In 2015, Habiba Ali, the founder and MD-CEO of Sosai Renewable Energies Company based in Kaduna, Nigeria, had a trying time convincing the C&I market that renewables was the way to go. Often, she was met with a “don’t come with your environmental talk” sentiment. Today things are very different.
The change has seen the C&I market boom and most banks are now investing in solar installations. “It’s been so exciting to witness this change, which has been sudden and fast, because it means that all of my groundwork in previous years has not been in vain.”
Habiba’s passion is infectious and her drive to promote renewable energy in budding communities and urban areas – executing solar installations and drive product adoption and improving cook stoves for rural communities – has made her a respected voice in the green energy space in West Africa. However, the statistics that reflect the reality of the many millions that still do not have access to energy, keep her feet planted firmly on the ground.
However, she cautions that if the statistics are not changing then the work has not been fruitful: “Some of the research we did in 2010, indicated a rise in the energy ladder. The energy pyramid, where you had a lot more people at the bottom using firewood, charcoal and kerosene, showed movement up the pyramid to use of gas and electricity. Now the dream is to turn that pyramid upside down, and get more people using electricity or gas. If we’re still churning out that same data, it means all of the work we’ve put in is really wasted and that really hurts. It’s really frustrating.”
USTDA grant for feasibility studies
The mother of two is rightly very proud of a recent success for Sosai in the form of a research grant by the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). She explains: “We’ve been able to identify thousands of communities in Nigeria that need renewable energy solutions deployed to them. To reach even more people, we need more data. The USTDA do feasibility studies which they fund 100%. We were able to present to them about 100 communities across three states in Nigeria (Kogi, Kaduna and Plateau states). We were granted over $900,000 to implement these feasibility studies, which will help us to identify the communities that are viable for a project rollout.”
According to Ali, with such data and information, investors will take them more seriously. “One of the things you will find, especially in this sector, is that it takes a lot for a woman-owned business to be taken seriously. I’ve been in this industry for over 14 years and know that to be well-regarded means to tick all the boxes and work twice as hard just to make yourself relevant.”
It’s now an exciting time to be a woman in energy: “We signed the award agreement in February where the ambassador of the US and the new head of USTDA, both women, were present among other leading figureheads.”
Being a woman-owned business also has its advantages, she has discovered: “You know, starting out as a woman is different; it is difficult. You need to learn all the ropes and grow your network while your health, your family suffer. But then with time, once you’ve got the hang of it, people start realising that you’re not going anywhere, you’re there.”
That moment of realisation is when the benefits of being a woman start coming through. “For example, the first USADF award we received had 25% of the overall score allocated to being a female-owned company. So yes, we’ve got some very good value for being female-owned.”
According to Ali, a direct result of the pandemic has been the inability to do installations in communities, which has postponed revenue and adoption by the local residents, particularly as a lot of people are cash-strapped. “If I’ve lived for 15 to 20 years without any electricity, what makes you think delaying another one or two years would make any difference to my lifestyle?”
This setback will not discourage Ali: “I’m one of the advocates of ‘we cannot stop our lives because of COVID’. We can just learn to live around it, live together somehow. It’s just like living with malaria as we’ve done so for years.”
Finding inspiration in agribusiness
Sosai has started installing solar drying systems at agri projects, such as for pineapple and mango farming communities. Ali finds the agricultural sector particularly inspiring and complementary to their work.
“People can do without energy, but no one can do without food, right? And every day you find out that in the agricultural sector, there’s always more innovation and that’s very exciting. In Nigeria, people doing extension services are helping to improve farmers’ practices, ensuring they farm regularly over the years. In the same way, our solar drying project will benefit farmers. Yes, people already had practices but we’re just offering a better way now.”
The agribusiness sector is constantly innovating, constantly doing things that will improve it, make it better. “Looking at it from an investment point of view, it is a sure banker for revenue. It’s an exciting market for me where energy for services based in agriculture will have a huge impact. Solar drying systems are just the beginning and we hope to extend this into processing and irrigation. These are the solutions we are thinking to tie into the 100 communities coming up.”
Knowing your onions
For the Sosai Renewable Energies founder, finding partners and working together for a common cause has become a natural way of doing business and promoting a healthier way of living. Being a member of the Enlit Africa advisory board is also beneficial for everyone, she says.
