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Nigeria’s Agri-Tech Startup Farmcrowdy Creating Farmers Without Farms

March 26

Remember the popular maxim that defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. This aptly captures the trajectory of Agriculture, a once upon a time mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before Crude Oil.

Incidentally, many now agree that Nigeria’s chronic dependence on crude oil wasn’t in the best interest, and return to agriculture would be the right choice if the country was to become an economic force again.  Successive administrations have made the investment and increased participation in farming into a mantra. In all fairness, it hasn’t been all talk and no action from the government, however, what remains desired is the infusion of decisiveness that attracts private sector partnership. Infuse that with technology; it hits an extra gear like what Nigeria’s first digital agricultural platform FarmCrowdy shows.

Oxford business group records the agricultural sector as the most significant single contributor to the country’s economic output in the fourth quarter of 2016 by contributing 26% to Nigeria’s real GDP. While real GDP contracted by 1.3% year in 2016, agriculture grew at a rate of 4% in the second, third and fourth quarters. The sector practically helped Nigeria come through its economic recession relatively unscathed

Incidentally, Framcrowdy was launched in November 2016 by Onyeka Akumah along with his other Co-Founders – Temitope Omotolani, Ifeanyi Anazodo, Jimoh Maiyegun and Akindele Philips, just when Nigeria was in the thick of a recession.

The Agric tech platform transforms Nigerians to farmers-even though remotely-  while at it, generate funds for local farmers to increase their capacity and yield. The platform operates as a bridge linking rural to urban Nigeria. With it, farmers can now contribute to food security in Nigeria by efficiently ending food importation while offering a healthy means of engaging people with Agriculture from a profit-driven perspective.

Onyeka Akumah

“Farmcrowdy being Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform is leading a new category of ‘farmers without farms’ who are utilizing the power of the shared economy to empower small-scale farming,” said Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, FarmCrowdy Onyeka Akumah. With a first class degree in Applied Information Technology at the Sikkim Manipal University India, Onyeka, who is also an entrepreneur has worked with some of Nigeria’s leading businesses such as Jumia.com, GTBank, and Deloitte.

To participate on the platform, after signing up one gets an option to select the kind of farms they want to sponsor. The company then uses the sponsor’s funds to engage the farmers by helping them to secure the land, plant the seeds, and insurance of the farm produce. At the completion of the farming cycle, it sells the harvest and then pays the farm sponsor a return on their investment. The sponsor receives their original sponsorship +40% of the profit from the crop, the farmer gets 40% of the profit and Farmcrowdy receives 20% of the profit. Farm sponsors can get between 6-15% returns after the harvest depending on the farm type they sponsor.

While this farm process is ongoing, the farm sponsors can keep track of the full-cycle by getting updates in text, pictures, and videos.

A unique community engagement initiative helps them to engage community leaders, who identify arable farmlands and farmers for FarmCrowdy.

Onyeka’s initiative opens a new vista for agriculture. Farmers no longer have to wait endlessly and sometimes fruitlessly, for agricultural loans from banks and those who have disposal income can invest. Being that part of its incentives to farmers covers training exercises, mentoring and market access to sell their farm produce, Framcrowdy becomes more than a facilitator in this value chain.

Statistics from the company shows that From November 2016 till date, Farmcrowdy which operates out of 9 states, including Lagos, Kaduna, Ogun, Oyo, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Osun and Kwara states has empowered over 7000 rural farmers. It has enabled them to expand their farm operations with necessary inputs including seeds, day-old-chicks, feeds, fertilizers, etc. Currently, the platform hosts over 1300 farm sponsors.

No internet or education? No challenge.

A technical team from FarmCrowdy is saddled with ensuring that the project is not hampered by the insufficient level of literacy and internet penetration in rural areas. The ever-present teams are at their various farm locations continually informing and educating the farmers on trends in the agriculture space, innovations in farming techniques and best practices in their farm processes.

