According to a McKinsey and Co. study, while Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural output and overall contribution to the economy has the potential to increase (even triple), the sector remains untapped due to a lack of access to quality farm inputs, as well as adequate infrastructure such as warehousing and market. This is in an economy where agriculture accounts for 23% of GDP and 60 percent of the population is involved in small-scale farming. Following the identification of critical gaps in the region’s agri-food sector, Ghanaian agritech Farmerline has stepped in to provide technologies that are intended to increase farmers’ access to high-quality production inputs and education on best farming practices, including how to better deal with the effects of climate change.
Its solutions are also intended to help farmers gain faster access to markets, resulting in more profits and less post-harvest loss and waste. Alloysius Attah and Emmanuel Owusu Addai established Farmerline in 2013. It is now set for a quick expansion, with aspirations to reach 300,000 farmers by 2022, an increase of about 400 percent over last year. It will begin its growth in Ghana before moving on to the adjacent Ivory Coast, thanks to new pre-Series and investment of $12.9 million ($6.4 million equity and $6.5 million debt).
Greater Impact Foundation joined the equity round, which was headed by Acumen Resilient Agriculture Fund (ARAF) and FMO, the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank. DEG, Rabobank, Ceniarth, Rippleworks, Mulago Foundation, Whole Planet Foundation, the Netri Foundation, and Kiva were among the debt lenders. According to Attah, the agtech’s initial equity capital would be used to create physical infrastructure such as warehouses and distribution networks. “We see ourselves as the Amazon of farmers,” Attah explained, “a digital and physical infrastructure powering a marketplace that permits the movement of products and services to and from rural areas.”
“We intend to utilize the funds to improve our infrastructure, which includes warehouses and distribution networks,” says the company. It’s critical to have a network of partners that can assist us swiftly get inputs like fertilizer and seeds to rural regions, as well as agricultural produce from rural areas. We don’t plan to bring all logistics and storage in-house, but we do want to be more efficient, which involves partnering with the right people,” he added. Farmerline collaborates with agribusinesses (small retail stores that offer agricultural inputs) to guarantee that farmers have access to high-quality goods.
Farmerline uses these business owners, who are often the initial point of contact for farms, to disseminate educational materials and bring farmers together for training. The collaborating businesses utilize Mergdata, the startup’s proprietary AI technology platform for supply chain intelligence, to digitize the farmers they serve and provide the data needed by agritech to forecast agricultural supply demand. “We’re tapping into that agricultural network, and in some ways, we’re tapping into a network of trust — the relationships that these store owners have with farmers to help us develop,” Attah explained.
According to Attah, the retailer collaboration arose because Farmerline discovered that dealing directly with farmers would mean “competing with local companies, which didn’t make sense.” “Going door to door to each farmer was quite expensive,” he explained. “Working with the agribusinesses helped us scale our companies and have a bigger effect, particularly during the epidemic when we couldn’t go – they were our eyes and ears on the ground.” We supplied them fertilizer and seeds in trucks, which they would distribute to farmers. That model performed admirably.”
Farmerline may use Mergdata to track the success of their cooperating agribusinesses (retail outlets) and create a credit scoring tool that helps them provide business growth loans. According to Attah, the firm increased its direct access to 79,000 farmers last year, compared to 36,000 in 2020 and 8,000 in 2019. Furthermore, Mergdata has digitized over 1 million farmers in 26 countries through third-party licensing, which is currently utilized by 180 clients including governments, non-governmental organizations, and agri-businesses to provide supply chain transparency and traceability. The platform is used as a national market information system in Benin, West Africa.