Agrics is a for-profit social enterprise in East Africa, that supports local farmers in professionalising their efforts to improve crops and harvests. From a small initiative with 900 smallholder clients in Kenya, Agrics has become a growing and healthy business that offers inputs, capital, innovation, knowledge and markets. With the break-even point just around the corner, Agrics is ready for next steps, both in size (from the current 35,000 clients in Kenya and Tanzania to 100,000 in 2021) as well in scale: the business is ready to cross borders. First stop: Uganda!
With an initial investment by parent ICS, Agrics started in 2012 as a hands-on initiative that offers smallholder farmers the opportunity to buy certified seeds and fertilizer by paying in installments. In addition to these core products Agrics also offers chickens and solar lamps. Farmers are given just under twelve months to pay for these costs. Since the farmers form a collective, any payment problems that may arise can be taken up within the group. Agrics offers its farmers training programs to further improve their profits from the land in the future. Here, they learn when and how it is best to sow and harvest and they learn how best to use the Agrics products they have ordered.
Within five years, the concept has proven to be very successful. Agrics has a projected total turnover of €3 million in Western Kenya and Northern Tanzania. To build on this success, Agrics has attracted financing from impact investors like Achmea Foundation, Rabobank Foundation, Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) and Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF).
What is the secret of success? Jantien Houweling of ICS, explains: “Agrics’ impact is to secure and enhance the income, food security and nutrition of farming families. Improved agronomic practices, access to credit and product innovation improves and diversifies the farmers’ productivity, thereby increasing disposable income which makes healthcare and education more accessible.”
The results are impressive, both in yield and quality of crops. The average maize yield of Agrics’ clients has increased by 79% within two years time. Houweling: “It is the combination of products and services that has a strong and proven positive influence. Agrics works with organized farmer groups in ascertaining the farmers’ requirements, distribution, down-payment collection, credit recovery and agronomic capacity building. Through a network of Community Sales Officers, farmer groups are connected with the products and services of Agrics.”
What is next? Houweling: “We plan to move on, to reach more farmers. For example by expanding our offering. Our seeds and fertilizers offering have become trusted products like maize for local farmers and we think they can benefit even more if we offer seeds and seedlings of new crops. This way, farmers can diversify their activities with new crops, of which we intend to offer both the seeds and seedlings as well as the training and coaching needed for successful farming.”
“Having witnessed the result of its work, Agrics think the concept is very much ready to be taken elsewhere in Africa. “The next step is to scale up and expand Agrics’ operation to other parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The goal is to become a leading player in farm inputs in East Africa, starting in Uganda in 2018, after the first pilot projects showed promising results.”
Agric is part of ICS, an organization consisting of a for-profit and an NGO branch focusing on the economic and social wellbeing of low income farm families. The family or household is at the core of the ICS approach. It is the place where income is generated and distributed, it is the place where children find a safe and stimulating environment to grow into their full potential – or not. It is a system that relies on economic resources, but just as much on healthy relationships and communication.
It is the cornerstone of the community: if families are dysfunctional, society cannot prosper. And since it is also the place where the next generation grows up, dysfunctional patterns are handed down to the next generation, creating a cycle of struggle. To break this cycle, it is necessary to address both the question of household income, and the question of the inhibiting cognitive and behavioral patterns.
Photo credits: ICS