Sharing my Farmcrowdy journey on Diamond Tv with Uzoma Dozie, CEO of Diamond Bank was a big privilege to me considering the fact that he is one of our sponsors on our platform in empowering farmers in Africa.
See the below video below
Sharing my Farmcrowdy journey on Diamond Tv with Uzoma Dozie, CEO of Diamond Bank was a big privilege to me considering the fact that he is one of our sponsors on our platform in empowering farmers in Africa.
See the below video below
Across Africa, we have seen organizations investing in technology to drive innovation in agriculture. From climate-smart techniques, to the use of biotechnology we explore how technology can be a game changer for the future of agriculture in Africa. It was an honor joining Kola Masha, Managing Director at Babban Gona on CNBC Africa for this discussion.
See the video below:
Everyone gets excited when they find themselves in a position were they have created something of value and it works. You get this great feeling with a high dose of positive energy, sense of value, sense of purpose or a boosted self-esteem.
This is not far from the truth that God created every one of us to make our world a better place than we met it with our own creations. He created each one with gifts for us to use them on Earth and not to take them back to Him in Heaven.
1 Peter 4: 10 (New International Version) says Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Each one of us are created uniquely and blessed with many gifts and talents that when used in reality, those that succeed at being fulfilled in life are those that used their gifts & abilities whether in business, at work, in athletics, in governance or any other field you can think of to make our world a better place while attaining a high level of recognition.
There are many examples of men and women in the Bible and in our world, today who are classic examples of people who discovered their own gifts and talents then used them to become successful in their endeavors. From Joseph the dreamer who rose to become Prime Minister of the most powerful nation of his time as a result of using his talent of understanding dreams to David, Samson, The Hebrew Boys and Daniel (Daniel 1: 4).
In our world today, the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jack Ma, Elon Musk and many entrepreneurs like them are celebrated for using their gifts. One man, in particular, fascinates me with how he went about his work – R.G. LeTourneau – the famous Christian who is tagged The Greatest Inventor of Earth Moving Equipments. He lived between 1888 and 1969 and was credited with over 300 patents. This man was a dreamer who’ll sleep, wake up and draw a new Earth moving equipment he had seen in his sleep. The man had a gift for art.
So what is holding Christians back today from expressing their own gifts? We even have the advantage of the HolySpirit who can teach us all things per time, then why are we not maximizing our gifts? I’ll discuss more on this in the concluding chapter…
Agriculture, at scale, has relied on technology, in some form or other, for hundreds of years. However, digital technology is fast becoming increasingly essential in facilitating productivity through various innovations, in one of the world’s oldest industries.
Enter Farmcrowdy – a Nigerian digital agritech startup that is revolutionizing the local agriculture sector by connecting small-scale farmers with Nigerian sponsors from locally, from the US and UK who invest in farm cycles. Launched just over 12 months ago, they connect small scale farmers with sponsors, who invest in farm cycles which can be anything from poultry [3-5 months] to cassava [9mths]. The farmers receive on-the-ground advice and training from agriculture experts in better agricultural practices, different type of crops and production methods. Farmers and sponsors all receive a percentage of the profits on harvest.
By connecting more than 2,000 small-scale farmers with over 1,000 unique sponsors through the startup’s website and newly launched mobile app in Google Playstore, and Apple Appstore, Farmcrowdy has built a community model that allows Nigerians to venture into farming and agriculture at the touch of a button, while empowering local farmers, and boosting production and security of food for Nigeria. The startup is not only positively impacting the lives of local farmers and their families, but making a profit for farm sponsors and investors.
Graduates of Techstars Atlanta’s 2017 cohort, Farmcrowdy this week closed on a $1 Million seed investment round from Cox Enterprises, Techstars Ventures, Social Capital, Hallett Capital and Right-Side Capital; as well as angel investors Tyler Scriven, Michael Cohn, Josephine Group, FC Agro Allied SPV and Dr. Christof Walter.
Mfonobong Nsehe spoke to serial entrepreneur, Onyeka Akumah, CEO and Co-Founder of Farmcrowdy on their plans for this investment round and what this means for the agritech sector not only in Nigeria but potentially West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.
Farmcrowdy has only been operating for a year, yet you have made quite an impact, both with users and investors. Tell us more about the vision behind Farmcrowdy and what you do?
Farmcrowdy was established in November 2016 after mulling over challenges within the agriculture sector that I had witnessed a couple of years ago. At around the same the Government of Nigeria was looking into ways in which resources could be channeled to boost the agriculture sector. The Nigerian Government was also looking at ways in which individuals could contribute to the agriculture sector as a means of improving food security and food production.
