Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: FarmAgric
Why this Nigerian for-profit ag-platform built a separate non-profit entity for training
FarmAgric is a Nigerian ag-tech company that provides smallholder farmers with capital and inputs to grow their businesses using money raised through crowdfunding. In doing so, they are enabling the next generation of farmers to expand their operations and increase their revenue, while also contributing to youth employment.
FarmAgric Foundation for Agriculture
In 2019, FarmAgric founded the FarmAgric Foundation for Agriculture, which aims to provide farmers receiving their loans with training, grants, and hands-on internships. This support helps farmers improve their productivity, which directly supports FarmAgric’s goals of providing investors with good returns and farmers with better yields. The company’s decision to set up a separate non-profit entity focused on training was strategic; they found that absorbing the cost of training into their core business was negatively impacting their gross margin.
“Once you add the budget to train people to your books, it makes it seem like that venture was not as profitable.” Francis Eke Metoho, FarmAgric Co-Founder and Chairman of FarmAgric Foundation for Agriculture
Funding this training from a separate entity enables FarmAgric to limit assessment of business health to direct costs and to raise funds from donors who prefer to grant to nonprofits. This decision illustrates the high cost of training — particularly when targeting groups with low skill levels — and how it threatens platform business models. It demonstrates the importance of government- or donor-led support in skills development to support digital livelihoods.
FarmAgric’s Training Approaches
The FarmAgric Foundation works with two distinct farming populations: rural farmers and “agripreneurs.”
According to FarmAgric, most rural farmers do not own smartphones; they also lack the literacy skills to understand training content. To address these limitations, the Foundation provides them with individual or group training delivered by extension agents qualified in agricultural science.
Group Training: Rural farmers are organized into clusters prior to the growing season and are matched with extension agents equipped with a smartphone. Agents convene groups of farmers to present a series of videos on practical agricultural practices.
Individual Training: FarmAgric uses GIS to gather farm-level data to enable customized advice. Agents have access to a database of targeted best practices that they can share with the farmers to help the latter easily identify and manage farming issues.
Agripreneurs are more educated, tech-savvy farmers with access to the internet, therefore requiring a different set of training interventions. The latest agripreneurs’ training — the Agricultural Skills Acquisition Program (ASAP) delivered in partnership with GIZ — has trained close to 400 farmers aged 18 to 35, 150 of whom were female. Through the year-long program, agripreneurs were trained face-to-face on good agricultural practices and given access to an online Farmer Business School. This blend of online and offline learning was complemented by WhatsApp groups that provided farmers with additional peer support. They were also introduced to farming cooperatives and had the opportunity to join an incubation program to gain access to internships on well-established farms. Financial aid was available to high-performing trainees.
“Couple investment with skills training and you have a perfect system. We have over-skilled farmers without the necessary investment to build their farms.”
Francis Eke Metoho, FarmAgric Co-Founder
Challenges with Training and Retention
The FarmAgric Foundation faced several difficulties in conducting the training. It was challenging, for example, to measure and track the impact of the training on rural farmers. The cost of the physical training also became an issue. Farmers expected food, transportation, and souvenirs in exchange for their attendance. Translators were also often needed to help extension agents deliver the training content. The Foundation is still figuring out how to digitize their face-to-face training curricula to make it more cost-effective and COVID-19 safe.
Monitoring agripreneurs’ progress is less of a challenge. After the farmers have completed their training, periodic assessments were carried out on their farms.
Unfortunately, the length of the ASAP training has proven difficult for many participants. There were high attrition rates after one month of training. Agripreneurs also expressed demand for other skills, including more emphasis on digital marketing, project management, and communication. It highlighted content gaps in the course.