Who Influences Women Smallholder Farmers in Zambia?

NOTE: This post is a continuation of the Blog Series, Increasing women’s financial inclusion in Zambia. See below for links to other parts in this series.

Do Service Touch-Points Increase Demand for Digital Services?

Formative research by AgriFin Accelerate (AFA) in Zambia showed that increasing rural access points, tailored to women smallholders’ needs and preferences, was a key trigger for promoting their adoption of digital financial and information services (DFS and DIS, respectfully). However, cost-to-serve analyses suggest that effective touch points for expanding women’s financial access and improving their financial health may not be where – or whom – we thought. While there is still an unmet need for service agents in rural areas, demand from rural customers must increase accordingly, to ensure the market’s viability and sustainability. We looked into how to engage the market by asking which community members encourage certain behaviours (for example, increasing demand for products and services) by women smallholders, and the best channels through which to reach them.

Influence from the Inside – Out

AFA worked with Dalberg Design to conduct 40 individual and 10 small group interviews in Zambia’s Eastern and Southern Provinces. They asked women farmers to identify the stakeholders with whom they interact regularly, along with those that are a more tangential part of their lives. The women were then invited to map out each stakeholder along three concentric circles according to how important they are as influencers. As represented in Figure 1, the results illustrate the “farmer ecosystem” for women smallholders, including everything from close associates and key influencers in the centre to more distant influencers radiating outwards.

The Farmer Ecosystem, according to rural women smallholders in Zambia

Within the inner circle of influence for women smallholders are numerous informal service and product suppliers (small vendors), who offer direct support – often beyond their official roles. Along with small vendors, the closest influencers for women are agricultural extension officers and agents from farmers’ groups or cooperatives, village savings groups or village savings and loans associations, and other rural businesses. The inner circle also includes agro-dealers – who supply informal financial services to help women purchase inputs – and commodity aggregators who lend money and non-financial support when an emergency arises. Finally, women smallholders place social networks and mobile phones in the center of their circle of influence, because they serve as critical information sources on markets and crop prices.

We know what farmers need, and we are their trusted touch points, Patrick, a VITALITE vendor in Chipata, who sells solar stoves and lamps using a pay-as-you-go model.

Formal institutions such as banks, government ministries, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are relegated to the second and third circles as sources of information and influence. “The results have been very eye-opening and have offered a big reality check,” says Christabell Makokha, AFA’s Country Director in Zambia. “They indicate that in peri-urban and rural communities, we need to decouple the provision of financial services from formal channels. If women’s more informal connections make up their inner circle of influence, we need to focus there and think about how formal financial institutions can leverage those closer influencers to act as financial access points.”

Them sending money to my e-wallet saves me and them the cost of coming all the way to the store to transact. It’s a win-win situation for both of ussays Godfridah Phiri, an agro-dealer in Malate Village, Katete.

Further immersive research and prototyping sessions by AFA also have found that community agro-dealers are an effective channel for introducing farmers to mobile money as a practical way to pay for inputs directly or through layaway pre-payment plans. Interestingly, some agro-dealers are already serving as bank agents, and given the right incentive structures, would be interested in taking on a greater consumer education role, too, to help maintain their customer base. Likewise, village savings and loan associations have expressed interest in the convenience and potential cost savings from digital financial services. Their interest and close connection to women smallholders could be leveraged to create touch points for financial training and digital products, such as electronic savings wallets and digital micro-loans. Village agents who set up these associations play a critical role and can be adopted as brand ambassadors to promote the uptake and active use of digital financial services.

Next Steps

To understand the types of digital information and products that would appeal to women smallholders, and ways in which they could be introduced most effectively, AFA also delved into the distinct needs, behaviours, and motivations of different sub-segments of women smallholders. The next blog in this series presents profiles of four different personas, from early adopters to more reticent joiners of DFS and DIS.

Author(s):

Christabell Makokha, (cmakokha@mercycorps.org), AFA Country Director, Lusaka

Lucy Kioko, (lkioko@mercycorps.org), AFA Agriculture Engagement Manager, Nairobi

Valerie Gwinner, (vgwinner@gmail.com), consultant with the AFA team


This research was supported by funding from the Mastercard Foundation and Financial Sector Deepening Zambia (FSDZ) Women’s Financial Inclusion (WIN) program.

Related Posts

Part 1: Increasing Womens Financial Inclusion in Zambia (Part 1)
Part 2: Increasing Womens Financial Inclusion in Zambia (Part 2)
Part 4: For Women Smallholders in Zambia, Financial Inclusion is Not “One-Size-Fits-All” 

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