In the quest to combat poverty and drive economic empowerment in Eswatini, the 2023 Sibaya also known as the People’s Parliament issued a powerful call to action. The people called for a more focused investment in the agriculture sector as a key solution for poverty reduction in Eswatini.

Several projects have been implemented within the agriculture sector targeting smallholder agriculture development. Yet another ground-breaking initiative is taking shape – the Financial Inclusion Cluster Development (FINCLUDE) Project. This timely intervention seeks to accelerate economic growth by fostering competitive and inclusive clusters focused on specific agricultural products. The Project strives to achieve sustainable socio-economic development and uplift the standards of living in rural Eswatini’s agriculture economy, aligning with the transformative goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

So do you know about the FINCLUDE Project?

Commissioned by the Government of Eswatini (GoE) and supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Centre for Financial Inclusion (CFI) has taken up the mantle to implement the FINCLUDE Project. As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IFAD is dedicated to empowering rural communities, enhancing food security, improving nutrition, and lifting people out of extreme poverty.

At the heart of the Project, lies the empowerment of rural enterprises. By improving the production and productivity of farm and non-farm rural enterprises, the project seeks to increase the prosperity of households in rural Eswatini.

The primary objective of the FINCLUDE Project is to provide young women and men (aged 18-35) with opportunities to engage in farm and non-farm enterprises within selected cluster locations. By focusing on empowering the rural poor, especially women-headed households, the Project aims to create a transformative impact along the targeted clusters and their value chains. Over the course of six years, the FINCLUDE Project seeks to empower a large-scale transformation of the lives of young rural emaSwati through agriculture.

Specifically, the FINCLUDE Project has a laser focus on five commodities – red meat (beef/goat), poultry, pigs, vegetables (conventional/baby), and legumes. One of the fundamental pillars of the FINCLUDE Project is the establishment of resilient market linkages. By connecting rural entrepreneurs to robust markets, the Project can create a conducive environment for economic growth and prosperity. These linkages not only provide a platform for farmers to sell their produce but also foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation within the agricultural community.

The Power of Clusters: A Catalyst for Rural Transformation

Agricultural clusters have emerged as the driving force behind modern agriculture, revolutionizing the way communities thrive while enhancing rural competitiveness, advancing agricultural production, increasing incomes, and safeguarding the environment. By creating linkages in fragmented agricultural systems, cluster projects like FINCLUDE reduce costs and time to access markets, empowering farmers and transforming lives.

In 2021, the CFI in partnership with ESEPARC conducted the FINCLUDE Baseline Survey to determine cluster development in the different agriculture commodities that the Project seeks to enhance. The Baseline Survey was conducted with a representative sample of 1,645 FINCLUDE beneficiaries and 1,512 non-beneficiaries both purposively selected from the Project area. The Survey examined the status quo on indicators across the thematic areas of the FINCLUDE Project.

The FINCLUDE Baseline Survey revealed that rural Eswatini is still grappling significant developmental challenges, particularly poverty among households relying on agriculture as their primary income source. The Survey established that about half of the FINCLUDE beneficiaries (47.3%) depend on agriculture as their primary source of income compared to 38.8% for the non-beneficiaries. The results highlighted a stark level of unemployment among the rural households, which suggested that opportunities for formal and permanent employment were scarce or almost non-existent so that a significant section of the rural population has no option but to turn to self-employment as an alternative way of making a living.

Moreover, the results also indicated severe economic vulnerability of the sampled households as both monthly incomes for the FINCLUDE beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries were significantly low. To explain, in 2020 the FINCLUDE beneficiaries earned an average annual income ranging from E2,312.99 to E3,732.99, depending on the region. These incomes support all members living in the household, which is insufficient to support even the most basic household needs.

At its core, the FINCLUDE Project strives to elevate returns generated by sustainable farming and non-farming ventures for the rural populace, including marginalised communities and the youth. The poverty rate of 58.9% casts a shadow over the nation’s development aspirations, hindering equitable access to essential resources and perpetuating social disparities. The persistently high unemployment rate of 33.3%, compounded by the alarming youth unemployment rate of 58.2%, reflects not only a loss of economic potential but also a scarcity of opportunities for the younger generation to contribute meaningfully to their communities.

The findings highlighted the need for the FINCLUDE Project to intervene in raising agriculture incomes for the beneficiaries as the baseline assessment indicated that agricultural incomes remained stagnant at subsistence levels of production. The results revealed that a majority of the smallholder farmers lacked training in technical on-farm practices including lack of business acumen to run their operations as professional enterprises. On the other hand, the youth held a negative perceptions on the agricultural sector, they remain sceptical about the extent to which on-farm rural enterprises can be generators of substantial income to support their livelihood needs.

