The challenges facing small-scale farmers who produce most of Africa’s food are well known: lack of finance, technical advice, business skills and the market opportunities to earn income from their work. Just solving one of these problems would be a significant success. But that wasn’t enough for the young team at the Abuja-based agritech start-up ThriveAgric. Co-founders Uka Eje, CEO, and Ayodeji Arikawe, CTO, made the audacious decision to develop a powerhouse agritech innovation that allows the company to confront all these challenges at once.
“We’ve developed the technologies, strategies and partnerships to build the largest network of productive, profitable farmers Africa has ever seen,” said Eje. “ThriveAgric’s farmers already are producing and earning more than the average Nigerian farmer. Now we’re eager to engage farmers across the continent.”
The company’s proven capacity as a problem solver and profit producer for African farmers, along with its ambitious but realistic growth strategy, has prompted the selection of ThriveAgric as a winner of the 2022 Heifer International AYuTe Africa Challenge.
ThriveAgric already has assembled a network of over 500,000 farmers—40% of them women and about a third of them youth farmers—across 22 Nigerian states. It has provided over US$150 million in financing to support 200,000 tons of grain production and the raising of 4 million poultry birds across the same areas. In a recent growing season, ThriveAgric’s rice, maize and soybean farmers recorded harvests that were about three times the national average. The company now has its sights set on expanding to new countries and growing its network to 10 million farmers by 2027 while adding thousands of new field agents.
The heart of ThriveAgric’s business model is its proprietary Agriculture Operating System, or AOS, which is packed with data on farmers and potential customers for their commodities. Each of the company’s 2,000 field agents is equipped with a Thrive AOS mobile app that helps them map and record detailed data on farmer lands (noting features like soil composition and proximity to water), assess input usage and needs, monitor crop performance, track harvests and support post-harvest handling and processing. These field agents are essential to establishing relationships and trust with farmers, and farmers are encouraged to access services and information through SMS text after they’ve signed onto the service.
The company also has developed an agriculture marketplace platform called Tradr. Some 12,000 customers, 30% of them women, use Tradr to purchase inputs, sell crops, rent farm equipment and monitor market prices of different commodities.
Data has proved to be a key aspect of ThriveAgric’s success, encouraging providers and financial institutions to work with farmers who may not otherwise have access to their services and ensuring that they can help farmers get the most out of their farms.
“Data is incredibly valuable in sharpening how we can help farmers and our partners who provide services to farmers,” said Arikawe. “We’re seeing significant changes from climate change and other crises like COVID-19. We want to keep growing our network so that we can expand the knowledge we provide to farmers and service providers to address those challenges. We can’t do that without building trust in communities across the continent.”
“We’ve developed the technologies, strategies and partnerships we believe can build the largest network of productive, profitable farmers Africa has ever seen. ThriveAgric’s 500,000 farmers are already producing and earning much more than the average Nigerian farmer. Investors are responding to our potential and this prestigious award from Heifer International will accelerate our plans to expand across the continent.” - Uka Eje, Thrive Agric’s co-founder and CEO