With an early interest in agriculture (and small-scale farming in particular), and having started my first business venture as a 12 year old running a 200 chick poultry farm in Sokoto, Nigeria, I noticed that as much as the middle-class Nigerian is excited about getting involved in agriculture, unfortunately they do not have the time, or experience and skill to invest successfully in the sector. They do however, possess the resources. It was a question of understanding how these resources could be channeled in a way that both positively impacts the lives of the over 38 million small-scale farmers in Nigeria who have extra farmlands, but do not have the finances to expand their farm operations. We set out to bridge this gap and build this marketplace by setting up Farmcrowdy.
Onyeka Akumah is co-founder and chief executive officer of Farmcrowdy, Nigeria’s first and leading digital agriculture platform that helps Nigerians, through crowd-funding and mentorship, to go into and also sponsor agriculture. Launched about a year ago, Farmcrowdy is the only African start-up from the 2017 class of Techstars Atlanta, a worldwide network dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed. Farmcrowdy connects small-scale farmers with sponsors, who invest in farm cycles. The company has so far recorded about 1,000 unique farm sponsors from Nigerians in Nigeria, the United States, and United Kingdom. Akumah, a serial entrepreneur, speaks on how his latest agritech brainchild is incentivising and revolutionising agriculture, in this interview with Vincent Obia. Excerpts:
Farmcrowdy is described as Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform. Where did you get the inspiration for this project?
The inspiration for Farmcrowdy came sometime in February 2015, following a challenge I had witnessed first-hand. At the time, there were on-going conversations around how to reliably channel resources into agriculture and the government had also urged individuals to put resources into this sector as a means of improving food production and security. Participating in agriculture seems to come naturally to a lot of Nigerians, particularly on a small-scale basis, but the question we had to answer was, “How do we channel our resources into agribusiness in a sustainable way that would both create the opportunity to earn a decent return while impacting positively in the lives of over 38 million small-scale farmers in Nigeria?”
We are the only ones who can solve the challenges of food security in our nation, but how does the average middle-income person invest the resources he has in agriculture, although he/she does not have any prior experience in farming? Even if one might know of a few farmers to partner with, how are we sure of making profit at the end of the day? These were some of the realities that confronted us.
On the other hand, Nigeria has many small-scale farmers who live in rural areas and farm about 2.5 – 7.5 acres of farmland. A typical issue they confront is having the funds to grow their farm operations from subsistence to commercial farming. Also, some small-scale farmers have difficulty using smart farming methods and getting to the right market for their farm produce to make a decent profit.
Looking for the solutions to all the questions we asked ourselves led to the idea of Farmcrowdy – an online platform that connects small-scale farmers with farm sponsors who will fund their farms to increase their production capacity through the guidance of our technical field experts to grow their production. Then, prior to harvest, we get pre-arranged buyers to purchase the farm produce so that we can sell for a decent margin to all stakeholders involved.
How would you evaluate your acceptance by Nigerian farmers, your market penetration, generally, since the over one year of your launch?
So far, we have managed to establish presence in eight out of 36 states in Nigeria since we launched about one year ago. We have also been able to work with about 2, 000 farmers in rural farming communities. Whenever we enter a new farming community we meet community leaders and through them, engage a select few farmers to work with us, initially. This first set of farmers then serves as our ambassadors, especially, because they end up doing better by working with us – this tends to encourage other farmers to sign up to Farmcrowdy.
How are you affected by the low level of digital penetration in Nigeria, especially, among the rural dwellers, which largely form your target market?
In addition to impacting the lives of rural farmers by providing resources for them to farm successfully, we educate and train our farmers on basic skills and modern farming techniques relevant to their practice. Although digital penetration among rural farmers is still low, we serve as a bridge between them and the farm sponsors.
Our Technical Field Specialists, who are always on ground at our various farm locations, achieve this by constantly informing and educating them on trends in the agriculture space, innovations in farming techniques, best practices in their farm processes, etc. By doing this, we enable them to maximise the value they get out of their produce and farmlands. So, rather than be affected by the low level of penetration, we are happy to introduce innovations to them.
Who provides the land for the farms?
When we identify communities we can work with to improve food productivity, we meet with the community leaders who help us identify the right farmlands and farmers to work with. So, essentially, the land is provided by the farming community and at the end of the farming cycle, the farmers continue to own their farmland.
