We are getting information that Econet will in a couple of days launch the new EcoCash service called EcoFarmer which has been talked about a bit locally in the past few months. Contrary to what we believed – that EcoFarmer is an attempt at creating something like eSoko – the information we are getting suggests this is more an insurance service for small holder farmers and that it doesn’t resemble eSoko at all. What it does resemble however is a service from Kenya called “Kilimo Salama”
Anyway, Econet last week called for the press to attend the launch of an EcoCash event in Murehwa where they are supposed to unveil a new EcoCash service this Friday. Our sources tell us EcoFarmer is the service being unveiled in Murehwa. EcoFarmer, the sources told us, was being piloted in Murehwa and the company believes it’s time to unveil the product.
In terms of how it works, we are not quite sure yet, but source suggest close resemblance to Safaricom’s Kilimo Salama. Safaricom, you will remember, are the architects of M-PESA, Africa’s runaway mobile money success story. Econet, since launch, has basically shunned reinventing the wheel. The company has been picking some of M-PESA successes and implementing in the local market.
Kilimo Salama, which means ‘Safe Agriculture’, is a micro-insurance program designed to cover smallholder farmers against losses incurred due to poor or excessive rains. The project is implemented by three organisations in partnership: Safaricom, a Kenyan insurance company called UAP Insurance, and a sustainable agriculture non-profit called Syngenta Foundation. Payments to farmers are triggered by weather stations integrated to mobile telephony base stations.
It is possible Econet is licensing this system from the owners of the concept in Kenya. So how does EcoCash fits into all this? Well, without knowing the exact implementation details, the insurance cover will be paid by the farmers on the inputs they get, and this will likely be done via EcoCash. In much the same way EcoCash is addressing financial exclusion by making banking conveniently available to people transacting in small amounts, Econet is attempting to make insurance available to smallholder farmers via mobile. And what better way to show the power of insurance than in the one economic activity that non-city folk depend on.
This will be Econet’s second foray into a service related to insurance in Zimbabwe. The first attempt was the much promising EcoLife which, just a number of months after launch, became a source major distress for the operator, its partners and subscribers.