More Awareness-Raising Activities Are Needed to Increase Use of DFS – Perspectives from mSTAR/Bangladesh

As mSTAR’s project in Bangladesh comes to a close this fall, mSTAR/Bangladesh staff write about their perspectives from three years of a successful project, where mSTAR/Bangladesh helped enroll over 24,000 individuals—most of whom are women—into digital financial service accounts and helped USAID IPs and beneficiaries transact around $1.83 million digitally. The activity brought two new financial products to market with Bank Asia and IFIC Bank, including micro-credit to farmers with lower interest rates and more favorable repayment terms than any other alternative on the market today. Through this effort, mSTAR/Bangladesh facilitated loan disbursement to 795 farmers. Both banks are interested in scaling up these efforts.  

By Kazi Amit Imran, mSTAR/Bangladesh Communications Specialist

“We do not have any scope to adopt digital financial services in our project” – this is exactly how many development projects react when they hear about digital financial services (DFS) for the first time. Even though USAID has mandated the use of digital payments as the default method for its implementing partners since 2014, lack of technical knowledge and misunderstanding about what is required to use DFS still holds back many projects. One of the key components holding back DFS adoption is lack of awareness, both among the general population and development organizations whose programs support them. This is in part why many Bangladeshis—and development organizations—are unaware of and often hesitant to try DFS products.

The reality in Bangladesh is that the majority of the rural population still uses cash to make financial transactions. This segment is often broadly unaware of the intricacies of DFS products, and therefore can lack trust in them. While some organizations are trying to increase the uptake of DFS by increasing their knowledge and capacity to use DFS products, more effort and engagement is required. Even years after their introduction to Bangladesh, many people are still unaware of DFS, such as mobile financial services and agent banking products.

The importance of increasing DFS-specific knowledge is crucial for spurring adoption, and the benefits that come from having access to formal financial services. Over the past four years, the mSTAR activity in Bangladesh has focused on increasing DFS-specific awareness among USAID-funded project staff and beneficiaries, particularly through publications, blog posts, videos, and other multimedia content. We developed different kinds learning documents targeting different audiences including project leads, finance staff, program staff, frontline managers and beneficiaries. mSTAR/Bangladesh’s approach to awareness raising was very much focused on tailoring content to appeal to and meet the needs of specific audiences.

Early on, many USAID-funded implementing partners (IPs) were hesitant to use DFS often due to a lack of awareness and capacity, although with technical support from mSTAR/Bangladesh that began to change. By documenting and sharing the learnings from these early adopters, we were able to convince other USAID IPs to consider the potential benefits of DFS to help them enhance operational efficiency and better achieve their development objectives.

Though it varies from context to context, we’ve found that sharing success stories of beneficiaries and infographics, in particular, have had a dramatic impact on influencing IPs to consider DFS. The success stories validate the benefits and the changes that DFS adoption brings about to individuals’ lives, as well as to IPs at an organizational level. The infographics, meanwhile, helped them to very easily visualize the benefits from transitioning to DFS, such as this one, which captured the impact using DFS had on achieving project objectives. Meanwhile, our infosheets have brought about price transparency in the DFS market in Bangladesh for the first time. Prior to our creation of the first Mobile Money Infosheet in 2014, it was not possible to find information on corporate pricing on any of the mobile financial service (MFS) providers websites. Once we started putting their prices and service offerings side by side, they took notice. bKash, for example, the country’s largest MFS provider waived their disbursement fees for all USAID projects and also reduced their cash out fees for recipients of payments from USAID projects from 1.85 percent to 1 percent.

At mSTAR/Bangladesh, we have seen that an informed person is more likely to adopt DFS compared to a person who is unaware of DFS and its potential. This reflects the need to better promote DFS products and their associated benefits in a language that can be easily understood by the intended audience.

You can view all of our learning documents online here.

Kazi Amit Imran served as the Communications Specialist for mSTAR/Bangladesh from May 2014 to May 2017. Prior to this he served as a Communications Manager at BRAC. He has a masters degree in development studies and business administration.

Digital Development for Feed the Future: Will Digital Technology Work For or Against Small Farmers?

This post is excerpted from the second blog post in a two-part Agrilinks series focusing on data-driven agricultural development. It was authored by Brian King, Digital Development Advisor for Digital Development for Feed the Future, USAID and Peter Richards, Economic Advisor, Bureau for Food Security, USAID.

