By Richard Nyamanhindi
Mercy Corps Uganda represented by Becky Steenbergen, the Deputy Country Director officially launched the Agri-Fin Mobile Program after signing the first program MoU with Mobipay, represented by its Chief Executive Officer Felix Musau, on Monday, December 10, 2012. The MoU will see the two organizations working together with other partners in connecting smallholder farmers to ‘bundled’ agricultural advisory and financial services in Uganda.
After the welcome remarks by Ms. Steenbergen, Leesa Shrader and Elizabeth Berthe – Mercy Corps Senior Directors in Financial Innovations, presented a summary of the results of the baseline and product development research survey that was carried out in September 2012 whose results showed a number of interesting developments in the financial, mobile and agriculture sector which is a source of livelihoods for more than 80 percent of the country’s population.
From the research, the major pain points for farmers centered on uncertain weather patterns, lack of access to high quality inputs, high costs of inputs, low produce prices linked to pricing data and post-harvest losses. The research further revealed that farmers showed a strong interest in accessing information and financial services over mobile phones as a result of high cost of travel and lack of information.
Major challenges to mobile usage in Uganda include low network coverage and instability, high cost of calls, difficulty in charging batteries for mobile phones and lack of access to airtime to recharge pre-paid accounts.
Within the partnership, Mobipay will use the Agrilife platform to connect farmers to agricultural related information services, produce buyers, financial institutions and input providers. Agrilife is a cloud-based service that provides the vital links, data collection, payment and settlement mechanisms between service providers and farmers enabling the provision for financial services beyond credit to include savings, insurance, payment, and other innovative but relevant service products. The collected data provides a picture of the farmer’s production and also enables the provision of relevant, timely and targeted agricultural advisory information and services based on where the farmer is located, what crop they are growing and what stage of production they are at.
As noted by Felix Masau during the launch, “Agrilife enables players in the agricultural sector including; banks, Micro Finance Institutions (MFI’s), insurance companies, co-operatives, investors and agricultural input providers, to have visibility into smallholder farmers’ production capability plus financial and physical supply chain. This will further enable farmers’ full credentials to be established, minimizing the cost of analyzing risk and reducing the costs of developing and delivering targeted services.”
Stephen Musoke, the Agri-Fin Mobile Program Coordinator for Uganda concluded the launch by saying “This is the first of many potential MoUs and partnerships that Mercy Corps intends to develop in order to bring tailored and relevant agricultural advisory and financial services closer to the smallholder farmers who are the backbone of the Ugandan economy. We will be reaching out to all potential partners to see how we can improve the foundation on which Uganda – the Pearl of Africa is built.”
Mercy Corps and Mobipay hope to reach 10,000 farmers in the first six months of the partnership and 50,000 farmers within the 3 years of the program. As more information becomes available, additional services such as tailored farming advice, direct market linkages between farmers, produce buyers, agricultural input suppliers and other service providers, will be able to give farmers easy access to the information they need in order to improve their production and income.
The Agri-Fin Mobile program is an innovative social enterprise to provide low-income farmers in the developing world with ‘bundled’ support integrating financial services, market information and agricultural services to boost their harvests. The program aims to increase the income of 180,000 low-income farmers in Indonesia, Uganda and Zimbabwe by 30 percent within the first three years. The program is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.