we’re proud to support organisations like these and are looking forward to expanding our work to make an even greater social impact in the lives of low-income people in West Africa.
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