The partnership between Lersha and CBE Birr, which has five million users spread across the nation, aims to encourage the digitisation of the rural community, financial literacy and inclusion for smallholder farmers, as well as ease deposit mobilisation.

The state giant commercial bank has partnered with a local company that works on agricultural mechanisation and solutions for transforming the way farmers in rural areas procure products and services. With their agreement, Green Agro Solutions will incorporate the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia's CBE Birr platform with Lersha, its digital agriculture platform.

Announced on January 22, 2021, the agreement has come about as part of its efforts to insure financial inclusivity for farmers in a rural areas. Lersha, a digital platform developed in house, provides farmers with access to information and services about their agricultural practices directly or through a Lersha agent. The platform combines a mobile application, a call centre, and Lersha agents to facilitate farmers' transactions and offer timely and critical advisory services.

The application is currently available in three languages including Amharic, English and Afaan Oromo. The platform has partnered with six organisations including the Ministry of Agriculture, GIZ and the International Maize & Wheat Improvement Centre.

The partnership between Lersha and CBE Birr, which has five million users spread across the nation, aims to encourage the digitisation of the rural community, financial literacy and inclusion for smallholder farmers, as well as ease deposit mobilisation.

For the last eight years, Green Agro Solutions has been facilitating [procurement of] raw materials and services like consulting farmers and providing machinery to farmers, according to Abrhame Endrias, its founder and managing director. Before developing the application, the company conducted research for two years.

"We've been working with the application for a year," he said. "We're looking forward to working with CBE Birr."

The objective of choosing CBE Birr as a partner is that the Bank provides the service all over the country, which makes it easily accessible for rural areas, according to Nathan Bogale, tech lead at Green Agro Solutions.

Lersha currently works in 10 were dislocated in Arsi Zone, Oromia Regional State. Every wereda has one farm service centre with one or two Lersha agents. Once the farmer is registered in the application, agents will advise which products to choose depending on their production profile. The agents will facilitate the payment arrangement from the farmer's deposited cash in CBE Birr, and once the order is complete, the products will be delivered to the farmer.

The application benefits smallholder farmers, farm service centre owners, Lersha agents, mechanisation service providers, development agents and brokers. Lersha agents are given agriculture-based training in addition to coaching in marketing and operations. The platform is currently working with 145 Lersha agents, 32 mechanisation service providers, over 35,000 smallholder farmers and 250 development agents. Additionally,10 farm service centres supplying herbicides, pesticides, fertiliser and seeds and 88 CBE Birr agents have also been added to the service.

The service is encouraging for the country's goals in terms of digital strategy transformation in the agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and IT sectors, according to Ahmedin Mohammed (PhD), state minister for Innovation & Technology.

"The application is set to help areas like import substitution and increasing export capacity," Ahmedin said. "It'll also create new job opportunities for unemployed agricultural science graduates."

It is set to minimise cost for the smallholder farmers, and there will not be an exaggerated transportation cost, according to Nathan.

Green Agro Solutions covers 30pc of the delivery cost, while farm service centres will cover 40pc, and the farmer will pay the remaining.

"We outsource motorbikes and trucks from the local area," said Nathan, who added that the company plans to serve 1.5 million farmers and hire 2,500 Lersha agents in the future with the intent of an expansion to Amhara Regional State. "A local area has at least five bikers and one truck for deliveries in every service centre."

When a bank agrees with a technology company, the partnership is reliable since much research is done before partnering, especially in huge sectors like agriculture, according to Habib Mohammed, a banking expert.

The good thing about this programme is that the money circulation will be monitored by the Bank, and it will increase cash deposits and encourage financial inclusion for smallholder farmers, he added.

"The programme will also eliminate the risks taken when carrying large amounts of money to buy materials needed for production," Habib said.

Green Agro Solutions has previously partnered with Techno Brain to provide digital insights to over 100,000 small farmers in Arsi Zone who produce malting barley. Weather forecasts, pest detection, advisory service and mechanisation equipment to help the farmers increase their productivity are among the kinds of information dispensed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has bee updated on January 28, 2021

PUBLISHED ON Jan 23,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1082]

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