When Nairametrics team visited Farmcrowdy’s office on the Island, it was as if we were stepping into a farmland. At the waiting area, we watched several clips showing how Farmcrowdy has contributed positively to the lives of small-scale farmers.
The most moving one, however, was of a group of (Akwa-Ibom) women singing for the team. In the song, they were praying for and blessing the team that have turned their lives around for good.
Before long, we started our chat with Onyeka Akumah, the co-founder of Farmcrowdy, who told us the success story of the 16-month-old Agrictech startup.
Omotola Omolayo for Nairametrics (OO): How did you come about Farmcrowdy?
Onyeka Akumah (OA): I was working in the e-commerce space. I had worked in a couple of e-commerce companies like Konga, Jumia, and just helped launch Travelbeta, where I was the Chief Commercial Officer. I was excited about what was happening in the Agric sector especially with the vibe from the government encouraging people to invest in agriculture. I got excited about investing in the space alongside my friends who are now co-founders. We wanted to know which farmers we could work with as I wanted to invest. So, we ran researches on what farmers really needed and how we could get returns.
I had heard a lot of stories of farmers, after borrowing funds, going ahead to marry second wives or not doing the required work on the farms, or they even come up with excuses such as, “The thief stole the farm produce,” or “The produce did not come with large harvest,” thereby rendering your investment useless.
During the course of the research, we found some farmers who were really sincere and ready to do the farming work but they were considered un-bankable, so they couldn’t access loans from banks. They had no technical field skills and there was none to guide them on the processes of raising and deploying their resources to enhance their capacities. They also lacked market access for sale after production. Research shows that there are 38 million farmers that have this problem in Nigeria.
OO: How did you come by that figure?
OA: Agriculture is the largest employer of labor in the country. 60% of people employed are in the Agric space according to figures from World Bank and Ministry of Agriculture showing statistics of small-scale farmers in Nigeria.
Another big problem was that the middle class that wanted to invest in the sector did not know who to really work with. So, what we did was build Farmcrowdy to connect sponsors with farmers. The idea was simply to engage the farmers, provide the technical field assistance, and provide a market to sell their harvests.
We put up units available on our website for sponsors to come to the site and sponsor farm units. Every farm unit you sponsor provides everything the farmer needs for the full cycle including technical field specialization and mechanized farming if needed and getting the right access. That was the concept of Farmcrowdy. We went live on September 14, 2016, and launched fully in November same year. In the last 16 months, we have been able to work with 3,000 small-scale farmers in 8 states and generate $1.9 million (₦579 million) in sponsorship from Nigerians sponsoring Nigerian farmers to harvest Nigerian foods for Nigerians to eat.
OO: How were you able to mitigate the problems of farmers coming up with different excuses?
OA: The first thing is how we sourced the farmers. When getting a farmer on our platform, we identify the crops and location, then we are introduced to the community leaders in that location or the cooperative that aggregate farmers in that location. They then identify farmers they can trust and work with. The cooperative leaders take the farmers to the community leaders to verify if they are genuine farmers after which they are accountable to do the work. The farmers know that if they mess up, we will blacklist that area and won’t go back there again. So each farmer takes responsibility for his community.
OO: So you travel to these farms?
OA: Yes, we do a lot of travelling. We travel to the locations and identify the farmers through the community leaders or the cooperative leaders. We have technical field specialists who are employees of Farmcrowdy; they sit with the farmers throughout the farming cycle on the farms they are allocated, across different locations. They identify farm coordinators within the communities to work with and help the farmers to get the desired workout plans for the desired results. We also get partner firms to get more specialized field expertise.
OO: With startups shutting down in the country, what do you think the problem is?
