Akumah: We’re Helping Small-scale Farmers to Actively Stay in Business

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.

Nigerians can now participate in Agriculture without getting into the farm – Onyeka Akumah

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

What is Farmcrowdy?

Farmcrowdy is Nigeria’s first Digital Agriculture Platform focused on connecting farm sponsors with real farmers in order to increase food production while promoting youth participation in Agriculture.

See the video below:

One day, your relationship currency may be all you can trade with – Onyeka Akumah

In a chat with Daniel Anuoluwapelumi Moses of TechMoran, Onyeka shares how co-founded Farmcrowdy, his bootstrap journey, Farmcrowdy’s growth rate, business model and many more.

D.A: Tell us about your startup. What was the propeller behind launchingFarmcrowdy.com

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.

Given how focused Nigeria is on the Petroleum sector, why did you choose to deviate from the norms?

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.

How has Farmcrowdy fared since launch. Would you say you have made very significant progress?

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.

Did you at any time bootstrap the startup? How has funding been like?

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.

Do you charge investors a certain percentage on their investments or returns? If not, what is the business model?

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.

Personally, I would love to invest in agriculture and a platform like Farmcrowdy. Is a starting point as easy as just signing up or there are other requirements?

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.

How big is the team and how well have they impacted the startup?

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.

Tell us if you’ve ever had to fire an employee in your startup. How did you feel?

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.

The Choice I Made in May 2012

In May 2012, I met 3 Germans at the Four Points Hotel in Victoria Island around 6:00PM to discuss an email I sent the previous night. This was barely a week after I launched a fashion retail e-commerce website I called divasnblokes.com. At this time, I was working at the leading online travel agency in the country as their Online Marketing Manager, but I was slightly frustrated. The career path I had set for myself was to become the CMO of a leading online company in Nigeria before I was 30 and I was 27 already. My frustration was fueled by the fact that based on my assessment; I was mising one element to prepare me for my goal which was, to understand traditional marketing and public relations management. After 6 years of working as an online marketing guy, I felt this was the next move I needed. So, I decided to build a fashion retail e-commerce website where I could list the products of my friends (male and female fashion wears), then get people to buy them online. By doing so, I felt that I could start practicing some strategies I was already reading about in books and online. I took steps to get a photographer to take the pictures and voila, we were online.

4 days into Divas n’Blokes, I went online to search for people/sponsors/investors interested in the online fashion space in Nigeria. That is when I came across Rocket Internet in South Africa via LinkedIn. I sent an email to the team (as many people as I could find in the company on LinkedIn) and asked them if they were interested in coming to Nigeria? I basically told them that I could share secrets as to why I felt there is potential in the Nigerian market. This was around 4:35 PM on a Sunday and I got a call 3 hours later asking me to come to Four Points Hotel in Lagos for a meeting the next day because the company was in Nigeria to do it’s due diligence whether to start out it’s business or not. I was excited about this and the next day, the meeting held.

When I met Leo, I was quite surprised at how young he looked and how passionately he talked about the Nigerian e-commerce opportunity he was looking to explore. Manuel and another colleague of theirs was seat across the table listening and scanning me (that’s how I felt because I could feel their eyes just watching every time I blinked).

At the end, they wanted me to join them as staff number one from Nigeria, take up the role of Director of Marketing and Partnerships and establish the business focusing on Traditional Marketing and Public Relations – fantastic, what I looked for!

I was excited about this and quickly started resigning in my head from my previous employers. But I didn’t know the whole gist:

1). I was going to get a 30% pay-cut from what I was earning then

2). I was going to let go of the company car and driver I had from my previous employers without the option of another with the new company.

3). Unlike a huge marketing budget I was used to seeing in other heavily funded start-ups, my initial marketing budget for Traditional and PR Marketing was less than N1,000,000.

On top of this, my wife had just given birth to our first son a few months earlier and so I can hear someone say then – Don’t do it! Well, I made the choice and took the offer. Why?

1). I finally had the chance to get the experience I needed to move to a new level in my career

2). As much as I took a pay cut, I was not going home empty handed.

3). I also felt that with such a budget as I did have, I would put myself under pressure to deliver via new ways I may never know. This happened! I will talk about this some other time.

So, I joined the company with no name and then after 1 week, we called ourselves Sabunta.com which was then the fashion e-commerce retailer arm of Rocket Internet’s business in Nigeria. Later on, we merged with a sister company Kasuwa.com to build what is referred to today as Jumia.com.

When I made this decision, there were so many things that could work against it. But I was driven by the desire to do more, plans to grow in my career, seizing opportunities as small as they looked then with a hope that we could become big someday.

Make decisions, you have a choice to make decisions or a choice not to make decisions – either way, you are right and we are all responsible today for the decisions we made yesterday, keep them as positive as you can.

You don’t always have the right answers all the time, you don’t even see the whole picture some times, but pray about it. Listen to your guts, your God-given feelings, then move on what you find peace in your heart for.

People have told me that I am prone to taking risks, while I tell them, I enjoy making new moves that turn out right. In doing so many times, I’m happy at how God has led me to making the choices I’ve made. Not every one of my choices have turned out right, in fact more than 50% of my choices didn’t turn out how I planned them, but they did something to me. They made me a better person, they made me believe more in myself, they gave me the confidence to trust God in the few decisions or choices that worked-out right and have paved the way for me and my family to live today. You may not see the end of the tunnel until you have walked half way through the journey… don’t give up, make decisions, the choice is yours and find peace in your heart do something new today.