Having ‘people of repute’ on your advisory board isn’t enough anymore, advises Ali. “Having people on board who are practitioners, who are hands on, constantly innovating, is more practical. We must do our utmost to ensure that acceptance of a variety of solutions is widely spread and more sustainable”
According to Ali, having announced her involvement as an advisory board member to Enlit Africa on LinkedIn has already gained mileage: “People are asking, ‘Oh, really, who is she?’ and they are taking notice, asking questions and it adds to our credibility. So it’s quite exciting to be listed as an Enlit Africa advisory board member.” ESI
Africa currently accounts for only 2% of global trade. And only 17% of African exports are intra-continental which is low when compared to 59% and 68% for Asia and Europe respectively. Launched on the 1st of January, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been poised to be the game changer that will see the continent harness its full potential.
This pact is going to create the largest Free Trade Area in the world measured by the number of countries participating. AfCFTA will connect 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined GDP valued at $3.4 trillion.
The aim of the agreement is to reduce all trade barriers, costs and to enable Africa to integrate further into global chains.
Here are 6 reasons why the AfCFTA is a game changer,
The AfCFTA will reduce poverty.
A recent report by the World Bank stated that the pact will boost regional income by 7% ($450billion), increase wage growth for women, and also lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035. It also mentioned that the wages pf both Skilled and unskilled workers will be boosted by 10.3% for skilled workers and 9.8% for unskilled workers.
Positive economic outcomes will be many and varied.
It has been estimated that the agreement will increase Africa’s exports by $560 billion, mostly in manufacturing. Exports between countries would also increase by 81% while the increase to countries outside the continent would be 19%. Markets and economies across the African continent will be reshaped, which will lead to the expansion of key sectors thereby making these countries to compete globally.
Women will benefit from the Agreement.
According to the Economic Commission of Africa, 70% of informal cross-border traders in Africa are made up of women. As AfCFTA clearly focuses on improving lives of African especially women, the tariff reductions will enable informal women traders to operate through formal channels thereby reducing harassment, violence, confiscation of goods and even imprisonment.
It will be close the gender income gap and give SMEs the opportunities to access new markets.
The agreement will promote good governance across Africa and Globally through the concept of “Trade Integrity” which is defined as international trade transaction that are legitimate, properly priced and transparent. This will ensure the legitimacy of trade among African countries and with the rest of the world.
It will cushion the effect of Covid-19.
The African Development Bank Group’s African Economic Outlook (AEO) 2020 supplement estimates that Africa could suffer GDP losses in 2020 between $145.5 billion (baseline) and $189.7 billion (worst case), from the pre-COVID-19 GDP estimates.
AfCFTA offers a short-term opportunity for countries to rebuild and cushion the effect of the pandemic. In the longer-term, the pact will strengthen the continent’s resilience to future shocks.
In recent times, the need to have Agro produce meant for export certified has been on the steady rise in Africa. This can be attributed to the fact that developed countries demand for it. The certification of Agro- produce ranges from Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire to fair-trade mangoes in Senegal and organic Tunisian Olive oil.
In a drive to generate revenue and create jobs, governments all over Africa are encouraging their respective agricultural sectors to exports their produce. But over the years there has been ongoing debate over the merits of such labels, which come from outside the continent.
labels are intended to give the consumers the assurance of product quality and farming practices but the labels’ impact on African economies and growers has been mixed. Francois Ruf, a cocoa specialist at French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and one of the industry voices describes it as “scam”.
On the positive side, certification schemes offer African growers several opportunities which includes giving them access to high purchasing power markets such as the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Abdelaziz Makhloufi, the CEO of CHO Group- a company that markets Terra Delyssa (an olive oil brand) said that “the organic label sets us apart from our competitors, as we produce a superior quality single-source olive oil, whereas they are selling blends”.
With labels, local sectors can be structured by creating co-operatives, establishing processing facilities and setting up distribution channels. ECOOKIM which operates in Cote d’Ivoire has four labels for its products- Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, AB and USDA organic- has built a network of cocoa and cashew co-operatives.
The Benin pineapple growers’ association Reseau des producteurs d’ananas (RePAB) partnered with Les Jus Tillou (a start-up) to put together a certification scheme
Wearying environmental results
Like any other system or process, certification schemes are without their own problems. The Cocoa market in Cote d’Ivoire provides an example where it was discovered that it was difficult to get cocoa farmers to comply with the environmental standards.
