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. And the startup that is making this possible is Farmcrowdy. In this exclusive interview, Onyeka Akumah the CEO and Co-founder of Farmcrowdy tells us 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.