Interview with Onyeka Akumah – CEO and Co-Founder of Farmcrowdy

(Interview has been edited for length)

AgricTech is slowly becoming one of the biggest trends on the African continent. Technology is being used to improve the lives of farmers in various African countries.

One startup is also pushing is Farmcrowdy . Farmcrowdy is a digital agriculture platform that was launched in November 2016 and currently referred to as Nigeria’ First Digital Agriculture Platform. Farmcrowdy connects small-scale farmers with sponsors, who invest in farm cycles.

Farmcrowdy currently headed by Onyeka Akumah. Prior to Farmcrowdy, Onyeka was the Chief Commercial Officer of Travelbeta.com – one of Nigeria’s leading online travel agencies. He has also worked with Konga.com as former Vice President – Marketing, 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.

In December 2017, Farmcrowdy announced a $1 million seed fund led by international and local investors including Social Capital, Cox Enterprises and Techstars Ventures.

In February 2018, the startup was awarded a $325,000 grant from GSMA Mobile for Development at Mobile World Congress 2018 held in Barcelona, Spain.


Tech Nova got a chance to have a sit-down interview withOnyeka Akumah and asks some questions about the company, expansion and leveraging new technologies in AgriTech.

Interview

Tech Nova: How much do you attribute the current success of Farmcrowdy to luck and how much do you attribute to hard work?

Onyeka: For us, it’s been both. There’s a lot of people who do lots of hard work and may not be lucky enough to have things work with the way they want to work and then there’s people who don’t know that much work but are lucky to have good things work out for them.

But for us, it’s been both. Firstly, Farmcrowdy is comprised of individuals who had little knowledge of agriculture. In order for us to learn and grow quick, we had to do a lot of learning about agriculture. We had to get into the farms and work closely and understand the farmers.

With the luck factor, I never take out the God part of anything. With our efforts, we see good returns from the farmers. We have goodwill with the farmers, lots of goodwill with the government and lots of goodwill with our investors and a lot of this has been because of the integrity we built from day one.

Tech Nova: In the past, you’ve worked with companies like Jumia and Konga. So what has been the transition from working from for those companies to starting an agriculture startup like FarmCrowdy?

Onyeka: My time in those companies was a journey that was building up my entrepreneurial journey. I did applied information technology and I was more interested in how people related to technology than how the technology was built. So I focused more online marketing, digital marketing and that led me to some of those organisations.

One of the reasons I picked up agriculture to start up a business was because the government in Nigeria needed people to invest in agriculture and I was looking at investing. But I had heard stories about farmers taking money and just disappearing. I heard a lot of bad stories. I didn’t know which farmers to trust. I also found out that farmers didn’t have the technical know-how on how to improve their farming techniques.

Also working on the farms involves a lot of traveling and working with the farmers directly and finding markets to sell the harvest was a challenge. But we saw opportunities in all these challenges and solving them was value to us.

So with that, we built Farmcrowdy to connect these people (farmers). Also, there’s weren’t many Nigerians or startups doing something significant with technology and agriculture.

TN: What has been the biggest obstacle so far with starting up Farmcrowdy?

Onyeka: One was finding the right people to work with. You had to convince people that this was something important to do.

Building up the technology was also expensive. And then there’s core production. That is convincing farmers about your model and using a lot of case studies.

We were able to integrate with Mastercard to open up the channel so if they didn’t have a Nigerian card, you could still sponsor. But that’s something we’re testing out. In the future, we’ll see if we can make something work for other African countries.

Also working on the farms involves a lot of traveling and working with the farmers directly and finding markets to sell the harvest was a challenge. But we saw opportunities in all these challenges and solving them was value to us.

Image Credit: Technnext.ng

TN: I’m guessing you’re getting a lot of interest from people outside countries like the US or UK where people want to invest in farms?

Onyeka: Yeah. Nigerians sponsoring farms in Nigeria. We wanted to keep it as a community model so you had to have a Nigerian bank card to sponsor. So Nigerians from the US or UAE would be able to sponsor with their Nigerian cards.

But we were able to integrate with Mastercard to open up the channel so if they didn’t have a Nigerian card, you could still sponsor. But that’s something we’re testing out. In the future, we’ll see if we can make something work for other African countries.

TN: So on the topic of expansion, why have plans to expand to other countries Ghana even though Nigeria seems to be the bigger market?

Onyeka: So we’re currently in 33% of the states in Nigeria. We’re happy to stay in Nigeria but we’ve consistently got the call to replicate our business model in other African countries. Because it’s a community model, we could expand to Ghana and give Ghanaians a chance to work with their own farmers. So with Farmcrowdy, Nigerians can do their own thing with own farmers and Kenyans can also do the same thing with their own farmers.

Credit: Farmcrowdy

So with expansion, we’re just simply replicating the Farmcrowdy model.

TN: The main topic when it comes to the environment is climate change. Farmers might not experience the same rainfall pattern they’ve experienced in the previous years. Is Farmcrowdy using data to better inform farmers on how better to prepare and increase their yield in light of these environmental changes?

Onyeka: So we recently got a grant from GSMA for $325,000. That grant was specifically for the mobile app we’re building. It’s SMS based and USSD driven. From our own side to the farmer, it’s a mobile app. So Farmers can do things like send pictures and ask questions. We’re also providing farmers with information to help increase their yield.

With the app, we feel it will be a big impact for farmers.


Farmcrowdy is currently positioned to expand to the Ghanaian market in early 2019.

Farmcrowdy is now available on the Google and Apple store. The app allows users to view available farms, follow existing farms, provide ease of communication with farm account officers and allow the facilitation of easy feedback and comments.

Joseph-Albert Kuuire is the creator and editor of TechNovaGh.com, an online digital platform focusing on technology in Ghana.

I’m also a UX Designer, book reader, and tech enthusiast (duh!)

Email: [email protected]