According to Ruf, a study involving 300 farms and it was noticed that there has been a regress in terms of pesticide which has been on the rise since the 2000s.
With other crops, organic and fair -trade certification schemes stick out as strict rules govern the use of plant protection products and require performance of regular audits which are carried out randomly to reduce the risk of fraud.
Farmers have a great deal of resentment towards certification schemes as most do not earn enough to cover for their higher production and certification cost. Industry experts are of the view that the most attractive certification schemes for African growers are those that provide a minimum, realistic purchase price, a premium paid out to both farmers and co-operatives, the signing of a contract and the audit of co-operatives.
Farmers should be trained so that they can benefit from competition between various certification labels and pushing for the premiums to be paid directly to the grower instead of paying it to the co-operatives.
African countries should also demand more transparency from certification organisations and work towards development of African labels over the long term.
As part of its drive for improving Agribusiness in Nigeria, Corporate Farmers International in partnership with Lagos and Kebbi states launched 3 platforms to transform the sector. Prince Ade Ajayi Co-Founder of the organisation in his opening remarks said the COVID 19 pandemic opened opportunities for digitalization in the Agric sector.
According to him “Farmers and investors across the sector make mistakes because of the dearth in knowledge in investments and agro-practices”.
He said the launch of the platforms would rebrand agriculture as an attractive and innovative sector in Nigeria with the products E-learning platform, Eko School Agric, and Farmers Support Service.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture in Lagos State, Mr. Hakeem Adeniji, described the partnership with Corporate Farmers as strategic because the state is the most populous in Nigeria.
With the need for food security and large-scale agro production, Adeniji believed the platforms of CFI would support the Lagos 5 year roadmap for the state’s agriculture sector.
He said the time had come for tech-savvy farmers in the country to become principal actors in the sector and commended CFI for introducing innovative products.
The Kebbi State Lagos Liaison Officer, Mr. Tukur Mohammed, said the state located in the North-West region had vast arable land for agriculture and has committed large resources under the administration of Governor Atiku Bagudu to boosting agro-production in the area of rice and tomato.
He commended the efforts of CFI and believed that the innovative platforms will increase awareness for farmers in Kebbi and improve their techniques and practices.
Speaking further on the initiatives Mr. Akin Alabi a Co-Founder, Corporate Farmers International provided further insight on the products it introduced.
For the agric e-learning academy platform, he said it was designed for closing the gap in agric education through digitalization, by educating Nigerians on innovative agro-practices.
The second platform, Eko School Agric according to Alabi was a comic book series for children, teenagers, and lovers of comics in collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture. It was designed to educate children, catch them young, and explain to them where their food comes from.
On the third platform “Farm Support Service” he said it was designed to support Nigeria’s extension services by providing a weekly digital service for farmers and agro-starters through dedicated mobile numbers accessible anywhere in Nigeria.
The Central Bank of Nigeria disclosed earlier this year that N554.61 billion has so far been disbursed to over 3 million farmers since the inception of the Anchor Borrowers Scheme in 2015. This came before President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the sum of N600 billion to take advantage of this year’s rainy season and enhance food production, as Nigeria is expected to produce 60% of the country’s wheat demand.
Unity Bank CEO, Mrs Tomi Somefun, disclosed recently that her bank, which is an outlet for CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Scheme for farmers, will support 120,000 maize farmers during this year’s maize planting season.
A bank rep told Nairametrics that, “the most important first step is to be a member of a farming union that falls under the scheme including Rice Farmers Association and Maize Association of Nigeria,” adding that a CBN partner works with the unions through creating accounts for the members and farmers which enables the bank to run its checks of eligibility.
So what does it take to join a Union, and which should a farmer apply for?
Akingbala Adetokunbo, partner at PosterVillam Ltd told Nairametrics that his company advises farmers to sign up with farmers associations involved in wheat, onions, maize, sesame seed and avocado.
“Agriculture in Nigeria has its ups and downs, and people often ask about which cooperatives they can join. Whilst there are a lot, we often advise people to sign up with farmers associations involved in wheat, onions, maize, sesame seed and avocado,” he said.
When signing up with any ABP scheme, the best farmers will do thorough registration and credit checks, onboard with their BVN, through the DFOs, PFIs and the Anchor.
