By Marjolaine Chaintreau, Private Sector Digital Innovation Lead, Better Than Cash Alliance
The shift to digital payments has enormous potential for eliminating rural poverty. Success stories from places like Kenya show that potential can turn into real-life impact, as mobile payments help to boost productivity for smallholder farmers.
Just this week, a new case study by the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance presents how the agriculture nonprofit organization One Acre Fund (OAF), in partnership with Citi Inclusive Finance, successfully digitized loan repayments for farmers in Kenya. By enabling smallholder farmers to make and receive payments digitally, solutions such as this create transparency and accountability, which can ultimately empower people to take control of their finances and grow their incomes.
Many farmers have limited resources and are faced with uneven cash flows which hinder their ability to pay off debts, school fees and make investments in their livelihoods. To help alleviate this burden, One Acre Fund offers a package of quality farm inputs on credit to smallholder farmers in rural areas. The organization also trains farmers on agriculture techniques, and educates them on how to minimize post-harvest losses and maximize market prices. And now with the introduction of digital payment services, One Acre Fund is able to reach more farmers with greater reliability: staff spend less time collecting payments and more time helping farmers increase their yields, while farmers can borrow from One Acre without worrying if their repayments will arrive. Using mobile technology to manage transactions and make payments helps enhance safety, as well as cut down on both time and cost of transport.
Prior to digitization, farmer loan repayments had to be funneled through collections officers, bookkeepers, and treasurers. The process was entirely paper-based, took weeks to complete, and was highly vulnerable to theft or fraud. By introducing mobile payments, One Acre Fund significantly decreased repayment fraud and lowered its cost of collections. Farmers went from waiting 14 days for loan balances to 2 days, with SMS notifications providing additional security and comfort. Women farmers, who often suffer from a lack of inputs compared to men, reported that digital payments made them feel safer about their payment delivery. In addition, multiple farmers interviewed for the case study cited the switch to digital as a reason to work with the One Acre Fund.
Managing the shift was a major undertaking for One Acre Fund, but challenges were met and largely overcome. Traditionally, farmers would have to spend a great deal of time traveling to and from their farms to change cash to e-money. But One Acre Fund partnered with mobile money providers to bring more agents into rural areas, and eliminated tariffs on mobile payments to help increase adoption. Many farmers had to be educated on how to make payments with their phones, so OAF printed up flier and conducted workshops on mobile payments. In the end, 95% of farmers said they learned to make mobile payments from OAF, and 100% said they preferred mobile payments to cash.
Looking ahead, the benefits seen by OAF from digitizing payments are compelling and should be considered by other nonprofits, businesses and policymakers keen on enhancing smallholder productivity. One Acre Fund certainly thinks so: it is planning on introducing digital payments to help scale programs in other countries including Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.
To read more on this case study, please visit www.betterthancash.org.
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