EXPANSION PLANS AND FUNDING

Onyeka and his team still plan to secure additional 10,000 hectares around the eastern parts of Nigeria and the Lakaji Corridor to make use of Dams and Irrigation facilities in this region. It also plans to board 4,000 additional small-scale farmers and engage a combined 20,000 new farm followers, and farm sponsors on its platform to learn about the opportunities in Agriculture and partner with farmers.

In 2018, FarmCrowdy wants to expand operations to 18 states in Nigeria. It also has Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and, any country where the necessary structure to support small-scale farming is lacking, in its crosshairs.

To accelerate its expansion plans, the group recently launched its mobile app “Farm in your pocket” on its first anniversary on November 14, 2017, and so far it has over 60,000 downloads on Google Play Store. It was launched to make it easier for users to sponsor and monitor their farms.

Recently,  Farmcrowdy secured its new office space situated at 2nd Floor, Plot 5A, Block 114, Akiogun Street (Oniru Market Road), Oniru, Lekki Phase1, Lagos, Nigeria. All these have been made possible by a USD 1 Mn dollar seed fund from Techstar, including an additional sum of USD 325 K being part of GSMA 2018 winners.

As beautiful as this business is, it has its risk factors. A point that has not been overlooked by the organization. A premium insurance plan covered by the likes of Leadway Assurance and AXA Mansard is in place to secure its farms from a mishap. Beyond this, Onyeka attests that its rigorous screening methods ensure that only conscientious farmers form part of the pool. “The way we source for our farmers is key to holding them accountable to deliver on the promise of what we require from them.”

“However, we don’t neglect our farmers. Our farms are coordinated by our technical specialist and farm coordinators who mentor the farmers throughout the farming cycle – right there on the farm. All of these are done from our end at Farmcrowdy to ensure we never get a season when there is no return after harvest,” he said.

The key to success, according to Onyeka rests on four things: staying positive, dream big, start small and stay on it and judging by the three awards it has clinched in one year, the company is on track.

 

 

 

This article first appeared on March 26, 2018, and was updated at the request of the Farmcrowdy team on May 25, 2018.

Did you know: Over $725.6 Mn was invested in Africa in 2018.
Keep tabs on the Venture Capital Landscape of Africa with the VC Report 2018 by WeeTracker. Find out the Latest Fundings, Top Investors, Leading Sectors & much more..

Meet Jean Bosco Nzeyimana: The Rwandan Entrepreneur Who Is Changing Lives One Briquette At A Time

January 14

From Nyamagabe – a small village in rural Rwanda – comes the story of a confident 25-year-old that is solving some of the problems of his immediate community one briquette at a time.

Jean Bosco Nzeyimana grew up in a poor, rural community that could boast of very little by way of infrastructure or even the necessities. Housing was shabby, clean water was hard to find, and electricity was a luxury most of the locals would rather not think about – mostly because it was more non-existent than it was inconsistent.

Even though he was only a child of school age, Jean Bosco did feel the pangs of the dire situation from those early times. Every morning, before he left for the only school in the community, he would have to meander through the woods in search of firewood – a precarious and exhausting ordeal for a child his age.

As was the case for most of the locals, life was anything but a rosy affair for Jean Bosco. But unlike many of his peers, the young Rwandan chose to look at the big picture instead of feeling distraught. And that mindset would eventually become the catalyst for what is proving a tonic for community growth and economic emancipation.

Image Source: italkstuff.com

Growing up in his village, Jean Bosco was no stranger to the hardships and privations that characterised rural life. Most of the community was living in squalor, and the young boy was greatly disturbed by those living standards, or perhaps, the apparent lack of it. Thus began his quest to give the locals a chance at a better life.

Due to the absence of electricity and because the community knew no other energy source, wood was the go-to guy for all things fuel. As is common in many parts of rural Africa, the villagers relied on charcoal from wood for cooking.

Apart from the fact that burning wood is unhealthy and inefficient, the wanton felling of trees for firewood and other purposes also has an adverse effect on the environment. Throw that in with the fact that a very significant proportion of the Rwandan population still use wood for their energy needs, and the environmental impact becomes even more alarming.

