Imagine yourself as a smallholder cotton farmer in rural Zambia. For many months, you and your entire family are out at the crack of dawn toiling on your farm - ploughing, planting, and weeding by hand to nurture a handful of seeds into a thriving crop of cotton. You are proud of what you have achieved with nothing more than your bare hands, a primitive set of tools, and if you are lucky, an oxen.
And then comes payday. Finally, after all that laborious work, your crop is sold for hard cash. Everyone in your community is upbeat and happy. There are festivals and celebrations. Houses are repaired and thatched roofs are replaced by corrugated iron. New TVs and mobile phones beam airwaves in and out of the village.
But almost as fast as this “enlightening”, your long lost relatives and less fortunate neighbours show up at your doorstep asking for money. They have watched you tend your crop from the first seedlings. They know the exact size of your harvest by the number of bags of cotton stacked outside your mud hut, and have easily and accurately calculated the amount of cash you received for your burden.
They are begging you for help because they are “not as lucky as you.” You know you have only one choice – to help them by giving them money – or risk a bad reputation in your community and shame from your extended family. You reluctantly dish out your hard earned cash, knowing full well that some of it will end up being spent at the local bar. You know in your gut that many of the people you are “helping” will be back on your doorstep at the same time next year.
Mobile Transactions has a vision to change this very real story that is a hindrance to the economic development of rural African communities. We have launched an innovative pilot project, in partnership with Dunavant Cotton and a local NGO called Musika, to test whether smallholder farmers will opt to receive eVoucher scratch cards instead of cash for their cotton crop.
eVouchers allow farmers to store electronic value instead of cash. Each eVoucher is linked to a farmer’s unique ID number so that it can’t be used by anyone else, and there is no requirement for farmers to memorize a personal PIN (which is a significant barrier for financial services). In fact, farmers don’t even need to have mobile phones! eVouchers can then be redeemed for goods at local retailers, who are willing to offer discounts to attract customers and win sales from their competitors.
If this pilot works, there could be a significant benefit to Dunavant, which pays out tens of millions of dollars in cash to over 150,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Zambia. This is both operationally expensive and extremely risky. If we can prove that farmers will accept eVouchers instead of cash, Dunavant is ready and willing to take this solution to scale and take a step towards becoming a Cashless Corporation.
Donovan Nickel (Board member) and Abishank Jajur (Accion intern)
I had the privilege of visiting some Dunavant farmers near a town called Monze with Hans Hesse (eVoucher Manager), Donovan Nickel (Board Member), and Abishank Jajur (Accion intern). It’s always a treat to get out of the office and into the field, and this was a humbling experience. This year, the world market price for cotton has dropped to half of what it was last year and farmers are facing a tough year ahead with a shock to their expected income. Despite this, the farmers I spoke with were optimistic about eVouchers. When I asked one lead farmer whether he was planning on taking an eVoucher, he replied:
“I will take an eVoucher because when my relatives come asking for money after I sell my crop, I can tell them I don’t have any.”
Behaviour change in rural Africa is a hard and slow process. But I left Monze energized that we are onto something that could improve the lives of productive farmers who are leaders in their communities. Now it’s time to get to work and make it happen.