Akellobanker’s innovative farmer credit platform wins NIISP award worth $27,000
Akellobanker chief executive officer Jean Onyait sees himself as a changemaker who helps low income earners lead dignified lives. The Government of Uganda agrees.
That’s why the data-driven digital tech company won one of the 2019 National ICT Initiatives Support Programme (NIISP) awards for agriculture. Akellobanker, which enables farmers and small-scale traders to access instant credit using their cell phones, will use the 100 million Ugandan shillings (about $27,000) it pocketed to expand its services and add jobs.
“The funding will allow us to improve our technology offer to farmers and to hire key technical staff who will help in ensuring the sustainable delivery of our services,” said Onyait, who founded the Kampala-based company in 2015.
Akellobanker operates only in Uganda right now and will focus on domestic growth in 2020–2021. It plans to expand to East and West Africa by the fourth quarter of 2025, Onyait said.
The company’s analytics-based machine learning platform makes it easy for clients to access farm inputs, experts, tools, equipment and medical services. It also provides an option for farmers to check out on credit by giving them the option to pay for services by a specific date in the future. Moreover, the platform can notify farmers what activity is needed in the farm at any point in time.
The platform uses credit scores as a basis for instant credit underwriting to borrowers. Akellobanker has a unique distribution channel that includes partnerships with rural savings and credit cooperative societies and established merchants, which helps it profile users, manage credit and conduct digital literacy.
It’s a formula that impressed NIISP, which seeks to create a sustainable ecosystem for information and communication technology (ICT) innovations and to support Ugandan trailblazers and developers.
The award recognizes and promotes “outstanding ICT solutions and applications to encourage innovation and excellence among innovators both in private and public sectors in Uganda”. Winners receive grants to improve their products, build enterprises and penetrate the market.
“The ability of our technology to help farmers to increase their farm production and productivity and the way our technology works with the local communities appealed to NIISP,” Onyait explained. “In addition, our proven record in executing our vision could have appealed to NIISP.”
Farming is key sector for innovation
NIISP considers agriculture to be a priority sector for innovation. More than 80% of Uganda’s workforce relies on farming for their livelihoods, yet most people in the sector struggle to boost their production and productivity because they can’t access credit. Commercial banks in Uganda consider lending to farmers to be risky because they lack collateral and a financial history. As a result, banks channel less than 10% of their loans towards the agricultural sector.
Akellobanker allows clients to sidestep banks and immediately obtain the credit they need for important and sometimes life-saving products and services.
Onyait says the training, exposure and mentorship he received as a beneficiary of the Netherlands Trust Fund IV (NTF IV) programme gave him the tools to compete for the NIISP award. NTF IV, based on a partnership between the International Trade Centre and the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, aims to strengthen small and medium-sized Ugandan information technology enterprises.
“Using the skills learned from the trainings conducted by NTF IV, the exposure and mentorship from NTFIV, we applied and were able to defend our application with a proof of concept,” he said.
It’s not the first time Akellobanker has been recognized for its innovative services. Onyait’s team has won several awards in recent years, including the Disruptive Agricultural Technology Challenge, the GSMA Mobile Money Hackathon (for using mobile money to enable merchants to accept payments on credit), the John Deere mobile app competition (for making it possible for farmers to hire tractors on credit), the DataHack for Finance (for advancing financial inclusion through data innovation) and Resilience Innovation Challenge 4 Conflict.