One Anchor I can recommend is TheTomatoJos Company (Tomatoes and Maize) and very soon, GrainCroft,” he added.
Adetokunbo added that after application to any cooperative, farmers are registered into the National Collateral Registry.
“The cooperatives are the Anchor,” he said. The Anchor does the management of farmers and all other procedures for the CBN loans.
What you should know
The National Bureau of Statistics disclosed this week that Nigeria’s agricultural sector grew by 2.28% in real terms in Q1 2021 compared to a growth of 3.42% in Q4 2020 and 2.20% in Q1 2020.
Mira Mehta is the CEO of Tomato Jos in Kaduna State. The firm has received $10m (N4 billion) worth of investment. Ms Mehta says Nigeria needs infrastructure to boost agriculture.
Aside from tomatoes, she grows corn and wheat.
In this episode of our Women in Agriculture, she shares her experience on how she engages rural farmers.
PT: Your farm is located in Kaduna not Jos, and your farm is called Tomato-Jos. Why is not Tomato-Kaduna?
Ms Mehta: The name came before the location in 2013 when I first came about the idea. I was thinking more of the company, the brand and the product. And the tomatoes from Jos gets the premium in the market. They usually sell at a higher price so I wanted to mark my product with that quality, that when you buy my product you’re buying a high-quality product.
Another thing is that the name grounds the brand in Nigeria unlike other top tomato brands in Nigeria with Italian sounding names but I really wanted to make the name Nigerian and the last thing is that the name is like the Igbo slang to a girlfriend “my Tomato-Jos” which means very clean; very fresh; when we were looking for land, Kaduna ended up being the best part for us.
PT: Aside from this, what actually inspired you to go into agriculture?
Ms Mehta: I wanted to do something that was going to be highly impactful for a rural community and basically, I had been working for four years and I had done a lot of healthcare-related work and what I saw travelling around these clinics and hospitals, how poor most of the patients coming to seek medical attention are and I wanted to make a profit while touching lives so that was why I was drawn to the sector.
PT: You established this company since 2014, how has been the journey so far?
Ms Mehta: It has been quite uneasy and there are times when people don’t really understand what you’re trying to do and nobody else has your back through your ups and downs. Even up to our first production till now, there have been ups and downs. It has not really been easy.
PT: Capital for Nigerian farmers is usually difficult. How much did you invest when you started in 2014?
Ms Mehta: I can’t really say now but since then till now we’ve raised the capital to about $10 million. It has been quite difficult though.
PT: Having a capital of $10 million in Nigeria is big for an individual. Are you in partnership with anybody?
Ms Mehta: Well, we have investors, we are exploring a strategic partnership with other large companies in Nigeria but so far we have not made any partnership with anyone in Nigeria.
PT: Your seven years journey is long enough to be an expert in the sector, what will you say is the most difficult part of the sector?
Ms Mehta: There are many difficult challenges in the industry like having sufficient capital to work. Basically, we started business in 2014 and we’ve not yet launched a consumer product and have not started making a reasonable amount of money so I have investors that are super super patient and willing to give me the time to build all the infrastructure that I am trying to build. The bulk of the capital goes into infrastructure due to the lack of infrastructure in Nigeria. No good roads, no power supply, no network where we are, with very bad Internet.
All those basic things that are supposed to be in place are not so you’ll have to provide some fire yourself. Another challenging part of agriculture is figuring out how to source materials, how to get farmers to do something that they’ve never done before, change their behaviour, getting our staff to do what they’ve never done before. The way we operate is different from the way even a professional farm operates.
PT: What are the sizes of your farm?
Ms: Mehta: We have about 500 hectares but we are not cultivating all that. We are cultivating about 60 and 220 over the next 12 months.
PT: You run a large farm that requires both manual labour and machines. How many employees do you have and how are you able to manage them?
Ms Mehta: We have about 60 permanent employees to add 15 more soon and is pretty hard to manage people, to even get an effective manager too. Something I’ve learned over the years is that to be a good manager you have to be a good listener and possess good communication skills.
PT: How do you manage issues with fertilizers, seeds and inputs which are the basic necessity for cultivation?
Ms Mehta: There are frequent national shortages in Nigeria of things like fertilisers and other inputs that we take for granted in the US. So what we do is make purchases of thing we need over time due to the chances of scarcity when needed.
