In a country ravaged by a financial crisis, a women farmers accelerator program called Kurima neBitmari (Farming with Bitmari) has been launched to help 100 Zimbabwe women farmers pay for materials and equipment, according to UPI . The company, the first bitcoin accelerator for African women, aims to improve farming productivity and educate women about bitcoin as a payment method.
The financial crisis has entered a crucial phase in Zimbabwe, with women farmers having lost cattle and unable to harvest maize due to drought. Farmers interviewed fear they will be unable to feed their children.
The accelerator could create a full agricultural value chain, said Kelvin Mutize, Bitmari’s spokesman. The company is working to bring direct investment into the agricultural sector, and to provide training and markets to sell crops across borders.
Bitmari, launched in 2015, is a Zimbabwe-based money remittance service for the African market. The company’s name, according to its website , is a combination of the words “bitcoin” and “mari,” meaning money or currency. Because bitcoin is unregulated in Zimbabwe, Bitmari hopes the technology can prove more efficient and reliable than traditional payment methods.
With the accelerator, the company plans to leverage Zimbabwe’s high cellphone penetration – over 95 percent of the population has a mobile phone – to help women farmers access less costly banking methods, markets, expert advice and startup capital to jumpstart the next planting season.
Bitmari has decided to focus on women because they typically don’t benefit directly from agricultural schemes in Zimbabwe, despite accounting for 70 percent of the agricultural labor force. Female farmers have less access to markets, assets, training and credit services than their male counterparts.
Mutize said Bitmari created the accelerator to provide women with farming equipment, irrigation technology, skills, knowledge and support services to improve productivity.
The company identified 100 women who are exceptional farmers, hoping that bitcoin will help improve their productivity.
The farmers will each receive a bitcoin payment worth $255 through electronic wallets, which they can redeem for goods at selected suppliers. This will encourage the nominated women to use bitcoin rather than cash, and build awareness of bitcoin throughout Zimbabwe’s rural areas. The farmers will have one year to pay back the funds. At the end of the year, each participant will nominate another woman and the next group of nominees will get the funds paid back from the previous year.
The current financial crisis has left the country without cash. Analysts have compared the situation to the 2009 economic crisis, when hyperinflation rendered Zimbabwe’s currency worthless.
The country adopted the South African rand and the U.S. dollar as a counter measure, but the banks have now run out of U.S. dollar reserves, causing widespread panic with people seeking to withdraw their funds from banks. Banks, in response, are imposing strict withdrawal limits.
The Zimbabwean government in November introduced bond notes to aid people, but many fear it is a step toward the reintroduction of the Zimbabwean dollar and a return to the 2009 economic crisis.
The Bitmari project, by contrast, has been well-received by the selected farmers. Phides Mazhawidza, the chairwoman of the Women Farmers Land and Agriculture Trust, which helped choose the farmers for the project, said the women are looking forward to introducing bitcoin to their country.
She said women in the rural areas are excited to be able to use smartphones to make payments and access information on agricultural finance.
According to a 2014 report, the bitcoin dream is happening in Africa. It stated that digital payments are now considered the norm in many African countries with 43 percent of Kenya’s GDP cycled through M-Pesa, the mobile phone-based money transfer service. Reportedly 80 percent of mobile phone users in Kenya used this service in 2014 to carry out their banking.
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