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Increasing Access to Farmer Finance Through ‘Fintech’

This article was originally published by FAO.

Thousands of farmers are set to soon benefit from the first rollout to Bangladesh of a new digital accounting platform.

Finance is a critical hurdle for smallholder farmers to overcome if they are to secure other inputs needed to increase crop yields and income. Financial digital technology – ‘fintech’ – uses technology to bring banking and financial services closer to the individual. It is particularly valuable to those living in remote or underserved populations, such as farmers in Bangladesh. Using technology to close that financial gap can make a big difference, especially for women.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has now introduced to Bangladesh a tailored and proven accounting platform for farmers. Known as the FAO MicroBanking System (or MBWin), it improves the efficiency of banking operations in rural areas, in particular by lowering transaction costs. It is used by 585 financial institutions across 21 countries, serving around four million beneficiaries.

At the official launch this week of its introduction in Bangladesh, FAO Representative Robert D. Simpson said: “This is a great asset which we are very pleased to bring to Bangladesh. I’m proud to say that the majority of those trained to use the software are women. The introduction of the software is part of the digital revolution that will help to accelerate increased efficiencies in the agricultural sector in Bangladesh, boosting productivity and profits.”

The digital accounting platform has been made available to farmer co-operatives, or producer organizations through FAO’s Missing Middle Initiative. The MMI project, funded by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, has had great success in working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the producer organization apex, the Sara Bangla Krishak Society, to establish digital villages and build strong rural institutions that provide innovative agribusiness services to smallholder farmers. It has been empowered smallholders by providing them with access to finance through revolving loan funds, digital accounting, digital literacy training, and virtual meetings.

FAO’s regional office in Bangkok, Thailand, provided extensive online training to 20 accountants from the digital villages. The five with the highest test scores – three of whom were women – were selected, with the rest in place as reserves. The software is so efficient that the five specialist operators will be able to assist the 11 000 farmers who are members of the 55 producer organizations.

Wahida Akter, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, who was chief guest at the online launch, said that she was amazed and proud to hear from Kalpana Rani, one of the trained accounts, who gave a demonstration of the software. She thanked FAO for empowering farming community women like Kalpana by giving them access to digital resources and training. 

FAO’s Signis Aliks, Project Team Leader, Micro Banker Team, said: “Our project’s goal is to promote quality financial services for the underserved populations in developing countries. Over the years, the MBWin software has evolved into a modern, secure, flexible and very scalable banking system that meets the needs of most financial institutions. I am pleased that now the farmers in Bangladesh can also benefit from the advantages that the system brings when receiving the financial services from SBKS.”

Policy support and investment will be necessary to scale up the MMI model and further roll out of this software.