We get to build a long time line into our purchasing plan and it’s had taking us time. Before we buy fertilizers from the retailers but now we buy from the distributors directly.
PT: You started in 2014, there were already security challenges in the country and you definitely saw more coming. Why did you choose Nigeria, not other countries?
Ms Mehta: I was already here in Nigeria before starting the company. I lived in Nigeria from 2008 to 2012 so I already knew Nigeria pretty well and I went back to the U.S. for business school and when I finished, the business I had in mind I was like starting it in Nigeria or Ghana but honestly, there is a much bigger market in Nigeria as the population is larger and it’s a wealthier country. And also I’ve lived here before and had the connections that were useful for me to start a company here in Nigeria than in Ghana.
PT: Kaduna is a state suffering from a high level of insecurity. So how are you able to manage it?
Ms Mehta : I think about security all the time and it is getting worse all across the country. It’s quite difficult to recruit staff from other parts of the country because they’ll first say “these things that are happening, there’s no way I’m going there”. We try to make our environment safer through working with federal operatives like the military and NSCDC that are within the area.
We make them know about us and be aware of who we are and what we are doing. We are also in touch with the community and the local vigilante group. We’ve been fortunate over time. We try to make it safe for our staff that we have escorts accompany the staff bus to the farm. It’s quite expensive but I care a lot about my staff very much and I want them to feel safe coming to work every day, so security is a priority for me.
PT: Have you ever been harassed because you’re a woman because there’s this belief in Nigeria that agriculture is for men and women should not meddle into it?
Ms Mehta: I think the fact that I’m foreign, that has been cancelled out but I get a lot of sayings that goes like this which is supposed to sound as a compliment but I don’t take it as such; “You’re stronger than a man”, “you’re a man in woman’s body”, etc, but that’s not a compliment and guess what?
Women are capable of doing these things. I try to make it balanced though, that it is a male dominated thing and I don’t have a lot of women on the team who are more in the labour management team and I know how hard it is to do it at all and do it in a male dominated area.
PT: It’s pretty difficult for women in Nigeria to own land. Being a foreigner, how are you able to acquire land?
Ms Mehta: I don’t own any land, it’s the company that owns the land. We have a lot of farmers and women in our programme and they don’t have access to their own land so we have special point of trying to bring more women in our programme and letting them use our land to farm and learn all the techniques they need to learn on how to farm. When they graduate, we help them lease land because a lot of the community don’t lease land to women. So we are trying to support women farmers in our community to be able to learn and continue farming.
PT: When these women graduate and begin their own farming, are you in any kind of agreement with them?
Ms Mehta: Before they start training with us we get into this contract with them. After training, we help them with loans which includes the inputs they need on their farms, the education and extensions services we provide to them, and at the end of the season they pay us back in tomatoes or maize.
They pay back with a certain tonne of produce and anything they grow above that, we pay them in cash. We put a small markup on the products to enable us do the programme but to really make money we are going to process those tomatoes into paste to give us the revenue that’ll make us sustainable. The farmer programme that we do is just a way to help us get the required raw material to make our consumer products.
PT: Before the training begins, is there any financial commitment?
Ms Mehta: They enroll with a commitment fee of N10,000 which makes them liable for a loan of N300,000 after the training as well as many other inputs they’ll get from us. The training lasts as long as a season which is about 4 to 5 months. So over the course of the season, the farmer will get a lot of different types of training.
PT: As a commercial farmer, have you gotten any form of support from the government?
Ms Mehta: Presently, we are in the middle of finalising and drawing down a loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria to support the construction of the factory. That is the only form of support we have gotten and are appreciative of the government of the state for allowing us operate with ease in the state.
PT: If the Ministry of Agriculture were to empower the industry, what recommendations would you give?
Ms Mehta: Irrigation infrastructure should be one of the major things they should really invest in. Irrigation is probably the biggest challenge in tomato farming and farmers really struggle to get the resources to irrigate their tomato farms.
PT: Has family life slowed you down in any way since you started?
Ms Mehta: Yes, there are people who are distractions who do not want to see me succeed but there are situations where I need something urgently from someone but he doesn’t see the priority in that, not that it is intentional though but something that is super important for me will end up not being achieved because the other person felt it was not a priority.
