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Financial Growth of African Farmers: A Journey towards a Sustainable Future through the Voluntary Carbon Credit Market

Agriculture sustains the livelihoods of more than 60% of the sub-Saharan population in Africa, who work as smallholder farmers. A large proportion earn less than ~$3 a day. L Marks partnered with one of the largest worldwide sogo shosha general trading conglomerates to create a new venture that would incentivise regenerative farming practices across Africa through a digital platform, leading to higher-quality and sustainable farming yields. These practices generate valuable carbon credits which can be sold to corporations seeking to offset their unavoidable carbon emissions, creating a win-win solution for sustainable agriculture and additional income for farmers in a market projected to reach ~$40 billion by 2030.

L Marks and the client team worked side by side through an intensive acceleration programme to develop the venture. The mission was to validate the concept and build a strong business model that aligned commercial viability with many stakeholders needed to operate this venture end-to-end, ensuring mutual benefits for the farmers, ecosystem and client.

At the beginning of the process, we only had early-stage market research to motivate the client to explore this idea. L Marks and our client then had to reimagine the current landscape and fundamentally change the business as usual activities for farmers throughout Africa. The proposed business model utilised a network effect on the supply-side of the business that formed part of the unique value proposition. We assumed that actioning sustainable and regenerative farming practices, our learning and education tools would firstly aim to increase farming yields sustainably and simultaneously, enabling over 3 million smallholder farmers to generate carbon credits through their newly acquired eco-friendly farming methods. The technology we would go onto test and launch would be the unique platform that bridges the gap between corporations seeking to offset their carbon emissions and African farmers looking for additional income sources through sustainable farming.

To validate the operational side of the concept, the team engaged in extensive market research and conducted many interviews and surveys with smallholder farmers and co-operatives across sub-Saharan Africa. The positive feedback we received during this phase and follow-up sessions provided confidence in the platform’s potential impact and uptake in the region. This was combined with technical feasibility investigations with verification agencies and specialist consultants who would examine our carbon credit’s integrity.

To understand the commercial demand, we engaged corporate customers and industry experts who were instrumental in understanding the carbon credit industry and the specific requirements of putting a voluntary carbon credit on the market. The L Marks team proactively opened up our extensive network to the client, enabling them to engage in meaningful corporate conversations and explore possible business opportunities.

These commercial insights allowed us to produce a high-level financial model giving client decision makers a view into the venture’s commercial viability. We analysed multiple potential revenue streams, operational costs, and revenue projections as part of this activity. The team proactively identified some risks at this point, such as carbon credit price volatility and minor adoption barriers among farmers and corporations. These risks were then directed back into the development process where mitigations were implemented.

The success of this new venture depended on many factors, here are a few which were pressure tested in the process:

  • The client team members’ abilities to be entrepreneurial and show passion towards solving the core problem identified.
  • Client leadership decision makers increased involvement and enthusiasm for the new venture and its potential for the company.
  • Identifying, developing and negotiating partnership deals with strategic, technology and operational partners.
  • Using stakeholder insights to shape the platform creation. We needed to make sure it was both functional on the ground in Africa, where mobile connectivity is not always reliable, and on the corporate trading desks where our client would be tasked with selling the carbon credits to institutional customers.

On completion of the new venture project, the team had created a comprehensive business model and business plan, including a step by step implementation plan that was supported by rigorous validation efforts. After a leadership review and final presentations, the client was excited to sign-off and launch this new venture. They provided the new venture with undisclosed seed capital plus additional resources and personnel, this will be used to create the pilot and integrate the technology. Currently, the platform is launching to 3 million smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa. Future metrics put the target revenue at ~$40M AAR which will be realised by 2027.