MyAgro is an organization working from the ground up to address poverty and it is doing so through an innovative technique. With the latest research proving that user-friendly mobile systems accessible in low internet areas are some of the best ways to reach people in poverty, myAgro built a cellphone-based savings program called Mobile Layaway. It helps smallholder farmers in Mali and around the world pay for supplies. Smallholder farmers no longer have to struggle to save lump sums in order to purchase seeds and fertilizer for their farms.
Who Are Smallholder Farmers?
Smallholder farmers are people who work on up to 10 hectares of farmland. Smallholders have family-focused motives behind their work and generally rely on family labor for production. Not only is farming their job, but they often depend on it to feed their family. They also provide up to 80 percent of the food supply on an equal percentage of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa.
How Does MyAgro’s Mobile Layaway Work?
Smallholders often have difficulty saving enough money to purchase bulk farm goods. The majority of rural farmers live too far from banks and do not have the money to access them and make deposits. Furthermore, bank fees would deplete their savings quickly.
However, many of these farmers already go to the store to purchase cards for minutes on their phones, so they are familiar with Mobile Layaway’s system. With Mobile Layaway, farmers go to their local village store where they purchase a prepaid scratch card, which can range from 50 cents to $50. After texting the scratch-off code, the value of the purchased card goes into a “savings account,” which can accumulate to pay for fertilizer, seeds and training packages. Mobile Layaway is similar to having a savings account at a bank, however, it is on the smallholder’s phone, which makes it easy to save money while buying supplies for their homesteads.
MyAgro takes this program one step further as well; its field agents train the smallholder farmers in modern farming techniques and methods that work specifically in the West African landscape.
The Situation in Mali
Mali ranks number 21 on the list of the poorest countries by population. In 2009, the poverty rate in Mali stood at 49.7 percent, meaning that almost half of the population lived on less than $1.90 per day. Though 2019 numbers are not officially out, the World Bank estimates that the poverty rate has reduced from the 2017 rate of 43.4 to 41.3 percent. The World Bank attributes this recent decrease to “exceptional agricultural production.”
Mali’s economy greatly relies on its agricultural sector. It makes up 80 percent of the populations’ daily activities and income. The country ranks number 44 for countries with the most arable hectares for agricultural production, at a whopping 4.8 million hectares. What is more shocking is that Mali is using only 7 percent of this land.
Because of Mali’s substantial possibility of growth, many organizations have stepped in to build a more sustainable agriculture system. Building a sustainable agriculture system required aiding the farmers in developing a farming capacity, reducing food insecurity and increasing livelihoods. A byproduct of work in Mali has been an increase in people’s awareness of the necessity for better techniques. In recent years, organizations have had to alter their strategies to adapt to climate change effects such as floods and droughts.
Mali’s government went through a military coup when myAgro was just a pilot savings-based payment model in its first year. International NGOs and foreign governments all left as the government shut down, and the country was in political chaos. MyAgro stayed, and during that time, it learned that smallholder farmers in Mali still saved money through their mobile phones. MyAgro allowed for this possibility as most banks closed during that period. With loan-based payment models, many farmers would have defaulted on their payments during a time of conflict like in Mali.
Originally, the organization’s reach was slow-moving. In fact, its users changed from a few thousand in 2011 to 30,000 in 2017. Since then, it took only two years for the number of users to double; the company hit 60,000 farmers in 2019. MyAgro estimates that it will be able to increase these numbers even further and reach 120,000 farmers in 2020.
Reaching farmers is one thing, but the personal impact on each individual is also phenomenal. If a smallholder farmer implements the techniques that MyAgro offers, they can expect to see a 50 percent increase in their harvest yield per hectare, at minimum. Some farmers have even seen a 100 percent increase per hectare. This equates to about $150 to $300 in additional income for the smallholder farmers each year. MyAgro is not stopping there and is “working to increase the direct economic impact of the program to over $550 per farmer in the next few years to move each farmer above the poverty line.”
MyAgro’s Longterm Goals
Because myAgro’s mission is to move smallholder farmers in Mali and the world out of poverty, it is no surprise that its ultimate goal is to reach 1 million farmers and their 10 million family members. By 2025, myAgro aims to work with these smallholder farmers to increase their income by $550 a year. This additional income would push the farmers and their families out of poverty.
MyAgro started an enormously challenging pilot model that led to a successful organization. It not only aids smallholder farmers in their rise out of poverty but changes people’s perceptions of farmers’ abilities to handle their money. Through all of this, myAgro has built a resilience with Malian citizens that the country has never seen before.
– Cassiday Moriarity