Women living in Lagos and other Nigerian cities are investing in farming by women in other parts of the huge state, earning a return on their investment and making it possible for smallholder women farmers to cultivate larger plots of land and raise more lucrative crops. The goal is to bridge the gender finance gap by providing the female farmers with access to credit, extension services and premium markets through a gender-focused lens.
A recent story on Riff Media, part of a series of stories about sustainable development in Africa funded by a Solutions Accelerator Grant from the European Journalism Foundation, gives a flavour of how it works. (This brilliant story called “Farm Like a Man:” How an App Brings Investors to Nigeria’s Female Smallholder Farmers, was originally written in German but a PDF is available in English.)
“A message reminds its owner to grab one of several investment slots. “Bell Pepper: 10.5% in 4 months. Cucumber Plantation: 6% in 3 months. Sorghum Farm: 9.5% in 7 months.” Pictures of the vegetables and grains are stamped with a red ‘SOLD OUT’ sign as Toyosi Mohammed scrolls through them. “It always feels like you’re on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; fastest fingers first,” says the student, 23, who was lucky to buy slots at NGN 10,000 (€20) each. The money will go towards her tuition at the Lagos state University.
“A two-hour drive away, Olapeju Umah has invested in pepper farms from the comfort of her gated community in Sangotedo, Lagos. The entrepreneur is saving to pay the lease for her food processing warehouse. She chooses multiple slots priced at NGN 50,000 (€98) each. “It’s 15% profit; I’m always excited to open my app,” Umah says. Both women are supporting farms across central and northern Nigeria.”
HerVest is a women-focused digital platform that enables women to save money using an app or to invest in farms owned by women. Founded in 2020, it is taking direct aim at the $15.6 billion gender finance gap in African agriculture. While up to 70% of Nigeria’s 38 million smallholder farmers are women, most do not own the land they work. And if they do own land, they can’t afford the labour and machinery to farm lucrative crops in commercial quantities.
Most African smallholder farmers sell their harvest to local markets and communities, rather than producing for larger buyers. HerVest flips the model, identifying commercial buyers and then building a network of female farmers who can fulfill the agreements it signs, says Agfundernews. After harvest, the app aggregates produce and sells it to the buyers. This approach ensures that farmers have a guaranteed market for their goods, and gives them collective negotiating power to command better prices.
Currently 15,000 active HerVest investors are responsible for a combined $253,000 in investments, with most preferring to invest in maize, rice and sorghum. They make it possible for more than 10,000 female farmers across six Nigerian states to ‘farm like men’. This has opened up a whole new world for the smallholder women farmers they are supporting, and supports CEO and co-founder Solape Akinpelu‘s belief that women are natural accelerators who reinvest much of their income into their households.
Olanrewaju Adesiyan, who has farmed for more than 30 years, is one of the 100 women farming in a 50-hectare maize and rice farm in Kwara state’s Omu-Aran that is being supported by more than 90 online HerVest investors. “I find it hard to believe that another woman will just press her phone, and she will be helping us here in Kwara to farm big-big crops like men do,” she says.
The company calculates, then divides all costs into a number of slots that investors can buy on the app, explains RIFF. Each slot can range from NGN10,000 upwards and investors fix their money for the planting season. When the female farmers sell the harvest, the investors receive their money through the app, plus interest rates. Women farmers then can send information about their next crop to HerVest by a special text code that does not need an internet connection. This saves on communication costs.
In 2022, HerVest was chosen as one of Google’s Black Founders Fund in Africa, providing up to $100,000 in capital, up to an additional $200,000 in Google Cloud Credits, and access to the best of Google’s people, products and practices to 60 founders.
Google created the fund in 2020, having noticed that less than 0.5% of global venture capital funding is going to Black-led startups. “If we want technology to work for everyone, it needs to be built by everyone,” Google said. Since 2020, the fund has deployed $20M in funding to founders across the US, Europe, Africa, and Brazil.
HerVest also has received support from the US Agency for International Development. In April 2022, HerVest partnered with USAID to train 2,680 female farmers on agronomy and financial literacy through the Fund a Female Farmer social initiative. Women farmers across Benue, Oyo, Niger, Kaduna and Kwara were trained in how to increase agricultural productivity and yield covering rice, maize, and soya beans production.
The Kwara State Government is collaborating with HerVest to provide finance and also train 1,000 rural female farmers across the state. Launched through the office of the technical adviser on agriculture, the Gender Finance Project 2 is designed to equip women farmers in basic agronomic practices and financial literacy, to enable them to make informed farming and agribusiness decisions while providing them with access to credit, key inputs, and markets to grow their farm enterprises. In February 2023, it trained 500 women farmers across Kwara state.
HerVest’s digital savings app gives Nigeria’s female farmers a financial on-ramp. Agfunder News, Oct. 29, 2021
“Farm Like a Man:” How an App Brings Investors to Nigeria’s Female Smallholder Farmers. RIFF Reporter, Lessons from Africa, Jun. 30, 2023
Kwara Collaborates With HerVest On Gender Finance Project For 1000 Women Farmers. Voice of Nigeria, Apr 5, 2022
HerVest Trains 500 Female Farmers In Kwara State. Voice of Nigeria, Feb 10, 2023
Agency Lists Industrialization, Partnership As Solution To Agricultural Challenges. Voice of Nigeria, Jun 19, 2022