Assessing Mobile Banking Services And Opportunities For Rural Zambians

Published on 18 October 2011

The World Food Programme (WFP) and partners are conducting a joint assessment of mobile banking services and products for migrant agricultural workers in Zambia.  It is expected that better management of household finances will contribute towards increasing household food security and help reduce risk and vulnerability to HIV.

LUSAKA-- The exercise will determine the potential of mobile financial services and products - including savings, transfers, microcredit and microinsurance - to improve coping strategies and financial literacy.

“Storing money in ‘e-wallets’ and electronic money transfers have had an enormous impact in other African countries,” says WFP Project Manager Calum McGregor. “They’ve transformed people’s access to financial services, encouraged a savings culture and signnificantly reduced the time and cost associated with storing money in traditional bank branchs.”

The interest in mobile banking using mobile phone technology was sparked by the success of WFP Zambia’s pioneering electronic voucher system which ensures food rations for beneficiaries and instant  payment for shopkeers. The delivery by this method of  more than 275, 000 food rations to vulnerable citizens showed WFP that the integration of mobile financial services into its programming could bring similar benefits.

Without access to financial services, poor households struggling to feed their families are particularly vulnerable to unforseen events such as illness or drought and are less able to increase their  income and financial security. The assessment builds on a government-designed  2009 FinScope survey of consumer  habits and perceptions of financial services. This survey found that 63 percent of the population has no access to financial services of any kind.

Mobile banking eliminates the need for rural workers to  travel to  financial institutions - instead,  they can store their money electronically, check their balances and perform various  transactions transactions through a  mobile phone.

“Zambia has the potential to embrace technical advances like these”, says McGregor. “We hope this assessment will highlight which services would be most useful for those in rural areas and the effect they would have on decreasing risk and HIV vulnerability, as well as overall household food security”.

Taking part in the assessment are groups deemed to be exceptionally vulnerable to HIV/AIDS:  migrant sugar cane labourers in Mazabuka, fisher folk in the Kafue flats fishery and small-holder farmers from Monze district. Small-holder farmers have been included to enable a comparison between migrant and non-migrant agricultural labourers.

WFP’s partners in this joint assessment are the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the WorldFish Centre (WF). Results are due in December 2011.