Kenneth Okonkwo is the Managing Director of FarmGate Africa, an agricultural technology company focused on bridging the gap in the agricultural value chain by providing major processors and international buyers the opportunity to purchase commodities directly from farming clusters, using technology. In this e-Interview with Alaba Ayinuola, he speaks on how FarmGate is bridging the gap in the agricultural value chain in Africa, and linking African farmers directly to the international markets. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about your business (vision and objectives) and the role you play?
Kenneth: FarmGate Africa is an agricultural technology company focused on bridging the gap in the agricultural value chain by providing major processors and international buyers the opportunity to purchase commodities directly from farming clusters, using technology.
Our vision at FarmGate is to bring the farmers closer to processors and international buyers. This will by extension empower African farmers economically by curbing the loss caused by waste, among other factors, that they typically experience during agricultural transactions.
As the Managing Director of FarmGate Africa, I am leading a team to fulfil other objectives including solving the imbalance in market access faced by processors, reduce the activities of multiple layers of intermediaries playing in the value chain, and ensure that African farmers are paid premiums for toiling all year in their farms.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Kenneth: One of our biggest challenges is that the agricultural space in most African countries, for now, is unstructured. Many farmers do not have access to international buyers without parting with a large percentage of their profit margin, and this is a problem. Because of this lack of structure, we are working tirelessly with local farmers to make sure that the commodities that they have available for trade or purchase, meet the specifications of the processors as well as the buyers.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impacts?
Kenneth: Our impact is measured based on the improved quality of life of the farmers that we come in contact with. For example, if we work with twenty farmers who each typically sell forty metric tonnes of their farm produce for NGN 40,000.00, after working with us, we would like them to have increased their income by at least 30-50%. At FarmGate Africa, we measure our impact by the number of farmers whose livelihoods have been significantly improved because of our work with them.
We are also able to measure impact from the amount of cost savings we give to our buyers as well. Many of our processors and buyers have challenges reaching farmers directly and they also part with huge margins during these processes. Our ability to connect buyers with sellers so that they can purchase agricultural produce without actually losing their profit is a win for us. Several multinational corporations, especially in Nigeria, have significantly been affected by the activities of middlemen, many of who see their need as an opportunity to be taken advantage of. At the end of the day, we save cost for our buyers and also ensure that our farmers receive the right premium for the produce.
Alaba: Where do you see your business in 5 years and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Kenneth: By the end of 2019 from Nigeria alone, we would have succeeded in trading over 12,000 cattle from over 10,000 farmers; 30,000 MT of grains to local processors within Nigeria; exported over 3,000 MT of dried organic ginger while working with over 1,000 smallholder farmers in Southern Kaduna; exported over 15,000 MT of sesame from over 30,000 farmers in Benue, Nasarawa, Kano and Niger States.
I had to communicate some of the numbers for 2019 to illustrate what the plans are for FarmGate. By December 2023, we would have succeeded in connecting over 1,000,000 smallholder African farmers directly to major processors and international buyers across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. We are doing all of these through superior collaborations with technology companies, farmer cooperatives, multinational corporations, international buyers and development agencies among others.
Alaba: How is FarmGate Africa contributing to the development of Africa?
Kenneth: In November 2018, we attended the Meet the Farmers Conference in the UAE alongside several other African businesses and we realised that a lot of businesses have been trying to get produce from African farmers, but it can be quite difficult. They outlined several limitations ranging from inability to meet quality specifications, multiples intermediaries and so on.
FarmGate Africa is linking African farmers directly to international markets which in return motivates our farmers to produce more as a result of the increased margins they earn from such transactions.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Kenneth: Adewale Ajadi, Country Director of Synergos Nigeria once said to me, “Nigeria is a beautiful place and a blessed country. Individual brilliance but collectively almost a failure because we compete when we should collaborate, and then we collaborate when we should compete”. As an entrepreneur in Africa, collaboration will always be key in succeeding but you must always be careful to know when to partner and when not to. Start small, understand your business model, know your numbers or hire someone that can interpret those numbers, learn from the people you seek to serve, be funding creative, be action driven and don’t speak too much English or French, and most importantly, “Always remember that not all doors are locked when you look from a distance, you just might need to get close enough to see it requires intense proximity just to open it”.
Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Kenneth: I am inspired by the fact that although we are doing good work, there is still much work to be done. The average age of a Nigerian farmer is 65 years old. If that figure remains the same for the next twenty to thirty years, we might face a major food recession. Being a part of a company that has the leverage to positively impact farmers as well as inspire youth to find agriculture attractive again is primarily what keeps me going every day and I love my job.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Kenneth: Whenever I need to relax, I travel. Travelling to developed countries gives me a fresh perspective on life and helps me appreciate the wonder of excellence and how certain countries have created robust economies and thriving enterprises from nothing. In my free time, I read Brian Tracy’s books. I find his work brilliant as well as motivational.
Kenneth is a First-Class Graduate of Economics and Business Studies (Marketing Specialization) from Redeemer’s University, Postgraduate Diploma Holder from the Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, an Associate Member of the same Institute and a PhD scholarship recipient from the Delta State Government.
Kenneth has worked on several projects spanning across diverse sectors. Before joining the Farmgate team, Kenneth was Innovation Specialist/Consultant with the World Bank Group, where he was responsible for mapping innovations that cuts across agricultural productivity, livestock, market information, financial services, etc. Kenneth has also worked and consulted for developmental projects funded by Rockefeller Foundation/Sustainable Food Lab (Food Loss and Waste Pilot), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/TechnoServe (State Partnership for Agriculture), just to mention a few.
Kenneth started his career in Heineken Nigeria (Nigerian Breweries Plc), where he was Project Support Analyst for the merger between NB Plc and Sona Breweries Projects in three locations (Ogun, Anambra and Kaduna State) in 2010-11. He has worked and consulted for several publicly quoted firms like SCOA Plc, First Aluminum Plc, Accenture, just to mention a few.
He is a result driven professional and was appointed as Managing Director of Farmgate Africa in September to drive the expansion of the business to other African countries and the Middle East. Farmgate Africa is a subsidiary of EMFATO Group.
Shaun Duvet on The Unit Group and the Impact of COVID-19
Shaun Duvet, Founder and CEO at The Unit Group (Source: Unit Group website)
The impact of Covid-19 is changing the way organisations operate and do business about the world. The entertainment industry is not exempted as it’s adjudged the second affected industry after the aviation, travel and hospitality industry. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Shaun Duvet the Founder and CEO of The Unit Group shares his brand story and the Impact of Covid-19. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you tell us about the Unit Group and the gap it’s filling since you launched?
Shaun: The Unit Group was established in 2017 as the holding company for my various business interests which include: COCO, GoldBar and Souk (my venues), Ultra South Africa, Corona Sunsets Festivals, Anything Goes, AG Virtual, Bella Bookings, Salute, Jet Black & Paradise Springs. These businesses cover all functions of entertainment marketing, management, hospitality, sponsorship and eventing from design, to staffing and artist booking, to production and everything in between.
The gap we launched The Unit Group to fill was that of a true understanding of marketing in the entertainment space. So many brands want to play in this space because the audiences are so receptive and the engagement so high, yet so few of them truly understand it. We felt that we had the marketing know-how, and a deep love and knowledge of not only this space, but the global players within it.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Shaun: The services offered range from throwing small corporate events to festivals for 50, 000 pax; to sponsorship strategies, virtual events; to full spectrum design, photography, videography; artist, model and staff bookings; marketing, and PR strategies and much, much more.
Alaba: How has the market responded to your offerings?
Shaun: We have seen a huge uptake in clients that previously came to us just to make the party happen, now asking for marketing, creative and strategic advice. AG Virtual, which launched this year, has also seen the likes of AFI (African Fashion Week) approach us to do their full virtual production.
Alaba: The steady rise of South Africa’s entertainment industry has increased competition in the country. What’s your company’s advantage?
Shaun: My 20+ years of experience and my years behind the decks. I live and breathe music and entertainment which enables me to understand what the market wants and keep abreast of global trends. I also have incredible teams in place that keep our work fresh and relevant, and the machine in constant motion.
