Thought Leadership

On a mission to build an Africa that feed herself and the world, One Farmer at a time

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Agriculture is making tremendous contributions to the growth of national economies and development. This growth is becoming manifest through the disruptive impact of various cutting-edge technologies that are deployed into farming practices.

The integration of agriculture and technology into agriculture technology (agritech) is gradually becoming the reality in several emerging African economies like Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. Agritech innovations are being used to augment output and efficiency in agriculture.

Thrive Agric is one of the leading agricultural technology startup on a mission to build an Africa that feed herself and the world by providing access to finance, premium markets and data driven advisory for smallholder farmers.

In this interview, Ayo Arikawe, Co-founder and CTO of Thrive Agric provided insights on the journey thus far, the significant impact created and the broader expansionist vision.

Interview:

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background, your current role, and what inspired the vision of Thrive Agric?

I’m Ayo Arikawe and I’m the co-founder of Thrive Agric.

I’m currently the CTO of Thrive Agric and I also work with the business development team to make sure every part of our process works efficiently and nothing breaks or slips through the crack for us.

I have always been very interested in the intersection between Agriculture and Technology, how technology can help farmers get more out of Agriculture, and also how to improve the value chain and processes in the Agriculture sector. After getting my Bachelor’s degree, I went head-on into Agriculture, 4 years and 100,000+ farmers after, it’s been an amazing adventure.

The biggest motivation for starting Thrive Agric was seeing the gaps in the Agriculture industry and the potential of African Agriculture. Another thing that caught my attention and also inspired Thrive Agric was when I saw the amount of income farmers were losing because of the lack of finance, inadequate storage facilities, access to quality inputs, access to modern farming techniques, and low access to premium markets where they can get the best price for their produce. These problems formed the basis of what inspired me and my co-founder Uka Eje to start Thrive Agric.

The journey has been quite an adventure. One month you are speaking to investors all dressed up in a suit and the other month, you have to roll up your sleeves and head to the fields. It has been an amazing experience.

We talk about it every time that we want to create an Africa that feeds itself and feeds the world and the simple way to do that is to support local farmers in Africa.

2. Congrats on the recent $1.75 million co-investment grant from the USAID- funded West Africa Trade & Investment Hub in support of your laudable project to boost income of 50,000 farmers in Nigeria. Are there other supports, awards and recognitions Thrive Agric has received in the last twelve months?

Thank you.

It’s exciting for us to work with the West Africa Trade & Investment Hub. And over the past 12 months, we’ve been able to secure a couple of partnerships and collaborate with some organizations to support farmers across Nigeria.

We worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria to support 25,000 maize farmers during the wet season in 2020, which helped our farmers produce over 100,000MT of maize grains. We also partnered with the Central Bank of Nigeria for the dry season in 2020 which is spilling over into the wet season in 2021. This partnership is supporting over 25,000 maize farmers and 25,000 rice farmers.

We are also currently working with the UNDP to support 3,500 farmers across 3 states in Nigeria who were displaced during the crisis in the Northern part of Nigeria. The aim of the project is to train these farmers in livestock production, pasture production, and crop production, and also help them in the implementation process. The end goal for this partnership is to help these farmers get back on their feet and to also ensure food security to some extent in all 3 states.

We are always on the lookout for partnerships like these with the goal of supporting local farmers and also increasing food production which will then plug the demand gap for food in the local markets.

There are 40 million local farmers in Nigeria and a large percentage of that number can’t access funding to expand their operations. Most of them have no form of digital identity so a lot of banks and financial institutions turn them down when they ask for a loan to expand their farming operations.

Uka Eje and Ayo Arikawe co founders of Thrive Agric

3. What is the core problem that Thrive Agric is addressing and did you face any difficulty in persuading both the farmers and investors at the initial stage to key into the vision?

We talk about it every time that we want to create an Africa that feeds itself and feeds the world and the simple way to do that is to support local farmers in Africa.

The big limitation to this is financing local farmers and that is one of the core problems we are working to solve.

There are 40 million local farmers in Nigeria and a large percentage of that number can’t access funding to expand their operations. Most of them have no form of digital identity so a lot of banks and financial institutions turn them down when they ask for a loan to expand their farming operations.

That is one of the problems we are using technology to solve. The goal for us is to build a network of 1million farmers by 2025. We can’t do that without using technology and that is why we’ve built an end-to-end process from onboarding farmers to when the harvest hits the warehouses. Our process is robust, supports our vision, and helps us grow our network of farmers exponentially.

A lot of farmers are usually skeptical when you try to teach them modern farming techniques and how they can benefit from it. Their skepticism usually diminishes when one of their community members who has worked with us tells them about how we’ve helped them triple their productivity. The results do the convincing. Those were in the early years when we just started, now a lot of farmers reach out to us that they want to be a part of our community of farmers and they want to be a part of the vision.

We have successfully convinced our investors by explaining our goals, our vision and the steps we are taking to build a food secure Africa. That gets the job done.

4. Other than funding, would you be interested in scaling and expanding by any

means of collaboration with other startups or small businesses? And if yes, how do you plan to do that?

The goal for us is to build a food-secure world starting with Africa and we’re doing that by supporting as many farmers as we can. It’s a really big goal and it’s not something we can do alone. Although funding plays a major role in everything we do but working with the right people and securing the right partnerships are also equally important.

That’s why we are always open to partnerships and collaborations with individuals, startups, investors, and organizations with similar goals and are interested in solving similar problems with us.

The goal for us is to build a food-secure world starting with Africa and we’re doing that by supporting as many farmers as we can. It’s a really big goal and it’s not something we can do alone.

5. Do you think that the government is doing enough for entrepreneurs like you in the agriculture sector?

Over the years, the government has put a lot of exciting programs in place to support the Agriculture sector. Programs like the Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS), Nigeria Incentive-based Risk-sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), and Anchor Borrowers Programme have helped us and other players in the sector to grow and also strengthened the different value chains in the Agriculture sector.

I think there’s still more room for the government to support entrepreneurs in the Agriculture sector.

6. So, what’s next? What’s in the pipeline for Thrive Agric?

We are working hard on improving all our processes end to end. Our goal in 2021 is to expand and work with over 250,000 farmers then scale that to 1million over the next 3 years.

We will also look to expand within Africa in the not-too-distant future with the primary goal for us still being making Agriculture profitable for more farmers across more states in Nigeria.

We are working hard on improving all our processes end to end. Our goal in 2021 is to expand and work with over 250,000 farmers then scale that to 1million over the next 3 years.

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