Ayodeji Balogun is the CEO of AFEX where he is leading a team of experts leveraging technology, innovative finance, and inclusive agriculture to connect agriSMEs and smallholder farmers to commodity and financial markets. He holds an MBA from Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University; Global CEO – Africa from IESE Business School and a certificate in Creative Leadership from the THNK School of Creative Leadership. Ayodeji has almost 20 years’ experience trading across West Africa as well as in building and scaling businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. He serves on several capital market boards and works with several institutions on food security and financing agriculture. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Ayodeji shares the AFEX Story, Impact, future and more.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about AFEX, the gap it’s filling, and the strategic role you play?
Ayodeji: AFEX unlocks the potential of Africa’s commodity value chains through the development of innovative products and services around storage, logistics and trade with access to finance and a ready market serving as supporting pillars. Our processes are technology enabled, allowing for transparency across operations that support risk management structures and the flow of capital from diverse sources. This play is backed by huge investments in infrastructure which promotes a sustained growth in the commodities ecosystem with an attendant increase in the country’s productivity.
A key aspect of the work of commodities exchanges, and our work at AFEX, is to unlock financing. The pervasive view of agriculture as a high-risk endeavour dissuades the flow of capital into the sector, and to unlock finance, the first fundamental is to ensure that the risk profile is low and manageable. With systems for price discovery and transparency that are provided by a commodities exchange, it becomes easier to monitor the flow of money in and out of the sector, and by extension measure and manage risk, increasing the amount of finance that is made available to value chain efforts over time.
Alaba: Where did the journey begin?
Ayodeji: The journey started in 2014. At the core of our operations was the need to lift African smallholder farmers out of poverty by providing scalable solutions in areas of finance, storage, and access to the market. Farmers live in a vicious poverty cycle primarily because they are financially excluded. They remain cut off from the formal economy, and almost all their assets exist in cash or near cash. This prevents wealth creation, especially, in an inflationary economy, and results in the continued reality of smallholder farmers, who produce over 90% of food in Africa, remaining the poorest and most underserved group in Africa’s economy. The commodity exchange model provides the infrastructure for fairer and more transparent trade by offering up its platform as a shared resource for key groups of people to participate in.
We believe in having firsthand contact with farmers we work with while bringing technology right to their doorstep by providing services such as access to warehouse receipt systems, financial inclusion, and access to credit and micro-insurance. On top of this, AFEX has built a platform that facilitates effective trading and settlement commodity transactions, helping to structure and formalize the commodities markets. The Exchange facilitates the aggregation and trading of grains through its expansive network of warehouses across the country, allowing farmers to access markets.
Alaba: Why are commodities exchanges important in the agriculture value chain?
Ayodeji: The essence of a commodities exchange is to set up a transparent and fair market system that determines the fair value of agricultural commodities and promotes a fair exchange of prices among key players in the value chain. Essentially, the commodities exchange unlocks price transparency and investment opportunities that drive wealth and prosperity to everyone involved.
Our five-year legacy in this industry is underpinned by a robust infrastructure to support trade, post-harvest processing, and manage risk in the sector. By engaging with the Exchange, farmers will be able to gain access to finance in form of inputs like fertilizers, seeds, and crop protection products while also being enabled to access support in terms of extension services that impart knowledge on good agronomic services. At the end of the season, the farmers can also access larger markets through the Exchange as their products can be aggregated with that of other smallholder farmers and furnish the orders of Exchange clients on the processor side.
This process is a transparent one where farmers can get information on prices and determine for themselves when to sell considering that our storage infrastructure also allows the farmer to store their produce in AFEX warehouses which have certain quality parameters that ensure that the grains retain their value.
Alaba: As one of the biggest victims of the pandemic. What actions have you implemented to remain in business and stay competitive?
Ayodeji: Yes, there were shocks to both the demand and supply side of the agriculture value chain that happened as a result of the pandemic. I think that it became evident to everyone, however, that it was important to figure out how to keep the country’s food systems resilient, and as a business we definitely stepped up to the plate to get this done. Our technology infrastructure was probably the biggest help in staying competitive.
We leveraged our value chain management platform, WorkBench, to continue running seamless operations, where our field officers could easily execute transactions and sync up with the head office in a way that ensured timely settlement of trade, precise logistics and relevant data gathering. This helped us have one of the best years so far in the business during the pandemic.
Alaba: Do you think the industry is still very attractive despite the pandemic?
