ONE of the most interesting companies to emerge from the recent StartupIstanbul competition in Turkey, was, in my view, iGrow, an Indonesian startup that helps ordinary citizens fund local farmers, and get a return on their investment, without having to know anything about doing plantation or growing trees. A kind of “Farmville for real life“, as it has been described.
Backers can simply register on the platform, decide how much to invest, the amount of seeds to be planted (the choice is between durian, peanuts and longan), and wait for their money to bear fruit – in every sense.
An independent supervisor will verify the work of the professionals that maintain the farm, and sponsors will also be able to access a dashboard that shows real-time information about the trees latest condition, where they are located, and how much CO2 they have absorbed.
As the last parameter shows, the iGrow project is not exactly your usual short-term focused, profit-driven, project.
Partly because, due to its own nature, investment in land does not always translate in fast, or even regular, returns – a durian tree bears fruit after five years – partly because the mission of the company is not only to make money but also to have a social impact.
“The idea came from our day to day problem, which is (how to provide) massive food supplies for Indonesia’s 250 million population. We have enough fertile land but we import so much food supplies, because a lot of our land is idle or under utilized,” co-founder and CEO Muhaimin Iqbal tells me, “therefore we want to maximize the land utilization and to improve the environment as well.”
The philanthropic side of the enterprise is also apparent in the fact that, when the plants start to produce crops, iGrow users can decide whether to turn those yields into cash, or donate the results to schools, hospitals, non-profit institutions.
That doesn’t mean that supporters are unable to use the platform for commercial purposes, if they so wish: Iqbal, who is both a businessman and an expert in agriculture, says the average result for planting durian is estimated at 18% per year, and for planting logan, at 19%.
Of this, 40% will go to the plantation managers, 40% to the sponsors and the rest to the supervisors and iGrow administrators. So far, the startup’s team is composed by some 30 people, including co-founder Andreas Senjaya, a young developer and entrepreneur who also does mentorship and training about business model generation and scalability topics in many events in Indonesia.
According to Iqbal, there are now 1,000 farmers involved in the project. One possible issue, is that the number of sponsors so far exceeds the numbers of farmers willing to work with the startup. “The reason is simple, for sponsor it is easier to follow our idea – while we still need more time to educate the farmers,” he says.
An interesting aspect of iGrow’s model, is that it is potentially applicable not only in Indonesia, but also elsewhere, to support micro-farming as opposed to intensive land exploitation.
“Soon we want to expand to other countries as well, we believe the system is a good one to maximize land utilization and world food supplies. We are looking for strategic partners now, to make iGrow go global,” the founder tells me.
To fuel further growth and possible overseas expansion, funding will be needed, and iGrow is currently looking for investors.
Update: Right now, we’re in the middle of an unprecedented climate crisis in Indonesia, an environmental and humanitarian nightmare that make seem this article (which I drafted before the current events, and published before knowing the scale of the disaster), perhaps untimely.
Still, since one of the main causes of deforestation is to make room for palm oil plantations, and given that iGrow’s mission goes in the very opposite direction, to support and grow forests, chances are this piece is actually timely enough.
About the Author:
I’m a freelance journalist covering technology for several outlets, both in English (Zdnet, techPresident) and Italian (La Stampa, l’Espresso, Corriere della Sera and others). I was a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism fellow in 2013. You can find my research on journalism and content curation here. I like to write about the impact of technology on society. I’m amazed and fascinated by how our relationships, our jobs, our daily lives are now shaped by it. But technology, for me, it’s just a means to an end, not an end in itself. To be clear: I don’t care about the latest smartphone, unless it provides real value and improves the quality of my life. You can follow me on Twitter at @fede_guerrini and learn more about me visiting my LinkedIn. For story pitches reach me here: stories (at) onthebrink.it
Friday, 30 October 2015