Global agricultural development is in a period of digital transition. Advancements in earth science, computational power, geospatial analysis and data communications systems have made it possible to assess yields from space, predict and manage economic or climatic shocks, and improve the precision and profitability of agricultural production. The models for realizing the full benefits of this transformation are still emerging. This has wide-reaching implications for agriculture development. Will digital technologies follow well-worn paths of agriculture innovation? Will they prove disruptive or beneficial for small farmers in developing economies?

The Technology Treadmill

Over fifty years ago, the economist Willard Cochrane described adoption of agricultural innovations as a “treadmill,” wherein technologies such as mechanization, hybrid seeds and chemical inputs helped increase productivity. However, when the resulting increases in food supply drove down market prices, farmers were forced to keep adopting new technologies to increase efficiency, only to maintain about the same farm income. Most farmers — particularly small farmers — weren’t getting ahead. When Cochrane wrote of the treadmill decades later in the 1990s, he found that his treadmill had been a force for farm consolidation. Many of the smaller, less productive or less efficient farmers ended up falling off the treadmill.

Small Farmers, Digital Tools

As use of digital tools expands in farming systems in developing economies, it is worth reflecting on what these new technologies will mean for small farmers. If the spread of these innovations follows similar patterns as those of previous waves, it could mean yet another challenge to small farmers’ livelihoods. Yet there are a few signals that digital solutions might also help small farmers even the score.

Here are some key indicators:

Increasing Access to Inputs

Access to the right inputs at the right places and times has long been a challenge for small farmers in developing regions who may find themselves isolated due to poor quality infrastructure or weak linkages with input supply chains. Even where inputs are accessible, distributing them in small packages implies additional costs. Digital tools, however, can help aggregate smallholder demand and enable innovative approaches to financing to get around these constraints. Similarly, some models from the sharing economy are showing promise for improving access to on-demand transport and mechanization.

Precision in Production

New digital tools can have a big impact on small farmer efficiency. For example, access to cell phones enables even poor, rural farmers to access good guidance over interactive voice response or low-cost video, with demonstrated improvements in production. There are early successes in improving the timeliness and site-specificity of farm guidance over digital channels, such as linking SMS text messages with crop models. The near ubiquity of mobile phone services in developing economies makes it possible to deploy sensor technologies for more precise, data-driven production. These new digital channels are building true interactivity with small farmers in ways that were not possible just a few years ago, enabling farmers and farm advisors to track crop progress, plan activities and identify new solutions or opportunities.

Read the full blog here and learn about finding a vent for surplus for smallholders, and hacking the technology treadmill.


Digital Development for Feed the Future is a collaboration between USAID’s Global Development Lab and the Bureau for Food Security and is focused on integrating a suite of coordinated digital tools and technologies into Feed the Future activities to accelerate agriculture-led economic growth and improved nutrition.  

For more information on Digital Development for Feed the Future’s work on data-driven agricultural development, please read the Key Findings Report from the Innovation for Data-Driven Agriculture convening in April 2017. 

Photo credit: Bobby Neptune for USAID

Digital Development for Feed the Future: Building an Innovative Community of Practice to Respond to Smallholder Farmers’ Needs

This post is excerpted from the first blog post in a two-part Agrilinks series focusing on data-driven agricultural development. It was authored by Karina Lundahl, Facilitator for USAID’s Innovation for Data-Driven Agriculture Convening on April 27–28, 2017.

With the continued global proliferation of smartphones, sensors and advanced analytics, opportunities and challenges relevant to smallholder agriculture in emerging economies are increasing. In the focus countries of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, smartphone adoption increased an incredible 800 percent between 2010–2015 according to data from GSMA Intelligence. And in 2017, the combined processing power of global smartphones will surpass the processing capacity of all servers worldwide. To create an agile and informed response to technological opportunities addressing the context-specific problems faced in developing regions, a diverse group of thinkers and innovators is required.

Addressing this, USAID, in collaboration with the Sustainability Innovation Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder (SILC), hosted its second convening focused on building a cross-industry community of practice in data-driven agricultural development. Representatives from the U.S. Global Development Lab and Bureau for Food Security at USAID joined a group of researchers, tech innovators, funders and development practitioners to discuss the state of the industry as well as paths forward for data-driven approaches to agricultural development. Through a series of presentations, panels and workshop activities, three major themes emerged:

1. Opportunities and challenges in the data landscape: collection, analysis, open sharing and distribution

2. How to better incorporate smallholder farmer concerns during design and implementation

3. Engaging a diverse community of practice

Convening facilitator Karina Lundahl unpacks these themes with proven examples in the full Agrilinks blog. Read the post to see case examples of how these themes respond to smallholder farmers’ needs.

