When Desmond Koney took over the family pineapple farm after his father passed, his plans to grow and scale the business failed – dismally. That failure ignited the idea behind Complete Farmer.
Koney, a Ghanaian mechanical engineer, experienced first hand the challenges on the production side of African agriculture – from accessing information to obtaining inputs, services, and financing to support improved yields for farms with export potential, like his father’s.
He founded Complete Farmer in 2017 to provide advisory services to farmers. The company now strives to be the “Alibaba of agriculture,” serving as a destination for all African farmers’ resource needs, he tells AFN.
“What Alibaba did for manufacturing in China is what we would like to do for agriculture in Africa,” Koney says.
Only about a quarter of Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture, according to research from McKinsey – even though the sector provides livelihoods for nearly 70% of the population. Unlocking greater productivity from the continet’s farms could yield at least 20% more output in horticulture, livestock, and grain production, McKinsey suggests.
“We asked ourselves what it would take to make farming more efficient,” Koney says.
Complete Farmer’s approach is to allow anyone in the world to invest in African farms as a so-called “digifarmers.” It then digitalizes the agricultural value chain end-to-end, all the way to the point of sale.
The way Complete Farmer’s ‘crowdfarming’ platform works is by getting individual funders to select crops they’re interested in, and then having them invest in producers of those crops within Complete Farmer’s grower network. Through the platform, digifarmers can then learn about their farms, monitor the production process, identify buyers of their farms’ goods, and receive payments once harvests are sold.
On the buy side, Complete Farmer runs a marketplace that allows produce buyers to contract directly with growers and follow their order from production all the way to delivery. All produce is independently inspected and audited before going out for delivery.
Complete Farmer’s aggregation of crowdfunders and buyers helps farmers in two ways. First, it provides upfront investment which helps growers overcome lack of access to finance, a critical barrier to their productivity and growth. Second, it guarantees purchase and pricing for their goods. The startup supports its grower network in fulfilling their contracts by providing information on buyers’ requirements, advisory services, and real-time field analytics.
“Markets are available, but buyers have specifications that most African farmers do not know and therefore can’t meet,” Koney says. “This lack of standardization in the African markets is one of the things we are solving for.”
For example, Complete Farmer provides data-driven protocols for farmers to follow. The company then uses satellite imagery to provide agronomic support to farmers in real-time; to this end, it recently partnered with EOS Data, a US satellite imagery company. The use of such precision farming technology improves cost-effectiveness, increases crop yields, and gives growers a competitive edge, Koney says.
Farmers and investors alike were skeptical of Complete Farmer’s crowdfunded, tech-based approach when it first arrived on the scene.
“We faced a lot of criticism from seasoned farmers who thought we should not be showing them how to farm,” says Koney.
“There is also a perceived risk in primary agriculture that leads to few funding avenues” from potential investors, he adds.
To mitigate risk for crowdfunders, all of the farms listed on the platform are insured. Complete Farmer also offers a data dashboard that allows its digifarmers to track every aspect of production and sales, as well as field intelligence. Digifarmers even have the opportunity of visiting the farms they’ve invested in, in person.
Complete Farmer’s platform now lists more than 7,000 acres, 4,000 growers, 3,500 digifarmers, and 85 buyers. The majority of its network is based in Ghana, though the company is looking to boost its presence in other markets, including Kenya.
In March, the startup raised seed funding, backed by Africa-focused VC firm Ingressive Capital, to expand its reach.