Agri-Fin Mobile Program Innovative implementation Methodology: Mobile Based Bundled Services
The Mercy Corps Agri-Fin mobile program provides a “bundle” of advisory and financial services plus market information to the smallholder farmer via the mobile phone. Through this approach the programme brings together players including banks, mobile network operators, smallholder farmer aggregators, rural advisory service providers, and platform hosting and content managers to build a comprehensive suite of services that addresses all the farmers’ constraints together. By using a new strategy called bundled services, the programme joins products and services together to provide a single combined unit on the mobile phone.
Philosophy and principles
To build mobile bundled services, three key principles ensure success. These centre on partnerships for development:
- Firstly, multiple stakeholders should be engaged on the basis of shared values. Partnerships with both public and private sector players are critical; however, they should be based on critical capabilities and skills essential for the bundled services. It is also critical that the partners have established goals and commitment to contribute to the improvement of smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.
- Secondly, it is critical to identify a “product champion” who accepts ownership and drives the development and rollout of the bundled services. In Indonesia, a social enterprise company called 8 villages has launched a platform known as LISA (Layanan Informasi Desa (Village Information Service) which leverages information and communication technologies (ICTs) to address information challenges in rural markets. Econet Wireless in Zimbabwe has led the development and rollout of the Ecofarmer suite of services that capitalises on the organisation’s mobile telecommunications infrastructure. In Uganda, FIT Uganda is disseminating agricultural market information and providing market intelligence to smallholder farmers.
- Thirdly, to consolidate the delivery of the bundled services, the human interface is still vital for all ICT-based projects. In Zimbabwe the programme partnered with the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, which has a track record of working with smallholder farmers to advance their interests and welfare. In Indonesia the programme works closely with government extension officers, who ensure uptake by presenting mobile-based solutions with a human face.
A solid network of committed partners invested in targeting the rural market with a strong product champion are non-negotiables for extension of rural advisory services to smallholder farmers. These principles will further ensure sustainability of the services.
Geographical, socioeconomic, and agro ecological contexts
The Agri-Fin mobile programme has been implemented in three different contexts in two different continents. The uptake is highly dependent on context, thus there is a difference in implementation strategies but with the same aim. Total smallholder farmers reached is 300,000, with 60% of these adopting farming methods sent by phone.
Knowing how to use a mobile phone has been one of biggest challenges, but with simple curriculum introduced at mobile and financial literacy training workshops, most smallholder farmers have learnt an easier approach to keeping their funds on the mobile phone. Most information is passed to farmers using mobile phones, and there are usually extension personnel guiding farmers comprehend the messages sent to them. Agriculture and finance have been merged in Agri-Fin Mobile because there is a need in the agriculture space for financial inclusion. Thus a partnership was formed with GIZ as the financial literacy advisor on the programme, which has allowed for integration of simple financial practices for the small holder farmer to use.