In your profit sharing arrangement, the sponsor gets their original sponsorship, before profit sharing, plus 40% of the profit from the harvest, the farmer receives 40% of the profit, and Farmcrowdy receives 20% of the profit. Don’t you think this arrangement exerts a lot of pressure on the farmers, leaving them in a situation where they only manage to squeeze through?
To explain the model, let us assume we meet a farmer who has the capacity to grow 5,000 chickens per cycle, but has consistently grown only 1,000 chickens because this is where all his resources can take him.
What we do in Farmcrowdy is to engage the farmer on the 4,000 extra slots, then provide these online for sponsors to partner with the farmer. At the end of the farming cycle, the 40% of the profit on 4,000 chickens goes back to the farmer as against what he or she would have made with 1,000 chickens without Farmcrowdy. In addition to this, we provide technical field specialists to train the farmer on growing their capacity and then provide the market for them to sell their harvest at the end of the cycle.
This speaks to why 2,000 farmers have worked with us in our first year, recommended other farmers to join us, and 80% are looking to start off with us in 2018. We can say that our profit sharing formula does not exert pressure on our farmers. Instead, Farmcrowdy is a welcome development that helps them actively stay in business.
You recently announced the receipt of $1 million seed funding from foreign and local investors. Are governmental institutions at federal and state levels part of the investors?
Government institutions have provided indirect policy and infrastructural support but we have not received any direct investment from any government institution or parastatal. That said, we must applaud the effort of the government to continue to educate the public about the potential agriculture presents for Nigeria; as this becomes the foundation for getting people involved with our work and our farmers.
What is your relationship with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture?
As mentioned earlier, the government of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, in particular, is one that we admire for the great work they are putting into agriculture and rural development, as well as the support of agricultural innovations across the country. Our relationship with them is one of respect and admiration for the institution, and we hope that they can work at improving the regulatory policies and infrastructure guiding the Nigeria agriculture sector.
Recently, I was inducted into the e-Agric Initiative at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to continue providing support and knowledge about the use of technology to foster agriculture developments in Nigeria. We look forward to continuing doing more with every opportunity the ministry presents.
Do you have raw material supply arrangements with foreign or local companies?
We have partners that supply us with seeds, chicks, fertiliser, vaccines and other relevant farm input. Depending on the state, we work in per term; and do our best to get the best farm input from partners that have a track record of professionalism in service delivery.
What are your plans for expansion going forward?
In 2018, we have ambitions to surpass our current achievements. We were able to penetrate eight states last year, but this year, we intend to be present in 18 states in Nigeria and impact the lives of 4,000 rural farmers directly. We also intend to expand beyond the shores of Nigeria to other parts of Africa very soon as we keep growing this community model where Nigerians sponsor Nigerian farmers to grow Nigerian food for Nigerians to eat. We intend taking it to Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and basically, any country where the necessary structure to support small-scale farming is lacking. This becomes an opportunity for us and the addressable market is vast.
In the past, being in the Agro-business involves you owning and cultivating your own farm with hoes and cutlass. This has discouraged many young Nigerians from venturing into farming. They prefer to chase the limited white-collar jobs. However, with advancement in technology, this is no longer the case as you can now confidently be in the business of agriculture without necessarily getting into the farm. In this exclusive interview, Onyeka Akumah the CEO and Co-founder of Farmcrowdy tells Innovation Village how he is disrupting Nigeria’s agriculture sector and much more. Excerpts.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
My name is Onyeka Akumah, I am the CEO of Farmcrowdy. As a Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the business, I’m working with an extraordinary team to meet the mandate of empowering 10,000 of small-scale rural farmers as quickly as we can.
WHY AN AGROSTARTUP? TELL US ABOUT FARMCROWDY?
The Nigerian Agriculture sector has so much potential and has been crying out for innovation for years. I started an agricultural company because there was a gap in the market which was the under-appreciation of farmers who toil all year round to make sure that there is food to go around. At the time also, Nigerians were beginning to appreciate farming and believed that it was a way to revive Nigeria’s economy. As a result, we introduced Farmcrowdy, a new category of funding for small-scale farmers in Nigeria, one that could amplify the government’s efforts to encourage participation in Agriculture.
Farmcrowdy is Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that matches small-scale farmers with farm sponsors for the purpose of expanding food production and empowering farmers while generating a healthy harvest and return for our farm sponsors. We have introduced Nigerians to a new category of farming where “everyday people” can now become farmers without a farm by sponsoring farmers online.
