Harnessing PaygOps Solutions to Increase One Acre Fund’s Business Value
This report serves as an annex to Episode 2 of the PaygOps x One Acre Fund Series, in order to demonstrate how the renowned agribusiness is leveraging PaygOps to provide a radically improved customer experience for the farmers and how PaygOps is translating quickly into a crucial added value for their business.
It’s almost impossible to talk about agriculture asset-based financing in Africa without referring to One Acre Fund. The social enterprise has been around for more than 15 years providing smallholder farmers with a thorough service bundle that includes high-quality agricultural inputs, credit, training and market access, at a scale and rate that no other agrovet in the continent has been able to match. Their impact has been such that, so far, they’re serving 1.5 million smallholder farming families across seven African countries (Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia), helping them build what they call “pathways to prosperity”, as they’re committed to helping such families grow out of hunger and become prosperous households.
Although One Acre Fund’s impact is already impressive, the renowned agricultural lender keeps looking for ways to deliver even more impact and offer a more flexible customer experience. They see great value in adopting technology in order to scale their mission and, according to their Digital Innovations Report (2021), the organisation has made a priority to progressively turn from an originally paper-based system (back in 2006) to a fully digitised one. Thus, they intend to reach 10 million farmers by 2030 and understand that the means to achieve such an ambitious goal is: leveraging digital technology.
That’s how and why they put their sight on PaygOps, the flagship last-mile management software developed by Solaris Offgrid. In September 2020, the two organisations started running a small pilot for their Kenya programme that delivered outstanding results in a very short time. The not-for-profit organisation decided to incorporate all of PaygOps features into their operations within Kenya and, in less than a year of full rollout (since October 2021), their sales and after-sales have improved considerably.
How exactly is a Paygo last-mile management software fully supporting the largest network of smallholder farmers in Africa? How’s PaygOps backing One Acre Fund in their mission to reach 10 million farmers by 2030? That’s part of what we’ll be exploring in the following report, in order to demonstrate how, so far in this partnership, One Acre Fund has leveraged PaygOps solutions to provide an enhanced customer experience for the farmers and how the IT infrastructure is translating quickly into a crucial added value for their business.
Background of One Acre Fund Kenya’s former model
To fully appreciate the added business value that a robust IT infrastructure brings to One Acre Fund Kenya’s newly built operating model, it’s imperative to know first what the previous iteration of the model entailed.
Although multiple elements of technology have been incorporated into the programme along the way (such as Mobile Money repayment from 2014 onwards, and tablet enrolment from 2016 onwards), the main challenge One Acre Fund was facing in this respect is that the previous IT infrastructure that they had in place was inflexible and would not allow them to manage the distribution of products at the last mile, or centralise the rest of their different business operations under the same ecosystem.
First off, the enrolment process was formerly tied to seasonality (specifically, long rain seasons), meaning that farmers would enrol in the programme in September, for instance, only to receive the farming inputs (seeds and soil nutrients) by March. After seven months of waiting, farmers would go to a shop within walking distance from their homes to pick such inputs up, so they could finally start planting.
One Acre Fund Kenya had long wished to turn their programme into an all-year-round model, but the lack of flexibility and interoperability among their previous IT systems would not suffice to register, manage hundreds of thousands of contracts and have the rest of operations around such contracts seamlessly synced in real time, which restricted the organisation to enrol farmers only per seasons. A seasonal programme prevented farmers from accessing farming products and services at any time, thus impeding One Acre Fund as well from reaching more farmers and developing the programme at its full potential. It would also restrict the latter to only work with the market price at the time of enrolment, without the option to make modifications along the waiting period, which would clearly represent a loss to the organisation if, for example, prices increased later on.
Furthermore, the only financing option they could offer to farmers was the group liability loan, which has been the loan modality that One Acre Fund has relied on since its inception, with very flexible repayment schedules -unlike traditional microfinance group loans- that could adjust to the fluctuating agriculture-tied income of their customers. However, an important number of farmers interested in joining the programme were left out as they could not come and sign up as individuals (to better understand the way One Acre Fund finances farmers, we recommend you to read this article).
On top of that, their dispersed assortment of tools would not let One Acre Fund, among others, register the interactions between their field officers and farmers, deeply limiting the control they could have over their after-sales operations. Overall, their teams had to do a lot of manual work, which was always time consuming, inefficient, and prone to error, which for an organisation of their magnitude and scale, was no longer ideal.
