Payments in remote locations

Payments to dairy farmers in residing in rural remote locations is made primarily in cash across India. Every week/fortnight, the milk collection van brings in a cash box and pays the farmers the price of milk bought since the last payday. In some cases, the payment is daily.

Experience revealed that in making payments to farmers through this route, the cashier handing over the cash often held back some amount of money as a “commission” or out of plain rowdyism. The cashier/ accountant would in a lot of cases be the favourite man of the secretary of the collection centre (society) or the secretary himself. The helpless farmer would then have to part with a fraction of the money due to him to make sure s/he doesn’t rub the powerful cashier the wrong way.

Some milk buying companies thought of a novel way of eliminating this problem. They started paying the money directly to the bank account of the farmer. The bank account was especially opened for this purpose. So, the cashier is no longer able to play foul. But, on every payday, the farmer has to abandon work (which means loss of a day’s wage or agriculture) and go to the bank branch which would be in a “nearby” town, some 15-20 kms away. He incurs travel expenses as well. The money has to be drawn out immediately because the farmer needs the cash to buy daily items like groceries, medicines, etc. There is no other source of cash income that is as regular/frequent as dairy. Moreover, much to the disgust of the bank manager in the town, there would be a long queue of dairy farmers waiting to draw their money on every payday leading to a tremendous rush in an otherwise quiet (and understaffed) bank branch.

The innovative milk buying companies understood this problem as well and figured out a solution. They handed over bio-metric cards to the dairy farmers for each bank account and got an “agent” tied to a third-party payments company to hand deliver the cash at the doorstep of the farmer. The agent carried bags of cash to the village and after bio-metric authentication hands the cash over to the farmer at the doorstep. But then, after a few months the agent starts charging commission, lesser than the cashier/secretary in the first situation but charges some amount. The bio-metric account reads that the farmer has drawn the entire amount of money. Though this agent works with a “private” company with greater accountability, the farmer agrees to let go of the amount because otherwise he will have to travel all the way to the bank.

We are back to square one and possibly in an even worse situation. In the earlier case, the cash was sent to the remote village in a milk truck with at least two persons on board. Not an ideal situation but it was better than what we see in this system. In this system, the “agent” typically hops on to a motorcycle with the bag of cash picked from a local bank branch and rides all the way to the villages. A few agents get robbed on the way. In fact carrying a few lakhs of cash does not turn out to be a safe thing to do. But there is no other way. Cash in transit insurance saves the day for some milk buying companies but some agents get killed.

Where does this end? “Mobile money” some people say. However, till the time the local grocery shops start accepting payments through mobile phones, how will mobile money transfer be of any use?

How have these risks been handled in India and outside? What are the examples of payments in remote locations seen in other parts of the world? What kind of supporting infrastructure is required to enable a safer payments situation?

(Also published on LinkedIn.)


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