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.
Chantel Cooper: The Epitome of Empathy and Care
Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust (Image: Supplied)
Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that reinforced the importance of the core purpose of the Trust and the difference the organisation wants to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of the children who matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.
Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:
“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organisation that provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.
“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After the birth of my two children, I moved to an organisation called St Joseph’s Home for chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parents to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my past experiences. This hospital believes in child-centered care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”
Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:
- The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
- Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
- Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
- Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.
“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organisation to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.
“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gave perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.
“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.
“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.” Read more on the Family Care Project here.
The core to achieving our vision is upholding our values of Integrity, Accountability, Kindness, Dynamism, and Collaboration in every aspect of our work. The Trust has a sound financial record in administration and good governance. For the past 28 years, we have raised funds to address many pressing needs, but much has yet to be done. With the help of many donors, we continue to give hope and healing to our little ones who need it most.
The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, and new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.
The Trust relies on donations to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.
Donate to the Children’s Hospital Trust today! www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za
Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria
Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)
Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria.
Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the company’s business.
Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.
With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.
IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa
IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan
Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?
Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.
Its vision is – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.
Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.
Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?
Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.
Major recent contributions include:
- We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
- We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
- We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.
Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?
Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary. An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship.
Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.
Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.
Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?
Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.
The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business. In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.
In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.
In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.
Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?
Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.
Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?
Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.
Alaba: Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?
Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.
Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?
Parmi: I have received many accolades including:
- Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
- Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
- Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
- Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.
However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter
- Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
- Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Watch IoDSA HERE