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New AgriFin Accelerate initiative to address barriers to access, use of financial services

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By Jimoh Babatunde

A US$25 million program that will that is expected to to benefit about one million smallholder farmers in three African countries was launched yesterday in Kenya by The MasterCard Foundation in partnership with Mercy Corps.

The program is to help close the gap in access to financial and informational services experienced by smallholder farmers, especially women and youth in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.

Global demand for agricultural financing, valued at US$450 billion, largely remains unmet. In Kenya, where more than 75% of the population derives its livelihood from agriculture-related activities, this statistic represents a tremendous opportunity for financial services providers to contribute to improving access and raising farmers’ productivity.

Speaking at the launch, Mark Wensley, Senior Program Manager, Financial Inclusion at the Foundation said they believe that transformational impact in Africa can come from enabling farmers, among others, to access appropriate financial services, skills and markets.

“Our support to the AgriFin Accelerate Program 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 which is mobile money transfer. Mobile money has increased access for millions of previously unbanked and underbanked people in Kenya and globally, making it a key enabler of financial inclusion.

AgriFin Accelerate will collaborate with 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 Program 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 program’s director at Mercy Corps.

“We are collaborating with The MasterCard Foundation to put smallholders at the center of product design and innovation, aligning with the interests and capacities of buyers, aggregators, technology platforms and financial service providers as partners in our technical engagement model.”

The rise of the ‘digital farmer’

Digital financial and information services are critical in helping African smallholder farmers bridge farm productivity gaps through enhancing access, thereby increasing food security and farm-derived incomes.

In Kenya, where the ratio of agricultural extension agents to farmers stands at 1: 1,000, the use of the mobile phone and other devices by farmers to access agricultural tips online is gaining ground; especially among young farmers. They use the Internet and social media platforms to access information on how to produce crops and animals, to market their produce and to network with other farmers.

This emerging crop of ‘digital farmers’, is blazing a new path and showing that engaging in agriculture-as-a-business can be as profitable as any other business venture.

Cornelius Kiptoo, 26, is one such farmer. Kiptoo used social media to market his oat crop, obtaining prices that were 30% higher than the farm-gate price.

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