Ibero Uganda’s journey with the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity started in 2017. The Fund was a part of a consortium of partners that at the time provided a launch pad to support the establishment and set up of the Ibero Farmer Services Unit (FSU).
Fund support was instrumental in enabling the set-up of the FSU. It facilitated the development and set-up of a risk management framework, a digital finance scheme, institution building of the FSU team, and the set-up and piloting of Ibero Uganda’s financial products.
The FSU has been able to offer fertilizer and mobile money advances to smallholder farmers across 17 districts in Uganda, providing trainings on financial literacy and good agricultural practices as well as on gender aspects to farmers.
The FSU began with two financial products and to date Ibero Uganda offers 9 financial products. The Fund enabled the development of more short-term finance products to suit farmers' needs as well as the development of long-term finance products that cater to longer term investment needs of farmers e.g. farm rejuvenation.
Fund support has also enabled Ibero Uganda’s Farmer Financing Unit to transition into the Farmer Services Unit that offers bespoke services to farmers, enabling the Farmer Financing Unit to provide more demand-driven services to farmers beyond just financing.
In addition, Fund support enabled an IT environment that allows for the development of digital features that permit efficiency in running of farmer groups, integration of new services, such as training, integration of new financial products, integration of arabica specificities and most importantly, integration to allow mobile money payments directly to farmers.
The table below summaries the impact to date that Ibero Uganda has had over a span of these 4 Fund supported years. Figures are total achievements by the company and not solely attributable to the Fund intervention/project.
Number of farmers trained to date
Number of financial products and services offered by the FSU
Amount of fertilizer disbursed
Number of farmers who have taken advances to date (not counting repeat borrowers)
Number of farmers with access to digital data
Number of farmer groups with current access to advances
Amount of money advanced through FSU
In validation of Ibero Uganda’s work, a recent externally conducted impact study assessed that farmers that benefitted from Ibero Uganda’s financial products combined with its training registered a 187% yield increase and a net income increase of 189%!
Ibero Uganda believes that farmers are pleased with its services. This is evidenced by an extremely low arrears rate (below 2%). Farmers want to be able to continue accessing Ibero Uganda services and so happily pay back their advances.
A number of key insights and lessons have surfaced for Ibero Uganda over the journey with the Fund:
1. It is important to have a good partner that sees value in taking service to the last mile. The Fund has been a partner with whom we shared a mutual interest and supported us in covering the operational costs incurred in building systems that guaranteed our programme’s success and has minimized the risk of losses.
2. Working with the Fund to provide access to finance to coffee farmers, Ibero Uganda has learned that the products and services it offers depend on its ability to engage more closely with the farmers, to be able to explain the processes and procedures of accessing the scheme, and the overall goal and objectives of the scheme. Ibero Uganda has become increasingly aware that the success of the programme depends on its ability to listen to coffee farmers and adapt products and services accordingly.
3. The high price volatility in the Ugandan coffee sector raises risks in providing services to coffee farmers and makes it expensive to design and implement non-collateralised products and services. Despite this, Ibero Iganda has disproved stereotypes against lending to farmers. Ibero Uganda understands and loves coffee and can bring the right services and the required flexibility to lending, e.g. when a harvest is smaller than expected.
4. Ibero Uganda has realised that it does not necessarily have to make money on the financial services offered but will on the additional coffee sourced from farmers. It is a win-win: the farmer increases his/her income, and Ibero Uganda does as well.
5. In addition, because of close farmer engagement, Ibero Uganda has consistently been able to adapt the programme to include products and services that although not initially thought about, have eventually been included in the service offering because of farmer demand. These products have been the true mark of a partnership that seeks to transform the livelihood of smallholder farmers: long-term finance products, coffee buying advances, training farmers on good agricultural practices, financial literacy and gender, providing tarpaulins (coffee drying canvases), as well as pre-payment advances during the coffee marketing season.
6. Digital technologies have enabled Ibero Uganda to provide a more cost and time-efficient set of services, assist in product design, credit risk assessment, and portfolio monitoring. As such, it is constantly developing functionalities within its IT systems to help it serve customers better. Using paperless and cashless technologies has leveraged Ibero Uganda’s work around the topic of data privacy and protection to avail farmers with access to their data through the smartphone-based app, and also ensure Ibero Uganda is compliant with the rights of its data subjects. Further development on the payment methodology to pay farmers directly through mobile money is ongoing in the hope that this will allow for better transparency and traceability to farmers.
7. Reaching the last mile and supporting smallholder farmers to be better off is expensive. Ibero Uganda needs to find more clients interested in paying for the services offered to farmers so coffee farmers can eventually close the living income gap. Ibero Uganda still requires support from partners like the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity to enable it to reach smallholder coffee farmers most efficiently and to expand its offering.
Overall, Ibero Uganda feels it has been fortunate to work with an understanding and resourceful partner in the Fund and is grateful for a fruitful working relationship over the last 4 years.