FARMDRIVE: CONNECTING SMALLHOLDER FARMERS WITH FINANCIERS

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The company seeks to transform the way smallholder farmers get access to finance

Most smallholder farmers in Kenya and beyond lack access to finance. The underlying problem is the lack of aggregated data making it hard for financial institutions to carry out credit assessments. Such farmers are therefore perceived as high risk clients, something that locks them out of the formal financial systems. “Currently, only 1% of commercial loans in the East African region is diverted to agriculture,” says Rita Kimani, chief executive officer of FarmDrive.

Financiers require important data before extending loans to their clients. However, the majority of smallholder farmers lack a record keeping infrastructure of their farming activities and financial transactions. “This makes their loan applications to be rejected, limiting their capacity to acquire and use modern tools hence contributing to the vicious circle of poverty,” observes Kimani.

In 2014, Kimani, a holder of BSc. in Computer Science from the University of Nairobi together with her co-founder Peris Bosire brainstormed ways through which technology could be used to enhance financial inclusion and transform unproductive farming activities into sustainable livelihoods. They came up with the FarmDrive mobile app that provides farmers with new financing options by connecting them with lenders. Having grown up in rural farming communities, they had a profound understanding of the challenges facing farmers, ranging from the use of inferior inputs and lack of access to finances. “At FarmDrive, the name of the game is using technology to innovate for smallholder farmers.”

Kimani affirms that the company is Africa’s first social enterprise that develops innovative credit assessment tools using aggregated farming activity data to enhance credit access to over 50 million farmers who are financially excluded. FarmDrive seeks to transform the way smallholder farmers get access to financial services. This is in line with its vision of driving economic sustainability in Africa by enabling self-sustenance. “The company achieves this by offering reliable information to financial institutions to facilitate credit evaluations, providing a simple digital record-keeping platform that enables farmers to keep track of their farming activities, while improving their productivity,” affirms Kimani.

How it works

Through FarmDrive, farmers are able to keep track of their farming activities using their mobile phones. That, combined with existing agricultural data from agro-dealers, agronomists, off-takers, as well as farmers groups, is used in the development of a comprehensive credit profile. When the need for funding arises, financial institutions use the profile for credit assessment.

Additionally, the company uses the records to understand each farmer’s specific needs, which facilitates the provision of tailored information via SMS. “Through this, farmers are able to gain valuable insight into their farming operations while maximizing their farms’ potential,” observes Kimani.

FarmDrive encourages financial institutions to lend more to smallholder farmers, de-risking the process by showing clear and transparent records. Lending decisions are made on the basis of cash flows, rather than credit history, which many farmers lack. It also facilitates the creation of products by lenders that are better tailored to smallholder farmers.

Service offering

In order to meet its customers’ needs, the company provides a range of services to farmers as well as financial institutions. To farmers, a digital record-keeping application that enables them to maintain revenues and expenses is provided.

In addition, there is data analytics which show farm performance including revenues, expenses as well as the amount of yields realized. “We recognized that farmers do not know whether they make profits or loss from their farming activities. With the reports, they are able to understand such aspects as well as the best crops and livestock to keep in order to maximize returns,” affirms Kimani. Through this, some farmers have changed their farming behaviors by focusing on crops that bring forth better yield.

Providing customized information based on farmer’s geographical location on how to improve productivity is also a key service.

The overall aim is to make access to credit easy, by bringing farmers closer to the lenders with favourable terms. Credit assessment is made efficient and cost-effective through the provision of credit profiles to financiers. This also helps to bring new clients on board for the financial institutions.

Achievements

“We have been able to train and sign up about 100 small holder farmers in the last few months who have been using our platform to keep records,” avers Kimani. The feedback received from the users has been significant in helping FarmDrive improve the application.

Currently, the company prides itself in having a network of over 300,000 smallholder farmers that it has began training and signing them up to start using the platform.

The most current achievement has been bringing a financial institution onboard that will be advancing loans to the farmers. However, Kimani observes that there have been a great challenge to get a financier since the banking sector is not very receptive to innovations. “We have knocked many doors, though many initially show a lot of interest in our innovative solution, they are slow to take it up,” she affirms.

In spite of these achievements, there is a slow progress in the company’s growth that is linked with lack of access to resources. Lack of capital makes it impossible to hire skilled people and officers needed to build the platform further and reach out to more farmers, while training them on how to use the application.

Lessons learnt at the global entrepreneurship summit

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit provided a great learning opportunity. One key lesson was on what investors look for in order invest in a business. How well you understand your market, the team as well as the business model are vital aspects. Moreover, innovators should always introduce new ideas with the global market in mind. It means bringing forth products that are suitable for both the local and international market. This, together with creating partnerships, is key to the growth of any company.

Going forward

Kimani observes that if you solve a human problem, you are likely to succeed. With this in mind, the company projects to have 210,000 smallholder farmer’s loans being processed by 2018. It also projects to assist over half a million farmers in achieving financing over the next 5 years in Kenya alone. The driving factor will be rapid customer growth fueled by aggressive marketing in the next two years through partnerships.

With the vision of driving economic sustainability in Africa, the company plans to expand to other countries where farmers face a similar challenge. The data collected is influential and when aggregated, it will help in informing other vital solutions in order to upscale the agriculture value chain.

By and large, FarmDrive will continue to capitalize on the large underserved market that has been bottlenecked from inaccurate or lack of record-keeping that will now have sufficient data to receive traditional financing.

The company quantifies impact by increasing lending to smallholder farmers, which positively affects the economy and food security of these regions.

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