Nigerian agri-tech startup EZ Farming says it is “fired up” after taking part in the Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups accelerator programme and accessing US$150,000 funding, and is now striving to build the biggest agriculture-focused micro-lending platform in Africa.
EZ Farming is an agricultural crowdfunding startup that allows users to lend to smallholder farmers to help them increase productivity and revenues, and earn returns in the process.
It was launched based on founder Dr Adewale Oparinde’s experience working as a research fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) under the HarvestPlus project, where he had to interact with smallholder and commercial farmers across different continents.
“After returning from one of my fieldwork trips, about 20 unemployed graduates from Nigeria reached out to me asking to help them find a job. This was my “aha moment” because it was so strange to have 20 young people reaching out on the same day for the same reason. I knew we had to do something about this as a people to avoid the looming crisis that youth unemployment could bring,” Oparinde told Disrupt Africa.
The solution, he thought, was in connecting these young people with the large amount of uncultivated arable land located on the continent, and encourage them to farm, while also helping existing smallholder farmers the “little nudge” they needed to scale. Thus EZ Farming was launched in late 2018, with the goal of connecting smallholder farmers with crucial capital. Since then, it has crowdfunded a number of farms, and has around 120 farmers within its network.
EZ Farming has competitors, most notably Farmcrowdy and Thrice Agric in its home market, but Oparinde said it stands out due to its commitment to scaling small farms into larger, more commercial entities.
“We spotted the lack of support structures for smallholders to scale as well as the lack of adequate platforms to ensure that people invest in agriculture with a considerably high return on investment,” he said.
The hope is that such a platform creates a ripple effect, with young people working the land for profit, and crowd-investors making returns on opportunities traditional banks and lenders have yet to spot.
“Smallholder farmers have the experience, and young people have the energy and skills to unlock innovations. Meanwhile individuals and organisations around the world are seeking avenues to grow their money or monetise their extra land or space. EZ Farming provides a platform that connects all these stakeholders,” said Oparinde.
The startup has been taking part in the four-month 500 Startups programme in Silicon Valley this year, and will pitch at a demo day later this month. 500 Startups is one of the world’s most renowned accelerators, having worked with over 2,000 startups from across the world, and through its involvement EZ Farming has gained access to US$150,000 in funding as well as training, mentorship and networking opportunities.
Oparinde said the selection by 500 Startups and the resultant funding had “fired up” EZ Farming to continue to innovate and get more people on board in its mission to build the biggest agricultural micro-lending platform in Africa.
“We have recorded a few milestones based on the targets we set for ourselves. The reception by people across the world has also been encouraging. We have a lot of people investing from diaspora, and these include both Africans and non-Africans,” he said.
“This has really enhanced our confidence as we pursue our goal to attract one per cent of African remittances into agriculture annually, and provide 29,000 jobs.”
EZ Farming has already commenced operations in Ghana and Sierra Leone, and is expanding into other areas of agriculture, such as urban farming. It is in discussions regarding launches in a host of other markets.
“At the moment, we are looking at an Africa-wide expansion to harness our land resources on the continent,” said Oparinde. “We have secured over 20,000 acres in land partnerships. At the same time, we are working on partnership agreements with a number of institutions of higher learning. With this, we intend to take our commercial farming internship programmes to the universities so that students can learn the ropes of commercial agriculture first-hand on campus.”