In the past few months, managing family and business finances has become a lot easier for small farmer, Nomusa Dube, who has taken up mobile banking through Mercy Corp’s Agri-Fin program.
Like many Zimbabweans, Nomusa has not had a bank account since 2007 when banks closed and most of her and her husband’s money were lost to hyperinflation and currency devaluation. For the last six years, their financial transactions have been limited to bartering or cash exchanges of American dollars. With serious liquidity problems in rural areas, simple, daily transactions have been challenging, and robbery, while on the road or at home, has been a real risk.
Nomusa learned about EcoCash in June when organic produce buyer KAITE came to a rural collection point in Domboshawa, just north of the capital Harare, and presented a plan to pay her and other farmers for their produce through the mobile service. KAITE had gotten the idea from Mercy Corps, which facilitated its partnership with EcoNet, a large mobile network operator in Zimbabwe.
Through the Agri-Fin Mobile program, farmers like Nomusa receive guidance to register to an EcoCash account that removes the challenges of actual cash transactions. EcoCash also allows buyers, such as KAITE, to make direct payments into an account the farmer can access through his/her own mobile phone. The farmer gets the exact amount owed and can either keep the money secure in the mobile account, or visit a local agent nearest to her home to withdraw the cash.
Nomusa was so excited about the EcoCash concept introduced by KAITE that she registered herself early. Besides the organic chilies she grows for KAITE, Nomusa also grows maize, groundnuts, round nuts and soybeans to feed her family and supplement the household income from her husband’s job repairing car radiators, and her cross-border trade. She saw that in addition to receiving a mobile payment from KAITE through EcoCash, she could better manage all her finances on a mobile platform.
“Fifteen years ago we bought a few acres in Domboshawa to grow food. Working in hotels and game parks, we had no land or maize. We needed something for our children in case something happened to us. But it has been hard for us to make a living farming,” narrated Nomusa.
During the period of financial crisis, Nomusa and her husband were forced to leave their children behind in Zimbabwe and move to South Africa to find work as a cook and bartender. Now back in Zimbabwe, Nomusa uses her South African experience to bring in clothes and shoes to sell in her village. She saw the immediate potential of EcoCash to get people who owed her money to settle their debts or else make a deposit up front through their mobile phones.
“Usually I take orders and buy everything, then get paid back bit by bit. It was expensive for me to collect cash from everyone. People don’t have enough to pay all at once, so I end up spending a lot of time chasing them for money. But now, I’m encouraging others to set up their own EcoCash accounts. I can just send a missed call reminding them of our agreement, and they can send the money to my mobile phone from theirs,”
said Nomusa, adding she is also able to financially support extended family more easily through EcoCash, as well as borrow and lend to grow her business.
“My mother and all my sisters have accounts now. We live far from each other, but we can help each other very easily now. Let’s say I have an order and I want to buy my goods but I’m short of cash – I can get an advance through EcoCash from family or friends or others in the trade and pay them back through my mobile phone. And I keep my business money in my phone, which is more secure than the house, until the next time I go to South Africa.”
Nomusa sees the long-term impact mobile products can have on her income and productivity in farming, as well. She envisions being able to negotiate with buyers in the market and make payments using her mobile phone to avoid carrying large sums of cash. She also wants to grow more and a greater variety of crops, but she needs further support from buyers like KAITE.
“This year I had problems with ants eating the roots of the chilies and drying out the flowers," said Nomusa. "I had to wait for a KAITE officer to come to the village to get his help, but it was a loss. We had to replant again, and we didn’t get a good harvest. If I could have gotten some advice using my mobile phone, I would have been happy to pay the SMS fee, knowing that I could afford it if I harvested more.”
This is the next stage of AgriFin Mobile in Zimbabwe – to bundle mobile financial services with tools for crop management and trade in a virtual market place, where Department of Agriculture experts, research institutes, contract buyer companies, other agro-dealers, insurance providers and farmers associations can be reached by any farmer who signs on through their mobile phone. Mercy Corps is currently working with these partners and EcoNet to develop such a platform, so that farmers like Nomusa, who are ready and determined to increase productivity of their farms, will have the support they need.