 

Jean Bosco was concerned by the devastating deforestation, but that was not the only thing that caught his attention. He was also disturbed by the many rubbish-laden landfills that dotted parts of Rwanda, and his village was seeing more than its fair share.

 

The idea of felling trees eliminated much-needed ground cover which left lands susceptible to erosion. The ravaging erosion created vast, gaping gulleys, and the idea of filling those gulleys with waste was nothing close to an ideal solution.

Jean Bosco Nzeyimana was only 19 when he began to explore better ways to solve the problem, and he soon came upon a single solution to what seemed like a two-headed problem. If his idea was anything like a slingshot loaded with a single rock pellet, it was going to take out two birds in a single shot.

Jean Bosco And Habona Staff At A Waste Site
Image Source: newtimes.co.rw

The then-teenager found a solution that involved turning waste into energy and the solution was unique in that it was going to take care of two problems – deforestation and waste. His idea involved turning organic waste into clean-burning and efficient briquettes, as well as fertilisers for farmers. If all went according to plan, gone will be the days of villagers felling trees and burning wood for fuel, and no longer would grotesque waste engulf the scenes of Rwanda’s landscape.

With the idea now in the bag, the next challenge was always going to be the toughest nut to crack – and that’s finding the funds that would breathe life into the idea. Being only a teenager in an economically-disadvantaged locale with very little by way of track record or experience, it was always going to be an uphill task to get the requisite financial backing.

But the young Rwandan entrepreneur remained undeterred in his quest to improve lives with his solution. Like the gospel, he spread the word of his idea to all and sundry, and it soon began to gather momentum.

By contesting for prizes in various entrepreneurship competitions and participating in some tech events, Jean Bosco had begun to generate buzz around his waste-to-energy idea, and before long, he was lodged in talks with potential partners from various parts of the globe including the U.K. and U.S.

With some financial support from African Entrepreneur Collective, Jean Bosco was able to set up a business called “Habona” which literally translates to “Illumination” after reaching an agreement with his district’s authorities which allowed him to use a waste management facility for free. He established the company back in 2013 while he was still studying Business Administration at the University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics.

But then came another hurdle. Since it was a relatively new business, it was hard to find employees with the requisite skills. Granted, collecting and sorting the trash hardly required any special skills, but when it came to processing, there was a manpower deficit as many of the locals had neither seen nor heard of briquets.

It was very unlikely that the workers would waltz in and start making a product they knew nothing about, so the Rwandan ‘wastepreneur’ went about training the workers himself, and spending funds in the process too. But those days appear to be over as Habona now seems to have found a foothold.

Jean Bosco’s startup collects and sorts garbage to make briquettes, biogas, and organic fertilizers for a customer base that encompasses restaurants, hotels, schools, businesses, farmers, and government offices.

More so, Habona’s biofuels are believed to be currently used by as many as 1,500 households in Rwanda while employing up to 26 people on a permanent basis and nearly 50 more as casual workers. Thus, empowering people and improving quality of life in parts of rural Rwanda.

Jean Bosco With Obama, Medhat, Checa, and Zuckerberg At The 2016 GIS 
Image Source: eetimes.com

Jean Bosco has seen his stock rise tremendously since piloting his idea. In 2014, he was named Top Young Entrepreneur of Rwanda while also going on to claim the African Innovation Prize. He also shared the stage with the likes of Former U.S. President, Barack Obama, and Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg, at the Global Innovation Summit which took place in California back in 2016 – both of whom were impressed with the progress he has achieved his community.

Now 25, Jean Bosco seems to be thirsty for even more success and is showing no signs of slowing down. He hopes to extend his idea to other parts of Rwanda and beyond in the near future.

 

 

Feature image courtesy: @nzibosco via Twitter

Did you know: Over $725.6 Mn was invested in Africa in 2018.
Keep tabs on the Venture Capital Landscape of Africa with the VC Report 2018 by WeeTracker. Find out the Latest Fundings, Top Investors, Leading Sectors & much more..

