JUHUDI KILIMO AIMS AT CONQUERING THE REGION THROUGH DIGITIZATION

Mr. Bernard Kivava, CEO, Juhudi Kilimo.
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Focusing mainly on serving enterprising farmers in the rural areas, MFI supports them to become technology savvy , a strategic move that is bearing a lot of fruits

By Agnes Mbithi

Juhudi Kilimo was established in 2004 as a micro-lending initiative focusing on agriculture under the K-Rep Development Agency. By 2009, the organization had developed into an independent for-profit social enterprise with the mission to improve the livelihoods of rural smallholder farmers and micro-entrepreneurs by providing them with wealth-creating financial solutions.

Juhudi Kilimo is a microfinance institution (MFI) that seeks to uplift the living standards of financially excluded rural smallholder farmers and micro entrepreneurs through the provision of transformative financial solutions and technical assistance for agribusiness. Farmers can access financial services either in groups or as individuals. Through its products and services, the lender helps its clients to make their farms and businesses productive and sustainable by increasing their yields, income and improving the well-being of their households.

Standing out

Unlike the traditional microfinance model which primarily focuses on providing loans for working capital to informal businesses, Juhudi Kilimo exclusively targets and finances rural smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods and help them become sustainable.The leading MFI also drives financial inclusion by targeting rural smallholder farmers who are traditionally excluded from formal financial services.

The lender’s commitment to the implementation of social and environmental performance management (SEPM) in its business makes it an unique and a valuable player in the microfinance sector. To demonstrate this commitment, Juhudi Kilimo in April took part in a tree-planting activity, at Unoa Primary School in Makueni County. Over five hundred trees were planted during that exercise. The lender’s goal is to replicate such activities in various counties where it has a presence, in order to contribute in protecting the environment from the adverse effects of the global climate change.

A beneficiary of Juhudi Kilimo’s animal farming loan product.

Product offering

Juhudi Kilimo focuses on financing agricultural assets and backing various value chains and business ventures that provide farmers and micro-entrepreneurs with both immediate and sustainable income. To that end, it offers three categories of loans. The first one is the agriculture loan, which is the flagship product. Additionally, it offers business development and consumer loans.

Juhudi Kilimo was recently ranked the best microfinance institution that supports agribusiness in Kenya by the Agribusiness Excellence Award.

Digitization

Juhudi Kilimo is one of the few MFIs in East Africa that have been able to exclusively target and finance rural smallholder farmers to scale and become sustainable. Since 2015, the lender has been on a journey of digitization. It has integrated technology into its operations and service delivery in order to serve its clients better. Currently, the institution has digitized all its processes ranging from: loan origination, customer onboarding, loan disbursement and repayment.

The loan officers at Juhudi Kilimo are equipped with point-of-sale (POS) gadgets that provide them with a convenient and efficient way to process loan applications and payments. POS devices also help in reducing manual errors, streamlining the loan approval process and improving customer satisfaction.

By embracing technology in its business, Juhudi Kilimo has been able to reduce the manual processes that bear operational costs, including: transport (reaching clients), delivery (courier services), human resources (cheque preparation and distribution, manual confirmation and data entry), delays (several steps to complete) and training (to ensure the compliance of clients and staff members).

Of immense benefits to its clients, the lender has gotten rid of the manual process. This has a number of disadvantages, including saving on transport costs to the banking halls, minimizing the risks associated with carrying cash ( mainly theft), uncertainty when there are delaysin confirmation of transactions and inconveniences in cases where the access to banking services is poor.

Fundamentally, the use of technology has enabled the lender to reduce the cost of operations and logistics, increase the speed of transactions, decrease the time spent processing transactions, provide a faster and higher quality borrowing experience to clients, and improve internal fiscal control over the loan portfolio.

A beneficiary of Juhudi Kilimos’ dairy farming product.

Hurdles

There are several challenges that can arise when using technology in the microfinance business, especially while serving farmers. The first one is lack of access to technology. Farmers in some rural areas may not have access to the necessary technology or infrastructure required for them to access the digital services. This limits them from enjoying the use of technology.

Secondly is low digital literacy. With the average age of Kenyan farmers being sixty years, many of them may not have the digital literacy skills required to navigate digital financial services. In addition, technology solutions require a lot of investment. Also, some farmers may not be able to afford technology devices like smart phones, hence limiting their access to financial services and product via that channel.

To address these challenges, Juhudi Kilimo has invested in educating farmers on the digital processes, By the same token, the lender has developed loan products – for instance simu yangu – which enables its clients to acquire smart phones.

Juhudi Kilimo has also developed secured digital platforms that provide support in loan management and repayment.

Road ahead

Juhudi Kilimo strategic plan is hinged on the pillars of growth, impact, and sustainability. As a socially responsible microfinance institution lending to smallholder farmers and micro-entrepreneurs, the lender remains committed to its mission – to impact and build resilient communities and to continue supporting smallholder farmers. Ultimately, its vision is to expand to the broader East Africa region

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