OA: I think from business to business, they have their own challenges. I think there are some businesses set up to thrive completely online. For a business solution that completely depends on an online platform to function, the chances of surviving in Nigeria are not as a high as a business that has the technology element that drives the offline side of the business. For example, today Farmcrowdy uses the online element to engage the sponsors, provide updates for the sponsors and fund the farmers but the hard work is done on the farm. With that element of working on the farm, it provides a rich balance to us as a business; we don’t solely rely on what comes from the online platform as we also have elements that keep us grounded in the system.
Secondly, some startups are not solving real problems; some are established so that the founders can be addressed as CEOs of companies. Maybe people do it because of the clout they gather as founders – for the fun of it and not to solve the real problems.
Thirdly, people start up businesses with no exit plans. You are building the business for a legacy, hence, there is need to put structures in place for business growth. This determines partners that want to work with you. You have to ask, “Am I building my startup to make it public or for a buyer to buy a stake in my investment?” Most founders don’t know what sort of businesses they are building.
OO: What sort of business are you building?
OA: I am building Farmcrowdy, the focal point for Agritech in Nigeria and in doing that, we will be making an impact on thousands of farmers; Hence, it is a business I am building to have an impact on the lives of people. It is not short term. We want to simplify the whole Agric sector for people.
OO: Looking at some of your videos, one can see the happiness and gratitude shown by the farmers. Can you say this level of impact has been measurable?
OA: So far, we have been able to grow the incomes of farmers by 80%. For example, a poultry farmer who worked with 1000 birds every year though he had the capacity for 10,000 but couldn’t due to funds to buy feeds and medication needed to protect the birds and he didn’t know about insurance coverage. This is what we got from the sponsors and today, he has about 6,000 birds and has done 3 cycles with us. After paying the initial sponsors their money, we split the profit. 40% of the profit goes to the farmers, 40% of the profit goes to the sponsors and 20% goes to Farmcrowdy.
OO: Are you currently thinking about expanding?
OA: We are currently in 8 states but the farthest we have gone are Plateau and Kaduna States. This year, we are doing more crops in Kaduna.
OO: What of Benue?
OA: I am willing to go into all the states but somebody has to open the door for me. We are focused on doing the same products this season— maize, cassava soybeans, rice, and chicken.
OO: How do you manage food waste during harvest?
OA: We make sure we have a readily available market before we promise the sponsor a certain percentage. We don’t put a farm on Farmcrowdy if we don’t get the buyer at a certain price range that is profitable for the sponsor. We get a buyer for the farm produce before people sponsor our farms”. 85% of our sponsors come back to do a repeat cycle at 5 times of their initial sponsorship and 71% come to do a third cycle and do 10 times the amount they sponsor. We make money and also put smiles on their faces. The sponsors get updates, video updates, text updates, and also visit the farmers.
OO: Your goals in the nearest future?
OA: We had 3,000 farmers last year across 8 states with $1.9million in sponsorship, but we want to double that this year and expand to more states in Nigeria. So far, we have successfully raised 335,000 chickens. We want to double those figures and get farmers that worked with us last year to work with us this year. This year, we want to launch our farmer’s management app where we can interact with more farmers using our USSD codes and also educate people about agriculture. In the next five years, we want our impact to reach 15,000 farmers. There are also plans to scale to other countries. We have 27 staff currently and we compensate our field workers for the sacrifice they make.
OO: Thanks for your time.
Additional reporting by Fikayo Owoeye
How MSMEs can get easy access to finance
MSMEs must take the following steps for loan readiness.
MSMEs are considered the backbone of the Nigerian economy. In 2019, they made up 90% of all registered businesses, contributed more than 50% of the country’s nominal GDP, and employ 84% of its labour force. Despite this, MSMEs were the recipients of less than 5% of all credit granted by the banking industry.
One reason for this is self-selection by MSME owners. Many MSMEs refuse to apply for loans from banks due to a fear of rejection and a belief that banks charge exorbitant fees and request hefty collateral before giving loans to MSMEs. Now more than ever, in this era of cashflow-based lending and low-interest rates, this harmful myth is costing businesses access to finance that they need to scale.