As Clara Ruiz Linaje, former Innovation Consultant at One Acre Fund, described it in a recent conversation we held:
“We were basically using spreadsheets. Given we didn’t have that software that could help that end-to-end process of the client journey, we couldn’t really offer better client experience and offer a more holistic way of serving clients, we could only just have, once a year, we organised and coordinated the deliveries and we distributed them to the farmers.”
Materialising a new operating model
Taking into consideration the feedback the programme was getting from farmers and their ever-present ambition to build a fully digitised ecosystem that would allow them to scale the impact and enhance the customer experience for their customers, the organisation entrusted PaygOps with becoming the core IT infrastructure for their Kenya program operations that would seamlessly interconnect all of their processes and third-party tools to manage their lease, sales, after-sales and inventory operations at the last mile. Soon after the small pilot was ruled as satisfactory, the Kenya program let us deploy the full features of PaygOps and fully-tailored custom workflows, greatly revamping the programme by putting in place a game-changing operating model that would let them materialise a holistic experience for the farmers. Among its most notable new additions, it's worth noting:
From a traditionally seasonal programme, they turned into a year-round programme, a long-awaited objective that One Acre Fund Kenya was unable to achieve with their previous systems, as they could not keep track of larger numbers of farmers signing up. In this regard, farmers can now come at any time to sign up either at the One Acre Fund shops (Dukas) or by engaging with field officers, a process which, in either scenario, is now enabled and registered through the PaygOps platform, through which they also smoothly manage and process hundreds of repayments on a day-to-day basis.
Thanks to PaygOps advanced capabilities and proven track record of backing last-mile distributors with the right IT solutions to provide credit to the underserved, now One Acre Fund Kenya is able to offer a range of possibilities when it comes to financing options, such as Cash, Paygo, Group loans, and for the first time ever, Individual loans, giving farmers plenty of opportunities, as some of them now sign up as individuals for the short rain season and come back later to enrol under a group loan for the long rain season. Likewise, any farmer can come to a nearby Duka and purchase any extra product (trees, livestock, solar appliances, etc) that they need and pay in cash, for instance.
The individual loan remains a relatively new loan offering, but according to the organisation, it’s amassing great acceptance among customers in Kenya, bringing in more and more farmers every day, which suggests that, at some point in the near future, group loans (currently 80% of their portfolio) and individual loans might level up.
Once enrolled, farmers can now get their products in a day or two, with the option to pick them up at one of One Acre Fund Kenya’s multiple Duka shops or even delivered straight to their doorstep, a huge advantage for many farmers, taking into account the weight and size of farming products and, thus, the logistics that involves transporting them. As explained above, home delivery was never possible before. PaygOps allows the integration with Erply, a third-party tool that helps One Acre Fund carry out the home deliveries, so that when an order is placed for home delivery, it triggers on their platform and they’re able to process that order in no time, the rider picks up the product at the shop, goes through a series of steps and then delivers the product to the farmer, who signs a receipt, and then is able to be served directly at home.
Enhanced Inventory Management
Through a custom workflow designed by our Business Support Services team and tailored specifically to the organisation’s unique context and needs, PaygOps now integrates with Erply, One Acre Fund Kenya’s inventory management system (more on this in the upcoming case study about PaygOps custom integrations with One Acre Fund BI tools). The novel setup is what allows efficiency in the coordination of all the available stock of inputs sold to farmers through PaygOps, as well as addressing edge cases such as inventory write-offs throughout the client journey.
PaygOps’ flexibility came into play to embody the ultimate solution that would cover all the cases that they needed to tackle in regards to inventory coming in and out, when a farmer needs to cancel the order, change the products or modify the quantities; or something as essential as to enabling field officers to visualise on the mobile app, in real time, which products are in stock in which Duka. As of now, One Acre Fund is able to manage and monitor a full journey in which the loans are offered through PaygOps and then integrated with their inventory management system, so then the products can be offered to be picked up at any Duka or delivered home, with full, automated and instant syncing between PaygOps and the inventory tool (to learn more about Inventory Management custom workflows, we invite you to watch the PaygOps Success Story episode on the matter).
