He believes his firm, an online market, will play a key role in solving Africa’s perennial food crises and massive unemployment
By Ben Oduor
Ask about the challenges facing the African continent and famine and starvation feature prominently on top. According to World Vision, millions Africans experienced chronic hunger and the threat of famine in 2017. Conflict, recurring severe drought and high food prices were to blame.
In East Africa- South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, 28 million people needed humanitarian assistance by December 2017. And about 6.9 million suffered from malnutrition, including more than 1 million who were malnourished or risked dying.
The UN Children’s agency reported an estimated 1.4 million children could die during the year under review, from famine-like conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.
“Help is necessary to keep the Africa hunger and food crises from worsening. Children, especially those younger than 5 years old, are the most vulnerable because they need critical nutrients to build strength and immunity against disease,” World Vision noted.
Almost all African countries including Nigeria, where social entrepreneur, Emanuel Bankole Olalekan comes from, have sought this kind of help; to fill their food baskets and feed citizens.
In as far as Olalekan agrees that conflict and drought are major contributors to the perennial scourge, he argues that failure by governments to establish adequate food reserves and consistently support agribusiness is a major trigger to such challenges, justifying need to invest extensively in the agricultural sector.
He believes in empowering farmers with relevant knowledge on modern farming practices, supplying them with inputs to boost yield and getting them ready market as the best remedy to having consistent supply of food in the market.
By painting a rosy picture in the agricultural sector, jobless youths would be inspired to invest in agribusiness and farmers will have better returns.
“Governments, on the other hand, will get sustained supply of produce for storage in preparation for such epidemics,” he explains with great optimism, knowing too well the benefits of professionalizing agricultural practices.
Born in a peri-urban setting in South Western Nigeria, Olalekan witnessed how small-holder farmers hustled under the scorching sun to cultivate and prepare land; some women tucking children on their back while working in the plantations.
It became commonplace seeing famers walk several miles in search of market for their produce, a situation that in many cases rendered some of the commodities go to waste. Despite the drenching hustle, the social status of most farmers never improved- an issue that startled Olalekan and challenged him to find a solution for his society.
While pursuing his university degree years later, the young entrepreneur founded Agromarketplace, an online agricultural commodity and grocery store in 2014, in an office at Akure, a city South West of Nigeria.
The firm gave agribusiness new meaning. It started off as both online and offline (both web-based and physical location) venture that bought agricultural produce directly from farmers, identified markets for them and delivered the produce right to the doorsteps of consumers.
Cognizant of the growing clientele and the need to empower farmers with modern farming practices, Olalekan opened up two more subsidiaries: Agro-hub, which trains famers and offers them extension services and empowerment programs on improving yields, and Agro-Investment, which aims at attracting investors and partners with the vision of improving agriculture in Nigeria.
The flagship subsidiary, Agromerchant (online market), now purchases a wide range of agricultural commodities from farmers, including; fresh farm produce, processed foodstuff, livestock, charcoal, fruits and vegetables, among others, and supplies them to customers such as food vendors, agro traders, boarding schools, private and government institutions, food companies, hotels & restaurants as well as consumers who prefer virtual shopping.
Other than the commodities, the firm distributes agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, hybrid seeds and livestock feeds to farmers, increasing their income by 30 per cent and reducing post-harvest losses by 70 per cent.
“We relieve farmers with convenient solutions by offering them ready market. Consumers can shop, order and pay on delivery at their doorsteps all the groceries, foodstuffs and other commodities at their disposal,” Olalekan says.
“Our model is based on the belief that 95 per cent of urban dwellers do not have access to fresh and healthy food. Reason being that fresh farm produce gets spoilt on the farm before it gets to these customers.”
Thus, the firm packages and preserves food in its branded hampers, boxes and sacs, and cools vegetables and fruits to keep them fresh before they’re delivered to customers.
To order or pay for products, customers visit the online store, make their orders before delivery is done to the address given. The payment terms are cash on delivery.
Milestones and future plans
To date, Agromarketplace has made strides in Nigeria. From a small office, the firm now has offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. They are set to expand to Togo, Ivory Coast and Ghana by 2020 and to Kenya and other sub Saharan countries by 2022.
“I have travelled to most of the countries and farmers tell similar tales as those in Nigeria. We’re set to expand to the regions due to the immense business opportunities we’ve identified in those markets,” he says.
The firm has so far trained about 500 farmers and improved their sales by 58 per cent. About 300 more have been served and 600 consistent customers are currently on their list.
Late 2017, they partnered with Nigeria’s Federal Government and Industrial Training Fund (ITF) to train 50 participants in smart and modern farming, being part of its extension services of ‘training farmers and agropreneurs to embrace organic and healthy smart farming.’
“There is no reason for any Nigerian to be unemployed when there are over 80 million hectares of arable lands, abundant water resources, adequate rainfall and diversified ecological conditions,” says Olalekan.
Currently pursuing a PhD in Agricultural Extension and Communication Technology at Federal University Technology- Akure, Olalekan believes there’s immense opportunity in the sector, and African states should exploit it to have enough food reserves for her population.