Access to finance is one of the major barriers to increasing agricultural productivity for smallholder farmers in Rwanda. Bank branches are often located far from farmers’ homes, making it difficult for them to access the financial services needed to support and scale up their businesses.
Mobile financial services and microfinance institutions (MFIs) like Duterimbere MFI and Umurimo Finance Ltd are well-placed to combat this by offering solutions that improve access to finance and address issues like the high cost of transactions, high cost of reaching farmers in rural areas and low rate of farmer transactions, which also impacts the availability of financial data for proper loan distribution and decision-making. Since 82 percent of Duterimbere and Umurimo’s clients are farmers, they partnered with the USAID-funded Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze activity to improve farmers’ access to finance in the districts of Kayonza, Gatsibo and Nyamasheke.
Hinga Weze and its MFI partners teamed up with ADFinance Ltd, a Rwandan company specializing in the design and implementation of digital solutions for the financial sector, and local mobile network operators to develop a SMS-based software called ADMobile. The software enables farmers to conveniently deposit and withdraw funds from their bank accounts and complete mobile money transactions with ease. After its launch, ADFinance Ltd provided training to MFI staff on the service’s usage and MFI staff, in turn, educated their farmer clients on how to use the new mobile tool.
The new push-pull service works by integrating the MFIs’ core banking systems with mobile money services from network operators Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) and Airtel. Through this mobile service, individuals and savings groups can access their mobile money wallets and make payments online, without needing to travel to a physical bank branch. The new mobile financial service therefore makes it easier for farmers to save income since they no longer need to spend time and resources traveling back and forth to the bank.
The service’s simplified withdrawal and deposit transaction processes also facilitate loan repayments quicker and more efficiently than before. During COVID-19 lockdown periods when physical movement in the country was restricted, the mobile platform not only helped farmers continue using financial services, but it also helped them save time, increase transparency, improve the security of group savings and reduce conflicts among groups. Participating MFIs also saw an increase in the volume of client transactions, lowering the cost of their operations and supporting farmers to collect enough data to make improved lending decisions.
To enhance access to ADMobile and increase the number of farmers utilizing the platform’s mobile financial services, the activity and its partners developed campaigns showcasing the platform’s benefits. than 1,300 smallholder farmers have accessed over $328,000 in loans through the digital system. Beyond its support to individual farmers, 674 savings groups have used the digital financial service to connect with MFIs and access new sources of funding.
Recently, ADFinance Ltd also successfully piloted a new mobile-based service called “Mobile Lending,” which enables the automated disbursement of small loans to bank clients utilizing a defined criteria and machine learning technology. Moving forward, ADFinance Ltd aims to scale up their services, allowing them to reach more farmers in remote areas of Rwanda, to expand their technology into other countries and, most importantly, to quickly and efficiently facilitate improved access to loans for farmers.