Digital Development for Feed the Future is a collaboration between USAID’s Global Development Lab and the Bureau for Food Security and is focused on integrating a suite of coordinated digital tools and technologies into Feed the Future activities to accelerate agriculture-led economic growth and improved nutrition.  

For more information on Digital Development for Feed the Future’s work on data-driven agricultural development, please read the Key Findings Report from the Innovation for Data-Driven Agriculture convening in April 2017. 

Photo credit: Tanya Martineau, Prospect Arts, Food for the Hungry

Submit Session Ideas for ICTforAg 2017

This blog is modified from the originally published blog on ICTworks.

ICTforAg is a one-day conference which builds on ICTforAg 2015 and 2016, bringing together 300 thought leaders and decision-makers in agriculture and technology from the international development community and the private sector. Community-driven sessions examine how new innovations can empower smallholder farmers, and the communities that support them, through information and communication technologies (ICT).

We are looking for the ICT4D community to sign up to present or register to attend ICTforAg 2017 and examine these trends with an exciting mix of educational keynotes, lightning talks, and group breakouts. An evening reception will be held to foster networking across sectors. Session submission ideas are due April 14!

While this year’s conference takes a particular interest in new ICT solutions that can boost the productivity of both smallholder farmers and agricultural value chains, all possible ICTs, including traditional media platforms, agribusiness IT systems, and existing government support systems, will be discussed.

To answer the real challenges smallholder farmers and agriculture value chain stakeholders face, the conference will have four focus areas:

  1. Where are Digital Financial Services improving farmer finances?
  2. How can Digital Extension Services succeed where analog versions have failed?
  3. What does Private Sector Partnerships – Version 2.0 look like?
  4. Where is Climate Smart Agriculture having impact in mitigating increased variability?

Like previous conferences, ICTforAg 2017 will be a community-driven event. Please submit your ideas for presentations and session topics in one of the four areas listed above. Our aim is to create a day of intense exploration of the already possible and soon-to-be potential of tools like blockchain, drones, sensors, augmented reality, predictive analytics, big data, gamification, and automation, that will move us from talk to ICTforAg action.

Presenters and session leads will play a central role in developing the event and have their ticket costs refunded. Session ideas that also include voices from the field and these cross-cutting themes will be at an advantage:

  • Gender equity
  • Youth engagement
  • Private sector engagement
  • Climate change resilience
  • Fragile and conflict environments
  • Monitoring, evaluation, research and learning

Submit session ideas, register, and read more about the event here.

Mobile Money Solves Risky Cash and Lack of Loans for Farmers in Ghana: New Video

This is the last of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture. To view the other blogs, visit the home page of our blog.


Like in many developing countries, agriculture is the mainstay of the Ghanaian economy. 62 percent of Ghanaians are employed in the sector, says Doris Amponsaa Owusu, Business Services Specialist for USAID’s ADVANCE II Project (Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement). ADVANCE II, implemented by ACDI/VOCA, supports the scaling up of agricultural investments to improve the competitiveness of important value chains in Ghana, and is supported by Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global huger and food security initiative.

In Ghana, buyers drive from the south to buy food from the rural, agricultural north. But due to a lack of banks in the north, buyers must carry huge sums of money as they travel across the country. Dealing with this amount of cash is risky and cumbersome for buyers and farmers alike.

Doris explains how her ADVANCE II team sat down to think about how they could eliminate the risk of carrying large amounts of cash. Mobile money provided a perfect solution: it diminishes the threat of theft and ensures buyers are able to pay farmers efficiently and smoothly. Plus, mobile money is simple to use and offers the ability to access additional financial services such as savings, insurance, and credit.

To implement the mobile money solution, ADVANCE II partnered with MTN, one of the largest mobile network providers in Ghana. MTN piloted the mobile banking service with a farm in northern Ghana. They first trained a group of nucleus farmers, farmers who contract and provide support to smallholder farmers, in the mobile money service. After being trained by ADVANCE II, the nucleus farmers subsequently trained 1,072 smallholder farmers. Farmers enjoyed the service Doris says, and approached ADVANCE II asking to scale up the project. So ADVANCE II trained input dealers and out grower businesses.

After success with the farmers, out growers, and input dealers, ADVANCE II saw more benefits mobile money could offer. The farming communities Doris and her team work with have savings and loan associations, where each farmer contributes weekly towards production for the next season. “The women still have to keep these moneys in metal boxes kept under the beds,” says Doris. So her team partnered with MTN and Fidelity, a banking firm, to digitize the savings and loan associations.