Alaba: Kindly share some of the challenges faced, especially in this dire time and how you overcoming them?
Shaun: The challenge of this year is obvious – no events, no DJ’s, no dancing! That’s our life blood. We have managed though to stay busy by diversifying what we offer and working more strategically. Helping brands activate within the highly connected urban youth market in an authentic and resonant manner. Some of our venues are also still operational, and the festivals and events teams are taking some much-needed down time before the parties start again, which we know they will do with a renewed energy when we’re out of the current COVID crisis.
Alaba: Technology is disrupting the entertainment industry across the globe. How’s your company adapting to the use of technology?
Shaun: As mentioned, we have launched AG Virtual which is doing well. But we have always been at the forefront of event and entertainment technology in our work. Our audience demands it.
Alaba: How does your company contribute and set new standards in the South African entertainment industry?
Shaun: I regularly write and speak on industry channels and give back to the industry that way. We also ensure that we are constantly raising the bar with the work that we do, meaning that more people around the world sit up and take notice which will ultimately benefit the whole industry.
Alaba: What’s the future for the Unit Group and are you post COVID-19 ready?
Shaun: We cannot wait for life to return to “normal”. Down time was nice, but we’re rested now and it’s time to work!
Alaba: How do you relax and what keeps you going?
Shaun: I have 3 young kids so relaxation is scarce, but they certainly keep me going
Alaba: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs and investors coming to South Africa?
Shaun: Come! Don’t be afraid. There is risk, yes, but the rewards are also so great. We live in such a special place and I really believe in the future of this country.
B I O G R A P H Y
Shaun Duvet, CEO and Founder of The Unit, South Africa’s leading entertainment-based holding company, a combination of enterprises, individually built to make brands better. Shaun is also the CEO and Founder of Anything Goes, the branded entertainment agency, aligning campaigns, properties and music tours with international brands and artists across the continent.
He is the co-Founder and Director of ULTRA South Africa, which brings 50,000 dance-music revellers together every year to see some biggest names in eEectronic Music. He is the partner and producer for Corona Sunsets Festival South Africa, which over the last 5 years has seen over 40,000 fans join together across three cities to celebrate the sunset.
He is a co-owner and operator for COCO, one of SA’s premiere nightclubs, think celebrities, Ibiza-style go-go dancers, Hip Hop MCs, and a parade of sparkler-topped bottles, this alongside it’s sister GoldBar, an elegant bar annex to COCO.
Shaun Duvet is a board member and proud supporter of Bridges For Music, a non-profit organization that utilises the power of music to uplift communities through creative education. Recently, partnering with Defected Records on a new imprint Sondela Records all of whose profits will channel back directly into the charity.
Viola Labi: The multi-hyphenate creative strategist building an eco-luxury fashion brand in Africa
Viola Labi is a multi-hyphenate creative, premium retail Strategist and Founder of WOVEN, a design-led fashion enterprise.
With over a decade of experience and a proven track record in the global luxury retail space, Viola has worked with renowned international brands such as Burberry, ZARA, Loewe, CELINE and Valentino and has caught the attention of media powerhouses such as Vogue Business, Essence, Forbes, BBC and CNN International, as one to watch.
Born in Canada with Ghanaian parentage, Viola is culturally plural and holds reverence to fashion’s interaction with humanity; asserting that it permits people, irrespective of their cultural and social affiliations to unite. It is this fundamental belief and her relocation to Ghana that inspired WOVEN, a ground breaking brand which seeks to herald a new direction for eco-luxury retail on the African continent.
Viola said, WOVEN was birthed from a personal journey to Northern Ghana. “I witnessed my own reunification to elements of rich Ghanaian culture through textile creation at the diligent hand skilled Artisans. Despite language barriers and unfamiliar grounds, I felt at home. I spent more time with women creating textiles and found myself being stitched together in areas I didn’t know needed mending, areas like self-identity and purpose.”
“Looking back, I guess you can say we weaved symbolic exchanges of knowledge and cultural practices and this inspired me to creative WOVEN. Although the entire assortment of products are literally woven, the company name speaks to a higher purpose of coming together as Humanity.” She said.
