General Manager for Trade and Development, Nasser M. Al-Thekair. Mr. Al-Thekair
The International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) is a member of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group. It was established with the primary objective of advancing trade among OIC Member Countries, which would ultimately contribute to the overarching goal of improving the socioeconomic conditions of the people across the world.
Strategic Positioning and Unique Access
Commencing its trade finance operations in January 2008, ITFC has provided more than US$51 billion to OIC Member Countries, making it the leading provider of trade solutions for the Member Countries’ needs. With a mission to become a catalyst for trade development for OIC Member Countries and beyond, the Corporation helps entities in Member Countries gain better access to trade finance and provides them with the necessary trade-related capacity building tools, which would enable them to successfully mainstream in the global market. Farmers Review Africa was able to get an in-depth interview on the activities of ITFC with the General Manager for Trade and Development, Nasser M. Al-Thekair. Mr. Al-Thekair explained how as a leader in Shari’ah-compliant trade finance, ITFC deploys its expertise and funds to businesses and governments in its member countries- with a primary focus of encouraging intra-trade among its member countries. In Africa, these countries include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, The Gambia, Guinea, and Senegal.
Projects in Africa
Agriculture value chains are an integral part of regional and global integration, linking countries to the global economy. Nowhere is this more prescient but in Africa, given its immense importance to global agriculture and the launch of the long-anticipated African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA). The challenges are many, including financing gaps, value chain optimization and trade lines outside the continent, however, the opportunities for job creation and economies of scale are undeniable.A fundamental part of ITFC’s strategy is to align its financing efforts with the national development strategies of its Member Countries, with agriculture playing a key role. Since its inception, ITFC has provided about US$5.6 billion of financing towards the food and agriculture sector. In 2019, concretely, ITFC has allowed 500,000 West African farmers in ITFC cotton and groundnut operations to share US$ 290 million of income.
Most financiers in Africa are just that-financiers, and this is what sets ITFC apart from the most of them. According to Mr. Al-Thekair, ITFC has gone well above and beyond its mission of financing agriculture across Africa through engaging in capacity development in the member countries as a means of adding value.
This is also in line with its mission statement that entails promoting trade of member countries of the OIC through providing trade finance and engaging in activities that facilitate intra-trade and international trade.
This includes pre-export financing in key value chains, such as cotton and groundnuts and import of key commodities such as rice, sugar and wheat for the food security of member countries. ITFC has been operational in Africa since its inception in 2008 and approved its first operation in The Gambia in Africa.
Part of the US$ 210 million Framework Agreement signed with The Gambia in 2018 focuses on Agriculture and concerns the import of fertilizers and pre-export finance for groundnuts and cashew nuts, the country’s main agricultural exports. The agreement also extends to technical assistance with the Aflatoxin Mitigation Program. The program is aimed at getting rid of aflatoxin fungus and improving the quality of the groundnut produced in The Gambia for local consumption and for export into key European and other international markets. The program, which commenced in 2018, is set to run for a period of three years. ITFC has also signed an agreement with the Senegalese government to support the 2019-2020 groundnut planting season.
The Cotton Bank for Africa
The development of the African cotton sector remains a major focus of ITFC, particularly in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. It is for this reason that ITFC identifies as the ‘Cotton Bank for Africa.’ ITFC is delighted with its over US$ 1.4 Billion financing efforts in cotton in Sub-Saharan Africa.
ITFC’s structured trade finance interventions have also proven to be a huge relief for the cotton farmers in terms of ensuring a fast and efficient method of transacting during handling of the cotton after harvest.
Also, among the projects under implementation is the revolutionary Reverse Linkage Project on Mango and Cashew sub sectors with Guinea and Tunisia. Alongside developing and improving the effectiveness of the Mango and Cashew value chains, this program aims at strengthening the technical and organizational capacities of the institutions in charge of promoting exports of mango and cashew.
The program, launched in November 2019, is set to benefit more than 280 participants who will take part in 130 days of training and learning. This will also include coaching and follow-up.
Staying Ahead of the Game
Agriculture in Africa is gradually being characterized by rapid development of technologies; changes in agricultural production practices, such as improved seeds, chemical fertilizer use, technologies to control weeds and harvesting; improved rural infrastructure; and diversification in food demand patterns. As such, it is pertinent that ITFC stays ahead of the game so as not just to remain relevant, but to ensure that its impact continues to make a difference in the communities it is involved in.
One such way we have been able to achieve this, Mr. Al- Thekair explains, is through partnership with OCP Africa for the OCP Mobile School Lab initiative. The Mobile School Lab provides farmers with soil analysis, fertilizer recommendations tailored to specific soil and plant needs, and training in sound agricultural practices. The program aims to increase crop yields and improve farmers’ living standards. This has been pivotal in how we engage the farmers since a participatory approach is preferred. As such, we engage the farmers from a point of co-learning and capacity building as opposed to the linear financier approach, which often dictates the terms with little or no input from the farmers.
Further is the ITFC digitalization plan in 2018, where ITFC is already starting to deploy several technologies to enhance the experience of the beneficiary in dealing with ITFC as well as facilitate processing transactions for our Member Countries. The ITFC also organized a panel discussion during the World Trade Organization (WTO) public forum in 2018 in on agri-tech options for ITFC member countries as well as an Experts Group meeting on the same matter in Istanbul in late 2019.
Finally, ITFC, in its efforts to increase its footprint in trade and finance on a global scale, has come up with a total of US$850 million response package initiative in joining the fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic that currently has the global economy on its knees.