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Mobile app automates agricultural contracting in Zimbabwe

Smart-tech and innovation

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Credit profiling

A credit rating app is enabling Zimbabwean small-scale farmers to build up credit profiles, helping them to compete in the market for finance.

In Zimbabwe, over 3,000 small-scale farmers are benefitting from a ‘grower management’ system, which is improving their access to agricultural inputs and finance. Developed in 2015, Agro Axess is a mobile app that stores the farm information of smallholders looking to work with potential contractors. The data, such as farm size, the type of produce grown and yield levels, is added to the app by field workers associated with agricultural contracting companies. Integrated into the app is a credit rating system, which records information regarding a farmer’s access to inputs and/or credit from the contractors, and their subsequent harvest repayments. This information is compiled over time to create credit profiles, which can then be used by financial service providers and other contractors to track a farmer’s activities and their creditworthiness.

The app is the invention of Zimbabwe’s largest agricultural risk management company, Expert Decision Systems (XDS). “We have contractors in the country who lent to small-scale farmers in the form of cash and inputs. However, there was no proper system that was used to track farmers, looking at how productive they are and how well they repay their loans. We decided to get into that space because we were interested in credit data,” says Oleen Maponga, an XDS director.

The technology can warn contractors of any ‘double-dipping’ activities – when a farmer gets inputs from two separate contractors for the same piece of land – or side-marketing activities. The application does this by flagging or blacklisting a farmer. Once registered, the app runs a credit check on the farmers to see if they have existing debt with other contractors, retailers or financing institutions. According to Farayi Dyirakumunda, another director at XDS, there has been high demand for and use of the technology among tobacco and cotton contractors, as well as microfinance institutions.

Farmers registered with the app have improved their debt profiles, with default repayment rates declining from 17% in 2016 to 9% during the 2017-2018 farming season. This is most likely due to the application’s repayment monitoring, which warns credit providers if the farmers do not fulfil their obligations. “What has changed from when we started is that farmers have more access to credit because, at XDS, we now have more information on the farmer,” reiterates Maponga.

Pest control Data-science anticipates risk To mitigate the devastating impacts of pests, estimated to cause around 40% of crop losses worldwide, researchers in the UK have developed a service that uses satellite and earth observation data to forecast the risk of pest outbreaks. The Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) feeds information related to temperature, weather forecasts and plant-pest lifecycles into a computer model that predicts when an outbreak is likely. Farmers using the service receive an alert to their mobile phones when there is high risk of an outbreak, enabling them to implement appropriate precautions. PRISE is currently being used in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia, where it is hoped to improve yields and increase farm incomes by up to 20%.

Managing maize New apps to maximise yields Vital information to improve the efficiency and productivity of maize farming has been made available via two mobile apps, the Maize Variety Selector (MVS) and Maize Seed Area (MSA), which were launched by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in 2018. African maize farmers often lack information about the maize varieties that can be grown in their localities, which limits their ability to maximise farm productivity and incomes. MVS therefore recommends available maize varieties to farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, based on their preferred planting and harvest dates; whilst MSA – which is currently being piloted in Western Kenya – gives farmers field-specific planting advice, such as optimal plant spacing for their chosen variety.

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