Four Years of Learnings from Tanzania
Digital Services for Smallholders
For more than five years, AgriFin Accelerate has supported the design and expansion of digitally enabled financial and information services for smallholder farmers in the region (Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia). The program has worked with a number of financial service providers, telecommunications companies and agriculture tech innovators to design and deploy digital platforms enabling farmers to access finances, information and learning content.
On 23rd January 2020 in Dar es Salaam, AgriFin Accelerate hosted the Tanzania Learning Event to share lessons learned from the past 4 years of our work in Tanzania, and to look ahead, for future expansion of digital farmer platforms. Over 50 participants representing the financial, telecoms and ag-tech sectors in Tanzania attended the event. The half-day event also served as a platform to facilitate future partnerships across financial service, agri-fintech and telecommunications sectors.
The Tanzania Learning Event kicked-off with three presentations:
- Digital Farmer Platforms – The potential for platforms and AgriFin learnings from the region by Christabell Makokha, AFA’s Strategic and MErL Director
- Wefarm – A new peer-to-peer farmer learning platform in Tanzania by Nicholous John, Wefarm Tanzania’s Country Director
- The Tanzania Context and Imperative (oral presentation) by Mwombeki Bareku, Head of Agriculture & Rural Finance, Financial Sector Deepening Trust Tanzania.
This was followed by a panel review and plenary discussion on some of the emerging platforms operating in the region.
The Tanzania Learning Event panel was made up of five of AFA’s partners representing emerging platforms operating in the region. (Left to right: Happy Matthew – Senior Program Officer, Mercy Corps AFA Tanzania; Louis Graham – Engagement Director, Busara; Nicomed Bohay – Managing Director, Private Agricultural Sector Support; Rob Madziva – Founder & Executive Director, Digital Mobile Africa; Almut Van Casteren – Managing Director, eProd Solutions; Henry Maloba – Director, Financial Services, Arifu; Ali Z. Ali – Head of Enterprise Products and Solutions, Vodacom; Sieka Gatabaki – Deputy Program Director, Mercy Corps Agrifin).
The main themes discussed during the Tanzania Learning Event centered on the key ingredients of building digital platforms for farmers.
The Role of Partnerships in Building Digital Data Platforms for Smallholders
For partnerships to work, organizations must realize that no single company has expertise in all areas, and that different partners bring in unique value to a product/service and to the end consumer. As partners, the consortium will bring in better understanding of consumers, and enhance learning creating a knowledge hub to strengthen the offering.
“Always look at available solutions, don’t fall back into old ways of doing things by yourself”
Sieka Gatabaki, Deputy Program Director, Agrifin
Challenges and Opportunities in Building Successful Platforms
Participation in a digital platform is key for most service providers to successfully achieve digital transformation, by raising capacities and broadening horizontal market opportunities. Choosing the right partner takes time, as it needs a due diligence process comprising needs and risk assessments and converging objectives, financial and human resources. There are important gaps between the research or experience and policies to support regulation and capacity building for the DFS space across the region. Actors in this space should employ advocacy and knowledge dissemination activities to promote awareness of these gaps. One way to do this is by identifying a champion to outline the business case and coordinate the relationships to policymakers as well as other decision makers.
The Role of Data, and How to Manage It
Big data is at the core of all digital platforms. Digital platforms can be an open source of the data they generate, granting partners more insights about their clients’ behaviors and needs. This requires adoption of best practices in data handling, from collection and storage to sharing and use. The data has to be of good quality, needs to be standardized and stored in sharable format. A clear data policy needs to be drawn that protects the sources, as well as the end-user Data policy should specify data diplomacy (to incentivise data sharing) within the platform and without.
How to Promote Active use and Adoption of Digital Platforms.
Once the platforms are operational, rigorous data management becomes vital. One way of doing this is by developing useful insights with the content available to provide feedback to the partners and to their audiences. This improves the depth of engagements, to achieve better results. During this process, the platform can identify complementing information/services that are of interest to the farmer (not just agronomy-related information), that will be increasing brand loyalty and product adoption. Human touch is critical at the farmer level, to encourage deeper engagement. A field force has proved effective in implementing and introducing the services.
Agrifin has used different approaches to develop smallholder farmer platforms, as demonstrated in the Digifarm and Zanaco Bank’s Agripay approaches. In Tanzania, various partners have plans to develop platforms. Currently partners have the technology to enable bundled platforms, it’s just plugging in Value Added services (VAS), which have to be available and have reached some scale. Further investment in the agri-fin-tech sectors would enable more value added service providers to bundle their services on digital platforms, which would in turn create more scalable models.
The challenge of walking the journey towards building platforms is easier with partners, but we need to protect the VAS providers. That, and the prevailing successful relationships, will encourage aspects related to data sharing that will develop different capabilities and roles of the platforms that can be optimised.