For most of her adult life, Baghol Mushtaq had struggled to make ends meet.
The 35-year-old, who lives in a small village in central Pakistan, used to cobble together about $10 a month working as a seamstress and selling milk from her family's lone cow.
It was barely enough to feed her four children and keep a roof over their heads.
But all that changed last year when Baghol was hired by Engro, one of Pakistan's leading dairy companies and a long-time IFC client.
The firm had just launched a ground-breaking program to buy milk from mostly poor dairy farmers in the rural depths of Sindh province. Baghol was hired to collect milk from her neighbors, joining several other village women working with Engro.
Today, she makes about $100 a month. That’s enough to send her children to a good school, renovate her house, and save for the future.
"My life has changed so much," says Baghol, who now advises women in her village on how to start a business. "Now that I have gotten out into the world I want to keep on increasing my station."
She is one of about 50,000 people whose lives have been touched by Engro's milk-buying program, which last year was recognized by the Group of 20 nations for its emphasis on inclusive business.
IFC has played a key role Engro’s success, providing the company with a host of investments over the last two decades. That includes a $50 million loan in 2009 that helped the firm expand its dairy business.
The investment is part of a larger effort by IFC to encourage the development of Pakistan's vital agricultural sector and spur economic growth across the country.
"Close to two thirds of Pakistan's people live in rural areas," says Nadeem Siddiqui, IFC’s chief regional representative. "So any attempt to encourage economic development has to start by giving farmers an opportunity to help themselves. By combining our investment and advisory services, we are doing just that."
A growing concern
Agriculture employs almost 40 percent of Pakistanis, and while the industry grew steadily in the 1970s and 1980s, it has since plateaued.
Outdated farming practices, limited access to markets, and a scarcity of water have stymied growth. That has led to a steep increase in rural poverty, which today sits at 40 percent.
In an effort to breathe life back into the farming sector, IFC is ramping up its investment and advisory services work. In addition to supporting agribusinesses, IFC is working hard to improve the sector’s efficiency and streamline supply chains. All told, IFC investments have helped some 65,000 farmers.
The organization has invested $5 million in Matco Rice Processing to help the company dramatically increase its production and boost exports. As part of the plan, Matco has stepped up its purchases of rice from small farmers, stoking development in several small communities.
IFC is working with the NRSP Microfinance Bank to help the micro-lender extend loans to farmers in central Pakistan.
It is also advising the provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh on the construction of grain silos. The depositories, to be built in co-operation with the private sector, will give officials a place to store grain reserves, which now are often left in the open or squirreled away in schools.
Then there IFC’s work with Engro, one of Pakistan's leading conglomerates. During the last 20 years, IFC has provided the company with loans and equity investments, supporting its manufacturing, fertilizer, and food divisions. Tahir Jawaid, Engro’s vice president for public affairs, says that support was instrumental for the company. He pointed especially to IFC’s first loan in 1991.
“That was a watershed moment,” he says. “There was a time when the company could have gone either way.”
More recently, a $50 million loan in 2009 helped Engro launch its award-winning rural milk program.
Seeing that farmers had little access to larger markets, the company set up a network of 1,000 collection points across Sindh province, many of them deep in the countryside. The company also trained local collectors, launched ambitious animal vaccination programs, and showed farmers simple ways they could boost productivity. Many of its new hires were women who had never worked before.
Today, Engro’s farmer-supplies earn four times what they used to per litre of milk.
"We have always been focused on building a sustainable business," said Naz Khan, Engro's chief financial officer. "For us, that means developing a symbiotic relationship with the communities we are working in. By doing that, you can really make a difference in people's lives."
That is something that Shahida Khorro can attest to. Engro helped train the once-unemployed mother of five as a livestock extension worker. Now, she provides basic veterinary services to farmers in and around the small Sindh village she calls home.
In a good month, she makes $500, money Shahida says has transformed her life. She now harbors dreams of her children becoming professionals, something she never thought possible before.
Almost as importantly, she has seen her community transformed by opportunity.
"When one woman comes to buy medicine from me, the other one sees that and also follows suit. So the practices are spreading."
She also has a message for other women in her village, many of whom have never held a job outside the home.
"I would say to the women in my village that whatever education they have they should take advantage of it. I am very happy with my life now."