As an Agric-Tech company, Farmcrowdy provides an opportunity for Nigerians to participate in Agriculture without necessarily getting into the farm. A farm sponsor will need to only select a farm of their choice and then we match the sponsor with a farmer and provide them with farm inputs to complete the farm until harvest. At harvest, we sell the produce to processors and offtakers, and then we pay the farm sponsor 40% of the profit (plus their initial sponsorship), the farmers gets 40% of the profit and finally, Farmcrowdy keeps 20% for our work.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO ESTABLISH FARMCROWDY?
The idea of Farmcrowdy came from a problem I faced in February 2015. There has been a lot of talk about investing in Agriculture and consistently, the Federal Government of Nigeria has encouraged people to invest in this space. I was excited about doing this, I wanted to invest in the agriculture space but like many people, I didn’t know a farmer I could trust to deliver on the job. I didn’t know if I could even find the farmer and in any case, whether I will get my money back at harvest not to talk of making a profit after investing in a farm.
On the flip side, I noticed that there are over 38 million small-scale farmers in Nigeria. These are individuals who live on the farm with a size of 2.5 – 7.5 acres of farmland. The general problem they faced was not having enough funds to expand their farm operations from subsistence farming to farming as a business. Beyond this, many small-scale farmers had problems with smart-farming techniques and access to the right market for their farm produce in other to make a good margin for themselves. This gave birth to Farmcrowdy – an online platform that connects the small-scale farmers with sponsors who will fund their farms to increase their capacity with the guidance of our technical field experts to grow their production.
HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO SECURE FUNDS TO SET UP THE BUSINESS ROLLING?
We had to bootstrap the business in the early days with each co-founder bringing in their own expertise to grow the business. We leveraged on a lot of relationship currency to get off the ground before our first Angel Investor came around.
HOW HAVE NIGERIANS RECEIVED FARMCROWDY? WHAT IS THE TURNOVER OF THE BUSINESS SINCE YOU SET UP?
It has been outstanding and we count ourselves favoured. As of the last count, we have recorded close to a thousand unique farm sponsorships via our website. Our sponsors have remarkably performed over 80% repeat sponsorships to ensure that the farmers we work with keep getting the necessary farm input, smart-farming techniques and necessary support to grow more food We also keep receiving daily enquiries about the availability of our farms and requests to expand to more regions of the country and explore more varieties of farm produce.
HOW WILL YOU DESCRIBE THE EXPERIENCE SO FAR?
The experience has been fulfilling so far. When we receive feedback from farmers about how Farmcrowdy has improved their lives, and when our farm sponsors confirm receipt of their funds, it makes us feel like we are making an impact that matters. We have also been recognised both locally and globally. Some of these nominations and awards include the Nigeria Agriculture Awards “Agro-Innovator of the Year 2017” and the 2017 BusinessDay Top 25 Most Innovative Companies & Institutions among many others. We were featured in the international Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Loss and Waste Africa report and recently participated in the Techstars Accelerator Program in Atlanta where we were the only African startup selected. We are glad that Farmcrowdy is showcasing the Nigerian Agriculture sector and Nigeria as a whole in good light.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF YOUR BUSINESS?
Some of the biggest challenges we have faced have been hiring the wrong people on the team in the early stage of the business and working with the wrong technology partners. This can have a devastating effect on the success or failure of your business and over time, I have had to deal with making the hard decisions to know when to let them go.
Going forward, we are proud of our current team, the passion they bring to change lives and the selfless will to change the world one farmer at a time. I consider myself one of the luckiest persons in the world with smart people around me looking to solve an ambitious but real problem.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THE FEAR OF STARTING UP SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF?
When I was 12, my mum told me that I needed at least 4 streams of income to be wealthy. At that age, I started my first business venture to buy 500 chicks raise them and sell at Christmas. At 16, I started the first re-charge card business centre with an umbrella in Ajah area of Lagos. While in the university, I started building websites and earning a decent payment from my services. This led me to enjoy the thrill, excitement and considerable risk to start something from nothing. I’ve failed in a few businesses, learned and kept on building.
The biggest motivation is trusting God to learn, build and re-learn while getting not too hurt in the process from failures. Eventually, you build relationships, a reputation and resistance to fear of failure.
Nigeria plans to adopt physical and digital technology with the aim of boosting the production capabilities of farmers. Onyeka Akumah, co-founder and CEO of Farmcrowdy joins CNBC Africa to shed some light on this.