ADVANCE II and the farmers they work with are excited about the results of mobile money, and plan to scale up the program to 10,000 smallholder farmers. “I would recommend it to any project that would want to implement mobile money or digital finance as part of their project approach,” says Francis Ussuman, Regional Coordinator on the ADVANCE II team.

In the video below, Doris, Francis, and local farmers show how ADVANCE II implemented mobile money in Ghana and impacted the agricultural sector.

As the video shows, digital financial services have the potential to strengthen Feed the Future projects around the globe. USAID is here to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, read the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov

New Video Shows How Mobile Money Makes Inroads in Malawi

This is the second of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture.


Malawi’s economy is “built on the backbone of the smallholder farmer,” says Kilyelyani Kanjo, who served as Chief of Party of the FHI 360-led Feed the Future Malawi Mobile Money Project. But smallholder farmers face a major challenge: cash. Farmers who transact in cash face issues of theft and security, and they incur huge costs as they travel long distances to access banks.

“There’s a better way to move money: mobile money.” Kilyelyani says. In Malawi, mobile phones have penetrated the rural areas. Phones have become ubiquitous. With mobile money services, farmers can access their bank account as long as they have their phone. Through support by Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the project focuses on strengthening the ecosystem so that mobile money can take off.

To do this, the Feed the Future Malawi Mobile Money Project takes a strategic approach. It builds capacity for service providers, banks, and regulators. Kilyelyani and her team create spaces where stakeholders, including competitors, share ideas, forge partnership and work together to strengthen mobile banking in Malawi. The project works on issues around financial literacy and creates public awareness campaigns.

Their efforts have made a significant impact in the uptake of mobile money in Malawi. In 2012, there were 200,000 mobile money subscribers in Malawi. Now, there are 2 million. Moreover, the government is closely involved in and has formally recognized the project’s efforts through a collaboration called the Mobile Money Coordination Group.

Mobile money is really an important element that any Feed the Future project can do,” says Steven Kulyazi, a Program Officer for the Malawi Mobile Money Project. Like in Malawi, mobile money can transform the reach and success of a project and impact agricultural outcomes for smallholder farmers, who are the backbone of many countries’ economies.

As Steven says, any USAID project can implement mobile money in their project. USAID is ready to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

Watch this video to hear from Steven, Kileyelyani, and others on how the Malawi Mobile Money project successfully strengthens mobile money in Malawi.

 

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, read the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov.

Mobile Money Helps Farmers Grow Their Businesses in Bangladesh

This is the first of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture.


Mobile money can transform the reach and success of a USAID project.

By offering a secure way to store money and access financial services, mobile money has the potential to increase the efficiency of programs and significantly improve the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Carrying cash in the field can be precarious for development workers and beneficiaries alike, as many USAID missions and partners know. In Bangladesh, “there is a security risk and safety risk,” says a representative from WorldFish, a non-profit that works with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Cash can be lost, or worse, stolen. But until recently, cash was the only form of payment—it’s how farmers paid for agricultural inputs and how buyers paid for agricultural products. “There was no other channel,” explains Josh Woodard, Regional ICT & Digital Finance Advisor at FHI 360.

Mobile money has emerged as an obvious solution to the risk of carrying cash. While access to banks is limited for rural agricultural communities, access to mobile phones is not. In June 2016, for example, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission reported 131.4 million mobile phone subscriptions in Bangladesh. This makes up around 83% of Bangladesh’s population. With this, mobile money has seen massive growth in Bangladesh. It has “opened an opportunity to eliminate or vastly reduce the amount of cash transactions,” Josh says.

Josh leads the Bangladesh office for the FHI 360-led and USAID-funded Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research project (mSTAR).  In addition to reducing the risk of staff carrying cash, USAID and mSTAR saw the impact mobile money could have in achieving the goals of USAID agricultural programs in the country. To start, mSTAR assessed where and how mobile money could be applied in project value chains. They conducted value chain studies and provided technical assistance, training staff and building capacity.

“Since mSTAR started activities in Bangladesh in September 2013,” Josh says, “we have been able to work with USAID to digitize payments for 10 Feed the Future activities.” Farmers now have access to financial products, many for the first time. Without money stolen or lost, and with the ability to store and manage money, farmers can reinvest more in their farms, in turn increasing the amount of food they can produce, and their profits. All this leads to stronger, and safer, communities.

Watch the video below to see how USAID and mSTAR implemented mobile money in Bangladesh and worked with implementing partners to successfully impact beneficiary farmers.

As the Bangladesh example shows, digital financial services have the potential to strengthen Feed the Future projects around the globe. USAID is here to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, walk through the steps of the online Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov