Onyeka Akumah is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Farmcrowdy. In this interview by TUNDE ADELEKE, he sheds light into the activities of his company as it affects agricultural practice in Nigeria.
What spurred you to start Farmcrowdy?
From a very early stage in my life, I have always wanted to use technology to impact three key sectors of the economy: Agriculture, real estate and transportation. As much as I left school as a programmer and I started working. At Travelbeta, I used technology to influence the way people travel. At Jumia,Konga and Wakanow.com, I used technology to change the way people shop online and how they consume news. It was while I was at Travelbeta that I had the idea for Farmcrowdy. I wanted to invest in agriculture and I was looking for farmers to work with. It was then that myself and a number of co-founders implemented the idea. It was launched on the 13th of November 2016. I was looking for a farmer to invest in who will be able to give everyone something at the end of the day. In choosing the farmers to work with, I saw that farmers have their own problems. From technical know-how to access to funding and market for their produce. On the other hand, there were thousands of Nigerians who wanted to invest in agriculture, but they didn’t know the farmers they could work with or the farmers they could trust. The passion for using technology to solve human problems was the motivation for me. It was not just the technology for agriculture but also the technology in agriculture.
How does Farmcrowdy works and how many farmers have benefitted?
We pick different farmers. For example, poultry farmers. We have found out that some of them have farm sizes that could easily raise ten thousand birds. Due to the capital they have, they end up raising two thousand birds or even less. The space to raise eight thousand birds is then wasted. What Farmcrowdy does is that we identify these farmers and form them into associations. We then make the spacing available on our website in form of units. Investors can then come on our platform to sponsor these units. If you sponsor one unit, you are providing the funds for the farmer to buy day old chicks, feeds, logistics and everything else involved to raise the eight thousand birds to the harvest stage. We get everything the farmer needs and provide monitoring. That way, the investor gets timely report of how his investment is being handled. We provide the investor with pictures and videos. We also have an arrangement with those who will buy the birds and we get their specifications. After the harvests, the investor is paid the initial capital and a share of the profit. The farmer is also paid a share of the profit and Farmcrowdy keeps the rest for the work done. The farmer gets between 25 -40% of the profit while the investor gets 40%. Seven thousand farmers have benefitted from the activities of Farmcrowdy in 2018 alone.
What are the challenges you face at Farmcrowdy?
We had the challenge of working with farmers at first. We had to demonstrate to the farmers how things were being done. We also had the challenge of having the right people to join us. But over time and with the help of the co-founders, we had the right people. We had the challenge of funding at first, but we were able to do things the right way to attract investors. When you are a pioneer in a business, you face all forms of problems. However, with time the solution becomes lessons for you and a reference for others who are coming into the same industry. We have been able to solve challenges around insurance, how to build models and how to recruit farmers.
As a pioneer in the industry, what do you have to say to others who would want to invest in your line of business?
What I would like to say to them is that they should not come into a market that is already saturated. The value chain is huge enough for everyone. Instead of focusing on doing what someone else is doing already why not look at something else? You could look at packaging, warehousing, exporting or logistics. There are several other areas of agriculture where technology can make a huge impact. I would want to collaborate with someone who is using technology to innovate in warehousing or logistics, and who will immediately have the resources that Farmcrowdy has in a bid to complement its effort instead of someone in direct competition. Think of areas that are less saturated and deploy yourself to create enough value so that others will collaborate with you.