Initiative to use AI, alternative data sets to enable Africa’s smallholder farmers access credit

Refinitiv and AFGRI Technology Services (ATS) have launched the Bankable Farmer Research Initiative (BFRI) which will be dedicated to the use of data science, alternative data sets and novel approaches to risk modelling in order to increase access to financial services for small commercial farmers across sub-Saharan Africa.

Access to credit for small farmers continues to be a challenge due to lack of credit history and profile. BFRI proposes a highly innovative approach to establishing creditworthiness and is expected to be a significant enabler for growth and prosperity in the region. It is anticipated the BFRI will partner with public and private entities to expand the impact of this initiative.

(TOP: Women at a farm in Kitui, Kenya. Photo: Farm Africa). 

Over 80% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is engaged in agriculture. Smallholders, micro-commercial farms and the business ecosystem around these farms constitute the vast majority of economic activity on the African continent. The number of small commercial farmers in Africa is estimated at over 30 million, most of which are underbanked, and as a result find it difficult to pay for seed, fertilizer and other inputs. The World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) estimates the market opportunity for credit services to small farmers across Africa and South Asia to be $450 billion.

Luke Manning, Global Head of Sustainability at Refinitiv said: “Two of our key sustainability pledges are to support the communities we operate in and put sustainability at the heart of our product offering, and our bankable farmer innovation delivers on both of those. We’re committed to using Refinitiv data and expertise wherever possible to support the UN’s sustainable development goals, and ultimately solve some of the world’s largest environmental and social challenges. As the solution emerges, Refinitiv looks forward to working with its banking customers to ensure the financial ecosystem develops across all demographics in Africa.”

“AFGRI Agri Services is proud to support this research initiative through our ATS division. We already have a strong focus on developing small and emerging farmers locally through our Lemang business and we want to see the number of successful farmers grow. Through innovation and new methodologies, we can improve how we collectively do this”, said Jacob de Villiers, CEO of AFGRI Agri Services.

The Research & Development team will be based at AFGRI in Centurion, Pretoria, South Africa and will be supported by Refinitiv’s global team of data scientists. “We are very excited about what we can achieve with this partnership. Not only are we striving to solve a critical business challenge faced by financial institutions, we are striving to solve a critical development need on the continent. It’s not an easy challenge to solve, successful farming comes with many variables and risks. A critical pillar to a farmer’s success is accessing the right funding at the right time,” added Niki Neumann, GM Innovation & Strategy (Head of ATS), AFGRI Agri Services.

Partnership and co-creation remain core tenets of the initiative going forward, and the team is keen to engage with additional partners.

“The world’s most intractable problems require deep collaboration and an approach to partnership grounded in shared values and shared vision to find viable, sustainable solutions. I’m thrilled to continue this journey with AFGRI.”said Saidah Nash Carter, previously head of Refinitiv’s Innovation Lab in Cape Town and now strategic advisor to the new initiative.

“I’m excited about what the combined strengths of the two companies’ cross-functional teams has produced – solving for real problems. The continued collaboration through Saidah Nash Carter and Niki Neumann will help to ensure that the BFRI scales for greater impact across Africa,” added Tim Baker, Head of Refinitiv Labs.

Bright Insights Global is a women-owned consultancy which partners with purpose driven, tech-forward companies with a desire to define and optimize financial performance through the prism of innovation, inclusion and impact.


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