Despite women’s role as key players in agriculture and the rural economy of developing countries, a great many barriers prevent them from making a more substantial contribution. Compared with men, women have less access to productive resources, such as affordable finance. In Uganda, an alternative financial service is helping women to save, borrow, increase productivity and strengthen their roles across the agricultural value chain.
Akaboxi is a Uganda-based start-up developed and launched in 2016 by two young women, Sarah Atuhaire Baryaija, 34 and Edinah Kyokusiima Mabumba, 23 and one young man Joshua Businge Muleesi, 25, from the rural Sheema district. Seeing women from their home village struggle to organise group savings, they decided to leverage digital technology to help rural women access small loans. Through scoping research conducted in 2015, which mapped the challenges faced by women in savings groups, women themselves were involved in the design of the Akaboxi service, identifying problems to be addressed and some tailored solutions that would work in a rural setting.
Akaboxi targets self-launched women’s savings groups, consisting of up to 30 members who traditionally collect their weekly savings - between €0.48 and €2.4 - in a community savings box, at the group leader’s home. Group members use the Akaboxi handheld device which has an app, which captures the transactions (savings, borrowings and interest charged) that take place during the savings groups’ meeting. Each member has an identity card (ID) that is used during the meeting, and receives a receipt for any transaction made, to encourage transparency. This enables women to monitor and manage their group savings, and to reduce the risk of losing their financial records in a paper-based system.
Building up a track record
The Akaboxi scheme links savings groups to financial institutions, where savings are kept in a shared account, thereby providing an alternative to high-risk home-based saving. Each member’s ID card contains their demographic information, which is digitally linked to the device to capture all transactions that take place. In this way, members are able to build on a record of transactions that can be used for credit scoring.
Five groups, the majority made up of women, are currently using Akaboxi to save a total of around €10,000 each year. Due to the individual members’ needs and the limited cumulative savings available in the groups, Akaboxi provides members with small loans at a low interest rate. The ultimate goal is to make rural women more eligible to access loans from financial institutions through positive transaction records. Akaboxi is building partnerships with financial institutions to reduce interest rates charged to all farmers, thereby motivating farmers to open bank accounts. Low interest rates will encourage farmers to borrow and increase their productivity, which in turn generates more earnings and savings.
Working for women, with women
The Akaboxi formula is enabling farmers to borrow and develop, both individually and at community level. For example, savings group members have used their loans to educate their children, buy land or invest in production.
“I have benefited from Akaboxi by being able to educate my children. I built a house and I am doing better now. But if I get more help I will be able to advance further,” said Juliet Kyomuhendo who lives in Rwamuganga village, Sheema district.
The Akaboxi market is expected to grow, driven by the benefits of saving as a community of people who know and trust each other. Akaboxi plans to expand to six more sub-counties in Sheema district by the end of 2019, engaging 2,640 saving groups, reaching a total of around 79,000 people.. The start-up also aims to expand to the neighbouring districts of Bushenyi, Ibanda, Mbarara, Rukungiri, Kanungu and Ntungamo, servicing 18,480 groups, comprising around 550,000 people.
Akaboxi’s key quality is its adaptive capacity. The technology offered is relatively simple and addresses elementary risks of home-based women’s savings groups. By involving the women in decision-making and creating an environment where they can safely voice their concerns, Akaboxi is able to tailor products to their specific needs.
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.