Chioma Agwuegbo first heard of Grow Crops Online at an investment class she attended in 2017. Everything seemed fine with the platform. Grow Crops Online claimed to help people rent parcels of land and grow any crop on it. At the end of nine months, the investor gets back their money and 30% Return on Investment (ROI).
On its website, Grow Crops portrayed itself as a safe investment platform where anyone could own and run an actual farm from anywhere with smartphones.
“The farming process is insured from planting to harvest, so you never lose money!” the platform screamed. But little did Chioma know she would lose good money.
“In 2017 and 2018, I invested with them and got my money back. I invested in pumpkin and got paid after nine months. So I invested for the third time, this time inviting my friend to join the platform,” Chioma said.
THE FIRST SHALL BE THE LAST
Chioma and Omowunmi Agunloye subscribed to Grow Crops’ ‘Early Bird Max Scheme’ in October 2018 by investing N970,000 each. Chioma rented five hectares of land — same as her friend — to grow pumpkins. By July 2019, as stated in a certificate issued by Grow Crops, they were to get their money and ROI.
“In June 2019, Grow Crops sent a mail, stating that they wanted to explore the production of serum and that it might take time before they got a NAFDAC number for the product. I understood. But by October, a year after I subscribed, I called to ask why I was yet to get my ROI, but Grow Crops said they would start paying,” she told FIJ.
Grow Crops assured Chioma she would get her ROI in November since she was an Early Bird Max subscriber. In a newsletter dated May 26, 2019, the company said, “We would, however, still be giving you Early Bird Max subscribers privileges, which still include priority in payment of income and many other perks we will be announcing shortly.”
ALL WORDS, NO ACTION
But they were just words. From December 2019 to April 2020, Chioma sent a couple of emails notifying the company of how they breached their contract, but they were ignored. In May 2020, she received the shocking news that unforeseeable circumstances had prevented the company from honouring the contract agreement.
“They declared force majeure. I was shocked because the argument did not hold water, as my payment was due almost seven months earlier. If they had paid in July, there would have been no need for this,” said Chioma.
“Dear Subscriber, we hereby issue a notice of declaration of force majeure in line with our Terms and Conditions on the grounds of natural catastrophe (the COVID-19 pandemic) and lack of sales,” read an unsigned statement posted on their site on May 15, 2020.
“On the 29th of March, the Federal Government of Nigeria declared a stay home order in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. This lockdown of all activities included air flights, movement of goods and persons except those on essential services. The unexpected order was to take immediate effect on Monday the 30th of March. This order effectively froze a number of our distribution activities both locally and internationally.”
That was it. No apologies.
Pumpkin is harvested nine months after planting, meaning that Chioma’s returns were due in 2019. She said the company had stated clearly that she would be paid by December 2019, with priority given to her as an Early Bird Max subscriber. All this was before the pandemic and its consequences.
“Later, they sent me an email asking me to choose between my money and the product. Even though I chose to get my money back, they said I didn’t make any choice, “Chioma explained.
PERMANENT BREAK IN COMMUNICATION
When Chioma was tired of sending emails to Grow Crops, she reached out to her investment teacher who asked that she requested a memorandum of understanding, but, according to her, nothing was forthcoming as there were strong indications that the investment platform was unwilling to pay.
Her words: “Since August 2020, I have not heard from them till now. In my last email dated the May 28, 2020, to which I’ve received no response to date, I stated that I wished to make a final demand for the payment of N1,525, 000 for myself and N1,525,000 for my friend, the total of our investment and projected returns for five hectares of farmland in the pumpkin investment.”
FIJ placed several calls to the phone numbers displayed on Grow Crops Online’s website but they were not answered. The company also did not respond to text messages sent to it.
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.