The private sector is leading the way in cracking the agricultural sector. These are some of the trailblazing companies transforming the industry, in Africa and beyond.
“FarmCrowdy is a community model that is driven by Nigerians sponsoring Nigerian farmers, producing Nigerian food for Nigerians to eat,” explains Onyeka Akumah, co-founder and CEO of FarmCrowdy. It is an online platform that enables ‘everyday people’ to participate in the eradication of food insecurity in Nigeria.
“I noticed that as much as the middle-class Nigerian [was] excited about getting involved in agriculture, unfortunately they [did] not have the time or experience and skill to invest successfully in the sector. They do however possess the resources. It was a question of understanding how these resources could be channelled in a way that both positively impacts the lives of the over 38 million small-scale farmers in Nigeria who have extra farmlands, but do not have the finances to expand their farm operations. We set out to bridge this gap,” says Akumah.
Retail investors, “farmers without a farm”, browse and sponsor crop production on farmland with spare capacity, via the firm’s online platforms. FarmCrowdy then uses the financial investment to purchase the resources the farmers need for the full agricultural cycle, including seeds, labour and insurance, and provides education and training to farmers in order to close the agricultural skills gap so that the farmers can produce higher quality yields.
Following the sponsorship, crops are sold to pre-arranged wholesale buyers at harvest. The retail investors take 40% of the profit generated from the sponsored crops. The farmers get to keep 40% of the profit whilst FarmCrowdy receives the final 20% for their coordination.
The online crop investment removes the barriers that are preventing subsistence farmers from lifting themselves out of poverty, says FarmCrowdy. Those considered unbankable by traditional lenders now have the resources to expand production; the knowledge gap is closed and access to market is improved. Through this business model, small-scale farmers have expanded farm operations fivefold and increased their income by 80%, according to data from the firm.
The company has raised over $2m in funding since it was founded in 2016, has facilitated over 42,000 crop investments and has over 50,000 “farm followers”, people who use their platforms as a source of real-time information about their partner farms.
The firm has partnered with over 11,000 rural farmers across 16,000 acres of land and plans to expand business to more Nigerian states and to other African countries, including Ghana, Togo and Benin.
Connecterra, THE NETHERLANDS
There are many cow-monitoring systems available for cattle farmers but they are usually “glorified pedometers”, Yasir Khokhar, CEO and co-founder of Connecterra, told the Financial Times. The Dutch company is behind IDA (Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant), a system that combines motion sensors and artificial intelligence to provide a health monitoring service for cattle farmers.
Cows wear a small electronic neck tag, a device which detects and tracks individual and whole herd behaviour in real time, including ruminating, rest and eating. The data is then sent to a cloud platform for analysis, providing actionable insight for farmers.
The system, which ranks cows according to their productivity, can detect illness sooner than farmers, meaning that treatment is started earlier and money is saved on medication. Cows with IDA use 50% fewer antibiotics,
according to a press release from the firm.
On one farm, over $2000 was saved on a herd of 20 cows when IDA detected that three cows were eating twice as much feed as the other cattle but producing half the milk. The three unfortunate cows ended up on the cull list, explains Khokhar.
Founded in 2014, IDA is a self-learning system, and as it learns more, new information is sent to farmers. “A dairy farmer in the Netherlands can receive a notification from IDA when one of his cows is suffering from inflammation, because IDA has learned from a similar situation in the past at another dairy farm, in Canada for example,” said a company representative at a conference at Bles Dairies Farm, a major player in the international dairy sector.
“[IDA] is like Siri or Alexa, but specifically for dairy farmers…We’ve got IDA to a point where we can put the technology into the hands of a non-expert worker on a dairy farm – and if they simply follow the instructions IDA provides, it will increase the efficiency of the farm by 30%,” said Kokhar in an interview with Breed Reply, an investor for early stage businesses delivering Internet of Things solutions.
Connecterra, which has partnered with Danone, the French yoghurt producer, is operating in farms in Kenya as well as countries including the USA, Mexico and Germany. The company sees the provision of systems to smallscale farmers in Africa as a growth opportunity.
Brucol Global Development, SOUTH AFRICA
“The problem with society at the moment is [that] what is being provided to the rural communities is not what the rural communities [are] looking for,” said Bruce Diale, founder and managing director of Brucol Global Development, in an interview with a South African radio station.
His firm, Brucol Global Development, is an agricultural consultant company that hopes to change this by providing skills development, mentorship, products and financial support to farmers in rural areas of South Africa.
The company differentiates itself from other organisations that are committed to revolutionising agriculture in Africa by embedding itself in rural regions so that it understands what those in such areas need.
“[Farmers] just need to be informed, they just need to be trained, mentored, provided with the relevant skills…you don’t need a degree in order to become a farmer, you just need to find the right person with the right experience and exposure to link you with the right markets…we just need that element of support to give to our farmers and that is exactly what we are trying to provide,” says Diale.
