Wearing a yellow dress and a head scarf, Adama Faye holds out two handfuls of groundnuts. In one weathered palm, the nuts are round and smooth; in the other, they are small and shrivelled. The weaker crop was grown by her son without fertilizer, using methods typical of their village in western Senegal. Inputs are expensive and hard to come by here.
The large groundnuts were grown on Mrs. Faye’s plot, using fertilizer purchased from a start-up called myAgro. This company helps famers save money throughout the year so that they can pay for quality products and agricultural training.
Mrs. Faye says it’s a good lesson for her son. The 55-year-old and her family live in Keur Lamane village, in Thiès region, about 200 kilometres east of Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
Her son thought that the myAgro service was too expensive, so he didn’t sign up. But now that he’s seen that Mrs. Faye’s yield is three times as big as his, he has changed his mind.
MyAgro offers a savings system that allows farmers to save little by little so that they can pay for seeds, fertilizer, and training. The saving system is accessible by mobile phone. Farmers purchase scratch cards, just like they would purchase mobile minutes, and they text a code to deposit money into their account.
The farmers can then use this money to purchase inputs or training services.
This mobile savings model is gaining popularity in Senegal, Mali, and Tanzania because it allows farmers to save small amounts of money whenever they can.
As climate change warms the planet, the weather is becoming more erratic in West Africa. Farmers are understanding the need to purchase inputs like fertilizer, drought-resilient seeds, and other technologies.
Mrs. Faye says, “Every year, we see the difference. The plants [with fertilizer] are bigger and taller.”
She adds that she doesn’t notice the added cost of purchasing inputs because she pays for them in increments of just one or two dollars spread over the course of the year.
She says, “Before, if we started saving money, there were always family needs, and we would have to spend it.”
Mrs. Faye has seven children and an extended family to support. But, despite last season’s scarce rain, she was able to produce enough groundnuts to feed her family and send her children to school.
The harvest comes in October, and Mrs. Faye purchases a myAgro savings card whenever she has a good market day. By the June planting season, she has accumulated the 25,000 CFA francs ($43 US) needed to buy fertilizer for her half-hectare plot.
Steve Wiggins is an agricultural researcher with the London-based Overseas Development Institute. He says that it’s difficult to provide financial services for farmers across the developing world. Rather than credit or insurance, many farmers need a more basic way to save. Currently, many farmers rely on local savings groups for financial needs.
Moustapha Diouf is a 68-year-old farmer in the same district as Mrs. Faye. He used to apply composted manure to boost his soil fertility, spreading it over his groundnut field after the first rain. He received training from myAgro, and now he knows that he should wait until after the second or third rain to plant—to make sure the moisture will last. He also applies chemical fertilizer in small doses around each seed.
He says, “There is no comparison [in terms of yield.]… You invest a little bit and earn more.”
This story was adapted from an article titled, “With scratch-card savings, Senegalese farmers dodge drought,” written by Nellie Peyton for Thomson Reuters Trust. To read the original article, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20181219095439-d2pi0/ 
Photo: MyAgro farmer Fatou Diouf. Credit Natalie Brown/myAgro