Nothing can quite prepare you for walking into Zimpeto market, the largest wholesale market in Mozambique.
It is a hive of activity, colour and noise with stacks of fruit and vegetables piled high in great walls of produce. It is also the workplace of some industrious female market traders who have established small businesses importing goods from South Africa to sell.
These feisty and entrepreneurial women are members of the Mozambican Women Importers Association set up 8 years ago to represent their interests. They have built houses and put their children through school and university with the money they’ve earned through their businesses. The Association now has 2,000 female members and the one thing that is holding them back from greater success and top of their wish list for change is access to finance.
Around 75% of small businesses in Mozambique are unable to access formal financial services which mean they cannot get the credit they need to grow their businesses. The women I met told me that they end up relying on loan sharks to get the finance they need to purchase merchandise and expand.
Many of the women also wanted better seeds and fertiliser to increase what they could grow on their farms. 80% of Mozambicans derive their livelihoods from agriculture, the majority of them women. Productivity is very low but there is a lot of potential and with better agricultural inputs and technical training, these women could grow more and earn more.
Credit and other financial services provide a vital stepping stone for businesses to be able to grow which is why I used my visit to launch a new Access to Finance Programme led by DFID Mozambique. The new programme, called MAFiP will help to improve access to finance products benefitting 650 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and over 2 million poor Mozambicans. This will help them manage their household and business budgets better so that investing in their business no longer means taking a decision taking money away from the family finances.
Announcing MAFiP to an audience of bankers and financial experts was an excellent forum to galvanise their support. But perhaps the best bit of the day was introducing three women from the Association to representatives from the banking sector to explain firsthand the problems they face every day.