Payments giant Mastercard and charity Cafédirect Producers Foundation have teamed up to create 2KUZE, a mobile marketplace for produce designed to help East African smallholders sell and receive payments for goods.
2KUZE, which translates phonetically as "let's grow together" in Swahili, has been developed at the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion and has been tested on 2,000 farms in Kenya. It is being launched in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
By advertising their goods on the platform, farmers can sell direct to customers, reducing their risks and the need to walk for hours to physical markets.
"For smallholders who take produce to a market, it has to be presented in a certain format in boxes or bags, and you pay for the handling and packaging costs," says Professor Wim van Averbeke of the Tshwane University of Technology.
"Then, when it goes to market, it'll be allocated to an agent who sells the produce and takes a cut, and sometimes not sold or sold at such a low price it's not worth it."
Mobile apps for farmers in rural Africa aren't new. For the past decade the ability to check prices for crops via SMS or over the internet has been changing lives in rural areas.
Rural communities were often reliant on unscrupulous middlemen who'd purchase staples such as maize at below-market price, even when it was subject to regulation, knowing their suppliers were victims of information inequality with no access to "correct" prices or recourse if they were ripped off.
However, with 2KUZE, Mastercard is aiming for a far greater scale. Other platforms for selling produce already exist. Kenya's mfarm is particularly well known. But Mastercard says 2KUZE's ability to process payments provides greater transparency and a way to verify income if smallholders want access to other financial services such as loans of banking facilities.
"We believe that by using mobile, a technology that is so ubiquitous among farmers in Africa, we can improve financial access, bring in operational efficiency and facilitate faster payments," Mastercard's Daniel Monehin, divisional president for Sub-Saharan Africa, said in a statement.