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Image courtesy SyeComp: Company staff train smallholder farmers (2022).

In a recent interview, Elorm Allavi, Co-founder and CEO of SyeComp, speaks to the journey his company has been on to support smallholder farmers in Ghana through technology and financial access.

Elorm’s internship experiences in an agro-dealer development project that mapped maize and rice farms in the Ashanti, Volta and Northern regions of Ghana, was a revelation for him on how various technology-based solutions could apply to farmers. This inspired him to co-found SyeComp in 2009.

He describes SyeComp as originally focusing on geo-spatial mapping services for smallholder farmers that was aimed to serve a need.

“When we began, farm mapping in Ghana was very expensive and most of the data was being collected by international non-profit organisations, with local farmers having very little access to any of their own farm mapping records,” Elorm Allavi. 

It was this challenge that initially prompted SyeComp to begin supporting the digitisation of small farm parcels as a subscription-based service. 

Elorm explains that as SyeComp focused on this objective, it became clear that in order for smallholder farmers to be able to subscribe for its services on a regular basis, various recurring challenges that inhibited them from doing so also needed to be addressed. These challenges included those relating to being able to pay young community individuals hired to support offtake from farms or affording agri-inputs. Elorm and his team took the opportunity to take part in an announced call for proposals with the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity in 2018, particularly seeking support for the development and rollout of its mfarmpay financial product to smallholder farmers across Ghana. He describes mfarmpay as a scalable loan origination and credit application, supporting financially underserved rural, African smallholder farmers.

This intersection of technology solutions with financial service provision greatly appealed to the Fund, particularly as to that point, small scale farmers in Ghana struggled to access finance from traditional financial institutions due to non-existent or poor credit histories, and a product mix not designed for rural communities. In addition, existing financing from financial institutions in Ghana was prohibitive to rural farmers due to constraint tenors and high interest-rate offerings on loan products. Additionally  group-based financing options provided by credit union cooperatives and Village Savings and Loans Associations (VLSA) tend to be high risk, not digitalised and have weak credit design elements to scale. 

With Fund support, SyeComp set off on a path to scale its services and reach more smallholder farmers. It was able to develop and expand its staff strength, provide relevant tracking and engagement tools using accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and resources such as tablets and handheld GPS devices to its field personnel, expand the number of motorbikes for field work, and grow its visibility in rural communities. This all aided the delivery of its various value-added services such as weather-based information and agronomic SMS based services to farmers. Its lending solution, however, took a longer path, requiring considered and suitable partnership development and iterations of its alternative credit scoring solutions before implementation.

Elorm is proud of the Fund-supported project results achieved. He points to its interventions made to boost the capacity of the cooperatives in Ghana and their ability to train their farmer members on the use of digital financial services. As at November 2022, SyeComp was working with over 105 cooperatives and had onboarded close to 195,000 smallholder farmers. It had mapped over 24,000 smallholder farms specific to mfarmpay and 35% of these had been pre-qualified for financing. SyeComp has been increasing their brand visibility in rural Ghana, and has a growing subscriber base for its value-added services. And excitingly, supported by its lending partners, SyeComp has now started provision of credit to farmers using its alternative credit scoring system, mfarmpay, delivered through a number of partner financial institutions in Ghana. These partnerships are intended to span multiple years to scale to serve at least 1.3 million small scale farmers over the next decade. 

Elorm goes on to note that SyeComp has a youthful workforce and points out that several women have critical roles within SyeComp not based on gender, but based on their knowledge, expertise and capabilities. Gender balance was also a factor in how SyeComp approached service delivery. For example SyeComp is invested in supporting more women-related cooperatives and ensuring women (and youth) are intrinsically involved in its training and in-field activities from both the company and farmer sides.

The journey has had its ups and downs, not least the impact of Covid-19. As a technology driven business, Elorm and his team were able to transition to remote-based working in the lockdown phases in Ghana. The challenge remained in the field, where training schedules and engagement with farmers and cooperatives were affected. SyeComp responded by developing elearning modules that are also accessible offline once accessed from a trainer’s device. With support from the Fund Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience funding window, SyeComp continues to develop other training resources by creating content that farmer cooperatives can access through tablets and use to train their members. In addition, given transportation and market access constraints, SyeComp has also proposed a village level intervention, where it supports farmers and cooperatives to keep their harvests in remodelled, local warehouses or pack houses. This was a consequence of the increased potential for default on repayments on its loan product due to the pandemic.


Image courtesy SyeComp: Company project staff upload data into mfarmpay (2022).

Elorm gives three key insights of the journey so far. First, a suitably strengthened cooperative movement is essential to SyeComp serving smallholder farmers in Ghana and delivering digital financial services as the cost and risks of serving farmers can be high. It is on this basis that SyeComp attempts to build capacity within cooperatives to train and support farmers, as well as provide members access to credit products. Secondly, suitable partnerships are essential to the growth of the business model. In this context, SyeComp has partnered with CropLife who support delivery of its agronomic services and also collaborates with the Chamber of Agribusiness Ghana to expand delivery of digital climate information services to farmers. It also has an informal relationship with Guzakuza, a women-led organisation in Ghana that is growing women agri-preneurs to create jobs and produce healthy food for the community. Third, there is a need for greater delivery of digital financial literacy that encourages financial product awareness, acceptance and use in the market, particularly as certain sectors, such as cocoa that are more structured than food crop sectors, require higher loan products presenting higher risks to firms like SyeComp.

Elorm is appreciative of the support the Fund has provided to SyeComp in getting to this stage of development. He alludes to the need for similar soft funding to support private sector companies to de-risk and deliver to farmers given the limitations in Government and non-profit interventions. In his final comments, he points out that the future is bright for SyeComp’s continued support to cooperatives and smallholder farmers with delivery of financial products and services, value-added services and digital literacy training. To ensure success, Elorm notes that SyeComp must strengthen its own capabilities and resources, continue to forge meaningful partnerships, strengthen cooperative structures and capabilities, and raise growth capital. With this approach, he is confident that SyeComp will move beyond the Ghanaian market to serve smallholder farmers in other areas of the continent.

by Colin Azavedo, Communications Consultant, Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity.

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