Working with current market price
One of the main differences between how our last-mile management system serves a Paygo solar business, for instance, and how it backs an agribusiness, apart from the Paygo component of the devices, is the range of product offerings with which each type of business works. Unlike a solar last-mile distributor, an agritech supplier such as One Acre Fund, must deal with hundreds (or even thousands) of different products within several categories and, possibly, from different manufacturers/suppliers. PaygOps has enabled One Acre Fund not only to have full control over their offering lists, but to instantly modify and update the price for each one of them along with the current market price as it fluctuates.
Robly Ochieng, Client Data Operations Specialist at One Acre Fund adds: “Regarding market price, PaygOps has given us the ability to make changes in the system as they happen. That’s a great advantage that is helping us improve sales for One Acre Fund. In the past, if we fixed a price based on August, that would also be the price for the clients who would be picking up inputs in April, but if by April the price might have doubled, then it represented a considerable loss to One Acre Fund as there was no way for us to modify it. On PaygOps we go with the monthly market prices and make them effective easily on the platform.”
PaygOps and One Acre Fund’s technical teams worked closely together to develop a custom workflow that integrates with the PaygOps platform and absolutely tailors to the Kenya program's unique needs looking forward to growing their scale: a credit scoring model. This is another unprecedented feature in the organisation’s digital technology strategy that is expected to maximise their usage of data, to better know and serve their customers, as well as to improve the risk mitigation and risk management.
Supported by the credit scoring integration, now when a farmer enrols in the programme, they go through a series of criteria that gives them a final credit score, to see, among others, whether the loan can be approved or not for the farmer, assess their willingness to repay and if they are eligible for further One Acre Fund products and services.
An almost immediate scale
With only 7 to 10 months of full rollout of the new operating model enabled by PaygOps, One Acre Fund has seen an average increase of 35% in the number of sales (as of March 2022). The increase comes as no surprise and is projected to increase much further in the following months, given the variety of financing options that farmers now have at their disposal along with the ease of accessing One Acre Fund’s products and services any day of the year.
Since October 2021, around 10,000 new contracts have been registered monthly through the PaygOps platform. And that’s just the beginning, as the number is expected to increase tenfold in 2022, meaning that at least 100 thousand new contracts will be processed every month on the platform. And with the opening of more Dukas across Kenya (shifting from 25 to 220 new Dukas), the number of contracts registered is supposed to continue moving upwards.
Although their programme was built upon offering group liability loans, representing up to 80% of their current portfolio, farmers now have a vast array of products and services at their disposal that they can acquire on a cash basis (besides credit) just by coming to their nearest Duka. Therefore, transactions in cash are becoming a common practice and, reportedly, trending upwards. When it comes to comparing group loans vs. individual loans, although the latter is still new to their customer base, it’s having a significant acceptance by farmers, thus it’s expected that around 50% of the newcomers will sign up for an individual loan.
On a Duka level, One Acre Fund Kenya keeps radically improving the customer experience for the farmers. Alice Amulama, a Duka officer whom we interviewed for Episode 2 of our PaygOps x One Acre Fund series, assures that nowadays farmers feel more motivated than ever to go to the shops given the ease with which they can access farming products and services. The officer believes that with the revamping of the service along with the adoption of PaygOps, the sales in Dukas have been greatly impacted, whereby, on an average shop, they would report 45000 Ksh a day, now they process up to 100,000 Ksh or more, helping them surpass their quarterly targets.
ONE ACRE FUND KENYA: ON TARGET TO DOUBLING THE IMPACT
In Q1 2021, the global CEO of One Acre Fund announced an organisation-wide impact challenge to double their impact on farmers by 2024 using the same resources they have today, in an effort to encourage each One Acre Fund country to find new ways for growth. In that sense, the approach that the Kenya programme took to address such a challenge was to put in place an entirely new model to serve the farmers that is enabled through PaygOps. By Spring 2022, the Kenya programme has not only met the targets for enrolment of clients, but they have surpassed them, while the core program has not even met 50% of the targets.
When comparing sales made in 2021 and those of 2022, in those same areas without PaygOps through the core programme, the Kenya programme has sold up to 80% more than the previous year in some of the different Kenya districts.
