This edition of The African Farmers’ Stories tweet chat, hosted by Edobong Akpabio of Agro Centre, features Linda Ekweogu, CEO and co-founder of Agrolinka, an agricultural mobile trading platform which connects farmers to buyers, in a bid to solve the problems of smallholder farmers in Nigeria.
As a graduate of Statistics, Linda’s foray into agriculture was not pre-planned, and started as a means to an end, with a company called Longan Agro Ltd. It was co-owned with friends and family and operated by clustering farms and identifying off-takers and buyers for them. The enterprise led to the birth of Agrolinka, which has been sustained by proceeds from Longan Agro Ltd, investments from family members, and more recently, funding from the Agrilab Incubation Program by Ventures Platform and the Ireland Embassy. After 4 years in the agriculture space, she is looking forwarding now to taking a course on agriculture.
Agrolinka is a mobile trading platform that connects farmers, agro commodity traders, input traders and agro service providers to buyers or consumers. It gives farmers and traders visibility, reducing their dependence on physical markets, and only requiring them to have a mobile phone and internet connection to showcase their produce. It also serves as a community of buyers and sellers of agro commodities, housing all forms of service providers on the platform. The company hopes to reduce post-harvest losses by having farmers upload their products for sale even before harvest, and to become a major player in the aggregation of agricultural produce, with the application boasting a cluster feature which allows bulk buyers or off-takers to create clusters where farmers who have the required minimum can join and sell their produce.
Agrolinka’s target market are farmers, both those who can use smart phones and those who cannot (with the latter having access to agents who on-board and manage accounts for them), and agro commodity traders, agro service provides and input sellers. Breaking even into this category of people has not been easy, but Linda emphasizes the company’s commitment to educating their target market on embracing technology by building strong communities through social media platforms and partnerships with organisations who work directly with them.
Speaking on market access for the African agropreneur, Linda notes that it is the ability to sell off goods or services. Market access refers to not only sales, but every factor that contributes to making a successful sale. Without good roads to transport goods from rural to urban areas, trucks to convey goods, and sustainable platforms or means of selling produce, goods cannot be sold. Agricultural marketing, as a process, starts with a decision to produce saleable farm products, and includes pre- and post-harvest operations, assembling grading, storage, transportation, and distribution/sale. Several factors play a role in market access such as planting the right seeds, access to good roads for transporting goods, and access to buyers ready to buy products.
Constraints to accessing markets for African agropreneurs include their often-remote locations, high transportation costs, limited knowledge and lack of business skills and organisation. Stakeholders in the agricultural sector such as public sector agencies must invest in rural infrastructure – better roads, water access, storage facilities, better funded agricultural research, and extension services – to better connect smallholder farmers to markets. With infrastructure in good condition, more private sector players will be willing to be involved in the agricultural sector.
Linda acknowledges that African countries are taking baby steps towards being open for business relationships in the agricultural sector, with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a way forward to boosting intra-African trade, agricultural policies included. With the right policies such as eliminating monopolies and uncompetitive behaviour, she believes the trade agreement is an opportunity for African countries and companies to help each other grow.
On encouraging young entrepreneurs to provide market access services for African farmers, Linda believes it begins with creating more awareness, and allowing those already in the sector access to platforms such as The African Farmers’ Stories. Linda believes such platforms help those who are already key players in the agricultural sector to paint a clearer picture for youth to understand that agriculture in not a profession for the old, but a business to be taken seriously.
The African Farmers’ Stories series is brought to you by Support4AfricanSMEs. Tweet interviews by Edobong Akpabio of Agrocentre. Interview edited by Oluchi Buchi-Njere.