Founded in 2014, the company has a turnover of $877,000, operates in three provinces in South Africa and plans to expand to other rural and coastal areas. It has financially supported 15 agribusinesses, and created 325 ‘brucolised’ farmers.
“Brucolisation is the process of taking the previously disadvantaged and equipping them with relevant skills and agribusiness support services that enable them to sustainably grow their basic farming operations into commercialisation,” according to a statement from the firm.
The firm’s leading product is Gardenizly. The patented product uses minimal water to produce vegetables without the use of fertilizers. The tower structure, alongside special potting soil, has been supplied to those that do not have easy access to water and has helped create over 12,000 food-secure households. Partnership with local South African governments has contributed to Brucol Global Development’s reach.
The company is now looking to expand sales of Gardenizly to urban markets. It is close to launching its online store and will partner with a global distributor so it can help facilitate economic development, through agriculture, across Africa and the world.
A middle class has emerged in Senegal who are demanding processed agricultural goods with quality assurance. The problem is that such goods, produced by Senegalese businesses, do not have a strong presence in supermarkets. Foreign companies dominate and Senegalese producers of such goods are located too far away from urban markets.
The solution, Soreetul, is the first online supermarket that connects small to medium-sized female-run rural agricultural businesses with Senegal’s urban markets. It delivers over 400 goods – from juice to dried fish to toiletries – direct to customers’ homes following online orders.
Many of the agricultural goods displayed on Soreetul’s website are processed and branded to add value to the raw produce. Women are given an opportunity to interact with the wider economy and Soreetul challenges the stereotype of agribusiness being low ranking and unprofitable. The firm has enabled women working in agriculture in rural areas to turn over up to $500 a month, according to Soreetul.
Launched in 2014, a key issue is convincing agricultural business owners to do business online, says Awa Caba, co-founder and CEO. Nafi Ndiaye, who now sells her goods on Soreetul’s platform, explained that she initially rejected partnering with Soreetul because she felt that selling goods online was “too European”, in an interview with Agribusiness TV, a pan-African media platform that showcases agricultural success stories.
In order to convince producers to trade online, Caba began to reference the way communication has changed over time. Caba explains: “Selling on the internet was not well understood by the Senegalese…I had to convince them, explain to them that there was a new type of market…Today, to call a person who is in the United States or in China, we use just a mobile phone or an application on the internet. They understood this because they all had relatives abroad.”
Despite success, including winning a grant from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to develop operations, Soreetul has found the competition from foreign companies to be challenging. Caba explains that: “Until 2017, our prices were competitive compared to those of the Casino and City Dia supermarket chains, but then Auchan arrived on the scene and undercut us.”
Nevertheless, the CEO says that there is a growing understanding among the Senegalese that purchasing domestically produced goods will boost their national economy. “Marketing rationale is focused on the rareness, local origin and distinctiveness of…products rather than on the price,” she says.
Israeli companies are behind many new developments in the agricultural industry. Due to the country’s relative isolation from local trading partners, its people had to develop innovative solutions to ensure their survival.
Taranis is a precision agri-tech start-up. It combines high-resolution leaf-level imagery captured by drones and manned aircrafts with hyper-local weather forecasts, which they claim are 75 times more granular than existing models, to provide actionable insights for farmers.
Taranis believes that farm-focused weather analytics are key to resolving many issues in the agricultural industry. It is estimated that 90% of crop losses are due to weather, directly and indirectly.
Insects destroy some crops but attacks usually only occur after periods of humidity. Diseases ruin other crops but these diseases only develop after a certain amount of hours of leaf wetness. Taranis claims to prevent this by electronically monitoring the field and analysing weather forecasts.
By doing this, they can provide early warning signs of disease so the farmers can spray herbicide in advance. They can inform farmers of the exact amount of fertiliser to use at the right spot and at the right time, ensuring that costly resources are not washed away by unexpected weather.
Taranis can also detect weed growth early, create tailor-made herbicide and track crop nutrient content and plant temperature.
The firm’s insights demonstrate 97% accuracy and can save farmers $30 per acre whilst increasing crop yield, its CEO told a conference hosted by Microsoft. Much of the savings are due to a more efficient use of fertiliser and so the company’s technology not only combats food scarcity but brings fewer chemicals into the environment.
Taranis, which has raised over $30m in investment since it was founded in 2015, gears operations towards high-volume commodity crops like cotton, sugarcane and soybean.
The Israeli firm believes that its maturing precision technology, coupled with the technological developments of the last 100 years, will completely change the farming industry. “In 10 years, farms will almost be entirely automated and unsupervised,” commented its CEO in conversation with Future Farming.