Onyeka Akumah is the co-founder and CEO of FarmCrowdy, Nigeria’s first digital platform focused on connecting farm sponsors with real farmers to increase food production while promoting youth participation in Agriculture. In this interview with Oluwatobi Balogun, Akumah speaks extensively on food scarcity, opportunities in agriculture and the use of online technology.
FarmCrowdy is on a mission to end food scarcity in Nigeria, what inspired you?
Last year, a friend of mine who is a Cassava farmer approached me to invest in his farm. He told me he was looking at how to sustain his farm for another season and if he did not have the money in time, he was going to close down his farm. He had explored all available means to raise the money but all to no avail and so I took up the responsibility to get the funds.
For a couple of months, I tried raising enough money for my friend to sustain his farm but could not meet up within the timeframe and eventually his farm collapsed. I did not understand why people were not looking at investing in agriculture, even after explaining to them about the business plan. I did not understand why farmers were being ignored, knowing fully well that when there is no farmer, there is no food. I got scared of the future, where there is no food for my kids because of lack of knowledge or negligence for the agricultural sector. So, I decided to do something.
Garnering my strength in technology, marketing and building e-businesses, I decided to create a technology platform that educates Nigerians about the opportunity in the sector and gave them the opportunity to partner with a farmer to boost food security. In doing so, I needed a team to work with and while building that team, I met my co-founder who has had over 19 years’ experience in the livestock and crop production sector. So, we gave birth to Farmcrowdy.
Over 60% of Nigeria farmers are illiterates, how will they use online technology and how receptive were the farmers on your platform to Farmcrowdy?
We understand that not many rural farmers are familiar with online technology. As a result, Farmcrowdy works closely with Farm Extension Officers who reside in the farms’ geographical locations and are familiar with the farmers. These farm extension officers are more technology savvy than the farmers and understand the Farmcrowdy platform. They, therefore, keep us abreast of what is going on in the farm on a weekly basis so that we can, in turn, keep our farm partners up to speed on how their farms are faring.
We also work with the cooperatives where these farmers are signed up. Our relationship with their cooperatives is to continue to educate the farmers on smatter farming techniques to improving their production size. In doing so, the farmers are really receptive of Farmcrowdy because for them, it meant less idleness, an increase in their production level and better opportunities to impacting positively on their livelihoods. In fact, some of the farmers have said their farms would have been idle if Farmcrowdy did not come up with this initiative. It also means more income for them from doing what they enjoy.
Who provides guarantee for investment for those who are on your platform? Is there a sort of collateral?
We understand that things can sometimes go wrong across the value chain of agriculture, and so we have gone ahead to insure the farmers, the farm produce and goods-in-transit. We have partnered leading insurance companies in the country including Leadway Assurance and the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) who understand the agricultural space and insured both the principal capital from farm partners, the life of the farmers, the farmlands and goods-in-transit.
Most farmers are in the northern part of the country. Where are Farmcrowdy’s farmers domiciled and does their geolocation affect the farm sponsors?
Farmcrowdy is looking at helping farmers across the 6 geo-political zones in Nigeria. Although we have started in the south-west because of our base; we are quickly exploring different corridors in the country including the LAKAJI corridor, where the government has already provided dams, storage and irrigation facilities that are necessary for the success of the value chain. These are the plans we intend exploring in the next 24 months while signing up farmers to benefit from our initiative. On the second note, Farmcrowdy is an online technology platform and in that sense, is not limited by the geographical location of the farm sponsors. We have also been able to get farm sponsors from outside the country to partner with a farmer here in Nigeria and this is possible because all they need do is visit the website, decide on the farm of interest and make the payments.
What do you think about the recent remarks about the likely 2017 famine in Nigeria?
It is true that there will be scarcity of grain in the country next year, but I think it is an opportunity for local farmers as well to invest more in that sector and expect more. It is also a wake-up call for us to collectively work together and produce enough food to go round every Nigerian, as well as enough to export. Indeed, there may be tough times ahead, but careful planning and preparation ahead of time with wise investments and exploring the opportunities available today, will better position the country in the times ahead.
A lot of Nigerians, especially the youths have a misconception about farming and agriculture. How does FAmCrowdy aim to change this?
Agriculture is an essential part of every country. In every country, there is a farmer but you do not have commercially produced oil in every country. This speaks to the importance of providing food for people to eat; we should all feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to this sector beyond the money we would make out of it.
I am also a Nigerian youth in my early 30s and if I were to speak to them today, I would say that ‘yes’ there is an opportunity for every one of us to sustain our lives and build a business around agriculture. At Farmcrowdy, we have created farm followers so that even when a user does not have the money or is sceptical about partnering a farmer, they can actually follow a farm to get farm updates about the progress of that farm. These updates come in text, pictures and videos from the farmer as the farm progresses towards harvest. What everyone can benefit from is the knowledge of how a farm works and I encourage youths in this country to embrace this to learn more about agriculture and then make an informed decision to get involved. This eventually will improve their lives, make them self-sustaining and boost food security.
Agriculture is the “new frontier” has been ringing in our ears all year round. Following the recent plunge in Nigeria’s economy, can agriculture really help boost the economy?
Absolutely! Before Farmcrowdy, agriculture has been in the news for the right reasons and as a matter of fact, everything is true. Agriculture is not just the next frontier for the development of the Nigerian economy, but it is the next frontier for development and expansion. Government’s efforts to get everyone into agriculture are indeed commendable, and Farmcrowdy is here to support the government by making it easy for everyone to get involved through technology. We want to be the gateway for Nigerians to finally learn, participate and impact positively on the lives of small-scale farmers to grow food production in this region.