The subsequent FINCLUDE Annual Cluster Tracker Survey (ACTS) in 2022 echoed these findings, indicating the persistence of poverty, unemployment, and ongoing struggles with competitiveness among smallholder farmers. The inadequacy of assets, finances, and infrastructure contributed to lack of competitiveness and non-profitability among agricultural enterprises, thus resulting in low incomes.

Rural enterprises are the cornerstone of the existence of the FINCLUDE Project. The Project is designed to improve the production and productivity of the farm and non-farm rural enterprises in order to increase the prosperity of the households in rural Eswatini. The Survey indicated that almost three out of five (3:5) households in the sample have a rural enterprise and most are linked to agriculture. However, for these agriculture clusters and rural enterprises to be productive, they need access to assets and technical skills that can elevate their production capacity and sophistication of their agriculture outputs.

What is interesting is that the typical assets owned by the rural enterprises consist of land (55.7%), equipment/tools (30.3%), buildings (8.9%) and some machinery (1.7%) and cars (2.6%). Adults running these enterprises owns more land and the durable assets that are key means of production such as buildings and equipment and tools compared to their youth counterparts running the same type of rural enterprises. The findings also revealed that the Shiselweni region has more smallholders that own land for agricultural purposes yet it is also the least productive region.

The findings further highlighted that women make up more than 50% of the FINCLUDE beneficiaries samples in all four regions, approximately 56% women to 44% men. The Survey and ACTS uncovered that women in the Lubombo region are already actively engaged in agriculture development projects. For example, they are actively engaged in the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP) and Smallholder Market-led Project (SMLP) driven by the Eswatini Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise (ESWADE) with a significant foot-print in the Shiselweni region. Yet, the results of the ACTS in 2022 highlighted that males tend to earn more money from agricultural enterprises than their female counterparts. On average, the assessments found that males make 15.2% more than what the female beneficiaries make within the FINCLUDE clusters.

A contributing factor to this difference in incomes could be attributable to the fact that females often lack access to key production assets, which in turn, limits their ability to produce in large quantities to generate more revenue. The findings of the Baseline Survey emphasised that the majority of the beneficiaries do not have the various types of assets required for agribusiness. The ownership of assets is strongly gendered, reflecting existing gender norms and limiting women’s ability to invest in more profitable livelihood strategies such as cattle (feed-lotting) and piggery farming. Targeted support to women agriculture producers may be needed to promote their acquisition of the physical assets required to expand production or enter other nodes of the value chains.

It is worth noting that processing and marketing of products is essential to increases the value of the agriculture outputs coming from the clusters and their competitive edge in the market. The lack of ownership of processing facilities is an explanatory factor of the low rates of product processing for FINCLUDE beneficiaries which increases the business costs of the rural enterprises, and thus hinders their productivity.  FINCLUDE needs to focus on improving access to services that can increase the productive capacity of the smallholders coupled with business and financial literacy that will ensure the optimum use of funds by the farmers and efficient operations to produce and process the outputs to high-value products.

The CFI is making progress in implementation of the FINCLUDE Project and is underway to conduct a mid-term evaluation to determine whether the Project is underway to deliver on the expected outcomes in improving rural livelihoods.

As the FINCLUDE Project takes flight, a bright future beckons for rural Eswatini. Through the development of competitive and inclusive clusters, this visionary initiative is set to revolutionize the agricultural landscape, unlocking the potential of rural enterprises, and empower the youth to see agriculture as a viable sector for income generation and wealth creation.


The assessment conducted under the FINCLUDE Project reveal a pressing challenge: poverty persists in rural Eswatini, particularly among agriculture-dependent households. Incomes from agriculture remain stagnant, hindering progress. That’s why the FINCLUDE Project is crucial. By enhancing productivity and connecting self-employment enterprises to lucrative markets, Eswatini can uplift the rural poor and boost their incomes. There is a need to tackle the negative perception of agriculture among the youth, showcasing the opportunities and profits it offers. Engaging the youth is vital for a thriving food system and providing employment. The limited production capacity and lack of tools for farming is hindering efficiency and overall productivity of the rural agriculture enterprises. Value addition is essential to transform subsistence enterprises into competitive ventures. The FINCLUDE Project aims to empower these businesses, fostering growth and increased incomes. Addressing asset ownership, especially access to vital tools, is a strategic priority.

Answering the call of Sibaya, strategic investments in rural agriculture can empower lives and foster thriving agribusinesses in Eswatini, leading to poverty reduction.

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