You Farm is a platform that provides a meeting place for those with capital, big or small, with those in farming who seek capital. The platform links these two groups and breaks the investment requirements of their registered farmers down to a project by project basis. The innovative idea combines mainstream business ideas for funding with newer digital age ideas.
Founder JP Matenga found himself tasked by his mother, who had received farmland, with the job of making use of the farm. Without collateral and farming experience he sought a way to attract investment. At the same time, he was looking into ways of investing small amounts of money and the idea was born in earnest. He registered the company in October 2017 and never looked back. They currently have 4 permanent employees and 180 registered farmers on their books. From just under 500 investors they have managed to raise RTGS$14000 for investment in various projects.
Farmers are registered with You Farm and put forward their projects. The projects are complete in the sense that there is a known buyer for the output of the project and this greatly reduces the risk associated with the investment. They have a variety of projects ranging from spinach to egg-laying chickens, mushrooms and herbs.
The project is then presented on the website platform and investors are allowed to buy into the project as a whole or a share in the project. This introduces crowdfunding to the fore. In the current economic conditions where incomes continue to be ravaged by the onslaught of price increases, disposable incomes are shrinking or disappearing completely. With as little as ZWL$100, you can invest in a project of your choice. Your investment earns you a share in 40% of the sale proceeds from the project. For investors, the yields vary according to the project invested in.
The yields depend on the crops. Some crops like mushrooms give crazy returns while others give modest returns (for example covo). The investors share 40% of the profits. For example, if a farmer requires ZWL$150000.00 to do a project and the produces is sold for RTGS$16000.00 the profits from the sale of produce are ZWL$150000.00 (this is the profit after the initial investment has been repaid). If one person invests the full 1000 they would take the full 40% f the profits which are ZWL$150000.00. If someone invested 650 they would walk away with RTGS$260.00.
Investors have the added benefits of all projects being insured and buyers being arranged prior to project financing.
Old dogs, new tricks
They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks but YouFarm may be the exception to the rule. Bringing the new craze of crowdfunding to a game as old as agriculture is quite innovative. The idea appeals to small scale farmers but also accommodates large scale farmers who have a specific project in mind. Looking at funding on a project by project basis eases the funding challenge which has long been bemoaned by farmers.
New investment opportunities
Many of Zimbabwe’s traditional investment opportunities are just not viable. Various reasons can be cited for this; high thresholds, poor returns, insecure investments among others. YouFarm provides the opportunity for investors with amounts as low as $ZWL100 to invest their money. With payback periods depending on the specific characteristics of the chosen project. Most projects do start paying in the short term, in as little as 8 weeks with some projects such as herbs paying continuously for up to a year. This investment opportunity far better matches the current economic environment.
On the question of challenges they’ve faced Matenga said:
The biggest challenge is resources. We are self-funded and in order to scale we would need money for operations. There is no angel investor network in Zimbabwe so startups struggle. The second biggest challenge is reputation. There are so many scams going around so people tend to be very sceptical so it up to us to prove them wrong.
He went on to say:
Firstly I would like to thank our early investors who took a chance and believe in what we are trying to achieve. For the farmers, I’d like to say that we are changing the way agricultural finance is done in Africa and we have a few surprises in store for you in 2019. To the entrepreneurs, there is a saying that if you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far go together. Surround yourself with a good team like I have and you will go places. Stick at it, don’t give up and stay away from negative people because they will convince you that it will never work.
Agriculture is a mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy and adding new innovative ideas to the industry will ensure its relevance and prosperity going forward. YouFarm provides a step in the right direction in such efforts. You can find them on www.YouFarm.co.zw, Facebook and Twitter.