“I sold my daughter to a money lender for $200. I had no choice left”, the farmer murmured with a tangible void in his trembling, grieving voice. The despair in this farmer’s eyes unveils the hard reality of a small farmer’s course of life in Indonesia. With 41% of the population engaged in agriculture, millions of farmers across the country face a similarly disgusting crossroad in the course of their lives – often falling prey to middlemen and loan sharks and getting brutally exploited throughout their lives; having to trade their or their family’s life for a few hundred dollars. Lack of accessibility to the right channels to market and sell their produce, they get caught in this vicious circle and live their entire lives, producing ‘food’ for others and sleeping off empty stomach every night, themselves.This problem strongly affected 26-year old Yohanes Sugihtononugroho and Muhammad Risyad Ganis. They went around the villages across the nation to understand the problems of small farmers in every household. After a journey of 3 months, they realised that to overturn this tide of nauseating reality, they had to create a renewed access to trustworthy channels for capital, resources and marketing for farmers. Creating a platform of mutual cooperation where people can help raise capitals for these small farmers was what they thought might bring significant impact. Together they founded CROWDE in 2016, a digital crowdfunding platform where people can invest into small farmers’ cultivation projects.
Connecting thousands across the country, with an investment as little as $1, these two men intend to help farmers raise a capital and generate a new hope for a life where they can produce good food for their own communities as well as urban consumers without hardships. But the journey was not very smooth in the beginning. Initially, they reached out to people who wanted to invest and started their first project by raising $700 for a cucumber plantation from 9 investors, but had to return the amount within 6 months. They went back to the drawing board. Once they ventured deeper into this initiative, working with farmers, they learnt a lot about the cultivation cycles of each type of crop or vegetables, based on which they were supposed to raise money for different projects. So, the first year of their initiative, i.e., 2016, was spent into reaching out to potential investors, farmers and understanding the cultivation processes of chillies and tomatoes.
“Initially, we started with mediums like WhatsApp to communicate about our work to people. It was then that we made a presence in another big forum that was started in Indonesia for people to communicate with each other at a larger scale”, mentions Yohanes. This platform brought significant visibility to their venture and in April 2017, they started their own website. Through constant determination and efforts in the right direction, they moved forward. From a team of 2, they grew into 28 and started working as a full fledged company with management, finance, communication and various functions rolling. Their work saw another ray of hope towards success, when they received an angel investment in December 2016. There was no looking back after this. What stands as a remarkable feature of their company is that they are creating an entire ecosystem in the agricultural industry by connecting farmers to various stakeholders like investors, agricultural suppliers, and educators.
Their journey with the farmers starts at the village. It begins with the creation a community of farmers in a village, educating them on better farming techniques, good SOPs, and much more. It is then that the farmers take up different projects and CROWDE raises capital for those and connects them to the suppliers for resources like seeds, fertilisers, etc. The entire finance and resource provision is managed by the organisation and there is complete transparency in the process. After the sale of the harvest, a percentage of the profit is shared with the investors and the entire system flows in a smooth manner.
Since 2016, CROWDE has partnered with 14,000 farmers in Indonesia and have been supported by 20,000 investors who have fervently raised capital for the farmers. Connecting all the dots together, they have raised 3.5 million US dollars of capital for 1400 cultivation projects. What was once of a livelihood of merely $50 a month for the farmers grew into an income of $150 a month. “A CROWDE farmer partner who was running a project of cultivation of oyster mushroom called me one day and said that she can now send her child has started going to school and she is capable of paying for her child’s education now. We are not just helping them financially but also giving them hope for a better quality of life”, Yohannes proudly mentions.
This young duo, based in Jakarta, now have a team of 40 people in CROWDE, working towards changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmers in Indonesia who were once victims of brutal and insane atrocities. There work has been rewarded and recognised by various platforms like DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia competition 2017. Both the founders have also been listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 Annual Asia List, class of 2018.
CII Foundation’s Woman Exemplar Program recognizes exemplary grassroots women change agents who are working to transform excluded and disadvantaged communities of India in the fields of education, health and micro-enterprise in India. Every year 15 finalists are chosen, and 3 are declared winners, with prizes of Rupees 3 Lakhs to the winners and access to a six-month mentoring and leadership process to all finalists. Click Here to know more.
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