Ayodeji: The agricultural industry is still very much attractive considering the number of challenges that still need to be solved for agriculture on the continent. The sector remained resilient despite COVID-19 induced shocks. In Nigeria, the sector grew by 2.14 in 2021, outperforming all sectors of the economy except for Telecommunications which grew by 12.9 percent. The economy is currently grappling for growth and the need to diversify the economy has never been more important. The agriculture sector holds the key to diversifying the country’s revenue base. By 2050, Nigeria’s population is forecasted to increase by 2.6%, reaching 400 million. This means more and more people to feed. Irrespective of what shock hits an economy, households must feed which makes agriculture play a vital role. Nevertheless, AFTCTA presents more opportunities for commodities and Nigeria has more comparative advantage.
Alaba: Could you highlight some of AFEX’s achievements and impact in the West African market?
Ayodeji: We now have the largest supply chain infrastructure/ network in Nigeria with over 70 warehouses across 19 states in Nigeria, which serve as hubs for smallholder farmers and traders to transact. AFEX also accounts for over 100,000MT of total national storage capacity, helping to prevent post-harvest losses. Over the past five years, we have reached over 160,000 farmers and traded over 200,00MT of commodities with a total turnover of USD68. 3 million (NGN 28 billion); matching orders from smallholder farmers and brokers with buyers on our trading platform at fair prices, continuously bringing value to farmers and ensuring quality in the ecosystem.
To date, AFEX has a record of many firsts, including being the first commodities operator to create and list the first-ever commodities index in Nigeria, and working with capital market players to structure debt securities to finance over 160,000 smallholder farmers. AFEX also launched the first Asset-Backed Commercial Paper in Africa to bridge the financing gap for processors.
We also have the largest database of credible farmer data complete with bank verification numbers and land coordinates. Still, on a platform level, we introduced the first digital trading platform for commodities in Nigeria, ComX, with an increasing array of innovative commodity-backed securities, and a learning module that further facilitates the education and information needs of the commodities market on the continent.
Alaba: In your view, what needs to be done to scale the commodities trade in West Africa where you operate?
Ayodeji: The first step is an investment in Knowledge. We must fill in the information gap about commodities trading. This can be achieved by deploying several education initiatives to foster financial literacy in the market. Already at AFEX, we have over 300 publications of our price data reports and quarterly reports on key commodities that can be traded on our exchange. Once data and information are available, we can scale at an exponential rate. When people have access to the right information on commodities trading then they can make informed decisions around it.
Secondly, we need to continue to solve the problems around productivity. Basically, ensuring that we are actually producing the volumes required at the other end of the chain. Part of this is ensuring that producers have access to credit and inputs that they require to improve their productivity. The third part is then ensuring the efficiency of our market systems. So there’s transparency and liquidity that incentivizes players to continually participate in the market.
Alaba: What benefits does the commodity market offer smallholder farmers?
Ayodeji: What the commodity market offers to farmers is an enabling environment for transparent and efficient trade. Farmers can access market information that allows them to make advantageous decisions in selling their produce.
Farmers enjoy key benefits in;
- Productivity: helping farmers produce at the right quantity and quality through access to credit (input financing program) and extension services.
- Storage: Warehouse infrastructure enables farmers to store produce and determine when to sell. Also, outreach networks at that level drives farmer registration and inclusion.
- Aggregation: Individual farmer produce can form part of a larger order for AFEX clients giving the farmers access to larger markets.
We already have a process in place via our outreach structure, which allows us to profile farmers and include them in our systems after which we disburse loans in form of inputs and actively provide support for them through the production cycle up to harvest when we trigger our repayment structures, but also enable the farmers to get access to a market for their leftover commodities.
Alaba: Early this year, AFEX secured $50 million for finance Agri-SMEs in Nigeria. What is the update and when do we start seeing its impact?
Ayodeji: The program is under implementation as we speak with many of the benefits playing out effectively. Essentially, the unique structure of the program is having a dual impact of helping food processors ensure constant volume all through the year and also mitigating the impact of price volatility. Despite the huge volatilities we have seen so far this year, the participants have been able to save millions of naira as they have been able to aggregate the required grains at key market-moving periods of the year.
Alaba: What are the future and next milestones for AFEX?
Ayodeji: Over the next 5 years, AFEX aims to scale 10 times on all our key numbers and metrics. We are looking to expand our trade infrastructure to include a 1 million MT storage capacity that will support a robust supply chain network. The goal is also to enhance the livelihoods of 1 million smallholder farmers, aggregate 1 million MT in trade volumes, and facilitate funding of 500 million dollars for a viable commodity value chain through which farmers and commodity merchants can access commodity and financial markets.
