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‘Farmers lose billions annually to farm theft, lack of employee vetting’

Getting farm labour in many parts of Nigeria could be a herculean task, particularly in the south, and more so, vetting prospective farm workers to filter those who may be in the habit of stealing and moving from one farm to another unsuspecting one.

FOLAKE AINA, managing director, VD&S Farms, VD&S  Feed mill, and VD&S Farmers’ Centre, a group of companies comprising the farm, feed mill and a farmers’ centre, is also co founder of Know Your Farm Hands (KYFH), a technology driven platform that aims to help farmers vet their prospective employees to curb multi-billion naira losses due to theft.

A graduate of law who worked in the banking industry for about 25 years both locally and internationally, Aina had operated a farm all along, until her resignation 6 years ago to face agriculture full time. In a zoom interview with CALEB OJEWALE, she discusses how much farm owners are losing to theft, and how the platform can help curb it.

What is Know Your Farm Hands all about?

I have been into farming for a long time and I have a lot of friends who are also into farming. One thing we know and I hope the people out there also know is right now there is not a lot of profit in the business. This is because there are so many things that are competing with profit. There are things that are within the farmer’s control and there are things that are not within the farmer’s control for instance infrastructure, farm logistics and lots more; they are not within the farmer’s control.

The ones that are within our control which if you ask every farmer they will tell you the same thing is the incidence of farm pilferage. It is very high in the industry. On my farm alone we are big in commercial poultry and at least on three different occasions we have caught three of our staff, with a minimum of 10 crates of egg that they each stole. So I sat down one day and I did the math, at the farm gate price of N850 if those 3 steal every week it becomes N25,500 per week, multiplied by 4weeks in a month it comes to N102,000.

I calculated for a year and it came to N1.2million, did that across 100 farmers, it came to N122million, and across 1000 farmers, it came to N1.2billion. Then I am like; see what the industry is losing!

In Epe we have farming communities which are areas with many farmers and every week we see posts on our different group platforms of complaints about different staff that stole and abandoned the farm etc. The following week you see another set of pictures; ‘does anybody know these guys? They want to work for me I want to hire them’. Essentially, there are no checks except the limited one within groups where a person can say this face looks familiar I think he has worked for somebody before.

These people go from farm to farm because of the shortage of hands. When they steal from one farm they just keep working (elsewhere), do the same thing, and they go on and on.

After sitting down and feeling the pain of farmers, we came up with KYFH. It is a technology hub for farmers and farm owners and it enables them detect crime. The farm owner will register on the platform, registering the farm and workers so that every worker’s information is on the platform, including biometrics. Here, the owner can flag offenses, indicate disengagement, and can recommend a staff or whatever is required, just like an appraisal system. Should I as a farm hand work on your farm and steal, you can just put it there.

Rather than the farmer putting it on WhatsApp ( or social media) when he wants to hire someone, he can go on the platform and do a search and once he does his search and sees what I have done, my recommendations etc he makes  an informed decision as to whether or  not he wants to hire me. The idea of this is to sanitize the industry so that by the time they know that they are being tracked or being monitored they actually behave themselves. They know that if they go to a farm, the owner will know they have stolen and may not get the job. That is just the basic thing about KYFH.

What happens in instances of false accusations, take for instance a farm hand is alleged to have done something and perhaps it is a malicious accusation by a scornful former employer that just wants to mess the person up. Have you considered this?

Yes we have. On the platform we warn that because people’s livelihoods and names may be slandered, we warned and we expect that what the farm owners or the farm managers are putting should be true as much as possible. Secondly, we have a weighting system so we do not expect that you would base your decision entirely on that, it just gives you a guide.

In the past I have hired people whom before Know Your Farm Hand came out, I was told committed various offenses in certain places. However, when I interviewed them I did not think the offences warranted me not hiring them. There will be cases that people will tell you but we still expect you make an informed decision not just based on what one person has told you. The way we have done this is that; you go there and put your rating on an individual as farm A, then farm B goes there and puts another rating and this gives an average weighting. The ratings are likely to be different except for instance the person in question is actually a thief that is stealing from farm to farm.

Are comments included?

Yes, so you can say this is what the person did on this particular day or other available details.

How can one get access?

It is available right now on play store. Just enter Know Your Farm Hands in playstore or on the web

Let’s say someone is registered on one farm with one name, then goes to another farm with a different identity, how do you check mate that?

Actually, that is what they do. By  the time they move to the next farm they will have a totally different identity for instance their hair may be colored or faces may be marked. However, we considered all that and the biometric is the only one that is foolproof because they change identity that you would not even know them. The next one we are considering but not fully decided on is the iris scanner. Once we are taking the picture it scans the eyes so that is another thing being considered as we are working with the biometrics.

Is this because things like voters’ card or national Identity can be forged or they can say they do not have any ID?

When you work with the farm hands, they hardly have anything. They do not even have bank accounts. It is that bad. It is when they come for work we start issuing them ID cards and all that. Majority of them only get to open bank accounts when they come to work for us.

Will the platform be serving any other functions?

During COVID-19, a lot of people were not able to move. The middlemen who used to go to the farm were not able to because of harassment from the police, the stress, and all that. What happened was a lot of farmers had eggs on their farm that were piling up day by day. Chickens continued laying, so we thought; why not connect the farmers with the market?

What we are now looking at, as part of what we came up with from this COVID, is we are going to connect farmers to retailers and to wholesalers.

For instance, on the platform the farms are registered but we can extend it a bit to include when I am expecting a harvest. Then the person who wants to buy, either as a supplier, distributor, middleman, supermarket etc now goes there and searches for farmers to connect with.

Eventually, we will also include suppliers of raw materials, because that was another problem that we had during the COVID (lockdown). We had a lot of people who sold off their birds prematurely because they were not able to feed them, and instances where the raw materials came, the prices were high.

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