Vibrant is truly the word that comes to mind when the name FarmCrowdy is brought up. The name itself suggests the convening of delightful individuals for Agriculture and that exactly is their reality. November 14th was another joyous day for the StartUp as they celebrated their 2nd Anniversary in style. The TGA Team was present at their office in Oniru, Lekki, Nigeria and had the opportunity of sharing, documenting and participating in this esteemed atmosphere.
In the space they share with a fitness centre, FarmCrowdy occupies the second floor. The atmosphere creeps in as you make your way through the branded staircase to the reception. As expected from the brand they have created for themselves, the mood was playful and Afrobeat renders banged through their speakers. The ambience was very celebratory, the room was bustling with life and the #HumansofFarmcrowdy made everyone feel welcome.
Launched 2016, with a vision to provide farmers access to funds, FarmCrowdy provides a platform for farm sponsors to invest in real farmers in order to increase food production.
They have made a habit of launching something new on their Anniversary. When they clocked one last year, they unveiled the FarmCrowdy Mobile App to provide an accessible, real-time platform for individuals that do not want to miss out on empowering their own communities. The App has later on managed to garner over 50,000 users.
This year was no different, as FarmCrowdy launched the first National Digital Agriculture Day in a bid to recognise the contributions of the Agritech Sector in the Nigerian Agribusiness Value Chain.
In the midst of the festivities, the games, the cakes, the drinks and the small talk, we somehow managed to have a chat with the founders and brains behind this vibrant initiative.
The three founders talked about the challenges they faced setting up, their milestones, how the platform has revolutionized the Agric sector, plans for expansion, the launching of Digital Agriculture Day amongst other important issues.
TechGist Africa team began the interview session with the founder and Chief Executive Officer, Onyeka Akumah. He co-founded Farmcrowdy with Akindele Phillips, Tope Omotolani, Jimoh Maiyegun and Ifeanyi Anazodo in 2016.
Before establishing Farmcrowdy, Onyeka was the Chief Commercial Officer of Travelbeta.com. He had earlier worked with Konga.com as former Marketing Vice President, Jumia.com as former Director – Marketing & Partnerships, Wakanow.com as Online Marketing Manager, E-Marketing Coordinator for Deloitte for West, East and Central Africa, and Webmaster for British Council in Nigeria.
TGA: Farmcrowdy needs no introduction since the platform is already a force to be reckoned with in the Agri-tech sector in Nigeria. Please, familiarise us with the challenges and achievements Farmcrowdy has recorded thus far.
Onyeka Akumah: In terms of challenges… starting of the business, it was initially difficult to make people understand how the module was structured, and then finding talents to join the team earlier on was a bit more tedious than I had expected – i.e. – coming from the background I came from, I felt everyone would understand what we trying to achieve. But it was a difficult one and selling a mission that had an element that makes it seem we are just doing charity. So, that was initially the challenge. Also, my team and I are very young in the Agric space learning the ropes that leads to agriculture. That came with its own set of challenges as well, but over time, those challenges became opportunities — We’ve built the business and now we are excited about the positions we found ourselves. Today we are pioneering the new set of platforms that are now involved in how we invest in Agriculture, it’s exciting to see this happen. FarmCrowdy today is playing that leading role and championing this new cause of sponsorship in agriculture, and getting young people excited in investing in agriculture as a business. I think we are excited about the position we have found ourselves today. We are also excited about the kind of people we build the team with — our partners, our stakeholders.
What are these achievements?
In the last two years, we’ve been able to work with about 8,000 farmers, scattered across 10 states in Nigeria. Eventually, we looking at the opportunity to scale that operation into 8 more new states in the new year, growing our impact to over 10,000 farmers before the year runs out. We’ve been able to generate sponsorship for these farmers, about 70,000 people in the last one year, through our mobile app which was launched during last year anniversary.
These people have now become sponsors also in FarmCrowdy, and they have championed this growth for us as a business. The business on its own in two years has gathered over 22 awards across the globe and we recently got awarded Agritech Platform of The Year at the Meet the Farmers Conference in Dubai, and we also won the Agritech Platform of The Year in Africa at the AppsAfrica Conference.
We had so many awards and we don’t get distracted by that. We are happy about getting these awards in recognition of our work but this doesn’t take us back from innovating, putting our heads down to continue to find better ways of impacting the farmers.
We’ve also seen our impact cut into rural communities where people now understand the importance of technology as concerns agriculture from not just sponsors or from students but from the farmers themselves and that makes it exciting for us.
What do you think are the challenges of Digital Agriculture in Africa and what can be done to improve the Agritech sector?
Digital agriculture is still very new in the world, it started around 2010. When we started having this new wave of technology application to agriculture the way we see it today. The thing is very new. In Nigeria today, we are the first to launch something like this (the first digital agriculture platform in the country) that is FarmCrowdy and it is just two years old. So, with that curbs a lot of scepticism about how much you need to get from that. But as you continue to improve on the yield you get from the farmers and as you continue to provide access to the farmers to make more money. It becomes exciting for people to want to use digital technology as a way amplify the effect of growing food for people in the country.
So gradually it’s growing, the acceptance is growing young people are beginning to see that application of technology in agriculture can stem across the value chain, whether it’s from logistics, warehousing, or information management. I know a start-up today that is using drone facilities to apply fertilizer on farms, I’ve seen start-up that is using AI (artificial intelligence) to control farms and to know when to go and water the plants. You know it’s exciting these days and I think that the application of technology in agriculture use to get young people with innovating minds, creative ways of doing things to apply themselves to the space.
Other things I noticed is the challenge around farmers saying that they don’t know how this was going to translate to money, but as soon as you show them that, you have so many of them coming. For instance, we had a situation where we wanted to set-up a rice farm in Kwara state when we explained how we raise funds and other things, farmers were reluctant about coming on board but eventually, we got about 50 farmers to bring their farms on board. As soon as we showed them the money, they saw how we increase the yield of the farmers, how they got paid in time. The next time we said we wanted to run that farm, we got over a thousand farmers that subscribed. If you are able to showcase how the impact will translate to improving the livelihood of the farmers you are working with, they will embrace it. This is what I’ve seen so far.
What are your plans for expansion?
For expansion, I think next year we want to double down on our efforts to increase the impact we have on the lives of farmers we work with. We are looking at about 10 to 11 thousand farmers we will work with in 2019.
There is also the opportunity to identify other new markets in Africa where we can replicate our community model and identify what country can do that in Africa and see how we’ll go about that.
Let’s talk about the Digital Agriculture Day. What’s the rationale behind it and has the day been registered?
Farmcrowdy was launched in November 14th 2016. Last We launched something during our first-year anniversary, which is our mobile app and this year, we are launching something new for our second-year anniversary. Farmcrowdy is the first digital agriculture out of Nigeria, I think it just fell into place to say what if we own November 14th, to make the day synonymous with Digital Agriculture in Nigeria. We have applied to the Trademark Commission and we have been given the approval to now use November 14 to celebrate Digital Agriculture day. A day to celebrate and recognise the contributions of the Agritech sector in the Nigerian agribusiness value chain.
I think it’s important to own our day to show what technology is doing to ensure food security in the country. Also, we’ll continue to use November 14 to launch new refined and refined ideas that can solve challenges and problems people face in agriculture.
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