Alaba: A piece of advice to a young and budding investor, entrepreneur, or CEO out there?
Ayodeji: I believe that the tools needed for success in life are beyond building complex financial models and creating insightful decks. They require understanding people (millennials and tech-natives particularly) and how to keep them continuously motivated; understanding the world’s wicked problems (poverty, financial inclusion, climate change and adaptation) and how to create solutions that are commercially viable; and even harder, raising capital to solve these problems and creating social and economic value.
Graça Machel Trust Appoints Melizsa Mugyenyi as New Chief Executive Officer
Graça Machel Trust New CEO, Ms. Melizsa Mugyenyi (Image: Supplied)
Board of Trustees of the Graça Machel Trust, announces that Ms. Melizsa Mugyenyi has been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and commences her tenure in this leadership role as of September 6, 2021.
A Ugandan by birth, and residing in Kenya currently, Ms. Mugyenyi brings to the Graça Machel Trust an impressive range of executive management and strategic partnership building skills, as well as extensive experience working in multi-country settings. We look forward to her leadership to expand our Pan African programming, nurture our diverse women’s empowerment Networks, and develop the necessary relationships to fortify our resource base and long-term sustainability.
Ms. Mugyenyi will spearhead the conceptualization and implementation of a bold new Strategic Plan for our institution and take our work of social and economic transformation to greater scale and impact. The Board has every confidence in Ms. Mugyenyi and her ability to effectively steer our organization, in conjunction with our staff and stakeholders, to augment our impact on the African continent and expand our thought leadership globally.
“We are grateful to Dr. Shungu Gwarinda, who steadfastly served as our Interim CEO, driving us forward with a determined focus on advancing the rights of Africa’s women and children, and strengthening our institution and Networks during this interim period. Dr. Gwarinda will be actively supporting this management transition and will resume concentrating her leadership in her substantive role as Director of Programmes. We are grateful for her invaluable contributions to further the mission of the Graça Machel Trust”. said Mrs. Graҫa Machel, Founder and Chairperson of the Graҫa Machel Trust
To our valued partners, both current and future, we look forward to positively transforming the lives of Africa’s women and children together with you as we enter this exciting new chapter of our institution’s journey.
Interview with Katharina Dalka CEO of StellarOne, strategic and investment advisory firm operating in EMEA
Katharina Dalka the Founder and CEO of StellarOne, seasoned strategic and investment advisory firm based in London, UK with presence in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Highly specialized in the technology sector, she advises investors, tech companies and financial institutions on all aspects of potential investment and collaboration opportunities. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Katharina speaks about her career in finance and tech, StellarOne, investing and technology in Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career-path into investment and technology?
Katharina: I am German born and raised and studied finance and competitive intelligence in Paris. However, I started my career as an IT project manager, managing post-merger integrations like the one of Air France and KLM – a very hands-on job. It’s only afterward that I integrated a boutique consulting company providing strategy consulting to IT companies and investors that invest into IT.
In this company I was fortunate to work with an amazing boss who gave me the leeway to found my own in-house corporate development practice that I built first in France, then in Germany and finally in the UK. By then I lived in London and took on an internal role as Head of Corporate Development in a tech company before founding StellarOne. I have always navigated between Tech and Finance, and likewise between operations and strategy – I can only advise on one if I know the other.
Alaba: What inspired you to launch StellarOne?
Katharina: I come from a family of entrepreneurs and felt the entrepreneurial fever for quite a while. It simply was time and I went for it. I knew I would bring something to the table with the unique approach of combining deep knowledge of Tech, Strategy and Corporate Finance skills. Also, it’s a highly male dominated environment, more women need to enter the space. It was an opportunity to contribute to do something I care much about. It was and still is challenging, however I must say that, beyond that, I receive the most amazing support from my male colleagues and friends.
Alaba: As an investment and strategy advisory firm in tech, what is StellarOne’s unique offering?
Katharina: First of all there is the knowledge of both operations and strategy/finance. I believe that it is important to know both, no point to provide high-fly advisory if it is not practicable. The StellarOne team is equally diverse in terms of competencies and background.
Furthermore, we emphasize on human relations and intercultural differences. The technical part of a deal is complicated but can be mastered. No deal is ever made if people don’t get along. It is important to manage energies in a deal, it’s not a one- off thing, people need to work together once the deal is signed. Also, what is offensive in one culture, is not in another – that can lead to a lot of misunderstanding during negotiations. Intercultural knowledge is something particularly important in cross-border deals, an area we specialized in.
Alaba: Who is the typical StellarOne Client?
Katharina: Either it is an investor who invests in a technology company. We accompany them from the target search, to the negotiation and the post investment enhancement. Or it is a technology firm, seeking for strategy advice, or wanting us to accompany a transaction. We are about to officially launch an offering for Financial and Public institutions in Africa that wish to work with tech companies. There are amazing opportunities, but a lot of gaps to fill. So, please stay tuned.
Alaba: Kindly share some of the investment advice you have made and the impact?
Katharina: Our projects are strictly confidential, so I won’t communicate any details or names. However I can say that we recently advised a specialized tech investor on a post investment enhancement project. The work took place over several months and redefined the entire corporate strategy leading to an important increase in growth.
Alaba: As an investment and strategy professional in tech, what are some of the challenges you face?
Katharina: StellarOne is very specialized and we provide custom advice. Every project is different, every client is different. This requires constant intellectual agility, depending on where we work. There are also geopolitical aspects to be taken into account. The most challenging part in my job is certainly the negotiation part though, it’s unpredictable.
Alaba: Women in technology are still in the minority. How are you encouraging and supporting other women to come be part of the ecosystem?
Katharina: First of all, I am leading by example. I want other ladies to see that both finance and tech are not reserved for men. I experience quite some adversity and I also encourage women to become knowledgeable, train and educate themselves. In a male-dominated environment, we need to be 3 times as competent until we can equal it out. Education is power.
Alaba: What is your view on the growth of investing and technology in Africa?
Katharina: It is a market of opportunities, with huge growth potential provided the entrepreneurs have the right accompaniment. Africa is a continent and doing business in Kenya is not like doing business in Ivory Coast. It requires people that know the business environment “on the ground” and can support the entrepreneurs in their growth. The continent is “leapfrogging” a lot of technology developments that more mature markets like Europe and the US went through before getting to where they are right now. This is accelerating the growth speed and innovation – for example, mobile money as we know it is an African innovation.
Alaba: If you weren’t in the technology industry, what else might you be doing?
Katharina: Most likely an architect or a musician.
Alaba: Where do you see yourself and StellarOne in the next 5 years?
Katharina: Always striving for excellence, supporting our clients in their growth, with a competent, skillful, diverse team operating in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. At that point in time we will consider the US market, too.
Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give professionals who may be less experienced in this area?
Katharina: Be prepared to have stamina, it’s a hard job but it is extremely rewarding intellectually. Educate yourself – so many great free resources out there. And network as much as you can.
African Bank Appoints Kennedy Bungane, CEO
African Bank New CEO, Kennedy Bungane (Press Release & Image: African Bank)
African Bank (“Board”) announces the appointment of Mr. Kennedy Bungane as the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and as an executive director of the Bank and its holding company, African Bank Holdings Limited (“ABH”) effective 14 April 2021. The Bank confirms that the appointment of Kennedy was done in accordance with African Bank’s policy on the selection and nomination of executive directors, and in order to fill a vacancy as well as add to the skillset on the Board.
Kennedy brings over 20 years of banking experience with him, having started his career at Standard Bank in 1991, holding a number of senior positions, including Head of Global Markets Sales, Head of Institutional and Corporate Banking, CEO Corporate and Investment Banking for Standard Bank South Africa, and a member of the Standard Bank Group Executive Committee. After joining Barclays Africa in 2012 as Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Limited and Head of Absa Group strategy, Kennedy led the sale of Barclays Africa Limited to the ABSA Group. More recently, Kennedy headed up the Phembani Group as its CEO. He also brings investment and strategic experience gained as the founder and chairman of Nokeng Telecoms and chairman of Idwala Capital.
Kennedy holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a Master of Business Administration, and completed the advanced management program at the Harvard Business School (USA).
Commenting on Kennedy’s appointment, the Chairman of the Board, Thabo Dloti, stated, “We welcome the appointment of Kennedy as the new permanent CEO. Kennedy has a keen sense for managing complex stakeholder issues. He has a proven track record in identifying and nurturing leadership, which promotes strong teams to deliver successful results. His passion for the role that banking can play in transforming society resonated strongly with the Board.
As an experienced banker, he also critically has a good grasp of the strategic challenges facing the Bank, within a muted South African economy and competitive landscape, as well as the required regulatory and governance framework.