Someone living in a high-rise in Jakarta may not have a balcony, let alone a garden plot for growing food. But an Indonesian startup is working to turn city dwellers into virtual farmers: Through the platform, called iGrow, someone can invest in seeds for an underemployed farmer in a rural area, and then get regular updates as the food grows. When the crop is sold, seed investors share in the profits.
“The main thing is [to] create food security for all people,” says founder Iqbal Muhaimin. “We want people to participate in food security by making them say, ‘I grew my own food.'”
Right now, fruits that are native to Indonesia are often imported from countries like Thailand. Though there is plenty of fertile land, small-scale farmers often struggle to get loans from banks to grow food. Muhaimin realized that he could help farmers circumvent banks and get loans directly from fellow citizens who want to support more local, organic food.
Unlike Kiva, or other funding platforms that let people give micro-loans, iGrow provides donors a return on investment. For an orchard of durian trees, which will start to bear fruit in year five, investors can expect to make roughly 18% a year. They can choose a payout or donate the proceeds to local charity. The profit can also be reinvested in another farm.
“Some people may do this happily to donate their money, but most of people still want return,” says Muhaimin. “So we offer them both.”
The company also works with farmers to develop skills in growing organic food, and with local markets to increase demand. “There is disintegration of three main resources of agriculture in Indonesia that have meant we are not capable to be self-sufficient in food,” he says. “These three main resources are market, skills, and capital.”
On the platform, investors can choose a crop–mostly fruits, such as bananas, durian, or the deli water apple. (The company plans to expand to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, with an emphasis on healthy food; they won’t support meat production). As the crop grows, an independent monitor goes to the farm and offers progress updates. When the crop is harvested, investors get another independent report.
Over the first two years of operation, the platform has given work to more than 2,000 farmers.
Though the website already looks a little like FarmVille, the startup is currently building an app that looks even more like the game, and will let people watch the steps of the process on their phone. Muhaimin says he wants to make farming “fun and easy.” They’re also working to expand internationally.