In July 2011, we had a chance meeting with Dr. Akin Adesina a Nigerian, the then VP for Partnerships for the AGRA – the Agricultural Green Revolution for Africa on KQ 502 flight to Lagos. We struck a conversation that then turned into a passionate discussion and sketching on his notebook on how payments can transform agriculture in Nigeria.
The government was spending US$400M on fertilizer subsidy by buying inputs and using the warehouse extension system to distribute fertilizer and high quality seeds.90% got stolen and lost. The resulting structural anomaly dropped farmer productivity, collapsed 20m farmers into poverty, declining food production drove the food import bill in Nigeria to US$16bn. Two weeks later, Dr. Adesina was made Minister for Agriculture and engaged Cellulant* to solve this problem.
We re-designed the value chain round an e-wallet, automating the subsidy payments and linking multiple players – farmers, banks and agro-input dealers. After a series of presentations to central bank governor, minister of finance, minister of ICT and farmer association, we got a nod to go at end of November 2011, provided we could beat the rains coming in February 2012. We shipped a team of people from our different operations and packed them into an apartment in Abuja.
At end of January, we deployed a countrywide mobile commerce platform that brought the subsidy sector into the 21st-century payments world. By end of 2014, we brought 14.5m farmers into the financial system, growing average farmer income from US$768 to US$1800, the increased food production dropped Nigeria’s food import bill by 60%.
This program was known as GES. Dr. Akin Adesina went on to become Forbes Man of the Year 2013 and currently the first Nigerian president and the first non-finance President of the African Development Bank. We keynoted this initiative in Cape Town, S. Africa at the Global MasterCard Financial Inclusion Forum in November 2015.
In 2003, we sketched the mobile payments platform for Africa on a serviette. We set out to build a US$1bn in Africa for Africans. We set out to do GES. This problem affects Agriculture, it impacts Fast Moving Consumer goods, it impacts access to power, access to water and denies African consumers access to internet commerce services. Cellulant’s mission is to build the largest payments platform in Africa – Connecting everyone to everything. We believe that Payments in Africa is not a novelty. It is a critical pillar in the transformation of the continent, in much the same way as railways transformed continents in the 19th century.
Ken Njoroge & Bolaji Akinboro