The importance of agriculture to Africa’s economic output cannot be emphasized enough. Desmond Koney’s Complete Farmer is doing close to $10 million in revenue, and have just closed a funding round of $10.4 million.
Agriculture has been lauded by many governments as the key to reducing poverty due to the sheer number of people that it employs. According to figures from the World Bank, agriculture contributes to about 65%-70% of Africa’s labor force as well as 30%-40% of GDP.
Furthermore, it estimates that agriculture is the most significant economic activity for about 70% of people on the continent who live in rural areas.
The Ghanaian agriculture sector, in particular, is characterized by smallholder farmers who farm on less than two hectares of land, according to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana.
“Agriculture has been the principal sector for the development and growth of Ghana’s economy for decades and it still is a major contributor. It contributes somewhere in the region of about 30% to the GDP of Ghana. The main challenge is how we industrialize the process in order to scale and reap the fruits of the sector,” says Kwame Nkum, senior consultant at Nkum Associates.
This is a challenge Ghanaian entrepreneurs in the sector have been grappling with for years. On the one hand, the agriculture value chain is perhaps one of the longest in any industry. Also, there are interdependencies between one stage of the value chain and the next but, often, there is a lack of data between the two, which creates significant infrastructure challenges for the sector.
For mechanical engineer cum farmer, Desmond Koney, these challenges represent an opportunity to innovate and find solutions that help improve the sector. As the CEO and Founder of Complete Farmer, a crowd farming platform that facilitates easy sourcing of quality farm produce through an African online market, Koney is embarking on an ambitious journey to digitalize agriculture in Ghana.
“It is an exciting time to be in the industry and an exciting time to solve the problem the way we are solving it. Africa is producing close to $90 billion worth of produce and if you were able to build the infrastructure that captures that value, we can create a lot of wealth for local farmers,” says Koney.
The problem is that the farmers producing this are not able to sell their products to the people who need it and this is where Koney is hoping his innovative solution will make a difference.
“This presents an interesting opportunity to build global supply chains and ecommerce platforms. Once we can build this infrastructure, the opportunity of that $90 billion a year is something that should excite anyone,” says Koney.
Currently Complete Farmer is doing close to $10 million in revenue, according to Koney, and they have just closed a funding round of $10.4 million. That has led to the expansion of the Complete Farmer solution to Togo. The platform allows buyers from all over the world to order produce under the care of Complete Farmer.
“When a company makes an order, they put it up on the platform and make it possible for anyone who wants to be a supplier of the product to get on board by way of investment,” he says.
Like many great success stories, Koney’s journey was born out of adversity. Although his father was a pineapple farmer, Koney had opted for a life in the sciences with dreams of becoming an engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Then tragedy struck.
“My father passed away suddenly when I was just about to write my exams in school, and it was a really difficult moment for me. One of my lecturers said this was going to be a defining moment for me and looking back now, I can see how it was. Suddenly, I had a little brother to take care of and I had to support my mother. I remember after my father’s funeral I had only GHC [Ghanaian Cedi] 10 in my pocket,” recalls Koney.
He decided to continue his father’s legacy as a farmer but first, he had to understand the challenges he went through. After working on his father’s farm, Koney realized the challenges were glaring.
“We realized that the agriculture industry has middlemen who purchase goods at a low price from the farmers to sell at much higher prices. This means farmers had no access to the market they were producing for,” says Koney.
With these invaluable lessons, Koney decided to utilize his engineering skills to build farms like factories.
“The initial vision was ‘how do we make agriculture like what China has done with manufacturing?’ In China, you will see people using their garages to set up factories… So, for me it was like ‘how can I bring that same energy and that same approach to farming?’ So, the vision was to really figure out how to build a farm like a factory and try and emulate how China has become a superpower in manufacturing,” says Koney.
The company designed an end-to-end process to solve the value chain issue by digitizing it. By doing so, Complete Farmer has become a bridge between both the demand side and the supply side which increases efficiencies in the entire value chain.
“It took us six years and we have had about three or four pivots to really figure out how we can create that factory to get there. Trying to raise funds, trying to figure out business model implications and trying to figure out the legal implications, and that is what we have been doing for the past six years to try and build this vision,” says Koney.
He is a firm believer in Africa’s ability to be the breadbasket of the world and, now, with Complete Farmer, it has become his mission is to make the rest of the world believe in Africa’s ability to feed everyone too.