Small-plot farmers in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania can now go digital―coordinating sales, payments, and distribution of crops thanks to a pilot program called 2KUZE launched by Mastercard.
The agricultural technology app was announced this week. 2KUZE, which means “let’s grow together” in Swahili, was developed at Mastercard’s Nairobi Labs for Financial Inclusion with the support of the Gates Foundation.
In the initial trial phase, it is being used by 2000 farmers in Kenya’s Nanda Hills, and will soon be available in Uganda and Tanzania. The app works on feature phones, smartphones, and PCs.
2KUZE’s primary value proposition is connecting farmers, agents, and buyers on a digital platform toward greater pricing transparency and more effective distribution.
“Farming in Africa is pretty decentralized,” said Daniel Monehin, Mastercard’s President for Sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers, mostly in the remote areas, traditionally sell their crops through middle-men, working on behalf of large food processing companies, according to Monehin.
“There’s been a lack of efficiency in information and the payment process that hasn’t put the farmer in a position to get the best value for their produce,” he said. Enabling farmers to negotiate quantities, pricing, payment, and distribution directly with agents and buyers on a central platform “will empower the farmers,” according to Monehin.
This also creates a digital business history, which Mastercard believes farmers can use to gain first time access to small business financing from banks. While agriculture in Africa employs 65 percent of its labor force (nearly 50 percent women), 80 percent are smallholder farmers―largely single families on small plots of land, according to World Bank and UN Food and Agriculture Organization statistics.
Following prevailing trends on the continent, more of Africa’s farmers have mobile phones, which creates possibilities for agtech innovation. GSMA tracks Africa’s current unique mobile subscriber penetration at 46 percent, and expects users to reach 725 million people by 2020.
Conveniently for Mastercard, the 2KUZE pilot is launching in Kenya, one of the continent’s more tech savvy countries. Dubbed Silicon Savannahfor its IT successes, Kenya has the highest mobile money penetration rate on the continent (58 percent). It has also gained recognition for mobile innovation in the ride-hail market (see Uber and Little) and for agtech apps, such as iCow.
An early partner in Mastercard’s 2KUZE trial period is Cafédirect Producers Foundation, which is assisting farmer integration and coordination of agents and buyers on the new app. The initial crops expected to be priced, bought, and sold on the platform include sunflowers, millet, corn, and maize.
As for 2KUZE’s revenue model, there are no charges for users in the pilot phase. However, Mastercard Africa is exploring models for buyer and financial institution transaction and referral fees toward “a commercial product generating a profit,” said a company spokesperson.
Mastercard is also looking to extend the 2KUZE on the continent and beyond. “Once its fully commercial and full blown tested, then it is something we will extend not just in Africa, but to emerging markets with similar dynamics,” said Monehin.