The Brand’s mission is to actively work towards uniting the fashion value chain into a cohesive whole by showcasing the creative talent that pervades throughout the African continent; while emanating the diversity of culture, history and skill, much like yarn being formed into a unique tapestry.
WOVEN has the honour of partnering with 150 esteemed Artisan weavers in Ghana to create sustainable, functional, home furnishing products. It’s design principles and execution promote inclusion and seek to disrupt fear-based stereotypes by creating products, made in Africa, that are par with those of global standards.
Emalohi Iruobe, An Attorney and Founder of Tribe XX Lab Empowering Female-led Startups
Emalohi L. Iruobe Esq. is an attorney, adjunct professor and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of Tribe XX Lab, the first and only co-working, wellness and incubator space exclusively for female entrepreneurs and female led startups and companies in Lagos. Tribe XX Lab offers an open-plan office, private offices, events, networking, yoga, a nap room, conference room, reference library, pop up restaurants and wellness retail.
The fundamental idea is to create a place where women are able to present a professional front for their business as well as network, get training, access to funding opportunities and help each other. With a general focus on self-care and balance, the space also partners with brands that retail wellness and selfcare products in order to meet the other often overlooked core need of women in business-wholeness.
Prior to founding Tribe XX Lab, Emalohi was an adjunct professor of Business Law, Business Research Methods and Legal Analysis and Writing at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, USA for several years before moving to teach Business Law and Data Management at LIM College in Manhattan, New York. Afterwards she taught Expository Writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA before founding Aimanosi Lingerie; a dynamic brand focused on promoting body positivity and selflove in African women. She has a Bsc. in Finance and Banking from Lincoln University, PA and a Juris Doctor from Villanova University.
Before delving into full time entrepreneurship, she practiced law in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey working in Commercial litigation, as well as working as the Manager of Project Implementation in the Kwara State Public Private Partnership office in 2013. She comes with over a decade experience in entrepreneurship, law, education and business.
About Tribe XX Lab
Tribe XX Lab is a civic space for complex conversations, critical contemplation, learning and action to prevent all forms of violence and oppression against women and girls. The goal of their work is to change the perceptions of women and their role in society as well as lead conversations and interventions that PREVENT violence against women and girls in the first place. They do this through the use of digital and social media, conversations, XX-CEED Virtual festival, game theory and art.
Through their work, they are particularly looking to provide support to survivors of Gender-based violence, promote greater public engagement in preventing violence against women, increase public awareness of the intersectionality of oppression women face, create social projects that encourage the extermination of rape culture.
Since inception, they have successfully carried out several survival supports programs, prevention panels and have received a grant to prevent gender-based violence against women and girls in universities in Nigeria as well as provide psychological support to victims of GBV in institutions of higher education from Oxfam/Voice.
Emalohi also launched ‘I GO TALK’ a Nigerian Pidgin phrase which simply means I will not be silent, I will tell on you. It came in as a crucial response to the sexual violence that female students in Nigerian Universities face. This is a clarion call from victims, survivors, and women in general to the perpetrators of sexual abuse and to the general public, that they’re here to XXterminate, silence and provide support to victims. This is a motivation for victims of sexual abuse and harassment amongst University students to speak up and also a mode to create awareness for students on their rights in line with the recently signedd Sexual Harassment bill.
After the BBC Documentary, Sex for Grades rocked the whole of Nigeria in October 2019, the long cloaked truth about the oppression that young women face in the hands of university lecturers started to come to light. For the longest time, young women seeking higher education have been preyed upon by several academicians high in power and have been oppressed, victimized, and helpless.
Starting from the 25th of October to the 31st of October, they are kicking off the first edition of I GO TALK Youth Summit, the largest gathering of university students across the country to build collective power and voice in the fight to end Sex4grades and sexual harassment in Nigerian Universities.
Tribe XX Lab is laser focused on promoting gender equality, deliberate living, transformative leadership and community development through the design and delivery of trainings, workshops, seminars, collaborative partnerships and data gathering.