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Building a community of RuralInvest users

02/07/2018

The use of RuralInvest – a free, multilingual tool for preparing bankable agricultural and rural development investment projects and business plans – is growing steadily.

FAO, through its newly revamped RuralInvest website and training workshops, is working to build a community of RuralInvest users – so that practitioners in, say, Brazil can exchange ideas on preparing effective business plans with practitioners in Mozambique or Mongolia.

This was part of the motivation behind a four-day RuralInvest training workshop, hosted by the FAO Investment Centre in December 2017, and subsequent redesign of the website. The event brought together over 30 people from more than ten countries to learn more about the toolkit and methodology.

“We invited people new to RuralInvest, as well as those already trained and using it in the field who could give the newcomers a better idea of what to expect,” said Gunther Feiler, an FAO capacity development officer. “It was a good mix of learning and knowledge exchange.”

Colleagues from FAO’s strategic programmes and technical divisions were also on hand, Feiler added, noting that “RuralInvest is not just an Investment Centre tool but a package that can be adopted and used across the organization.”

 

Participatory, bottom-up approach

FAO began developing RuralInvest nearly two decades ago. It has continued to fine-tune the tool over the years and has since translated the software into nine languages.

The RuralInvest approach is participatory, interactive and bottom-up, designed to involve communities, entrepreneurs, government field technicians, project staff and local financing institutions.

Users can assess the financial feasibility, risks and overall sustainability of a proposed investment.  

The investments, generally small or medium-sized, range from income-generating projects that improve rural livelihoods to non-income-generating projects that benefit communities, such as healthcare centres, schools and drinking water supply.

Simple tool, big impact

 

The December workshop featured an introduction to RuralInvest as well as case studies, software tutorials and group exercises. Seasoned RuralInvest practitioners spoke of how they have used RuralInvest in their own countries.

Those country reports were a “real eye-opener, enabling us to see the impact that such a simple tool can have in the field,” Feiler said.  

One such champion was Jane Ndeti, Forest Investment Manager with the Kenya Forest Service, who was first trained in RuralInvest by FAO in 2009.

To date, the Kenya Forest Service has trained 709 groups on RuralInvest. Almost 60 percent of the 950 project proposals developed have been funded –for a total investment of nearly USD 640,000 – benefitting more than 2,000 farmers.

“Partnering with Equity Bank Limited, we decided from the beginning that we would provide farmers with small loans – from USD 100 to USD 1,000 – which they could easily pay back and, after repayment, be allowed to get another loan as many times as they wished, based on their ability to pay back,” Ndeti said, adding that the loan recovery rate was almost 100%.

Thanks to these loans, farmers have been able to grow their businesses, earning income from a variety of activities – from planting woodlots for timber and fuelwood and setting up fruit orchards to growing vegetables and raising livestock, among others.

 

Building a network

Jean Risopoulos, an investment support officer from FAO’s sub-regional office in Panama, appreciated these exchanges with colleagues and RuralInvest users – and also the chance to learn the practical steps of conducting a RuralInvest training.

“I plan to encourage some of the projects and institutions I collaborate with in Latin America and the Caribbean to adopt RuralInvest as a planning, analysis and monitoring tool. I look forward to delivering a Ruralinvest training this year, perhaps with a more experienced trainer initially,” he said. 

Among the workshop participants were new trainees from the Philippines, Laos, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Rwanda and Mozambique – countries that will take part in an FAO Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project on RuralInvest later this year.

The project will involve two national trainings in each country, plus regional trainings in both Africa and Asia. An updated version of the RuralInvest software, currently being tested, will be used.

For information on what’s in the RuralInvest toolkit, stories from the field, answers to frequently asked questions, software demos, video tutorials and more, visit the newly updated RuralInvest website at: