Elizabeth Mastors: ‘We can really help farmers who normally wouldn’t get a loan’

News overview

The DOEN Foundation supports pioneers who use an entrepreneurial approach to come up with solutions for a better world. Read the story of Elizabeth Mastors, partnership manager at Apollo. Apollo helps farmers in emerging markets to maximize their profits. They use agronomic machine learning, remote sensing, and mobile phones to deliver financing, farm products, and customized advice to smallholder farmers, with radical efficiency and scalability. Apollo assesses farmer credit risk and customizes each product to a farmer's specific location using satellite data, soil data, farmer behaviour data and crop yield models.

Elizabeth: ‘What really inspired me to work for Apollo was that their approach deeply combines technology and on-the-ground operations. Having worked previously with an agricultural impact investor, I understood that small-scale farmers are very really difficult to reach -- they are rural, remote, and widely disbursed, and these factors have made financing them very expensive and slow to scale. As a result, millions of farmers can’t access credit, can’t afford high-quality inputs like seed and fertilizer, and can’t increase their yields and incomes. Apollo aims to finance these farmers in a commercially viable way by using technology in place of expensive, manual processes, and that vision was really exciting to me (and still is!).

There are so many things that make me proud to work at Apollo. I love one story of a customer of ours, I’ll call him Peter. Peter was approved for a small loan last year. As context, all Apollo customers receive a unique referral code that they can share with other interested farmers, who text the code to Apollo to learn more. During the enrollment period, Peter referred 19 farmers to us who received loans -- almost twenty loans! And Peter got bonuses for each referral, which helped him clear a large portion of his loan.

This field agent is George and he says: ‘I’m really proud of the fact that we can serve the farmers in a way that they can actually appreciate. We can inspire them, and help many people. There was this renewal farmer and she told me how the loan is helping her. She has time to plan how to pay for the help she received, and that’s very favourable for her. And the fact that I can help her using data and technology is something that is very inspiring to me.’

Elizabeth continues: ‘DOEN foundation is helping us reach farmers who are unprofitable for us to serve in their first year, because our cost to acquire the customer is greater than the margin that we will earn on the loan. These are farmers with very small holdings who would have a lot of trouble accessing finance otherwise. With DOEN foundation, we aim to demonstrate that these farmers with very small holdings are worth financing at a loss in their first year because they will be profitable to serve in future seasons (because we’ve already acquired them). This is a really meaningful thing to demonstrate, because there are many, many farmers with small holdings who typically cannot access productive financing, and we aim to demonstrate that there is a strong business case for making these loans, in addition to a really powerful impact case.