Banking in the Future: Eyman Helps Developing Countries’ Ag Banks
Submitted by Pamela J Karg
With a lifetime in farming and finances, one might think William Eyman would want to relax. Enjoy the fruits of his labor. Watch his crops grow. Keep track of his retirement account.
He’s doing all that, but more, as he uses his experiences to help agricultural banks around the world grapple with new economies.
“After I retired from full-time farming, I went to work for the (United State) Bank full time,” explains the spry 79 year-old from Knox City in northeastern Missouri as he packs up after a six-week assignment in the republic of Armenia. “I also felt I was a fifth-generation Knox County American farmer losing touch with a changing world, so I decided it was time to see that world.” Eyman and his wife, Rosalyn, retired art instructor, packed their bags and headed to the Czech Republic on what was his first of many assignments around the world.
“It’s been a chance to go all over the world and work in finances in many emerging countries or economies. Either I go in to work starting banks or with loan officer training,” Eyman explains. And, his work always involves the agricultural side of the bank’s portfolio and people.
To date, he has worked through organizations as diverse as World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ACDI/VOCA and the International Executive Service Corps. The countries in which he’s worked include Armenia, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia (twice), Kenya, Kyrgyzstan (twice), Republic of Georgia (twice), Zambia, South Africa, Latvia, Poland, Romania (twice), Macedonia, Russia (five times), western Siberia, Czech Republic, and Brazil.
“I’ve really enjoyed the people more than anything,” he says. “Whether working side-by-side with eager loan officers wanting to learn how they can help their local banks and farmers prosper in emerging capitalist economies, or seeing the country through their eyes they’ve all always been very kind, always wanting to show me the best their families and their country.”
Eyman is generally gone for two months at a time. Often working long days traveling to remote areas, he spends most of his time on farms or in the classroom with loan officers for hands-on, one-on –one or small-group training. That was the case during this trip earlier this year to Armenia, a semi-arid, land-locked former Soviet republic located between, Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Eyman worked with local ACDI/VOCA employees as part of its “Water to Market” program.
The fragmentation of Armenia’s agricultural production base is keeping the country’s farms from achieving the scale for efficient production. Through rural family landholdings average 3.5 acres are usually made up of three or more smaller parcels in different locations. As a result, farmers get low yields and inconsistent quality and cannot assemble enough produce to meet market demand. That makes Armenia a food-deficit country and requires it to import costly and sometimes uncertain imports through Georgia or Iran.
More importantly for Eyman, limited financial resources and a lack of information about on-farm water usage and pest management have led to widespread use of herbicides and pesticides that come from dubious sources and are applied with rudimentary spraying devices, reports ACDI/VOCA. Due to the small-scale, highly fragmented and diverse prediction of fruits and vegetables local marketing is carried out by small traders and even the producers themselves. Thus, throughout rural Armenia, the labor-intensive ag sector produces low yields and poor incomes for smaller holder farmers.
ACDI/VOCA, in partnership with ARCADIS Euroconsult from the Netherlands and VISTAA in Armenia, was awarded an $18.4 million contract to implement the Water-to-Market project as part of the Millennium Challenge Armenia (MCA) program funded by the US Government.
Like other countries he’s worked in, small Armenian farmers have no money and little access to credit. As a result, they can neither improve their knowledge on how to be better farmers nor fund any improvements they may learn about. A majority end up in a subsistence cycle, hoping to produce more than their families can consume so they can try to sell the extra for whatever the market may bring. Nearly 15 percent of Armenia’s 2.8 million people live on less than $1 a day.
The smallest Armenian farmers list assets such as hoes and bicycles as part of the balance sheet process the completed with loan officers under Eyman’s tutelage. “It doesn’t compare at all with the US farm operations,” he says, adding that larger Armenian landowners may also have small farm that they hire someone to operate, while they themselves also run a one-room general merchandise store or small food processing operation. Separating the farm operations from the rest of the business was challenging.
“I was on tarragon farms and vineyard, in wineries and cheese factories and greenhouses, all the time working with Armenian loan officers who would, in turn, train other Armenians and then, on behalf of the farmers who qualified, go to credit organizations to present recommendations on who could viably handle a loan,” Eyman explains. “A large part of the goal was to help the farmers in stall drip irrigation to improve farm yields.”
Working form a loan policy he first developed in Ethiopia, Eyman introduces the document I every country. He follows up with other policies and forms such as a basic balance sheet, cash flow assessment and collateral inspections sheets. The countries are free to use them as is, or adapt tem to specific nuances in their customs and cultures.
“The business of banking in agriculture has similarities around the world, and it’s a wonderful experience to help people who are looking to the future,” he says.