A unique “bundled” mobile service is changing the way smallholder farmers conduct business.
A new Mercy Corps program, dubbed “Agri-Fin Mobile” ("agriculture" plus "financial" services), is helping rural farmers in Indonesia, Uganda and Zimbabwe increase their crop yields, boost their food security, and enhance their economic prospects. Launched in July of 2012 with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Agri-Fin Mobile partners local mobile tech companies, financial institutions and research organizations to provide “bundled” support for smallholder farmers.
“Bundled” support via mobile phones means integrating local financial services, market information and agricultural tips into a single comprehensive package. The potential for bundling technology is enormous, given that even in remote areas most farmers have access to mobile phone technology and service.
By providing up-to-date market pricing information, weather forecasts, mobile banking, and direct links to market activity (i.e. daily market prices and fertilizer information), Agri-Fin Mobile keeps farmers connected even if they are far away.
Agri-Fin Mobile's unique proposition promotes sustainable business partnerships through interconnected incentives. Each service under the Agri-Fin Mobile umbrella provides clear benefits to all of the partners involved, like an expanded customer base, enhanced customer loyalty, improved data regarding credit risk, new and increased revenue streams, and more stabilized supply chains. This means that Mercy Corps will be able to exit with confidence knowing that services will continue to be provided for farmers.
The end result? Everyone's business profits from the plan, especially smallholder farmers.
But, before the Agri-Fin Mobile platform gets fully up and running, Mercy Corps has had to pinpoint what smallholder farmers most wanted from the bundled services. To do this, Agri-Fin Mobile teams traveled to rural villages in Indonesia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. After conducting baseline surveys, the teams discovered that farmers’ livelihoods were most affected by poor market infrastructure, lack of access to financial systems, unpredictable pest and disease management issues and unfair trading systems mostly due to a lack of information. Agri-Fin Mobile pilot programs in each country were tailored to address these issues.
To keep farmers connected in the island nation of Indonesia, Agri-Fin Mobile is using an existing mobile agricultural networking service, LISA, to connect 18 partners, including Bank Andara, a wholesale bank for microfinance institutions founded by Mercy Corps; 8villages, a mobile platform and LISA’s parent company; and the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture.
The first Indonesian “bundle” pairs 8villages’ LISA product with the Ministry of Agriculture. These partners are developing a network of technology-equipped agricultural extension workers to visit far-flung farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture and LISA partnership addresses an issue that arose in Mercy Corps' surveys: the farmers’ overwhelming interest in working with familiar, trusted sources--like government extension workers and local farmer groups. The hope is that the partnership will improve the credibility of less-seasoned extension workers among farmers by equipping them with information from well-established, trusted sources.
In Uganda, Mercy Corps is teaming up with its first partner Mobipay, a financial services technology provider, to expand the Kenyan-based Agrilife service to Ugandan smallholders. Agrilife provides a cloud-based service that records farmers' production capabilities and projects their future production levels, making it easier to assign credit ratings and enabling farmers to access credit.
The service will be introduced through government agricultural extension officers, and will be bundled with agricultural advisory information and input supplier contact information to help Ugandan farmers overcome financial and agricultural barriers.
Finally, Mercy Corps has some exciting developments underway in Zimbabwe that address the broad financial and informational needs of rural farmers. These will be announced shortly.
Mercy Corps continues to collect and analyze data alongside its network of unconventional partners to drive future partnership strategies. Agri-fin Mobile’s “bundled” services are paving the way for new forms of sustainable business partnerships and business models to help rural farmers embrace the mobile age. If current Agri-Fin Mobile successes are any indicator of future performance, several years from now many more rural farmers will be plugged in to the “bundled” mobile world.