Microfinance Software Company Musoni Services Gets Investment From Alterfin

January 14

Africa focussed microfinance software company Musoni Services has raised an equity investment from Alterfin; a Belgium based Co-operative society. Existing shareholders of the company joined Alterfin in this round.  The funds will be used for expansion into new markets, though the details of the transaction remain undisclosed.

Speaking about the investment, Jean-Marc Debricon, Alterfin’s General Manager said, ‘Alterfin understand first-hand the challenges that many rural microfinance institutions have when it comes to technology. We believe that Musoni can revolutionise the way financial services are delivered across the industry and particularly in rural regions where financial inclusion is at it’s lowest. The Musoni team has consistently demonstrated the system’s impact, and we are excited to work with them continuing our shared social mission.’

Musoni provides banking system to microfinance institutions in emerging markets, helping them to leverage technology and improve efficiency. The company claims to be used by a hundred financial institutions across 14 different countries (10 in Africa and 4 in Asia). Musoni BV is an investment company based in Amsterdam. It currently holds investments in Musoni DTM in Kenya and Musoni Services in Amsterdam.

The offerings of Musoni also include an integrated platform for multiple mobile money transfer services including SMS module for sending automated payment reminders. Apart from the core banking software, it has developed a tablet app for loan officers to process offline data collection and CRB integrations to assist in the lending decision.

To make the system accessible to MFIs, the Musoni System uses licenced SAAS pricing model; the annual fee is based on the size of the MFI licensing the system.

Alterfin was established in 1994 and focusses primarily on rural areas in low-income or middle- income countries around the world.

Did you know: Over $725.6 Mn was invested in Africa in 2018.
Keep tabs on the Venture Capital Landscape of Africa with the VC Report 2018 by WeeTracker. Find out the Latest Fundings, Top Investors, Leading Sectors & much more..

Branch Cumulatively Loans Kenya USD 10 Mn After Recent USD 5 Mn Issuance

January 14

San Francisco-based digital lender Branch has announced its commercial paper issuance of KES 500 Mn USD (USD 4,922,000) in Kenya.

The latest commercial paper follows a KES 350 Mn (USD 3,444,204) issuance that was announced in 2018, which was preceded by KES 200 Mn (USD 1,968,116) in 2017. This third and largest issuance which has been arranged by Barium Capital brings the entire commercial paper to a little over KES 1 Bn (9,840,583).  The investment will be used to expand the firm’s services in Kenya.

Branch had recorded a series of strides in the African landscape. Starting from its trade launch in 2015, it has grown by means of efforts made in Kenya, among which are internet penetration which has enabled users to access financial assistance using smartphones.

In competition with Tala, Okash and the likes, Branch offers micro-lending services in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Mexico. As part of this latest announcement, the firm revealed its intentions to expand into India this year.

Daniel Szlapak, Head of Global Operations for Branch, expressed excitement the firm draws from serving millions of Kenyans and easing them into essential financial service access. “ The huge growth and success in the Kenyan market have positioned Branch for strong global operation”, he said.

Branch offers M-Pesa loans of up to KES 50,000 (USD 491.64) via an Android application that can be installed from Google Play Store. The lending decisions are made by a proprietary credit score calculated by analyzing more than 2,000 data points on the phones of applicants. New borrowers begin with a loan up to KES 1,000 (USD 10), after which they can increase their credit limit based on their repayment performances per previous loans.

December 2015, Branch became the first African company to raise money from U.S-based VC fund Andreessen Horowitz who has Facebook and AirBnB included in its portfolio. The round was reported to have been USD 9.2 Mn. To date, the mobile-based financial services firm has raised more than KES 1 Bn in equity and debt financing.

 

Featured Image: Branch International Via Medium 

Did you know: Over $725.6 Mn was invested in Africa in 2018.
Keep tabs on the Venture Capital Landscape of Africa with the VC Report 2018 by WeeTracker. Find out the Latest Fundings, Top Investors, Leading Sectors & much more..

