The International Women’s Day is marked globally during the month of March. This month, Access to Finance Rwanda, celebrates the rural woman engaged in Rwanda’s tea sector for her courage to embrace digital financial services.
Rwanda has made strides in the adoption of digital financial services, according to the 2016 FinScope survey conducted by AFR. According to the FinScope Rwanda Survey 2016, 89% of Rwandans are financially included. Of all Rwandan adults, 46% are making use of digital services.
AFR has devised a way to bring digital financial services closer to the low-income segment that is mostly rural and engaged in agriculture. The lives of 11,000 farmers have changed for the better, thanks to a homemade digital finance initiative brewing in the Mulindi tea plantations of Gicumbi district, close to the Ugandan border.
Devotha would wake up at 4am to start the 18km walk from her home in Kiruhuho village, Gicumbi district to the Ishema SACCO to receive her payment for the tea she had picked during the month. Armed with her membership card, she would arrive at the SACCO offices by 5.30am to find a throng of fellow pickers and farmers who got there earlier. Despite getting on the queue before the SACCO opened its doors, the 19-year old stood a chance of taking the 15km trip home empty-handed. If she was lucky she would receive her payment the following day or two days later.
Her co-worker Delphine Mukaruyenzi, 36, used to leave her five children with her husband in the wee hours of the night to walk from Rugari village, Bugomba sector, in Gicumbi district to Ishema SACCO to check if her payment for weeding and pruning for the Mulindi tea plantation had been effected. The game of chance meant she often missed a day of work and most times got home not a franc richer.
“We would spend hours going to find out if the money had come, and if it had, we would then wait all day long hoping to get paid. All the while my children would be home alone, and I would have made no money at work,” said Jeanette.
Such was the life of about 4,000 members of COOPTHE MULINDI (Cooperative des Theiculteurs de Mulindi). A tea growers’ cooperative that opened its doors in 2005.
“We were spending 15 to 20 days paying our members, and could only pay 200 members per day at the two counters we had at the time. Our staff never got leave, the members were always unhappy and we were making losses,” said Ishema SACCO manager Byaruhanga Cyprien.
The project began late in 2014 when Mulindi Tea Company, an establishment under the Wood Foundation Africa approached AFR in its third year of operations in Rwanda, frustrated with the manual system of paying its tea farmers and pickers.
“Wood Foundation came to Rwanda in 2012 with the intention of improving the quality standards of Rwandan tea, enhancing the lives of farmers and enabling them to venture into entrepreneurial pursuits,” said Mulindi Tea Company CEO, John Cheruiyot.
Having already partnered with Tigo, the number two telecommunication company in Rwanda by market share, Mulindi Tea Company was seeking a solution that would birth a seamless process in which the farmer would pluck the leaf, the leaf would be processed in time and the farmer would receive payment on time.
“We worked on this solution for a long time, trying to find a way in which we could ease the pain-points that are unique to the agriculture sector in Rwanda,” said Faith Chisulo, the Head of Mobile Financial Services at Tigo Rwanda.
That was when Mulindi Tea Company approached Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) to support them in streamlining its system of paying the farmers and tea pickers. AFR is an organisation whose mission is to support low income Rwandans, especially women and youth, to benefit from the use of a variety of appropriate financial services;
“So we structured a project that would run for two years, to reach 11,000 farmers and we invested about USD 290,000. We realised that it was better to use the SACCOs as a payment channel rather than use direct payment through the phone to the farmer, since using the SACCO would offer a broader range of financial services to the members” Waringa Kibe, the AFR Country Director explained.
Hence was born the Tea SACCO project, a collaborative effort of Wood Foundation, AFR and Tigo.
“Our primary investment was installing a core banking system in the three SACCOs to help automate their systems then facilitate payment to farmers,” Mrs Kibe added.
On its part, Tigo integrated the SACCOs core banking system with the Tigo Cash platform
“We provided the Tigo Cash platform that was connected to the SACCOs’ banking system. It’s all about using technology to automate the agriculture value chain”, Ms Chisulo said.
Before the integration, the SACCOs operated manually and they had to engage casual workers to work as extra tellers during the payment period in a bid to hurry things along. Not that it made a remarkable difference.
“We had two counters, which served 100 people per day. That meant we could only serve 200 people per day. AFR came and changed the way we worked from manual to automatic. Now with the Tigo Cash system we can pay 1,200 people a day, and the farmers get the money we spent on casuals as profit as they are the owners of the SACCO!” said the Ishema SACCO manager.
And two years on, the farmers and especially women can attest to a system that caters to their needs, guarantees convenience and allows them to maximise their work output. The 9,000Rwf investment in a mobile handset has long since paid off for most of the SACCO members.
“Now I get paid wherever I am, whether I am in the plantation or at home, I get an SMS saying my payment is ready, I can withdraw through my phone and pass by a Tigo Cash agent to get cash after finishing work,“ said 20-year old Donatha Umugwariza, a tea picker for Mulindi Tea Company.
Donatha is one of 2,931 women who make up about 40% of the Ishema SACCO membership. Women tea farmers suffered the risk of being robbed on the long walk from the SACCO especially because the local residents knew when payments had come about. On the home front, there were also risks.
The livelihoods of the farmers are beginning to look up as a result of being able to predict the payment cycle and being able to plan.
“I am able to buy my children books, uniforms and pens as need arises. I have also been able to take a SACCO loan and buy iron sheets to roof a new home for me and the children,” said Jeanette Muhawenimana, a mother of three who depends on tea for income.
Access to Finance Rwanda has seen the SACCOS double their loan book over the two years. In an effort to support more tea SACCO’s, AFR Investment Committee in the AFR 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, has approved the expansion of this project to five more tea SACCOs using a shared platform managed by AMIR and targeting 22,000 farmers.
“This has been an exciting project for us, seeing the change it is bringing to the day to day lives of the tea farmers and pickers. Our target is to empower women in agribusiness with digital finance solutions,” the AFR Country Director enthused, stating that out of 1.8 million intended beneficiaries in the next four years, 60% are women.
The Tea SACCOs project has been especially beneficial to women who no longer have to sacrifice their family duties in pursuit of their payments. The Mulindi Tea Factory has also seen a marked increase in the volume of tea leaves from pickers as the workers are present and more productive.
“We thank AFR and Tigo for shortening the tedious journey we made to the SACCO!” the women chorused!
Currently, the uptake of mobile money in Rwanda stands at 54% of the population. According to a Tigo Cash survey, the takers had overcome trust issues and had higher levels of financial literacy than their counterparts.
For more information on AFR’s work and various publications,
Visit our website at www.afr.rw.