Farmer Capability Lab: A Case of Double-Sided Returns

Dec 5, 2018 | All, Farmer Capability & Smart Farming

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Studies have identified farmer capability as a key constraint to the adoption and use of financial services and digital tools by smallholder farmers.

The Farmer Capability Lab approach aims to overcome these constraints through bridging the gap between providers and smallholder farmers; effectively forming two sides of the same coin by:

  • Reaching farmers with targeted solutions that improve their understanding and use of digital financial solutions.
  • Supporting service providers in piloting and testing new methods of improving their customers’ experience and understanding regarding their product.
  • FCL has been proven the capacity to solve financial literacy; customer acquisition, farm, and business management; market access, and product research/design.

Mercy Corps AgriFin Accelerate (AFA) has in the past partnered with organizations such as banks, telecoms, microfinance institutions, and technology start-ups in implementing Farmer Capability Lab (FCL) tools and methodologies to address a myriad of challenges. FCL has yielded value and impact for AFA, our implementing partners, and the farmers we work to serve. Here, we highlight the insights gained from six partner engagements.

1. Financial literacy training can influence financial behavior, thus accelerating up the uptake of Digital Financial Services

A partnership between one of Kenya’s leading financial service providers, Equity Bank, and Arifu, a digital interactive learning service provider, saw the implementation of an interactive SMS-based financial literacy training program. Through this engagement, we learned that

  • Lower-income customers seek the most information:
  • Training based incentives and gamification encourage customer conversion:
  • Learning has a direct impact on loan principals and savings:
  • Learning data can be used to mitigate credit risk:

Arifu learner data is a good alternative determinant for a potential customer’s creditworthiness; Arifu data shows learners are taking out larger loans, increasing savings, and repaying faster.

2. FCL promotes customer acquisition, activation, and retention; this has the potential to drive financial gains and sustainable delivery of products and services to SHF

DigiFarm is Safaricom’s digital platform offering targeted at smallholder farmers. The platform currently has over 240,000 active farmers, 65,000 of whom are accessing learning content through the platform’s link to Arifu. Below are two of Key project insights

  • Offering multiple services reduces risk and drives uptake
  • Pull-messaging is effective at delivering relevant content.

3. Farmers welcome FCL, specifically around good farming practices and farm management

Mediae Company, a social advancement edutainment organization sought to make agriculture both attractive and profitable for youth farmers through an innovative television program called Don’t Lose the Plot (DLTP). DLTP had four young farmers from Tanzania and Kenya compete in cultivating a plot of land for a prize worth USD 10,000.

The show reached over two million viewers succeeding in improving farming practices amongst youth engaged in agriculture. Various studies on the show revealed the following key insights:

  • Farmer interest in improved farm profitability through budgeting
  • Improved agribusiness record keeping can improve production
  • Mobile internet devices are a good platform for reaching youth
  • Television as a scalable platform for mass campaigns.

4. Connecting farmers to high-value markets promote an increase in productivity and income

FtMA’s core mandate is to unlock access to both input and output markets for smallholder farmers. In partnership with SibeSonke, FtMA has piloted an application that makes operations at local warehouses easier and faster, revealing the following insights:

  • Transparent information flows reduce unpredictability
  • Reduced costs through improved logistics management
  • Driving access to financial services
  • Digital extension services improving productivity.

5. Farmer-centric research promotes early product adoption and active use

The core focus of FCL is farmers. FCL also has the aim of driving service provider understanding of the SHF segment of the market. AFA’s support to Halotel and FINCA in the piloting and roll-out of  Haloyako, a savings product targeting bottom-of-the-pyramid customers ranging from User Experience research to improve on product acceptability and uptake, to data analytics to drive active customer use, showed that:

  • Community-level influencers are key to adoption
  • Agent network strength crucial to success
  • There is benefit in targeting under-represented user groups such as farmers by age group, gender, and region;
  • Timely communications matter.

6. Farmer-centric research promotes early product adoption and active use

Finally, at the AFA-led Reverse Hackathon, 14 farmers from across Kenya tested 12 platforms aimed at smallholder farmers. It was the first time that many service providers were witnessing direct interactions between their product and the targeted end-user. The exercise was able to reveal that:

  • No one size fits all
  • Clearly state value proposition at first encounter
  • Incentivize behavior change
  • Digital solutions still require a physical touchpoint
  • Customer-focus ensures credibility
  • SHF are concerned about data privacy and protection.


Farmer capability building plays a crucial role for both farmers and service providers alike. The return to investing in FCL tools depends on the partner and type of engagement. With the advancement of digital tools and methods, the application of FCL is becoming increasingly agile, appropriately speaking to the needs identified. AFA is exploring emerging trends in the delivery of education content on smallholder farmers with the intention of driving productivity for the farmer by driving the uptake of client-centric digital financial solutions. In this next phase, AFA will also be establishing research to develop proof points for the Return of Investment in FCL. FCL simultaneously broadens the service providers’ knowledge regarding the needs, attitudes, behavioral patterns, and archetypes of the smallholder farmer. FCL is thus two different sides of the same coin.

Download the Complete Case Study. 


Samantha Malambo, Senior Program Officer, Zambia, AgriFin Accelerate.

Collins Marita, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, AgriFin Accelerate.