Farmer Stephen Muriuki Mutiiria inspects his pigeon peas plantation on January 7. A new platform to ease farming transactions has been launched. PHOTO | FILE  

Global payment technology firm MasterCard has launched a digital platform that connects smallholder farmers, agents, buyers and banks in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The phone-based platform dubbed 2KUZE, enables farmers to buy, sell and receive payments for agricultural goods via their feature phones.
The product is one of the local technology solutions developed  at the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion based in Nairobi.
The lab set up in 2015 was targeted to develop practical and cost-effective financial tools that expand access and help build stable futures for more than 100 million people globally.
Through a Sh1 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lab is working with East African entrepreneurs, governments and other stakeholders to develop local products rooted in the company’s global know-how.
MasterCard Division President for Sub-Saharan Africa Daniel Monehin said the platform will improve financial access to the smallholder farmers spread in many parts of the continent.
“Eighty per cent of farmers in Africa are classified as smallholder farmers having less than 1-2 acres of farming land, making it extremely difficult to drive growth and prosperity within this community. 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,” said Mr Monehin who is the head of financial inclusion for international markets at Mastercard.
In the initial pilot, 2KUZE is being launched in partnership with Cafédirect Producers Foundation, a non-profit organisation working with 300,000 smallholder farmers globally. 
Currently, 2,000 small-scale farmers in Nandi Hills, Kenya are currently using the solution to sell their produce and working with farmer-friendly agents to ensure they reach the right buyers for the best price.
Farmers using 2KUZE can conduct the entire transaction of selling produce and receiving payments via their phones, without having to walk for hours to the markets. 
This enables farmers to capture a greater percentage of the wholesale value of their goods by providing price transparency, more direct access to buyers and empowerment of farmer-friendly agents.
This solution is particularly tailored to support women farmers, who often have household duties that prevent them from leaving the farm gate and are thus forced to take whatever deal is given to them on the day. 
The digitisation of transactions is set to improve trust and make business auditable and formal, boosting access to loans and other financial services, and also introducing a more efficient process that benefits the entire value chain, as well as the overall economy.
Mastercard Lab is exploring the potential for 2KUZE to help farming communities receive the right level of investment and to encourage more efficient ways of doing business with smallholder farmers.
The payments firm said 2KUZE is one of several broad-based collaborations on which the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion is working. 
The Lab was established in Africa to contribute to the company’s global commitment to connect 500 million people to formal financial services through the use of public-private partnerships with governments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations.