Transforming agriculture finance in Bangladesh via technology

by Mohd Fahad Ifaz, 28 January

4 min read

Transforming agriculture finance in Bangladesh via technology

About 76 percent of 35 million people involved in farming in Bangladesh are small and marginal. They either toil in their own small farms (up to 1.49 acres of land) or in others lands. Farmers, especially the smaller ones, lack access to affordable and timely credit, preventing them from enhancing their income, keeping them trapped in a vicious cycle. Most of these small-scale farmers are abandoning their farms and migrating to the cities because they cannot commercialize their operations due to poverty and a lack of finance and access to markets.

About iFarmer
iFarmer is Bangladesh's first Deep tech Agriculture Platform focused on connecting farm funders with real farmers in order to increase food production and productivity. iFarmer has won the Fintech Award in 2019 from United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), has been awarded as the Startup with the most Social Impact by Swiss Embassy in Bangladesh and has been funded through Startup Bangladesh (ICT Ministry of Bangladesh)

iFarmer's current business model encourages Bangladeshis to participate in agriculture while going about their normal day jobs. Farm Funders select the kind of farms they want to fund via iFarmer website, and then release the funds to iFarmer to set it up. Currently iFarmer only focuses on livestock but will include other agree-businesses in its portfolio in the future. After the agreed funding cycle (for livestock it ranges between 6 to 12 month), funders can choose to cash out or reinvest on the platform. Upon receiving funder's funds, iFarmer hires and train farmers, helps source the animals, provide support in feed and veterinary, helps sell the animal. At the end of the cycle the farmer gets a % of the profit, the farm funders gets their share and iFarmer takes a management fee. iFarmer uses technology and data to help securitize the funds.

iFarmer version 2.0

After being in operation for about a year, developing a network of close to a 1000 men and women farmers and facilitating almost 90,000 USD in farm funding for cows, iFarmer is now taking up a new challenge and looking to create improved access to finance for farmers at scale.

While iFarmer for the time being will continue to work on the livestock value chain but will look into cattle farm financing and cattle trade financing opportunities.

iFarmer will continue to connect individual farm funders with farmers. However to develop a scalable solution, iFarmer will now work with Banks and Non-Banking Financial Institutions to support them to be able to lend money to the farm owners and traders. iFarmer will create access to finance for smallholder farmers to enable them to scale their farm, support medium and large scale farms to utilize their maximum capacity and traders to enable them smooth business opportunity.

Creating Credit Profile for farmers, farm owners and traders

When banks and non banking financial institutions consider someone for a loan, they want to see a credit history and some collateral. Smallholders farmers have neither as they don't have enough wealth to own assets and rarely have business records as they tend to mix their home incomes and expenses with those from the farm. Also it is costly for banks and NBFIs to monitor thousands of smallholder farmers.

iFarmer intends to solve this issue by generating credit profiles for farmers and traders for banks and NBFIs to use loan to them. It does so by using data input by farmers through their phone, helping farmers to track their revenues and expenses , learn about farm management as well as get remote data, demographic, social, agronomic and local economic data. By analyzing these data-sets, iFarmer will be able to generate credit scores for farmers.

Technology enabled solutions : App, IoT, Artificial Intelligence

iFarmer Mobile App: iFarmer is focusing on becoming mobile first service. Farm funders can select and fund farms using the iFarmer app, while getting regular updates on the funded farms. Farmers will be able to use the iFarmer app to generate their credit score, access e-learning contents and access other services related to farming. The app will also have mobile wallet integration for smooth transactions.
Internet of Things: iFarmer has developed low cost IoT products to help monitor the farms better and reduce risks for the farmers and the funders. Once such technology is IoT enabled cow collar to get real time update on cow health, location and other critical information.
Artificial Intelligence: Data collected from different sources (app, field monitoring, IoT) will be massive and diverse, thus, precise calculations by human will require a long period of time. This is coupled with the number of farmers and their need for the fund to match the cultivating time in order to control manufacturing costs. As a result, AI is incorporated so that the data analysis is faster which enable to move towards an AI based credit scoring mechanism.

Over the coming months iFarmer will work closely with market actors to amplify and refine the predictive power of algorithmic models, where we not only consider farmers' behaviors but also their mobile and social media data, their psychometric data, their geospatial data and broader data about the value chains in which they operate to enable a feasible business service for better financial inclusion in various agriculture value chains (livestock, fisheries, crops) and services ( agri machinery, input supply etc).