The GPS
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The GPS

Farming in the Next Decade

Revolutionizing Africa’s agriculture value chain to feed the next billion.

This post was written by MEST Alum and CEO of Complete Farmer, Desmond Koney.

The new decade welcomes us with a million and one food-related problems, that need to be addressed by shared responsibility. And with the ignition of trade wars, the ever-changing diets of consumers and the real impacts of climate change, the effects of this problem would threaten global food supply chains in this new decade. These dynamisms would require a new approach for feeding the existing population and the next billion consumers that we are expected to welcome in this decade. New frontiers and pioneering innovations need to be deployed and idle potential would have to be explored, Africa’s 600 million hectares of uncultivated land needs to be activated to feed global supply chains. This difficult challenge begs for a unique approach to the solution.

At Complete Farmer, we set out on a mission to build a solution to fulfill this vision. Since our inception in 2017, we have made some significant strides; we cultivated over 2000 acres of farms and shipped 5 different crop commodities to global industries. We have experienced lots of uncertainty too. We have had to deal with our fair share of climate change, market volatility — challenges that anyone working on commercial farming in Africa would face. We have had internal setbacks as well, but all these have only strengthened our resolve to build a farming model that is uniquely pragmatic, risk-mitigating, and scalable to solve the challenge at hand. We have been busy working to build this solution and we are happy to share our hard work and the latest iteration of the solution. Our premise for this solution is simple…

… Everyone eats, everyone farms.

We are democratizing food production and giving everyone the opportunity to become a player in Africa’s agriculture value chain. The trade of food across the globe has been growing and whether you are from Tokyo or New York, chances are that you have eaten something cultivated in the jungles of Brazil or the Plains in Africa. Complete Farmer is democratizing agriculture with its digital platform. We started out by building a crowd farming platform in the early days to help channel investment into agriculture in Africa and give everyone, irrespective of demographics, the opportunity to participate in the agriculture value chain — but that was just the start.

This helped us learn the intricacies of the African value chain and gave us the expertise to digitize the value chain to make it more efficient than it is. We want to give our users more control in determining their farming gains and also give industries access to building and managing their food raw materials supply chains. This is why we built…

… An end-to-end digital farming platform.

On this platform, stakeholders would gain greater rewards while farming from the comfort of their homes. The platform is built to host both vetted and trustworthy buyers and crowd farmers. Instead of fixed returns, crowd farmers can choose the industry to which to sell their yield and determine their own profit margins. As commodity prices fluctuate on the global markets, Complete Farmer makes sure that users don’t get below the minimum price being offered in the global markets.

To facilitate this, prices are set at a threshold with buyers that provide the most value for all stakeholders, and we are working with independent quality auditors, who would let stakeholders know their yield and quality for them to have full visibility into production and post-harvest processes. We have partnered with other service providers to provide superior services for users. These services include crop and drought insurance, air and sea freight logistics solutions to different regions of the world. Buyers who are ready to purchase the commodities can be seen on the platform and users can decide which brands they want to sell their produce to.

In order to achieve most of these features and the other exciting features, we have had to come up with a contrarian approach to farming; an asset-light model that eliminates the middleman and uses data-driven cultivation protocols to grow food at commercial scale. Our focus has been to develop a scalable model to farming on demand, and this is where our vision has led us to. The digital experience of farming does not have to be enjoyed any differently from the real adventure farming offers. This has led us to introduce features, such as live monitoring streams, family with friends in cooperatives, and farm status reports, that would share these experiences with users in the digital space.

The myth of the smallholder farmer.

