There is no doubt that the agricultural sector has a sizeable economic and social impact globally. A recent Mckinsey report noted that 60% of Sub-Saharan Africa population consists of smallholder farmers and around a quarter of its GDP is generated by agriculture. Yet smallholder farmers sit at the bottom of the pile for the inflow of investment in the agricultural sector.
The agricultural industry in Africa remains a vast field of opportunities for savvy investors, particularly as more and more African entrepreneurs are working hard on discovering new solutions to age-old farming challenges. One such trailblazer is Nigerian agritech startup, EveryFarmer. Its founder, Luna Bawa, spoke with AfriTech XYZ's Chief Do-er, Bayo Adelaja, to give us insight into how this platform is supporting smallholder farmers in Nigeria.
Luna Bawa was born into an agricultural community and tells us that 90% of his family are farmers; little surprise then that he is now throwing his energy into making significant changes that could help to invigorate the industry. We start by asking him where the idea for EveryFarmer came from:
Luna: “Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to provide digital services to programs funded by the World Bank and during this time I found numerous inefficiencies in the farming value chain. This is something I tried to highlight but no one seemed to be listening so I decided to set up a research facility on the outskirts of Abuja to help me look deeper into how to solve some of these problems.”
Luna wanted to get a better understanding of the relationship between farmers and the agricultural value chain and decided to set up a test farm to conduct research and gather data that could be used to create new solutions. One of the key findings from the test farm was that farmers struggled with the essential basic aspects of farming. From access to labour to retaining high-quality seedlings, Luna could see some key issues in the farming cycle that needed addressing.
“Our research highlighted so much disconnect and inefficiencies in the value chain which was, in turn, contributing to the high cost of smallholder farming. This also meant that even when the yield was good, the farmer ultimately remained poor. It was clear that something needed to be done to support our farmers to grow beyond being subsistence farmers and one of the ways we thought of doing that was to bring everyone in the value chain together. This was the only way to simplify and improve what was a complex sequence of activities taking place in the farming cycle”, Luna explained.
Operationally, the EveryFarmer app relies on data gathered from the farming cycle and requires farmers to note the information down so that it can be analysed. However, with literacy levels among smallholder farmers being quite low, this proves to be a drawback. “We addressed this issue by pulling together a network of agents who have a proficient level of literacy to help us by supporting the farmers on our behalf. The agents are tasked with engaging with the farmers to gather data such as farm size, operational costs, location and produce quantity. We equip the agents with a smartphone to facilitate this process and they, in turn, liaise with the farmers to gather the data”, explains Bawa.
The data gathered provides insights into the farm’s performance which is invaluable in planning the next farming cycle by indicating the needs of each farmer. It also gives investors in this crowd-sourced structure the background information they need before choosing to engage on the platform. Simply put, the EveryFarmer platform connects smallholder farmers with investors. These sponsors, as Bawa calls them, invest in an asset class that has the potential to yield a return of around 20% within 8-9 months.
No cash is given to any of the farmers. EveryFarmer converts funds received from sponsorships into services that it links farmers to. The network of agents not only help with gathering the data but also links farmers to labourers for preparing farms or harvesting crops. From year-round drip irrigation so farming isn’t so dependent on the rain cycle to funding better labour and seedlings, the EveryFarmer platform creates a cyclical economy in farming that benefits smallholder farmers enormously.
“Our data enables farmers to gauge exactly what they are producing and therefore what they may require in the subsequent farming cycle. Every farming cycle, we get calls from families for anything from pesticides to other things needed during the farming cycle. We don’t want a situation where at the end of a farming cycle smallholders find themselves on the edge of poverty and having to call on more affluent family members for financial support.”
Over the next five years, EveryFarmer envisages a data-rich platform that could create a lot of opportunities for other entrepreneurs within the agritech space. They hope to see further development in the farming community; an agricultural value chain that is self-sustained and lots of businesses taking advantage of the body of data on the platform to solve other elements within the farming cycle.