Leveling the financial playing field for Africa’s farmers

Brandeis International Business School students team with Massachusetts startup that connects lenders, small farmers in Ghana

More than a dozen Brandeis International Business School students and recent grads helped a local startup connect farmers in Ghana with financial lenders.

The vast majority of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to loans, and those who do are offered interest rates as high as 35 percent, according to the Massachusetts-based startup AgroFides.

As a result, millions of farmers in Africa are caught in a “poverty trap.” Meanwhile, the continent’s agricultural sector continues to draw interest from investors for its billions of dollars in unrealized economic potential.

So what can be done to level the financial playing field for Africa’s farmers?

AgroFides believes it has an answer. And thanks to Brandeis International Business School’s field projects program, more than a dozen students and recent graduates are helping the startup connect farmers in Ghana with financial lenders, transforming their cash-based operations into credit-based businesses.

The work of AgroFides is twofold. The company assists farmers by assessing their creditworthiness and providing resources to enhance their farming practices and increase yields. AgroFides also serves lenders and social impact investors by offering an interactive digital platform to “identify attractive farming operations based on their personal risk profiles,” according to the company’s website.

Key to the AgroFides platform is a lender dashboard built by students at the International Business School, including Ferrell Tanuwidjaja ’20, MA’21.

“I got to use my hard coding skills,” said Tanuwidjaja. “My priorities were data manipulation and visualization. This was interesting because I clearly got to use those skills, plus develop the added skills of building a dashboard from scratch. That is definitely something I want to have in my skill set.”

In addition to sorting through AgroFides’ data, Tanuwidjaja and his field project teammates researched complimentary data sets and learned how to use Javascript and HTML on the fly to build out the dashboard’s user interface.

“It was difficult for us, but we rose to the challenge and came up with something I think they really appreciated,” said Tanuwidjaja.

International Business School students have partnered with AgroFides on three field projects since 2020, with two new projects in the works for the Fall 2021 semester. In addition to the dashboard, students have developed a predictive modeling system and performed market research and a competitive analysis for the startup.

AgroFides co-founder and CEO Prince Boateng said the field projects have been instrumental in the company’s initial success.

“We provided access to our API and the data we had available,” said Boateng. “The students built everything from there. It’s pretty impressive.”

Tanuwidjaja credits his field project experience for helping him discover his passion for data. He eventually decided to concentrate in Data Analytics before graduating in May.

“I found that this is a really interesting field,” said Tanuwidjaja. “And I loved the machine learning tools.”

Tanuwidjaja said he looked at other graduate schools before deciding to complete the BA/MA program at Brandeis. While doing his research, he said he didn’t find anything like the International Business School’s field projects program.

“I really appreciate Brandeis for having these opportunities,” said Tanuwidjaja. “This is another project under my belt that helps build my resume and experience.”

This article by Douglas Moser orginally appeared on the Brandeis International Business School website on September 9, 2021. 

By Career Strategies and Engagement (CSE)
Career Strategies and Engagement (CSE)