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Opportunity LiveBlog: Harvesting Hope

By Sonja Egeland Kelly

It has been argued that rural outreach is the “Holy Grail” of microfinance. If that statement is true, John Magnay is the person who stands on the cusp of the discovery.

John Magnay has lived and worked in Uganda for the last 32 years, including surviving two years running dairy farms during the reign of dictator Idi Amin. Since 2008 he has served as Opportunity’s Senior Agricultural Specialist, lobbying locally and internationally on issues related to strengthening output markets in Africa.

“Rural finance is probably the hardest nut to crack. The list of reasons for why you shouldn’t do rural finance is long,” he says. “The way that we look at this is we take a holistic approach, using the farmers and the farmers’ groups as a core. Whenever we look at the opportunity to provide microfinance to a sector, we pay attention to all of the players.”

His task is formidable. Examining and mitigating risk in all aspects of production, John must work with groups ranging from seed producers to farmer co-ops to buyers to agriculture experts. His expertise is not lost on conference participants, who followed along with his every word during his session.

This morning, he described just how different farming in Africa is than farming in the United States. When he asked one of the farmers how many acres he had, the farmer replied, “One. I have one acre.” John asked how this farmer knew how large his plot of land was, and the farmer said matter-of-factly, “It is one acre because the bag of seed I buy says ‘one acre’ and the fertilizer I buy says ‘one acre’ and when I am all done planting and fertilizing, I have filled up my land.” John chuckles at the inexactness of it all, but works within that environment with grace and ease.

“Our target is to provide agriculture microfinance service in five countries to 100,000 families.” His goal is certainly ambitious.

With people like John Magnay on the team, Opportunity is bringing financial services to places that have never seen them before.

What do you think about rural outreach? Do you have any questions for John?

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