Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Launch of the 2012 Cotton Farmer Payment Project at the Nc’wala Traditional Ceremony

Farmers clad in the traditional dress of the Ngoni people hovered around as I was handing out flyers describing Mobile Transactions’ latest e-voucher project, creating new ways to make payments to rural cotton farmers. A few passer-bys noticed the prominent Dunavant Cotton logo on the flyer and stuck out their hand to get a flyer and learn about what was going on.

My name is Chris Mwaba; I am the voucher Assistant at Mobile Transactions Zambia (MTZ), a company that I have been with since August 2010. Over the past weekend, I and my colleagues, Hans, David and Azalea left Lusaka for the Nc’wala Tradtional Ceremony in the Eastern Province of Zambia to launch the Dunavant Cotton farmer payment project for 2012. Nc’wala is a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, taking place over the last week of February. During the ceremony a bull is slaughtered and the chief (now Mpezeni IV) ceremonially drinks some of the blood. Thousands of farmers from around the province and country, many of whom are cotton farmers, travel to witness the ceremony.

Mobile Transactions is working with Dunavant Cotton to promote a new way for farmers to receive their payments for the sale of cotton, which in Zambia is a major export crop and money-maker for small-scale farmers. Payments of cash to farmers can be risky and expensive for the company. Often farmers in the rural area have little access to traditional services to save their money. While mobile phone and branchless banking penetration increases in these rural areas, a simple system using an e-voucher scratch card, akin to a prepaid debit card is being trialled. The e-voucher is a way of savings for these farmers. At the same time we are signing up local retailers to offer discounts ranging from 5-15% on everything from agricultural inputs to school supplies. Farmers are always able to take cash off their e-voucher through a Mobile Transactions agent. The e-voucher payment is secure (can be replaced in the case of theft, loss or damage), promotes savings, and attracts discounts.

It was a Friday and it all started when Hans, David and I decided to take a tour of the main trading centre in Mutenguleni, a place in Chipata rural which hosts the Nc’wala ceremony where we even bought ourselves what I would call the “local head gears” for the Ngoni people, which are made out of animal skin. We had thousands of flyers in our truck to distribute, and I wondered what response we would get from the farmers. To our surprise, in a few minutes, our hands were almost empty. Rushing back to the truck to pick up some more flyers, it started raining and everyone rushed to shelter.

I could not believe the response that we were getting from the people, the interest they showed and the fact that they had a few minutes to spare and listen to what we had brought forth. One interesting thing I observed was that almost 90% of the farmers that I spoke to were Dunavant cotton farmers who expressed interest in the e-voucher. Ultimately, the goal is evolve the e-voucher payment into a loyalty program that rewards cotton farmers for their service. With a great start at the Nc’wala ceremony, we’re already on the way.