For rural families in Rwanda, agriculture is a major source of income. However, less than 7% of bank lending in the country goes to the agricultural sector, making access to financial services a significant challenge for farmers.
A new partnership between MoneyPhone, Equity Bank, and Dutch NGO SPARK aims to bridge that gap. The three institutions have joined forces to provide smallholder Irish Potato farmers – many of whom are unbanked – with digital loans at competitive interest rates.
Agricultural finance goes digital
Together with SPARK, MoneyPhone has developed an internet-based loan platform for Rwanda's Irish Potato sector. Built on MoneyPhone's cutting-edge loan origination technology, the new platform makes it possible for farmers to access small loans through a completely digitized process.
Rwandan farmers can now apply for loans from Equity Bank via a mobile app or an online portal. SPARK has worked with farming cooperatives to train members on using the loan platform; coaches from the NGO are also available to assist farmers with the application process.
“It used to be difficult to apply for a loan. Also, we would need to go to the bank and notary. Now we are happy that we can apply for the loan right here at our cooperative Tuzamurane Nyabigoma.”
Easier assessment and lower interest rates
Equity Bank assesses the loans based on historical production data from Irish Potato farmers, including records of harvests and sales at cooperatives. Approved loans are provided for 6 months – the duration of an agricultural season. Farmers can use the credit to pay laborers, maintain equipment and purchase better seeds, fertilizer, and agrochemicals, helping to enhance on-farm productivity and to boost crop yields.
Since launching in October 2020, Equity Bank has received over 200 loan applications through the MoneyPhone platform. The bank expects to disburse 300 loans in November 2020.
Accessible, affordable microcredit
The initiative represents an important shift for agricultural financing in Rwanda, which brings inclusive finance within the reach of a previously underserved group.
Traditionally, banks in the country have imposed liquid collateral requirements on lending products that are often unrealistic for smallholders. This leaves many farmers with nowhere to turn for credit besides the informal sector, where they face the fresh challenge of exorbitantly high interest rates.
With the new digital loans, Equity Bank scores applicants based on historical records of production and supply, which boosts farmers' chances of approval. By improving farmers' eligibility for microcredit in the formal sector, MoneyPhone and its partners are helping reduce reliance on informal loans with inflated interest rates – offering a better deal for Rwanda’s Irish Potato farmers.
Moving towards a more inclusive financial sector
For financial institutions like Equity Bank, digitization plays a crucial role in aligning banking services with the unique needs of rural borrowers. Fully digitized onboarding simplifies the application process for farmers, who no longer need to travel long distances to visit bank offices in person. Similarly, digital processing shortens the time from loan application to disbursement – getting money in farmers’ hands faster – and supports more flexible repayment schedules that match the seasonal nature of agriculture.
Through this pioneering collaboration, MoneyPhone, Equity Bank, and SPARK are taking an important step towards breaking down barriers to financial inclusion in Rwanda. With easier access to affordable credit, smallholder farmers can grow their businesses, boost their living standards, and create more jobs in their communities.
“We are excited to help farmers in Rwanda in partnership with SPARK and Equity Bank" said Laura Kluijtmans, MoneyPhone’s co-founder and COO. "With this initiative, we are creating a more inclusive financial sector that empowers farmers to build stronger businesses and improve the well-being of their families and communities."