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.