PT: The present administration wants young Nigerians to venture into agriculture, some of them usually don’t have the knowledge of what they are asked to do. Let’s say a young person walks up to you seeking advice on how to go about agriculture, what advice would you give the person?
Ms Mehta: For me, you’ll have to have a vision in mind of what your goals are. Is it something you want to do full-time or just like a side hustle for supplementary income, or something you want to grow into something big? So what your goals are, is really important.
For me, it is trying to build a business worth over a hundred million dollars, and to get that I have to work in things that have a really big market. But generally knowing what you want to do is very important. Secondly, starting small and you know agriculture can be super expensive so experience is key which when you start small, you can learn and understand before increasing your value.
PT: So as a commercial farmer, you should have attended many international events, considering the events you’ve attended, do you think Nigeria can compete globally when it comes to agriculture?
Ms Mehta: Honestly, in today’s environment it’s very difficult. But I think there’s a world in which Nigeria can be competitive in agriculture but there are a lot of policies and infrastructure that have to be in place for our farming to be competitive. I’ll give you an example. Besides road and power I said earlier, even just having access to agricultural companies, the support services, will improve our system.
A tractor broke down and we could not get the repair parts in Nigeria so we had to order for in America. It took us three months to get the machines back to work on what should have been in three days. So to compete globally, Nigeria must put infrastructure that supports agriculture in place.
PT: You mentioned using tractors. So aside tractors, what other machines do you use on your farm?
Ms Mehta: We have made big investment security and I’ve talked about irrigation earlier as one important part of agriculture in the dry season. Even though it looks like a bunch of pipes sitting on the ground, it’s quite expensive. It costs about $4000 per hectare to get irrigation access. We also have machines in our factories that also cost a lot. Also, tractors because they pull most of the other attachments that carry out different other functions.
PT: You earlier said your crops are seasonal and there are times when you wait after cultivation for plants to grow before harvest. During these times, what do you do?
Ms Mehta: We don’t just wait around to see them grow. Tomatoes are one of the hardest crops to grow and they have a lot of things that could go wrong. You have to irrigate the crop at least once in three days depending on the type of soil you’re cultivating. So you have to have people moving the pipes around, weeding, checking for abnormalities, applying fertilizers etc, a farmer is expected to be in the farm every day to check on his plant. We actually have a farming protocol that explains to the farmers what they are supposed to do at each point of the plant cycle.
PT: At that time you’re not selling anything so what are the financial implications?
Ms Mehta: It’s hard because in farming you literally have to put all your money into the ground and wait for your money to come back from the ground. It is really quite capital-intensive and also difficult. There is this cash cycle, how long do you put your money in the ground before you begin to get it back? In farming, it is very long but then for processing it becomes longer because you take the cultivated tomatoes for processing into paste and then sell for a very long time. From the time of cultivating to actually selling the last product can take up to 18 to 24 months.
PT: Can you give us an overview of your company? What else do you do?
Ms Mehta: We are a farming and processing factory. We farm tomatoes and process them into retail packaged tomatoes and we start selling them in the market. We grow maize and cereals. We do farming and processing.
PT: Assuming you’re not into agriculture, what other line of business would you have ventured into?
Ms Mehta: When I was in business school I was looking at different opportunities post graduation. Real Estate was one among other opportunities.
PT: Can you give us a brief background about yourself?
Ms Mehta: I grew up in Boston, I went to Brown University where I got my first degree, I was a student athlete and was a member of the team and became a captain where we were doing well. That really shaped a lot of my college year being an athlete and a very competitive person. After graduation, I worked in a financial institution for two years and in 2008 I moved to Nigeria to work for the company.
But my work was not really impactful as I wanted with my life. So after working for four years, I went back to the U.S. in 2012 where I went back to school to acquire my MBS, Masters in Business Studies. That was when I started to consider what it will require to develop tomatoes into a company. I had the idea but I never had the courage to start anything at that time but going to school helped me gain confidence and courage to start the company.
PT: Do you belong to any association or cooperative?
Ms Mehta: Yes I do. I belong to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and we are in a tomatoes policy group through the industry trade investment.
PT: Your journey looks like it just started, where do you see yourself in five years?
Ms Mehta: Well, hopefully in five years, Tomato-Jos will be a household name across Nigeria as I’ll love to see this compost reach that in Nigeria. That’ll be the dream.
