Uganda Testing Digital in Tea
When you are told that “Money falls from the sky to pay tea farmers”, you go through a moment of disbelief and astonishment. When you witness it, you feel the adrenaline rush through your veins as security officers rapidly make sure the airdrop is a success.
A few months ago, I was in Uganda for the production of a new MM4P video with the country team. The plan was to film and interview tea workers who chose to test digital payments. Every two weeks these workers receive their payment directly on their phone instead of spending a half day queuing for their payment at the factory.
Fort Portal the town nearby -half day’s walk - is not small and has bank with an ATM, but the security measures and the amount of cash needed to pay the workers are just not available at the local bank. Reason why McLeod prefers to send the money by airplane to the tea estates west of Kampala.
Dropping cash comes with issues one might not think of at first. Weather is an enemy of such methods. When an airplane can’t fly, due to rain for instance, the pay day has to be postponed. The human factor can also create issues, when for example the wrong bag is dropped on the wrong estate or just one bag is released instead of two. When such issues take place the tea estate manager, Vikram Singh Ranawat takes his car and flies – literally flies with his car full speed on the road- to ensure he will be able to pay on time the workers lined up in front of factory gates.
Digitizing these payments can potentially come with challenges too. In the pilot phase, that covered payments to 100 workers on the McLeod Russell tea estates, specific challenges were uncovered and solved. The good management during this phase is critical to prevent hick ups from hampering a smooth roll-out to all workers volunteering to test receiving their pay on their mobile phones instead of cash.
The tea workers have to familiarize themselves with this new service and the options it offers. When we met 15 of them before the filming, they still have many questions about the payments they or their coworkers have received. Wycliffe Ngwabe, UNCDF MM4P Digital Finance Expert, spent 30 minutes improvising a Q&A session to answer all these questions and telling workers. The questions in fact mainly revolved around phone usage and how they could get their own phone through payment in installments, and about the fees, and the possibilities about saving money on their mobile money account. Despite that the team hadn’t planned any of this in our script, the cameraman had the bright idea to record the Q&A session with the consent of the farmers. This video with the questions farmers had for Wycliff, will soon be released.
While you wait for that extra video, I invite you to view the story of the tea estate manager Vikram and the tea workers telling us about their experiences during the MM4P pilot to digitizing payments (video is on the right-hand-side column).
Come back to view the next video!
For more on the digital payment pilot at McLeod please read this previous article.
by Karima Wardak, KM Senior Associate UNCDF-MM4P