Infobip launches USSD portal to enable One Acre Fund to connect with farmers
Infobip enabled One Acre Fund, an agricultural service provider for smallholder farmers, to interact more efficiently with farmers participating in its program and cut operational costs by rolling out a USSD portal.
One Acre Fund is one of the biggest non-profit organisations on the continent and supplies approximately 1.5 million farmers in East Africa with asset-based financing and agriculture training services in a bid to reduce hunger and increase farmer incomes. It also offers crop storage solutions and teaches farmers about market fluctuations, so that they can time crop sales to maximise their profits. The organisation is headquartered in Kakamega, Kenya, and works with farmers in rural villages throughout Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia.
The organization also has an early pilot in Nigeria. Including farmers and their families, One Acre Fund impacts approximately 10 million people through its services. The organisation is well entrenched in Rwanda and is the second largest employer after the government in that country.
One Acre Fund primarily supports farmers who grow maize and beans among other crops over one long season, providing credit for both improved seed and fertilizer, supplemented by frequent training. It offers a range of additional add-on products such as solar lights, vegetable seeds, improved crop storage bags, cook stoves and reusable sanitary pads. One Acre Fund launched its first program in Kenya, in 2006. In 2018, it served over 361 000 farmers over the “long rains” growing season. Participating farmers added $47, on average, in annual agricultural profit. Add-on products (trees, kale, and solar lamps) added another $43 to the average impact. Altogether, this represents a 32% improvement in profits relative to the comparison group.
In 2016, One Acre Fund introduced an interactive mobile channel to use two-way SMS to communicate with farmers for non-seasonal orders on a small scale (500 to 1000 interactions). However, the channel service provider did not offer a post-paid option to One Acre Fund, but only a prepaid model. In addition, the agricultural service provider found this provider’s level of service to be sub-par. The limited functionality of this channel also created a disconnect between the farmers and the organisation. It decided to switch to a USSD solution that would offer a self-service interface for farmers to interact with.
Infobip, a global cloud communications company and leader in omnichannel customer engagement, was chosen to roll out the USSD portal, based on the company’s competitive price point and level of service. The portal was launched in Rwanda in December 2018 and in Kenya in August 2019. USSD is an interactive, menu-based technology communication protocol available on every GSM-enabled mobile device. It is a session-based text communication without a store-and-forward mechanism (unlike SMS) that is practical for interactive communication, such as banking or education.
Since the introduction of the USSD portal, One Acre Fund has seen an increase in engagement with farmers. The user-friendly functionality of the solution means that anything a client wants, or needs can be requested at a touch of a button. This helps with the paying out of loans and benefits the customers’ journey. USSD gives One Acre Fund a clear user entry point that allows it to rely less on field staff to perform information dissemination.
This will also help One Acre Fund to reduce its deficit, allowing it to expand to more regions faster, with a limited donor funding growth per year. In addition, USSD has enabled the organisation to move away from manual data manipulation, resulting in faster processing times with less costs/overhead and improved customer experience. In October 2019, One Acre Fund recorded 1.3 million user sessions via the USSD portal and predicted two million for December 2019. It expects a volume of 40 million user sessions for 2020. One Acre Fund is also planning to trial the solution in Burundi, Tanzania and potentially Zambia and Malawi.
“Previously, the farmers would sign up for the programme, but would not feel like they could get what they needed whenever they needed it, making them feel disconnected. Because of the self-service nature of the USSD portal, they now see a major difference.” Ivan Dokaza, Senior Customer Success Manager for One Acre Fund at Infobip
John Ohagay, Africa Communications Manager at One Acre Fund: ''The choice for USSD was made based on user-friendliness. We have added roughly nine extra services to the USSD code and typically run a daily volume of 40 000 to 80 000 interactions.''