What If Sign Language Could Be Heard? This Kenyan Techie Is Making It Happen With His ‘Magic Gloves’

January 14

Roy Allela’s six-year-old niece was born with a hearing impairment. Being one of the 34 million children worldwide that are estimated to be battling disabling hearing loss, the poor little girl struggled to communicate with family and friends as attempts at conversation were often punctuated with moments of awkward misinterpretations and a general inability to convey her truest feelings.

Imagine not being able to hear or speak; while most people tend to jump at the idea of sight being the most essential of the five senses (or is it six these days?), I would like to think of hearing and speech ability as a rather close second – or perhaps the margins are even finer than I think and it’s more like a tie.

Roy Allela
Image Source: LinkedIn

In any case, that was pretty much it for Uncle Roy’s little niece who would be often be left distraught and throw ‘inaudible’ tantrums whenever she wanted something and couldn’t get it mostly because no one could tell what she wanted. Sad but true for most kids living with the condition, and maybe also living with people that don’t know much about sign language or facial expressions.

It’s not like the rest of the little girl’s family was having a swell time with the whole situation either. Folks at home were often tripping over themselves in attempts to communicate with her or answer her requests. This inability to communicate made it rather difficult for the family to connect with their little girl during the first six years of her life. But all that is beginning to seem like a thing of the past now.

Dejection. Frustration. Exasperation. Pain. Those feelings were mostly the case for most members of the poor girl’s immediate and extended families – well, everybody else except Uncle Roy, it would seem.

Roy Allela had always been fond of his little niece ever since she was an infant. When the unfortunate news of her condition became family knowledge, he cherished her even more. But with time now flying fast, the little girl was beginning to seem distant. Very disturbing, even his for his usually calm and optimistic self.

But he didn’t lose his head, though; which would have been some loss given that he carried a pretty good one on his neck. He began to think up ways to bring back his ‘baby girl’. Now, lavishing her with presents and spending quality time with her would normally seem like a plan, but he may have decided to give her more – something of the ultimate gift for persons living with her condition, as some might say.

Roy Allela opted to ‘gift’ his niece with something that was, to a large extent, neurologically unfeasible for someone with the condition – the ability to communicate by speaking. How he went about the whole thing, though, was nothing short of ingenious. The good thing about Roy was that he was more than just a doting uncle who was big on spoiling kids with chocolatey treats – he was also a highly-skilled engineer (you’ll sure get the idea why I mentioned the head he carries on his neck too).

As necessity is the mother of invention, Roy landed his wonderful creation. Inspired by his niece, the 25-year-old has brought to life a unique invention which is a smart glove that converts sign language gestures into speech.

Essentially, his creation could be thought of as a sign-to-speech device that makes it easier for people living with hearing and speaking disabilities to communicate better with spoken words through audio speech – which is also great for the multitude that doesn’t know the first thing about sign language; a win for both sides, so to speak.

The glove, aptly called Sign-IO, converts sign language into audio speech after identifying several letters signed by sign language users and passing along the data to an Android application through which it is then vocalised. Voila!

Through flex sensors fitted in each finger compartment of the glove, the degree of bend to which a finger is subjected to in the process of signing a letter is characterised and quantified. These signals are then processed and sent via Bluetooth to a mobile application that is also developed by Roy. The app takes up the baton from there and makes out audio speech from the signed letters.

Image Source: kenyans.co.ke

As Roy says; “My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing, and I’m able to understand what she’s saying. Like all sign language users, she’s very good at lip reading, so she doesn’t need me to sign back.”

Roy’s project went through preliminary trials at a special needs school in Migori County in Kenya’s south-western region. It was from the results of those trials that he obtained valuable data which helped him work on one of the most important aspects of the gloves – the speed at which sign language is converted into audio.

Just as it is with spoken language, people speak at different speeds and require varying lengths of time to put together their thoughts into sign language. Hence, it was imperative that this gets incorporated into the mobile application so that just about anyone could use it with ease.

