Ensibuuko, building ICT solutions for rural farmers

Sankalp Africa Interview Series 2015
Sub-Saharan Africa
23. Feb 2015

One of the biggest obstacles facing smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa is the lack of access to financial services and market and farm information. The founders behind Uganda-based tech social enterprise Ensibuuko believe that they’ve built an ICT solution that can overcome this obstacle and bridge the gap between financial service providers and the rural poor. In this interview, Co-founder David Opio discusses their vision.

What is the core value proposition of your business? 

For the past three years we have worked with rural farmers and saving and credit cooperative societies (SACCOs) to come up with a solution we call MOBIS, A mobile banking and information software. MOBIS is a win-win for both the rural farmers and SACCOs. For the farmers they get a cheap and convenient way to track and manage their savings and even get a credit scoring report, allowing them to borrow and save more with banks. For SACCOs, it enables them to reach a bigger customer base, build trust among members, promote transparency and accountability.

Our solution is built to enable easy access to finance for rural farmers on their mobile phones. Saving and credit cooperative societies pay for the license of $500 to acquire the software and $30 for maintenance and 0.02 cent on every transaction made by the individual farmers.

In the past three years, we have enabled over 40,000 rural farmers who save with 20 SACCOs to access their financial records on mobile phones. We operate in the northern and central part of Uganda. The government has also endorsed our solution to be the KYC (Know Your Customer mechanism) for all SACCOs in rural Uganda.

How is your business different to others offering the same product?

We understand there are other players in the market providing similar services. However, for the past three years we have worked closely with rural farmers to come up with this solution. The other solutions in the market are just for formal banks and not customised for SACCOs.

How do you market and distribute your product/service to your target ‘beneficiaries’?

Our marketing strategy is institution-based, we market and sell our solution to SACCOs, organizations that work with SACCOs and regulatory bodies such as the ministry of trade, industry and cooperatives. We train the SACCO staff to use our solutions.

Tell us about your beneficiaries. Who are they, how do they use your product/service?

Our beneficiaries are the unbanked rural farmers who save and borrow with savings and credit cooperative societies. The farmers get a USSD menu on their mobile phones with options such as ‘ask for loan’, withdraw savings, deposit savings, min statement (see illustration below).


The USSD menu on a mobile phone

And the SACCOs acquire a core banking software that enables them to digitise the entire process from reporting to entering their members’ bio data, loan disbursement, approval and all other features.


The data screen

Microsoft4Africa has come onboard as technology partner to provide affordable and cheap mobile phones to rural farmers on a hire-purchase basis as well as offering cheap computers and tablets to SACCOs.

What feedback have you received from your ‘beneficiaries’?

They are happy using our solution emphasising the fact that we have transformed their ability to monitor and track their finances.

Tell us about the positive impact you are having in the communities where you operate.

Our biggest impact is to transfer the power to access finance to the palm of the unbanked individual rural farmers through the use of mobile phones they already have, the biggest infrastructure placed in their hands. The other part is to save the time and money farmers would spend going to SACCOs to check their balances or ask for the loans manually.

Our solution reduces the risks of fraud and mismanagement of funds. The system reduces cash in the hands of individuals. We believe that access to finance is a human right. In Africa, especially, access to finance is as important as access to clean energy, water, health, information and education. In fact, one would say with utmost confidence that finance is an enabler for basic needs.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of starting and running your inclusive business?

Building trust among stakeholders and getting farmers and SACCOs to appreciate the solution.

What is the one factor that has most enabled your inclusive business to progress this far?

A key factor has been working with end users to build the solution. It helped us build trust from the start and saved us spending a lot of money on marketing to farmers. Another success factor has been my team. They are really co-operative and we work as a family to serve rural farmers. They have passion for agriculture and the connection with the rural farmers. Lastly, the partners who believed in us and decided to walk the journey along with us as well as the media spreading our stories to people. That has increased our visibility and credibility. All combined together, these are the heroes behind this innovation.

You have won the ICT4Agriculture Award and the Changemakers Award and have now been chosen as a Sankalp finalist, how critical has this external support been to your business? How have you leveraged it to grow your business?

TSo far, we have managed to acquire and consolidate major partnerships; with Microsoft4Africa coming on board to extend mobile devices to farmers and computers to SACCO, and the government of Uganda endorsing our solution. Winning these awards brings the credibility and visibility that positions us to revolutionise rural finance for Africa.

Where do you see your business five years from now?

Twenty million rural poor, 58% of the Uganda population using our solution and also scaling the solution to other African countries.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to entrepreneurs looking to start an inclusive business?

To listen to their heart, follow their passion and use the talents they have to create lasting solution to the problems around their communities. Commitment and self-motivation are critical in this journey of entrepreneurship. It’s a very hard journey to walk in the beginning but it pays off at the end.