Econet launches in­no­va­tive farm­ing insurance plan in Zim­babwe

New weather-in­dexed scheme will pro­vide cover for farm­ers af­fected by sea­sonal agri­cul­ture chal­lenges, writes Tawanda Karombo

Business Day - - POLITICS & SOCIETY -

BUSI­NESS­MAN Strive Masiyiwa has taken a leaf out of the book of Aliko Dan­gote, the rich­est per­son in Africa. Mr Dan­gote is a firm be­liever in agri­cul­ture as a gate­way to wealth cre­ation.

Could it be that Africa’s home-grown in­vestors are lead­ing the charge to­wards a new kind of in­vest­ment rush, such as that seen in min­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing?

This could ex­plain why Mr Masiyiwa — the founder of Econet Wire­less, the Zimbabwean gi­ant telecoms com­pany — has now tapped into the agri­cul­ture sec­tor.

Econet, which has more than 8-mil­lion cell­phone sub­scribers and 2-mil­lion mo­bile money users, has un­veiled weather- in­dexed insurance cover Zimbabwean farm­ers.

Econet is one of the most at­trac­tive coun­ters for for­eign in­vestors on the Zim­babwe Stock Ex­change and is in part­ner­ship with Cell C for a “call-home” SIM card that en­ables Zimbabwean emi­gres to call friends and rel­a­tives back home at rel­a­tively lower rates.

Eco­nomic com­men­ta­tors in Zim­babwe say Econet’s foray into the agri­cul­ture sec­tor through its insurance scheme would pro­vide respite for the farm­ers against the back­drop of ever-chang­ing weather pat­terns due to global warm­ing.

Zim­babwe has had three years of er­ratic rain­fall sea­sons.

“It’s a new de­vel­op­ment be­ing im­ple­mented on a large scale. With the bad agri­cul­tural

for sea­sons we have had, this scheme will cer­tainly pro­vide cover for the farm­ers be­cause in any case they will get some­thing out of the sea­son even if it’s a bad one,” says an­a­lyst Jef­frey Kasirori.

He says “agri­cul­ture re­mains, by far, (Africa’s) big­gest in­dus­try and big­gest em­ployer”.

There is grow­ing recog­ni­tion of agri­cul­ture as a ready sec­tor that of­fers speedy re­turns for in­vestors, with Mr Dan­gote also lead­ing his group’s foray into agri­cul­ture and agro-pro­cess­ing projects.

More in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions, such as mo­bile plat­forms that can pro­vide ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion about the rear­ing of crops and live­stock, have the po­ten­tial to strengthen the knowl­edge base and ca­pac­ity of farm­ers, says eco­nom­ics ex­pert Jo­hannes Kwang­wari. “In­no­va­tion is key to agri­cul­ture as it is key in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy be­cause we need ways of en­sur­ing that we bring down poverty lev­els.

“Agri­cul­ture is one way of do­ing so and this helps in boost­ing food se­cu­rity in Africa, which in turn has the po­ten­tial to boost other in­dus­tries such as man­u­fac­tur­ing,” says Mr Kwang­wari.

The weather-in­dexed scheme, EcoFarmer, will al­low farm­ers to make a fi­nan­cial claim if their crops fail due to ei­ther in­ad­e­quate or ex­ces­sive rain­fall, Econet says.

Un­der the scheme, “a farmer can buy insurance for as lit­tle as 8c per day, which is de­ducted from their pre­paid phone ac­count dur­ing the agri­cul­tural sea­son. If the rain does not fall, re­sult­ing in a drought, the farmer will be given as much as $100 for ev­ery 10kg seed pack planted,” Econet says.

Com­pany of­fi­cials say that the weather-in­dexed insurance scheme for Zimbabwean farm­ers was “sim­i­lar to one which has been rolled out in Kenya” by the coun­try’s rapidly grow­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions group, Sa­fari­com.

Econet’s mo­bile money trans­fer scheme, EcoCash, is premised along the same lines as Sa­fari­com’s M-Pesa, de­scribed as the big­gest mo­bile money trans­fer prod­uct in Africa.

Mr Masiyiwa says the EcoFarmer scheme is backed by a “highly in­no­va­tive weather mon­i­tor­ing net­work” that will en­able the com­pany to es­tab­lish “ex­actly how much rain fell on the farmer’s field”. Un­der the scheme, Econet has forged an al­liance with Zim­babwe Stock Ex­change-listed lo­cal seed pro­ducer, SeedCo, to pro­duce spe­cial seed packs.

Th­ese hold a small, plas­tic con­tainer with a spe­cific num­ber that the farmer must send to the net­work via SMS. As soon as the num­ber is re­ceived, the farmer’s lo­ca­tion will be noted.

“The Econet base sta­tion in the farmer’s area mon­i­tors weather pat­terns in­clud­ing rain­fall, tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity,” he says.

“This in­for­ma­tion is used by weather ex­perts to tell if there has been a drought in the area,” Mr Masiyiwa says.

For Mr Masiyiwa and Mr Dan­gote, agri­cul­ture is the next big sec­tor.

Pic­ture: SUN­DAY TIMES.

GATE­WAY: Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa says agri­cul­ture re­mains Africa’s big­gest in­dus­try and big­gest em­ployer.

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