President Muhammadu Buhari says his administration’s investment in agriculture has yielded visible results.
Buhari said the future of Nigeria is in agriculture.
He said this on Wednesday during an interactive session at the African Finance Summit in Paris, France.
Buhari explained that the policy on border closure to neighbouring countries was to protect the economy and improve security.
“The future of Nigeria is in agriculture,’’ he said.
As part of commitment towards diversification of the economy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) yesterday flagged off the 2021 wet season input distribution in the south-west geo-political zone under the CBN-Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme(ABP), in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti state.
On security, Buhari said all the service chiefs were changed in order to inject new energy and ideas into protecting the country, adding that the security chiefs were also given clear targets and timelines.Advertisement
In his remarks, Kayode Ibrahim Laro, Nigeria’s Ambassador to France, appreciated the president for always creating time to interact with Nigerians, describing him as the “most friendly President to Nigerians in Diaspora’’.
At the meeting, according to the presidential aide, Nigerians in Paris raised issues with the president on security, voting in elections, economy and education.
As African leaders spoke at the High-level Virtual Dialogue on Feeding Africa last week, one thing stood out; Africa knows its food systems are caught in a mare’s nest.
Nonetheless, the 17 heads of state attending the event organised to galvanise action around ending hunger and malnutrition on the continent by investing more in agriculture said they would “eliminate hunger within the next 10 years”, in a statement of commitments that will be forwarded as Africa’s commitment towards the UN Food System Summit 2021.
But Africa has made a lot of promises about ending hunger in the past. And even though the continent is said to be producing more food than it has ever done before, still, not much seems to have changed in the way of persistent hunger for more than 250 million Africans who often find themselves with no access to proper food.
According to CGIAR Special Representative to the United Nations Food Systems Summit, Kanayo Felix Nwanze, at the heart of Africa’s struggle for economic growth and food security is the contradiction of evidence that shows a great return of investment from agricultural research and development than any other sector, yet, countries continue to prioritise investment in other sectors.
“As of 2019, only four African nations were on course to meet agricultural development targets by 2025, while food imports continue to rise every year and are projected to reach $100 billion by 2030. Bringing forth the second contradiction of an Africa that has historically relied on external partners for its agricultural development,” he said.
“Over the past five to seven years, research institutions across the continent have had to contend with shortfalls in funding, putting Africa at a critical juncture in its goal to accelerate progress towards greater food security.”
Despite 60 percent of the world’s arable uncultivated land being in Africa, the continent remains a net importer of food with an annual import bill of around $80 billion.
Also, 70 percent of Africans could not afford a healthy diet, even prior to the Covid-19-related health and economic crisis. Africa is facing a looming food crisis with 55 percent of the world’s hungry domiciled on the continent.
With a current population of 1.3 billion people it is anticipated Africa will have a population of two billion by 2050.
The High-Level Dialogue on Feeding Africa virtual forum, attended by among others global representatives Tony Blair former British Prime Minister now founder of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, highlighted the same old systemic bottlenecks and vulnerabilities ranging from hitches from land tenure, deprived soils, poor rains and changing weather patterns, low levels of agro-processing, poor post-harvest handling, lack of adequate resources, etc.
According to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the agriculture sector in Africa (excluding North Africa) is expected to need eight times more fertiliser and six times more seed than it currently uses in order to fulfil its yield and production potential.
The research paper also says Africa still has the lowest levels of agro-processing anywhere in the world because of its reliance on the export of raw commodities. Agro-processing gross value added as a share of total GDP in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda is only between three and four percent.
Furthermore, post-harvest losses and wastage during and after food processing also represent a major loss for African agriculture. It is estimated that 48 million people every year south of the Sahara could be fed on the post-harvest wastages alone. Even if crop yields increased, significant investment needs to be channelled into post-harvest handling, including storage and processing for local food supply to be resilient.
While weak infrastructure and poorly functioning food markets add on to the rising price of food for consumers, a key challenge for farmers to access markets for their products is often the weak state of roads and infrastructure on most of the continent that goes unattended.
But limitations span too, complex political systems, powerful lobby groups with vested interests and the presence of multiple uncoordinated actors.
This meeting explored the vulnerabilities and called on African governments and the global community to take a different approach to transform the sector.
