Raised in a village where every family depended on subsistence maize farming for a living, he experienced the challenges of traditional farming first hand, witnessing farmers suffering heavily from lack of capital, poor timing of seasons and post harvest losses.
Derrick Gakuu, who was raised in Kakamega County also realized that farming that was not technology-driven was unscalable because of inaccessibility to affordable finance.
But while attending an innovation boot camp in November 2019 in Germany, Mr Gakuu and his friend Milka Owuor witnessed how digital farming was being done on large scale and embarked on a journey of replicating that through crowd-farming.
They would later team up with fellow innovators Mr Fredrick Juma and Ms Astrid Knoblauch to concoct Ifarm360, a startup that has in the past 9 months been connecting potential farmers with financiers.
“Together with my co-founders, we developed Ifarm360, a digital innovation that connects smallholder farming groups to agricultural finance sourced from crowd investors globally with the goal of empowering farming as a business,” the 29-year-old marketing expert told Afcacia.
Considering that most farmers are in rural Kenya are not tech-savvy, Mr Gakuu says upstart is looking at different models that will aid their technology adoption in the most seamless way.
The team, which dealt with startup teething problems especially gaining investor trust in the initial months, has watched its credibility and trust grow during the Covid-19 period where agribusiness attracted thousands of small-scale investors.
“So far, we have worked with more than 1500 smallholder farmers in Western Kenya counties, Narok, Taita Taveta and Embu counties. We have more than 300 impact investors. 70 percent of farm investors are in Europe and 30 percent are Kenyans who believe in the empowerment of farmers,” says Mr Juma, who is the chief agronomist, revealing that that they source funds from crowd investors from all over the world.
The platform’s model leverages on crowds to empower farming as a business, linking small scale farming projects by local farmers to affordable finance from crowd investors, supervise production and create a sustainable revenue sharing model.
Farming production is coordinated as a partnership and mutual relationship, the archetypal sharing economy model like global tech startups like Airbnb and Uber, where they don’t own the factors of production, but provide a robust digital business platform.
While 9 in 10 startups fail within the first 5 years after establishment according to Forbes, Mr Gakuu, who has a Post Graduate degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, believes that they are already tackling the hurdle of lack of a ready market, one of the major factors that force startups to crumple.
“We are confident that Ifarm360 will survive because our solution has a market on 3 tier levels who are smallholder farmers actively looking for affordable finance, while crowd investors are actively looking for investment opportunities that have an impact,” he says.
Ms Owuor, who is the chief operating officer says agricultural value chains themselves have guaranteed market opportunities.
“We are innovating the agricultural value chain with tech-driven approaches that will revolutionize the sector. We are passionate about smallholder farmers and believe that proper farming is a powerful lever,” she says.
The startup has had to learn how to build resilience in time of a global crisis, building a more self sufficient business that has survived the Covid-19 pandemic.
For many firms born under the pandemic, numerous challenges have tried to maim their growth potential especially while navigating the difficult task of monetizing their services, with some ending up closing down.
“For Ifarm360, a percentage of the farm investments goes directly into operations involved with the projects. However, our core business is in agricultural commodity trade since our production is market driven. We actively source for off taker contracts for specific value chains at harvest time. We share net revenue accrued between the farmer, the investor and ourselves. This way, all of us benefit,” expounds Ms Knoblauch, the investments manager.
As the topic of user data privacy and protection becomes more sensitive in the global gig economy, Mr Gakuu says the firm’s management information system is fully controlled by the Ifarm360 data science team.
“Our system is encrypted end-to-end with the cyber security experts managing it. They have incorporated principles of least access, data security compliance strategic approaches, patch management and multi factor authentication,” he explains.
“We gather data that only strengthens our partnerships which includes farm locations, farmer experience and crop suitability. Our model does not require sensitive data. Nevertheless, using principles of least privilege in house, we conduct frequent data audits, fire walling our systems and constant improvement of our integrity to ensure compliance,” says the co-founder.
The team believes that when African farmers are inspired to produce more, they are able to become food sufficient while powering financial inclusion and improving their livelihoods
Data by the Agricultural Finance Corporation indicates that less than 1 percent of finance goes to farming in Kenya with over 65 percent of farmers saying traditional finance channels are unfriendly.
Ironically, 25 percent of Kenyan GDP is from agricultural value chains and 70 percent of agriculture is done by smallholder farmers. 80 percent of the rural population depend entirely on agricultural value chains, 65 percent on export earnings and but less than 1 percent of bank lending goes to agriculture.
“70 percent of Kenyan rural households depend on small scale farming as their mainstay economic activity. Unfortunately, these families are the most underserved and marginalized when it comes to finance and investment,” the report states.