In February 2016, I was excited about the Agriculture space and wanted to invest some money in it along with some friends. However, the common problem I had was also the problem of over 30 million middle-class Nigerians. These problems where finding answers to questions like which farmer can I trust with my money? Which farmer will actually do the necessary work to be done on the farm? Which farmer will provide me with the updates on the farm and at harvest, which farmer will find the right market to sell what they produce?
On the flip side, I found out that over 38 million small-scale farmers suffered from the problem of finding the source to fund their farms, get the right smart-farming education and didn’t know how to scale their operations to extra land that they had access to. This gave birth to Farmcrowdy.
Farmcrowdy is Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that created and is leading a new category of ‘farmers without farms’ who are utilizing the power of the shared economy to empower small-scale farming. In the last 9 months since launching, we have directly empowered over 1,000 small-scale farmers with necessary inputs including seeds, day-old-chicks, feeds, fertilizers, e.t.c. including training exercises, mentoring and market access to sell their farm produce.
I have always loved the application of technology in solving every day problems. In Nigeria and the rest of Africa, there is a big problem with empowering small-scale farmers and I was not ready to wait for someone else to solve the problem.
My interest in the Agriculture sector was even made better with the current focus of the Nigerian Government with it’s progressive message asking people to invest in Agriculture. This encouraged me to learn more about the space and seeing the extensive value chain excited me to use technology to solve the first stage of the chain – production.
We have been able to engage over 1,000 small-farmers directly and over 2,000 indirectly across 6 states in Nigeria including Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Plateau and most recently Kaduna. We currently run 4 types of farms including Cassava, Maize, Rice and Poultry with on-going farms of over 100,000 birds.
Today, we are excited about the potential of what we can do in the next farming season as we look to building more around the relationships we have with key partners like Notore, Syngenta and Leadway Assurance to cover our farms.
We definitely bootstrap the start-up in the early days with each co-founder bringing in their own expertise to grow the business. We leveraged on a lot of relationship currency to get off the ground before our first Angel Investor came around.
It’s always good to keep good relationships and leave a good impression with people you’ve worked it. One day, you may need them and your relationship currency may be all you can trade with like we did in the early days of Farmcrowdy.
At harvest, we sell the farm produce to processors. When we are paid, we pay our sponsors their initial sponsorship then share the profit on a 40:40:20 ratio between the Farm Sponsor, the Farmer and Farmcrowdy respectively.
When you get on Farmcrowdy, there are two things you can do – sign up as a Farm Sponsor or sign up as a Farm Follower.
As a Farm Sponsor, you’ll look through our farms and sponsor a farmer. Once this is done, you’ll be notified about the details of the farm and your personal account officer. Then, you’ll start receiving farm updates in form of pictures, videos and text about what happens on the farm throughout the farm cycle. This is made available on your personal Sponsor Dashboard. A Farm Sponsor can also visit the farm to meet their farmers and at harvest, will expect to split profit with the farmer.
A Farm Follower however, can sign up on Farmcrowdy to follow a farm to get the same pictures, videos and text updates about the farm. This is provided throughout the farm cycle on the farm followers dashboard until harvest. However, a farm follower does not split the profit at harvest with a farmer, but can consider this an educational tool to understand in real-time what is involved in a real farm.
There are currently 20 farmcrowdites across our Operations, Technology, People and Finance teams. This includes Farm Specialists, Agronomists, Farm Coordinators and Engineers working on our online platforms.
Our team also comprises of Akindele Phillips who is a Co-Founder and CFO of Farmcrowdy, Jimoh Maiyegun who is a Co-Founder and CTO of Farmcrowdy, Ifeanyi Anazodo who is a Co-Founder and VP, Products & Data, Tope Omotolani who is a Co-Founder and VP, Operations. All of them support me in the work with do with each team member taking responsibility for their work while coordinating together.
Unfortunately, there are times when you discover that you may have made a wrong decision hiring a person or while working with an individual, they decide to change from the core of the business. As much as it’s difficult to do, I have had to let go people that don’t fit into the company culture at startups I’ve worked at.
The feeling I get when doing this is not as important as how it affects the business as a whole This overrides any personal feeling one may have about this decision. As long as an individual is assessed based on the core values of the business and they are consistently not fitting, let them go before they affect your outstanding team members.
The interview continues HERE.
At the 2017 Demo Day organized by Techstars Atlanta, Onyeka delivered one of the most passionate pitch for a start-up that night. This pitch has been used by several start-ups across Africa including Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to show an example of how an African should deliver an impact driven pitch.
See the video below