A more resource-efficient organisation
Holding a robust IT infrastructure guarantees One Acre Fund Kenya that resources are used efficiently, as it aligns with their operational strategy to make sure it can be executed as designed, helping them make more sense of the different technology elements previously adopted, under a robust ecosystem managed through PaygOps, instead of each team doing their part of the process in their own way like in the past. The added value for the organisation’s new model development can be partly attributed to the flexibility that PaygOps’ custom workflows and processes can be designed with to improve efficiency and scalability, and how adaptable the platform can be to One Acre Fund’s unique context as they maximise efforts to reach 10 million farmers by 2030.
By effectively harnessing PaygOps solutions, One Acre Fund is now able to unlock new market segments, increase their impact, and even reduce costs through a more effective supply chain management; while the impact on their business effectiveness can already be felt by their staff day after day, throughout the now automated processes for stock transfers, multiple-way inventory updates, repayment processing, just to name a few, which lets the different teams release resources to focus on real-time decision making and other tasks.
For instance, their logistics team is now able to immediately know when products are limited in shops or areas that receive a lot of orders, so that they can green light product transfers or replenishments into that area. That’s only possible because of the integration between the different third-party tools and PaygOps, so that when a client orders a product through PaygOps, it reflects on Erply as well, and when that order has reflected on Erply, it deducts correspondingly from inventory. As deductions come in, it reflects on other systems that report, which helps them mitigate the delay, as well as improve customer satisfaction, because they have a workforce that makes use of reliable real-time data to quickly serve the end customer.
And the possibilities to incorporate more custom workflows, enhance different processes, or add new elements to their revamped model are several as their experience with the new IT ecosystem evolves. They see great value in the radically improved after sales, for example, because it allows One Acre Fund teams to have different interactions, enabling the potential cross-selling or upselling of other products that the farmer might need.
“It’s exciting, because it can also help us do other type of interactions potentially in the future, link the interactions to the trainings that the farmers receive, for example, or to discounts that they can benefit from, from different interactions, so all of this type of relationship management with the client is something that we had never experienced”, adds Clara Ruiz Linaje.
From the field staff’s perspective, PaygOps enables the workforce to get the clarity needed to track thousands of different farmers (around 800,000 only in Kenya) with thousands of different repayment timelines, or different loan amounts, for several products and services, instead of just a single group as they were before. The ease of using PaygOps takes them a step further as it allows them as well to drill in to see the trends and analyse which customers they should focus their time on the most, giving field officers more autonomy with a state-of-the-art mobile app that encompasses the digital tools they need to carry out their day-to-day operations, while the middle/upper management can also get real-time visibility into the performance of their field staff, how farmers are reacting to the services they’re offering, and have the possibility to change things easily in the system, in terms of loan repayment terms, if necessary, or assigning specific tasks to the field officers, or guiding them to be more efficient with their sales targets, repayment follow-ups, after-sales interactions, customer engagement, among others.
For Patrick Bell, Chief Innovation Officer at One Acre Fund Kenya, the flexibility that PaygOps bring to the mix plays a huge role in helping them be more efficient as they have more visibility into the dispersed workforce: “Using PaygOps mobile app makes our field officers value something that’s truly professional and, from their perspective, rather seamless. What we’ve seen is that it helps them feel more confident in their role, which I think is really, really interesting, if over 2500 field officers are all feeling more confident just by the use of this technology. We saw the efficiency play as they know we value them by investing in something that’s going to make their job easier. That right there is a huge huge value added.”
Solaris Offgrid supports distributors and manufacturers across all industries in over 35 countries through Product Development Services and flexible IT solutions. Solaris Offgrid’s flagship PaygOps platform is an interoperable B2B SaaS which connects energy and utility appliances (solar devices, water-pumps, cookstoves, smart metres, e-bikes) and payment methods (Pay-as-you-go and Mobile Money) within a suite of enterprise applications or API services, to allow distributors to smoothly manage their operations and tackle their challenges at the last mile, thus enabling them to provide affordable essential products and services to millions of people at the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid.
One Acre Fund supplies smallholder farmers with the financing and training they need to grow more food and earn more money. Instead of giving handouts, they invest in farmers to generate a permanent gain in farm income. They supply a complete service bundle of seeds and fertiliser, financing, training, and market facilitation— and they deliver such services within walking distance of more than 1 million rural farmers they serve. One Acre Fund measures success in their ability to make farmers more prosperous and they always put Farmers First.
For more resources on PaygOps for Agriculture, visit our dedicated page.