Complete Farmer approach isn’t to build a business model that takes or shares hard-earned margins with smallholder farmers but to empower them to make the necessary investment required to get them to farm commercially and keep all their gains. We engage with these farmers in a different way than many have done in the past to achieve this. Looking for a model that is sustainable and impactful doesn’t have to affect the bottom line of smallholder farmers. I believe that for agriculture to thrive in Africa, farmers need to look at the building solutions for their value chains just as what was observed during the green revolution that brought about significant improvements in food production through research and innovation. The smallholder needs to stop being a smallholder for the world to ensure food security and give these farmers the true worth of their labour by getting them to farm commercially and competitively for global supply chains.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This philosophy is embedded in the Complete Farmer solution. Complete Farmer employs smallholders differently by giving them equity in commercial farms and a monthly labour wage they wouldn’t have otherwise made farming for themselves. We have already seen a tremendous impact on this. We have been able to provide over 1200 direct and indirect jobs this way over the last year and 54% of the farmers who worked with us have been able to scale their own farms 5 fold, on average. The next decade would need to farm more than we are today. The great concern is that food demand is increasing faster than food production rates and resources are also depleting faster than ever. This conundrum is what has made us adapt…

…A data-driven cultivation approach.

Agriculture is an industry of yield efficiency and quality. Industries are in search of high volumes of agricultural raw materials for the production of food to feed a growing population. And this has intensified competition amongst industries in the same sectors sourcing for their raw materials inadvertently increasing global food prices. On the Complete Farmer digital platform, we are giving industries the opportunity to source for quality-specific raw materials cultivated using research-proven methods and data-driven cultivation protocols. This increases the efficiency of the value chain and helps to minimize waste along the production process.

Industries can also build a supply chain to sourcing from Africa. Data has a very significant role to play in farming. The use of data and analytics help Complete Farmer to build farms efficiently. We are able to know the right planting and harvesting times, best irrigation schedules and fertilizer application schemes, and many more. Data takes a lot of the guesswork out of farming and makes our costs cheaper and our activities sustainable. This decade of farming would have to rely on data to navigate the changes in the weather and soil. Farming processes involve good logistics planning and management, hence building a vertically integrated data system that gathers insights from markets, finances, production is critical for success in this decade of farming.

Complete Farmer is rebranding agriculture in Africa.

As the company goes through the foundations of building the future of the farming platform, we have found the need to rebrand ourselves while still maintaining our core values. We are introducing a disruptive innovation that is going to influence our business model, team culture and increase our stakeholder’s returns. Due to all the lessons learned in our mission to improve agriculture over the last few years, we are optimizing value and making process improvements.

Our rebrand of agriculture is to make farming more of a lifestyle than an occupation for the less privileged and to give everyone the opportunity to be a part of this rewarding value chain. From our modest experience in farming and building out our product vision, we have learned the character of the agriculture value chain and have engineered an efficient, sustainable and digitized value chain for agriculture in Africa. In the next decade of farming, Complete Farmer is making it possible for anyone to be involved in the agriculture value chain.

This is why on the new platform, users have the ability to make decisions that determine the payout for their farms. Buyers would also have control of their raw material supply chain and would not need to go through the rigors of building a supply chain in Africa themselves. We have a host of services to make sourcing of high volume and high-quality commodity as easy and credible as shopping on any eCommerce platform.

The new platform hosts service providers ranging from insurance providers, quality control auditors, logistics services with services designed to make the platform more efficient. This makes it possible for food production to be targeted to the end-user value, the buyer’s requirements while reducing waste and improving efficiency and costs along the value chain.

We are excited about the future

Photo by Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

Despite the pending challenges which call for immediate interventions, we believe these challenges are not insurmountable. Realizing Africa’s full agricultural potential will require significant investment. Sub-Saharan Africa will need eight times more fertilizer, six times more improved seed, at least $8 billion of investment in basic storage (not including cold-chain investments for horticulture or animal products), and as much as $65 billion in irrigation to fulfill its agricultural promise.

Complete Farmer’s solution is built to facilitate the realization of this potential. And we are excited to introduce this to the world. With our solution, we believe farming is about to experience a major change in Africa. We are happy to form partnerships with organizations engaged in finding solutions for the decade. The rebranding and launch of our new platform signifies the progress we are making as a company. We are also hiring key talent to drive this growth and we have introduced new processes to build on our core values.

In this decade, farming in Africa needs a new face, and Complete Farmer is here to unite us all to feed tomorrow.

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