Senegal President Macky Sall, said Africa’s ability to achieve food and nutrition security hinged on moving from traditional farming methods with basic tools to a system of modern production supported by research, productivity, sustainability, diversification and local infrastructural transformation, as well as access to credit for farmers.
Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zewde said prevailing circumstances had steeped 16 countries into acute hunger. She said her government was advancing programmes to reform agriculture to deal with the issue of chronic hunger.
“Very few countries have achieved middle income status without first transforming agriculture. Agriculture has been the foundation for many other sectors to grow and flourish,” she said.
The two-day event organised by the AfDB and UN agency International Fund for Agricultural Development, was meant to hatch a pan-African framework to food security post-Covid-19 and ahead of the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome on July 19-21, launch bold new actions to deliver progress.
Rwanda President Paul Kagame said encouraging young African graduates to engage in farming could unlock the potential of Africa’s agriculture to achieve food security.
According to President of Zambia Edgar Lungu in his country, like in many others on the continent, in spite of work done in the area of research and development in the sector, “most of their findings end up collecting dust on shelves and the ordinary farmers do not benefit from their findings.”
Out of the 49 Member States that reported on progress in implementing the Malabo Declaration during this 2019 biennial review cycle, only four countries including Rwanda, Morocco, Mali and Ghana are on-track to achieve the Malabo commitments by 2025.
AGRO-ALLIED firm, FarmFix, has reiterated its commitment to boosting food security with investment management in cultivation, processing and marketing.
Speaking to journalists during a virtual press briefing, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the company, Damilola Oladehin, said the company was determined to play its roles in food cultivation and value-chain.
“FarmFix is a leading agribusiness offering diversified farm products, services and profitable projects. Our vision is to be a leading player in the agricultural industry space and investment destination for individuals and organisations that want to be involved in farming. Our mission is to increase the nation’s food security while creating wealth for its people,” he said.
Highlighting the potential of the Nigerian agricultural market, the business development manager of the company, Bisi Adeyemi, said all activities necessary to bring about the transformation of the nation’s agriculture hinges on agribusiness, spanning services from production to manufacturing of agro-inputs, packaging and distribution, as well as extension of credit facilities for agricultural investments.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) has trained 40 rice farmers in Edo State on rice value-addition, a feature grossly lacking among many Nigerian producers.
Through the Department of Agricultural Extension Services, the training is on rice production, processing and marketing, with the objective to enhance productivity. To create jobs as well as develop rice enterprises in Nigeria, said Frank Kudla, the Director of the department.
At the macro-level, Nigeria posts miserable statistics about manufacturing in value-addition (MVA) status, which drives trade. For example, Nigeria’s share in world trade is mere 0.33 per cent, while its share in African trade is only 19 per cent below its share of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In logistics, it currently ranks 103 out of 167.
The agric ministry noted that the training was geared towards enhancing rice productivity among farmers in the state, and getting them earn improved income via value-addition.
Kudla said the empowerment of women and youths on rice production was due to high consumption rate of rice in the country, which has led to over-dependence on imports.
Nigeria, with 21 rice mills, cannot meet its rice demands due to unserviceable machines, lack of access by rice farmers to equipment required for rice production. Importation to meet growing has been rising since 2015. Between then and 2019, the country spent $4 billion on rice import. The US Department of Agriculture said it expected Nigeria’s rice importation in 2020 to rise by 9 per cent to 2.4 million metric tons.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) since 2015 has spent N40 billion as loans to small holders to boost rice output, a move the Presidency said boosted production to 9.2 million metric tons by 2019, from 7.2 million in 2015.
Kudla said the ministry also distributed 40 bags of 25 kg Faro 44 rice seeds and two litres of glyphosate chemical each to the rice farmers across the three senatorial districts of the state. to enable them up their production capacities.
He noted that the training would go a long way to reduce poverty, increase food security, create jobs, and accelerate income generation and economic growth on a sustainable basis.
“The efforts to improve and increase rice production will invariably contribute to the attainment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire to ensure easy access to quality rice,” he said.
Peter Aikhuomobhogbe, programme manager of Edo Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) urged the beneficiaries to cash in on the training to enhance rice production in the state. He said the ministry had trained extension agents in the state to assist farmers on modern agricultural practices.
One of the participants and rice farmer from Illushi in Esan South-East Local Government Area of the State, Monday Nana, said the training and the rice seeds would help him and other farmers to improve on rice production in the state.