Through the app that goes with the glove, users are allowed to set preferences in terms of gender, language, and voice pitch. Roy also claims that the gloves translation accuracy currently stands at an impressive 93 percent.

True to his fondness for kids, Roy Allela has also designed the gloves in a number of style variants – from ‘Spiderman-themed’ gloves to ‘Disney Princess-esque’ ones – giving kids something to be excited about and putting paid to the stigma and difficulties associated with hearing and speech disabilities.

For his efforts, Roy Allela has been the recipient of numerous awards and nominations. At the 2017 Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) competition organized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), he took home the prestigious Hardware Trailblazer award. The prize money that came with the recognition helped him upgrade on the prototype and develop gloves that give more accurate translations.

Roy Allela is also one of 16 young African innovators drawn out from six countries that were nominated recently for The Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for Inventors. Clinching the grand prize will see him go home with up to EUR 25 K to support his project.

Image Source: Intel Corporation

Having made his bones at the University of Nairobi where he won numerous awards before earning a degree in Microprocessor Technology and Instrumentation back in 2016, he also successfully completed a number of Udacity courses in the year that followed, with stints at Microsoft, Soko Store, and Emobilis Academy sandwiched in between.

A 2018 fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Roy Allela currently juggles working at Intel Corporation with tutoring at Oxford University for courses on Data Science and IoT. He also hopes to place at least two pairs of the Sign-IO in every special needs school in Kenya. Well, guess it’s true what they say – superheroes do not always wear capes, some only have gloves on.

 

Feature image courtesy: nairobinewsnation.co.ke

Did you know: Over $725.6 Mn was invested in Africa in 2018.
Keep tabs on the Venture Capital Landscape of Africa with the VC Report 2018 by WeeTracker. Find out the Latest Fundings, Top Investors, Leading Sectors & much more..

Naspers Fully Acquires Dubizzle For USD 190 Mn

January 14

The investment arm of South Africa’s Naspers – Myriad International Holdings – has decided to go all in and acquire the entire stake in Dubai-based Dubizzle for USD 190 Mn. According to the firm’s interim results, Naspers now owns a 100 percent stake in the company.

December 2012, Naspers made their first investment in Dubizzle, acquiring a 25 percent stake in the company through its MIH subsidiary. Through OLX, Naspers eventually went in for more to own 53 percent of the company, giving them the lion share. Having gone for the full deal at USD 190 Mn, Dubizzle is now valued at USD 409 Mn. 

Dubizzle was founded in 2005 by Sim Whatley and JC Butler and is the leader in online classified in the UAE, receiving nearly 8 million visitors each month. In August 2013, the founders announced that they were leaving the UAE to return home to the U.S, eight years after launching Dubizzle. They relinquished their day-to-day running of the company, which as at then had grown to include websites in 10 cities across the Middle East. According to an Arabian Business interview, both men were expecting babies in December that year, and needed to relocate to commune with family and friends. It was a difficult situation at the time, but it was a sacrifice both founders were willing to make.

The step down was also believed to have been as a result of majority stake acquisition by Naspers. After hiring talented staff who could act independently, both founders were reported to have felt less needed. Making good on their pre-intention to transition out of the business, Whatley, and Butler, both sold a portion of their equity to investor MIH. They had both built the company from scratch and had invested USD 12 K of their personal money, lived on passion and a 10-AED-a-day budget until they met an angel investor in 2006.

This isn’t the first mark of the newspaper firm’s prominence in investments, as they have a 30 percent stake in China’s Tencent Holdings, 28.7% stake in Digital Sky Technologies, others in Souq.com, Delivery Hero and another in Russia’s Mail.ru. Naspers, who is also listed on the London Stock Exchange, made the recent acquisition to increase its global presence in classifieds, payments and food delivery verticals. 

 

Featured Image: Techmoran

Did you know: Over $725.6 Mn was invested in Africa in 2018.
Keep tabs on the Venture Capital Landscape of Africa with the VC Report 2018 by WeeTracker. Find out the Latest Fundings, Top Investors, Leading Sectors & much more..

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