KENYA - Mercy Corps has partnered with MasterCard Foundation to launch a digital programme to help smallholder farmers close the gap in accessing financial and informational services in Kenya.
Known as AgriFin, MasterCard will use the plan to extend $25 million (Sh2.5 billion) to support farmers to access information through the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices.
The move is expected to relieve farmers in a country where the ratio of agricultural extension agents to farmers stands at 1: 1,000.
The technology will enable farmers to use the Internet and social media to access information on how to produce crops and animals, to market their produce and to network.
Digital financial and information services are critical to helping African smallholder farmers bridge productivity gaps through enhanced access, thereby increasing food security and incomes.
“The use of the mobile phone and other devices by farmers to access agricultural tips online is gaining ground, especially among young farmers in Kenya,” said Mark Wensley, senior programme manager for financial inclusion at the Foundation.
AgriFin Accelerate programme will involve diverse actors in the smallholder farmers’ ecosystem to understand the barriers to their access and use of digital financial and informational services, and develop appropriate solutions.
“Mercy Corps’ AgriFin Accelerate Programme breaks new ground by working with private sector players as a product innovation partner to develop, test and deliver bundles of digitally-enabled services for farmers,” said Leesa Shrader, the programme’s director at Mercy Corps
Shrader said they are collaborating with MasterCard to put smallholder farmers at the centre of product design and innovation, aligning them with the interests and capacities of buyers, technology platforms and financial service providers as partners.
The programme will benefit one million smallholder farmers and will be extended to other countries like Tanzania and Zambia.
Mr Wesley said the global demand for agricultural financing, valued at $450 billion (Sh45 trillion), largely remains unmet and the foundation was bridging the gap.
“In Kenya, where more than 75 per cent of the population derives its livelihood from agriculture-related activities, this statistic represents a tremendous opportunity for financial services providers to improve access and raising farmers’ productivity,” he said.
“At The MasterCard Foundation, we believe that transformational impact in Africa can come from enabling farmers, among others, to access appropriate financial services, skills and markets,” he added.
MasterCard says that their support to the AgriFin will contribute to improved incomes and the diversification of rural economies in the three countries.
Kenya has been dubbed Africa’s “Silicon Savannah” as it currently leads the region in digital technology innovations, chief among them mobile money transfer.