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Sieka Gatabaki on how digital innovation can revolutionize the way smallholder farmers feed the world

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Launched in 2012, Mercy Corps’ AgriFin program which designs, tests and scales digitally enabled products and services for small scale producers (SSPs), says digital innovation can revolutionize the way smallholder farmers feed the world.

“With access to the right tools, small scale producers (SSPs) can build the resilience they need against climate and emergency shocks and continue to feed their communities,” says Sieka Gatabaki, Mercy Corps’ AgriFin Program Director.

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Though the government and private sector partners are best suited to deliver those tools, and that technology is a critical accelerator. Mercy Corps’ AgriFin, whose primary target group is un-banked SSPs living below the poverty line, aims to connect smallholder farmers to products and services that increase their productivity and income by 50%, with a 40% target population of Women and Youth.

Technology is a critical accelerator

Speaking to TechMoran, Mercy Corps’ AgriFin Program Director Sieka Gatabaki said, “We believe that digital innovation can revolutionize the way SSPs feed the world, that’s why, based on years of learning and iterating, we built the AgriFin model to facilitate that process. We bring together innovative organizations to design and deliver quality products and services tailored for SSPs, reaching more than 16 million farmers since inception in 2012.”

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According to Gatabaki, the current iteration of the program, started in 2021, has reached over 21.5 million SSPs with critical digital services with a target of reaching 5 million more small scale producers in 2025. With over 60 percent of Africa’s population under the age of 25, Mercy Corps’ AgriFin model working towards on boarding more youth into agriculture and rural economies because digital Systems attract the youth, in addition to building transparency, to enable access to needed information and financial services.

“Digital services can capitalize on the growing market of youth in agriculture, AgriFin outlined various segments of youth, that considers their varying needs, priorities, and potentials.” Sieka Gatabaki told TechMoran. “Through the segments, stakeholders can deliver persona-based Pathways for Driving Growth and Success for Youth in Agriculture. AgriFin developed a case, Rural Jobs Landscape Study – Exploring Rural Job Opportunities for Youth  in Agriculture as a result.”

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Efficiency in the food systems

AgiFin was a partner of the Don’t Lose the Plot program, that sought engage Youth through Edutainment. Mercy Corps’ AgriFin creates inclusive and efficiency in the food systems by focusing on digital financial services, digital information, advisory services, market access, logistics, climate smart activities and gender inclusivity.

Gatabaki adds that though Mercy Corps’ AgriFin operates in East Africa, West Africa and Horn of Africa, each region poses a challenge in introducing digital solutions. Kenya’s digital ecosystem is more mature, is a more digitally savvy market, mainly because of MPESA. In Nigeria, the ecosystem is driven by banks, necessitating a modified approach than that used in Kenya. In Ethiopia, which also shares the federal system like that of Nigeria, the level of digital literacy being low and need to involve the public sector leads to a different approach all together.

Policy briefs needed

Though it doesn’t engage in policy, AgriFIn deliberately works with organizations, provides needed information, to enable them to develop the policy briefs needed to enable the digital ecosystem. The program’s operations in these countries, develops learnings that can be used in other regions that face similar circumstances.

“We are determined to scale our impact – deeper in the countries where we work, and wider to new countries             where digital ecosystems could readily benefit from our market and partner facilitation model,” Gatabaki said. “Fundamental to this success was AgriFin’s active, ground-level engagement with partners that resulted in new and emerging business relationships, and effective bundled services, very much as the project intended.”

AgriFin was essential in brokering critical business partnerships, generating actionable knowledge, and ultimately laying the foundation for a series of commercial DFS (Digital Financial Services) and DIS (Digital information services) that are being increasingly adopted by SSPs.

Led by Sieka Gatabaki, who has worked for over 16 years as a digital innovations practitioner and a business strategy leader with a passion for helping institutions and individuals benefit from new technologies for deepening access to financial and information services, AgriFin sees growth beyond its reach today.

New technologies for deepening financial access

The program undertook extensive analysis to identify geographies where the model would thrive and determine its pathway to greater scale. Sieka, the Program Director for Mercy Corps AgriFin directing all programming and strategic partnerships, currently leads work in strategy, product usage and development, channel development and go-to-market execution, providing digital financial and information services to small holder farmers in the Global South.

Previously, Sieka served as the Group Digital Alliances Manager at Airtel Africa, Airtel Money Director at Airtel Kenya and Technical Advisor with IFC, supporting digital financial inclusion across Africa. He has consulted for various organizations, including Vital Wave, Ernest & Young, and Grameen Foundation and serves on the board of a number of organizations in various sectors. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and is completing a Masters in Sociology and Entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi.

Strengthen digital ecosystems

“We assessed 48 low-middle income countries along five key criteria: (1) Demand, (2) Customer Readiness, (3) Supply, (4) Provider Readiness, and (5) Enabling Environment,” Sieka told TechMoran. “This analysis unearthed incredible insight and enabled us to assess and rate contexts against criteria needed to effectively implement the AgriFin model. Needless to say, there is an ample opportunity to engage and strengthen digital ecosystems across the globe.”

AgriFin does not seek to journey alone. It seeks innovation and funding partners who share its bold vision of farmers prospering in an interconnected digital world, empowered by digital solutions and inclusive ecosystems to take millions more farmers from subsistence to sustainable.

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Sam Wakoba
Sam Wakobahttp://techmoran.com
Taking you on tour through Africa's tech and business ecosystem, one story at a time since 2010! Based out of Nairobi, Kenya, Sam is the founder and managing director of Moran Media, which runs  TechMoran.com, various other digital platforms and a startup incubation hub for Kenya's youthful entrepreneurs. Drop me a mail at [email protected]

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