Smallholder farmers constitute the bulk of the global farmers, about 90% of the worlds farms are owned and operated by families and most live in rural areas. Yet most of these are affected by the effects of climate change, funding crisis, drought and other factors inhibiting agriculture. In fact, being vulnerable they are in need of social protection schemes.
Can technology assists smallholder farmers in a crisis?
Zimbabwe is experiencing an economic crisis that has previously led to an inflationary environment and recently a cash crisis that means people are unable to get money from the bank. On top of this, in 2016 the region was hit with the El Nino induced drought.
Without money, small holder farmers have trouble feeding their families or investing in their farms, including developing techniques that may make their farming practices more resilient against climate change challenges.
Against this background, Zimbabwe pushed for the introduction and promotion of mobile money and plastic money alternatives such as mobile money platforms. This was an opportunity for smallholder farmers. From January to September 2017, 485 million transactions, worth US$11 billion, were conducted on mobile platforms in Zimbabwe, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe states. The number of mobile transactions increased 62 percent from 2016 to 2017
In Zimbabwe, Mercy Corps Zimbabwe with the Swiss Agency for Development (SDC) funded AgriFin Mobile program to assist smallholder farmers. The Agri-Fin approach works with partners to build sustainable models, where farm and crop management tools and financial services are "bundled" on affordable, unified platforms on mobile phone channels to promote mass uptake in a commercially sustainable manner.
The project targets partnering with existing financial, MNO and agricultural technical service mobile platforms or applications, or demonstrated interests in developing and investing in them, and facilitates development of a business model whereby the bundling process provides an increased value proposition for each partner, such as, increased fee income, greater outreach or reduced risks.
The overall goal is that smallholder farmers (SHFs) increase and stabilize their incomes and manage their production cycle in a more effective way. This will contribute to improved livelihoods and increased food security at household and systems levels.
Opportunity for the Ecofarmer
In light of the above, the AgriFin Mobile program has assisted smallholder farmers by supporting an innovative mobile agricultural information service known as EcoFarmer, through a partnership with Econet (Zimbabwe’s largest mobile network operator) and the Zimbabwe Farmers Union.
Through this platform, smallholder farmers have access to insurance, weather index and farming tips which include prices of inputs and market prices for their produce. The service allows farmers to save money, make payments for their agricultural and household needs as well as receive payments for their produce. This has lessened reliance on cash and has enabled farmers to manage their farming expenses and pay for their farmers union subscriptions. Thousands of farmers have subscribed for the ZFU Ecofarmer Combo since its launch in 2013.
The impact of the Ecofarmer project
In the published case study, Linda Mungira –a smallholder farmer explains how she benefited from the Mercy Corps, Agri-Fin Mobile Programme.
“I have bought maize seed with fellow farmers here using mobile money from on our phones under the EcoFarmer program. We even got discounts at that time because we were EcoFarmers. Just last week I sold ten crates of eggs and the buyer paid for them using mobile money” Linda Mungira.
The Mercy Corps Zimbabwe supported AgriFin Mobile program has changed the way smallholder farmers transact in Zimbabwe, bringing the convenience of transacting on their phones thereby reducing travel and risks associated with it as well as opening new opportunities in trade and savings.
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