In Kenya, UNSGSA Queen Máxima Meets with President Ruto after Visiting Farmers Using Digital Financial Services

UNSGSA Queen Máxima meets with smallholders in Kisumu.
UNSGSA Queen Máxima is pictured with smallholder farmers to learn about their experiences using a digital insurance product from a company called Pula while in Kisumu on the first morning of her three-day visit to Kenya on 23 October 2023. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, who is visiting Kenya in her role as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), on Monday began a highly-anticipated three-day visit to the country in Kisumu. She met with local farmers to hear their experiences using digital financial services and products meant to help boost their incomes and guard against climate shocks like floods or droughts. In the afternoon Queen Máxima met with President William Samoei Ruto in Nairobi.

The animating theme of Queen Máxima’s visit is to spotlight the importance of improving access to quality digital banking services, enhancing resilience against climate-related challenges, and promoting overall financial health (or well-being). By engaging directly with individuals and businesses, she seeks to harness their valuable insights as part of her efforts to help promote financial inclusion initiatives in Kenya with public and private sector leaders over the next two days of the visit.

These efforts aim to build upon financial inclusion progress over the last decade in Kenya, where 79% of adults have accounts, up from 42% in 2011, according to the 2021 World Bank Global Findex Report. However, nearly seven million adults in Kenya remain unbanked, particularly underserved groups like the poor, women, smallholder farmers, and small businesses.

On Monday morning in Kisumu, Queen Máxima met with two farmers, Onesmus Musyoki Mutungi and Dorcas Lonana, who have been using a digital insurance product from an insurance technology company called Pula, shielding them from the unpredictable impacts of climate change and crop failure. Pula partners with an ag-tech company called Apollo to bundle insurance with crucial farming inputs like premium seeds and fertilizer available on credit. Using satellite information, these farmers can receive reliable estimates of income losses and immediate payouts in the event of crop damage.

The bundling of inclusive digital financial services and access to essential resources such as quality seeds and fertilizer can increase food and financial security for many. This is critical since only 5% of Kenyans experiencing a flood or drought report using financial services to address the shock. In contrast, 42% of Kenyans relied on informal sources or sold assets to manage climate shocks (2021 FinAccess Household Survey).

While visiting a second business in Kisumu, Queen Máxima was introduced to a digital platform from an ag-tech company called Hello Tractor that facilitates hiring agricultural vehicles, primarily benefiting small-scale farms. Booking agents, who are usually farmers, assist other farmers in reserving tractor services through an app. Importantly, it also allows agents to become tractor owners via a pay-as-you-go financing model. This innovative system empowers entrepreneurs to become tractor owners, typically requiring just a 5% down payment and a commitment to pre-booked land through the app, according to the company.

The platform can be a game-changer for underserved groups like smallholder farmers. It allows them to access and afford industrial farming equipment, drastically increasing agricultural productivity while reducing costs. Smallholders can then plant up to 40 times faster, participate in the digital economy, and experience transformative economic empowerment.

Michael Onduru, a smallholder farmer who lives in Kisumu (East Kajulu) near Lake Victoria where he grows vegetables and cereal crops, explained to Queen Máxima that this financing model was key to owning a tractor, helping to increase his income and better provide for his family. Additionally, Hello Tractor helps farmers and tractor owners adopt eco-friendly farming practices by training them to enhance soil health and strengthen resilience to environmental challenges.

In the afternoon, Queen Máxima arrived in Nairobi to meet with President Ruto where dialogue focused on the objectives of her visit. The UN Special Advocate capped the inaugural day in Kenya by meeting with her financial inclusion partners, including representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), and the World Bank Group.

This opening day’s activities in Kenya demonstrated the UN Special Advocate’s commitment to understanding the real-world impacts of digital financial services and their potential to improve financial well-being among Kenyan communities. Over the next two days, meetings are foreseen with National Treasury and Economic Planning Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u, and Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Kamau Thugge, among others. Other highlights include a planned meeting with a focus group on digital finance with young entrepreneurs and roundtable meetings on IGF and open finance.