A new United Nations-supported programme will make it possible for more than 56,000 rural poor in Benin to gain access to financial services, technology and markets, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has announced.“This programme will benefit farmers by introducing post-harvest technologies like storage facilities that protect crops from insects and pests and by linking farmers to markets through training programmes to improve the quality of products,” said Lennart Bage, IFAD President, at the signing event on Friday in Rome in which the Benin agricultural minister, Fatiou Akplogan, also participated.Farmers will also learn to market their products at trade fairs, set up shops and process products so they increase in value, Mr. Bage said.A major focus of the programme will be to increase access to savings and credit through the consolidation and expansion of 200 village banks called Financial Services Associations. A network of these associations will be expanded to include about 100,000 shareholders by the end of 2010.Special attention will be paid to women and young people who have particularly limited access to land, financial services, information and training. IFAD said it has seen from previous programmes that women are often more active than men in starting new businesses, and they pay back loans sooner than men. The $14.8 million Rural Development Support Programme will be financed by a $10 million IFAD loan. So far, IFAD has participated in financing 9 loans to Benin for a total investment of $226.35 million, it said.