Singapore based co-farming startup Fefifo raises US$3.1 mil
By Digital News Asia October 13, 2021
- Help smallholder farmers & agriculture grads start modern farms
- RHL Ventures as lead investor, eye on food security for Malaysia
Fefifo, a Singapore founded Agtech startup with operations in Malaysia, has closed a total of more than US$3.1 million (RM12.9 million) in early-stage funding to empower smallholder farmers and agriculture graduates to kickstart their own modern commercial farming businesses easily, starting in Malaysia. The most recent venture capital backers are Malaysia’s RHL Ventures and Korea’s KB Investment, the appointed co-investment partners for Malaysia’s Dana Penjana Nasional by Penjana Kapital under the economic recovery plan. Both parties are lead investors.
[Ed: para edited for accuracy.]
Fefifo is pioneering digitalised, standardised farming in ready-to-farm modern farm spaces called co-farms, think ‘cloud kitchens’ for farmers. Smallholder farmers, whom they call Agropreneurs, can start their own commercial farms in co-farms easily by renting a ready-to-farm greenhouse or open farm space with managed farm services, accommodation, and other shared common facilities.
“It comes at an important time for the agriculture industry and is marked as a high priority essential business that contributes meaningfully to stronger food security for Malaysia,” says Raja Hamzah, Managing Partner at RHL.
“Fefifo offers ready-to-farm spaces and technologies to kickstart a modern farming business with guaranteed off-take. We like its business model as it offers opportunities to young agri-graduates to run technology-enabled farms to derive income systematically,” says Taufiq Iskandar, Chief Investment Officer of Penjana Kapital. “Fefifo makes it possible for smallholder farmers to engage in modern commercial farming and become Agropreneurs,” he added.
“This new injection of funds will be used to double the scale of Fefifo’s pilot co-farms in Perak, Malaysia, over the next 6 months, grow the operations and bring in key strategic hires for our licensing, technology and data engineering team, taking our self-operated co-farms acreage to a total area of 10 acres of modern commercial farming operations,” says Kelveen Soh, the Malaysian cofounder and CEO at Fefifo. “This contributes to Malaysia’s food security generating around 440 metric tonnes of food produced for the domestic market in 5 years per agropreneur, that’s able to feed about 1.1 million people at WHO (World Health Organization) recommended minimum consumption of fruits and vegetables per person per day.”
Fefifo recently started its pilot co-farm in Perak, Malaysia, with the first batch of two agropreneurs (pic below) growing Chilli and Muskmelon using Fefifo’s proprietary technology platform, DDFN.
“Agropreneurs grow pre-curated short cycle cash crops using our proprietary platform, DDFN, powered by digital crop models and growing protocols to standardise and automate their seed-to-sale workflows, lifting them from subsistence to commercial farming that sells to reliable, profitable contract buyers,” says Chris Fong, the Singaporean co-founder & Chief Strategy and Innovation at Fefifo.
[Ed: para updated with additional information.]
“80% of food that Asia consumes is produced by smallholder farmers. 65% will retire in 15 years and traditional farming is not profitable enough to attract the next generation. Bringing up smallholder farming efficacy and profitability through modernisation is key to feeding 8.5 billion people by 2030. We are the first to focus on standardising smallholder operations, and we do that by combining digitalisation of commercial farm workflows and democratisation of costly farm systems and infrastructure with a business model that is relatable to smallholder farmers – rental (aka, "Farm space-as-a-Service fee") and crop profit sharing.”
Fefifo claims that each agropreneur can take home a likely RM50,000 to RM70,000 net per year per farm space which is around twice the net income of a fresh graduate in Kuala Lumpur or 10 times that of a traditional subsistence farmer.
“It’s empowering the younger generation to easily start farming,” says Rachel Lau, Managing Partner at RHL Ventures. “Agriculture graduates have one of the lowest employability rates around, with low wages and insecurities of starting their own farms. Fefifo provides the perfect platform with the entire value-chain support needed for a sustainable income.” she added.
This latest strategic partnership is a major milestone for Fefifo’s mission to have 5,000 acres of self-operated co-farms across Southeast Asia and to scale beyond 1o times that amount of acreage globally through licencing of their business model and technology. Its vision is to make co-farming the new world model for sustainable, profitable smallholder farming by 2030, potentially benefiting millions of rural populations that depend on agriculture for a livelihood.
Leading up to this latest investment, Fefifo had also received backing from accelerator program, Scaleup Malaysia, Singapore based Asian focused venture capital, Quest Ventures and impact-focused VC, EcoImpact Capital.
“In the age of digitisation, smallholder farmers will no longer be left behind. Fefifo’s dedication in creating successful agropreneurs through their platform ushers this underserved group into the 4th Industrial Revolution”, says Aaron Sarma, General Partner at ScaleUp Malaysia. “Founders, Kelveen and Chris have rallied a great team of individuals to pursue this ambitious goal with domain expertise and best practices from around the world. We are rooting for them to succeed.”
“Agriculture is the major employer in most Southeast Asian countries, that is currently experiencing a sharp decline in both farm productivity and rural incomes, further pressuring the region’s food security challenges compounded by the pandemic,” says Jeffrey Seah, Partner at Quest Ventures. “Fefifo is a much needed solution that supports smallholders to easily start farms in a profitable and sustainable way, directly addressing food security in a few ways - significantly improving the efficacy of smallholder farming, attracting the youth to farming and uplifting the livelihoods of traditional smallholder farmers.”
“Fefifo’s innovative new model aims to uplift smallholder farmers and make smallholder farming profitable and sustainable for the rural smallholder farmers which supply 80% of the crops that Asia consumes, and yet are stuck in the bottom 40% of the income pyramid. As an impact-focused investor, we’re excited to have Fefifo as part of our food security ecosystem portfolio,” says Eric Cheong, Managing Partner at EcoImpact Capital.