A Cashless Africa

"How much should do you think I should deposit?"

"How much should do you think I should deposit?"

In three words, this describes the vision of Mobile Transactions. I’ve been with them for only a month and a half, but I already see this vision becoming real.

A large client of ours (and a part owner in our company) is Dunavant, a multinational cotton company. Their business model in Zambia uses a network of farmer-agents spread out across cotton growing areas. This network coordinates loans and provision of cotton inputs, and each of these farmer-agents are paid commission for their work.

Until now, this payment was done in cash: armed trucks, men with guns, and long driving distances up and down Zambia. Dunavant now wants to use our mobile money account technology instead. Farmer-agents would have an account on their phone, and Dunavant  would pay them in a single electronic financial transaction, just like sending an SMS. To collect their money the farmer-agents would go to any of our company’s agents, of which there are 70+ spread across all parts of Zambia.

But there was a surprise inside all of this. My Zambian co-worker Sydney and I were out training Dunavant’s farmer-agents about the idea of a mobile money account. As we spoke, and as they asked questions, the whole subject turned from how they would get paid from Dunavant to the possibilities that come with having a “bank” account.

“I can store my money on my phone? I don’t have to take it all out at once?”

Yes.

“How does it stay safe? I’ll have a secret PIN code so I’ll be the only who can access my money?”

Yes.

“You’re saying that I can deposit money as well? So if I sell my maize or soy beans I can go to an agent and deposit, for free?”

Yes.

“And what about the fees? Are there monthly fees? a minimum balance?”

No, the only recurring fee is K1,500 ($0.20) to withdraw money.

It quickly became clear that these were men, good farmers at that, who had never had a bank account, never had a place to store and save their money, and were now being offered exactly that.

All of this adds up to a little less cash, and a little more satisfaction, which is exactly what Mobile Transactions’ vision is all about.

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2 Responses to “A Cashless Africa”


  1. 1 JohnPaul Portelli October 18, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    An article in the economist about this same thing, and it mentioned Zambia as one of the places where its being pioneered! Very exciting!

  2. 2 Chris October 19, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    This reminded me of an interesting podcast from Planet Money on financial instruments used by people without access to savings accounts or lines of credit:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2009/07/hear_making_a_life_on_2_a_day.html


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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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