Ecosystem approach, key to unlocking agric sector potential – Experts

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Story by Ayo Fadimu

To tap into the abundant opportunities available in Nigeria’s agricultural space, entrepreneurs have been advised to shun working in isolation and adopt an ecosystem approach, the advice was given by distinguished business professionals at the maiden Agric Business Africa Conference.

Addressing thousands of participants who attended the conference organised by Agric Business Empowerment Initiative, the Convener and Chairman of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Agric Group, Mr African Farmer Mogaji, noted that it was time to change the dynamics in the agricultural sector and bring the private sector together.

The conference which was held on the same day Nigeria marked her 59th Independence Anniversary was geared towards helping entrepreneurs in the agricultural space attract investors and scale up their businesses.

”We are trying to bring the private sector at small scale and medium, such that they can put in the right structure and we can get the sector moving forward. I will say that most young people venturing into agriculture in Nigeria today, have zeal but no knowledge; they have high aspiration which is good, however, it takes a process. Agriculture is not like other sectors and so, you need to work the ropes – they lack coaching and mentoring,” Mogaji said.

He announced plans by the organisers to continue working with participants for a period of three months to seek out the ones serious about scaling up their ventures.

“We want to serve as an umbrella body to help, most especially those youths aged 18 – 40 who need information and network. We plan to work with them for three months and then scale up with the few ones that qualify.

“We also need these youths to work together in groups rather than in isolation and we will take them to the next level. We need to come together in order to grow together; there is nothing that is not profitable in agric business, just that you have to join the right network,” he said.

He noted that funding was not a major challenge as funds were available and easy to access by those who understood essential principles of setting up a business in the agriculture space.

“Yes, they talk about funding, but funding is available, it is just that many don’t know how to brand, many want to start a project instead of going into franchising. I just got four of the largest cooperatives offer me hundreds of millions to fund any initiative that I will be the technical partner.so, money is not the challenge, rather it is the capacity to handle those funds that is essential.

”The diaspora for example are looking for what to put money into, I know a lot of individuals in the Diaspora pumping money into Nigeria’s agribusiness sector. For example, we are importing most of the exotic vegetable seeds we cultivate here, they can invest in those seeds and push it down here, which is quite sustainable and preferable to starting a farm here.

One of the speakers, Mrs. Subomi Plumtre, Executive Director, Alder Consulting, noted that with the African Free Trade Agreement, a lot of markets have become open and it is time to build a distinct identity and brand for agribusiness products, companies or organisations.

According to her, Investment organisations also are looking for who to fund and they tend to defer to organisations that have credibility and reputation “and if you don’t build these qualities, how will they find you?”

She encouraged farmers or agribusiness professionals to go beyond just doing the quality work that they are doing and build a reputation especially online, attend conferences and build networks beyond Nigeria and attract funding that can be used to scale beyond Nigeria.

“I think the government has done a lot in terms of policies that encourage entrepreneurship and agriculture, directed the Central Bank to give out single digit loans, it is now for the agribusiness practitioners to take advantage of these policies to grow their businesses and platforms exponentially,” she said.

“To derisk your business and become more attractive to investors, one of the things you need to do is to limit key man risks, organisations that have single signatories for example present a huge red flag for a potential investor. If you really want to attract investment, you have to operate as a professional business with an organogram and a team that limits key man risks. Do you have an audited account for example, are your bank statements clean? And the structure doesn’t need to be big, it could be a small three-man structure, but let the structure be there, so that the potential investor will look into your organisation and see that there is a proper organisation and limited key man risks,” she said.

Another Guest Speaker, Mrs Folake Odediran, GM of Rx and Country Chair Nigeria -Ghana, urged agribusiness practitioners to develop a growth mindset that that their enterprises can get better.

“Don’t impose limitations on yourselves; rather question your assumption, who says that you cannot find partners? Find out from those who know more than you do because, transformation requires sacrifice.

She urged agropreneurs to develop competencies and build up capabilities in order to provide excellent services that will help to make them more attractive to customers and prospective investors.

In his remark, serial entrepreneur and MD of Securisk Insurance, Mr Pradeep Pahulwani pointed out that the agricultural value-chain was laden with opportunities for almost every professional and was not solely cut-out for farmers only.

He tasked anyone seeking to profit from agriculture to explore the value-chain for opportunities in logistics, IT services; Sales and Marketing; Land Survey and architectural designs for farms, Services Consultancy, Human Resource recruiting and training as well as import and export services.

In his testimonial, a maize farmer, Mr Abiodun Olorundero told other participants that profitable agriculture required capital investment. Abiodun who started from cultivating maize on about five hectares of land about five years ago, now cultivates around 500 hectares with the help of new partners who invested in his venture, added that farming is a lot of work but eventually worth the while.

“People need to see agriculture as a business that requires a lot of time, I attracted partners because, I was steadfast and today I am better off than when I started,” he said.

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