According to Mckinsey, “African agriculture is at a turning point, and a long-awaited “green revolution” may be within reach. Many of the continent’s governments are adopting market-friendly policies and committing more resources to the sector.”
Agriculture plays a key role in the economic development of any nation and it is important for African entrepreneurs to pay attention to this sector. We interviewed Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu, the CEO of Zebra Group and he shares the value he is adding in Nigeria’s Agriculture sector:
Who is Buffy?
Buffy is a young, eastern Nigerian entrepreneur who is focused on media and the Agro industry; trying to add value to the continent.
How did you start Zebra Group and how were you able to branch out into Agriculture?
Zebra Group initially started with the aim to go into Fast Moving Consumable Goods (FMGG) but that never really happened so we went into media instead. We started with newspaper publications, went into television and then media services. From the income accumulated from our media ventures, we branched into Agro-trading and Agro-processing.
Agriculture is a generational thing for me. My family has been into agriculture for three generations, so it was always something I wanted to get into.
What products do you trade and process?
We started off trading cashew nuts, soybeans and palm oil. We then went into the processing of palm kernels and soybeans for fish feed.
How much have you invested into this venture?
Our direct investment will be over $14 million dollars. We started off by trading raw materials, then started securing LPOs from off-takers of the raw materials we process. After securing LPOs worth a certain amount, we find investors to help us raise capital to finance the project.
What is the impact of the agricultural sector in the Nigerian economy?
Approximately 70 percent of Nigeria’s non oil production are in Agriculture. A lot of countries have sourced their agro-inputs from Nigeria and sell us back the finished products. As Nigerians, we sell ourselves short by selling actual raw materials to other nations.
If we sell our processed chocolate instead of cocoa, we sell it for a lot more. By doing this, we are creating more industries, employment and a value chain of farmers, processors and traders. The more we develop the agriculture sector, the more we improve the Nigerian economy and create more employment.
What is the impact of Foreign Exchange in agriculture in Nigeria?
A large percentage of our finished goods are imported into Nigeria. When the Forex issue came up, food prices doubled. The foreign exchange issue has created a lot of opportunities because it has reduced imports; thus people are forced to buy locally.
When consumers are forced to buy locally, the local producers have enough capital to work with and they can increase the quality of their products over a period of time. This is because they have more demand and more money to invest in the quality of their products.
What challenges does Zebra Agro Industries have presently and how do you manage them?
One of the key challenges is skilled labor. A lot of our agro-processers in the country are rural. They do the same things they have been doing since the 1960s. The opportunities are many, the demand is high but we do not have skilled labor to execute efficiently. During the harvest season, there is also a lot of waste because we don’t apply the industry’s best practices when harvesting farm produce.
We manage the skill deficit by buying machinery, building infrastructure and bringing foreigners on board to train our staff for a month or two.
How easy is it for agropreneurs to access funding?
Recently, agric-finance has gotten better because of the foreign exchange deficit and drop in the oil and gas sector. In the past, it was tougher as agric-finance was below 5% for most banks. Nigerian banks were more akin to short-term trade-finance, against long-term agric-finance which takes time to mature.
In recent times, the federal government finance instruments, Central Bank of Nigeria’s borrower’s scheme, Bank of Industry’s Agro-loan and so on, are helping. Unfortunately, the financing schemes are only beneficial for people who are looking for growth capital. Agric- startups do not have access to funding which makes it tough to thrive. There should be some sort of seed financing for budding agropreneurs.
What are your future plans for Zebra Agro-Industries?
We started by trading, went into processing and now integrating farming. The reason for this is to have control over the entire value chain. We also want to set up warehouses in communities that produce our input, since we cannot farm everyday of the week. By setting up warehouses, we would be able to buy a certain amount of produce from the local farmers to meet the demand.
What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs in Africa’s emerging markets?
Start small, think big, move fast. Just start, get into it fast and the rest will happen; you will grow. You can’t do what you don’t know. It is important to also learn about the peculiarities of the venture you want to go into. Starting is usually the biggest challenge.
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