Another reason is the MSMEs’ lack of loan readiness. Unlike large companies, small business owners do not prepare themselves before applying for loans. This causes them to make many mistakes that discourage banks from lending to them due to a fear of non-repayment.
In order to overcome this hurdle and join large businesses in taking advantage of the low-interest climate, MSMEs must take the following steps for loan readiness:
1. Maintain financial records – Research shows that 69% of MSMEs in Nigeria do not keep detailed financial records. As a business owner, you must ensure that funds pass through your business account. Your business’s financial records as reflected in your bank statement will help your bank determine your repayment capacity. This is important, whether you want a collateral-free or collateral-based loan.
2. Use narrations for transfer into personal accounts – Again, always use your business account for business funds. However, if funds must be paid into your personal account for any reason, then ensure that those payments have a narration that reflects the purpose of the payment. For example, Two shirts purchased. This helps isolate business funds from personal when computing your turnover in order to determine your loan amount and repayment capacity.
3. Know what you want – Always know exactly how much you want and what you want it for. If your account officer asks you how much you want and you say “any amount you can give me”, they automatically assume you have no plan for the money or a plan for repayment. Before approaching your bank, determine how much you need and how much you can repay per month, using your monthly income.
4. Have a repayment plan – Always have a plan for repayment. Know how much you can afford to part with per month. Note however that your repayment plan might not align with that of the bank. Banks prefer not to take more than 33% of your monthly income in loan repayments, so your loan repayment period will probably be dependent on how much you can pay per month. Regardless, a well-thought-out repayment plan will build confidence in your repayment ability.
5. Engage your account officer– It is important to have an engagement with your account officer before applying for the loan. Instead of just writing a loan application letter to the bank and waiting for a response. Armed with your financial statement and your knowledge of how much you need and for how long, visit your account officer and have them work with you in getting your loan.
Ese Atakpu is a writer and banker.
AFEX raises $50 million to Finance Agri-SMEs in Nigeria
The $50 million Agri-SMEs fund is expected to bridge the funding gap between lenders and borrowers in the agric sector.
AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited (AFEX), a private commodities exchange company, has announced the first Warehouse Receipt Backed Commercial Paper in Africa. The paper has tech-enabled operations and a 24-hour fast cash turnaround for borrowers.
This was disclosed by AFEX in a statement issued and seen by Nairametrics on Thursday.
The $50 million Agri-SMEs fund is expected to bridge the funding gap between lenders and borrowers in the Nigerian agricultural sector with a commodity-backed instrument – for the first time.
Ayodeji Balogun, CEO, AFEX, stated, “The AFEX financing deal will help eradicate the high cost of procurement incurred by processors by deploying a discounted value of a warehouse receipt distributed among five leading players in the Food and Beverage, Trading Poultry and Animal Feed segments in Nigeria.
“The receiving companies are top 10 players in their respective segments. They have now been enabled access to a tool for managing price volatility, enabling up to 30% direct savings on prices.
“With our vision to reach a cumulative total of over $5 Billion in investment to the agriculture sector over the next five years, this financing deal is right on track to achieve this goal.’’
He added that as AFEX move towards building a derivatives market in Africa, “we want to be able to reduce exposure to price risk for stakeholders, by enabling them to hedge their positions and trade in commodity derivatives.”
Why it matters
- The warehouse receipts, which can then be transferred from commodities to a financial asset and listed under the borrower’s portfolio on the AFEX trading platform, will create a sustainable funding structure and address underfunding in the Nigerian agricultural sector.
- With the warehouse receipt system linked to financiers, the system allows financiers value and marks the commodities’ price to market on a real-time basis.
What you should know
- AFEX’s mission is to provide low-risk working capital facility for stakeholders in the Agro sector, in a way that is transparent and has a very high viable investment return.
- As a licensed commodities exchange and warehouse receipt system operator, it deploys a warehouse receipt system and collateral management infrastructure to increase market confidence for both lenders and borrower.
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