Partner Spotlight: Insights from AGRA’s Financial Inclusion to Smallholder Farmers in Africa Program

Published on

April 28, 2020

The emergence and expansion of digital infrastructure in even the hardest to reach rural regions of Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana are making the delivery of financial services to rural communities much cheaper and less risky. Physical infrastructure is no longer required in order to reach farmers, bringing down the cost for providers to serve them. And as more data on smallholder farmers becomes available for analysis, certification and rating purposes, the transactional risks are also reduced. There is significant scope, therefore, for digital tools to play a role in facilitating assured markets, contracts, extension, information, price transparency and facilitating access to finance for smallholder farmers in these three markets.

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Since 2015, AGRA, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, has provided matching grants and technical expertise to 22 partners to accelerate their innovative business models for (financial) service delivery to small scale staple crop farmers in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. The grant and technical assistance helps partners explore, pilot and scale digital financial and non-financial solutions for smallholder farmers. As this initiative enters its final year, AGRA has developed a series of learning briefs which share lessons learned in the following areas:

1. Digital payments to enable rural financial inclusion in Northern Ghana

2. Supply chain finance and digital payments for staple crop farmers in Kenya

3. Digital platforms to support improved structuring of markets in Kenya

4. Flexible layaway schemes to facilitate access to inputs for farmers in Tanzania

5. An m-Commerce solution in rural Ghana to improve farmers’ access to finance, quality inputs, know-how and output markets

These projects were varied in their objectives and results, however a few cross-cutting lessons stand out:

  • Digital finance for agriculture pilots tend to require longer ramp-up and implementation timelines, due to the amount of time it can take to build strong working relationships with project stakeholders, and because the target customers may not be immediately comfortable with or trusting of the new product or service being introduced.
  • The challenges each project encountered demonstrates the importance of taking a phased approach, rather than attempting to solve too many farmers’ problems at the same time. Introducing farmers to new partners, inputs and technologies, getting the financial product right, ensuring that inputs are delivered with the right composition at the right time, that distributors, agro-dealers and community based trainers are appropriately motivated to participate and that the technology platform works well is a complex multi-layered endeavor.
  • Building lasting, effective last-mile partnerships to serve smallholder farmers sustainably requires more investment than typically planned. Stakeholders must systematically think through the incentives at every level of the distribution channel. In some cases, additional investment may be needed to address the capacity needs and challenges of some partners. Finally, the establishment of strong information sharing systems that enable transparency and information flows between all partners is a prerequisite for any successful last-mile partnership.
  • Government input subsidy programs have the potential to derail even the best laid business plans. Agricultural input subsidies are a preferred political and economic development tool for many governments. For a new initiative or provider seeking to offer input related financial services, it can be difficult to navigate pricing, distribution and quality challenges in a market where subsidized inputs are on offer.

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In addition to these five learning briefs, AGRA has also published two shorter pieces. The first explores advances made by two emerging digital platforms delivering a range of services to smallholder farmers in Kenya – Safaricom’s Digifarm and KCB Bank’s Mobigrow. It also reflects the progress and hurdles confronting digital agri-service platforms in comparison to urban digital finance models.

Digital Platforms for Agriculture in Africa Create New Opportunities for Access to Finance

The second piece tackles the topic of building sustainable rural digital finance ecosystems. AGRA’s work with rural agents in Ghana and Tanzania provides insights into the shifting scene for rural payment ecosystems, and reveals how the business case for agents is evolving as agricultural payments transition to digital channels.

Ghana and Tanzania – Opportunities and Challenges for Rural Digital Finance

About the Author(s)

Agra
Learning Lab Partner

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) facilitates FISFAP, an initiative that aims to reduce food insecurity and increase the incomes of about 700,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana by February 2020 by working with financial institutions and agriculture value chain actors.

Press release: AGRA and The MasterCard Foundation partnership 

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