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.
Interview with Insure Africa Founder, Judith Pila On Driving Insurance Inclusion
Judith Pila, Founder Insure Africa (Image: Supplied)
Judith Pila is the Founder of Insure Africa, a company whose main goal is to drive insurance inclusion in Africa through literacy, education, and awareness. Aside being an insurance professional, Judith is a contributing writer to Insuranceopedia, an online insurance information platform focused on Canada and US markets. She is the Content Director for Ladies Corner Canada Magazine, a Board Director for LCC Media Foundation. She volunteers with various organizations like, Insurance Institute of Canada, Career Education Council, SoGal Foundation. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her entrepreneurship journey into the insurance ecosystem and why she is driving insurance inclusion with Insure Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and how you end up building in the insurance space?
Judith: My name is Judith Pila, born and raised in Nigeria, I now live in Canada. My journey to the insurance industry was purposive and one inspired by the need to do something different in an environment where it seemed everyone else wanted regular careers. Shortly after I moved to Canada, I already knew the industry was where I needed to be. In 2015, I began my career in insurance.
Alaba: For those who don’t know, what does Insure Africa do?
Judith: Insure Africa is a company that is, focused on driving insurance inclusion in Africa through literacy, education and awareness. We also provide consulting services to individuals and small businesses, we help them make smart and informed insurance decisions to help meet their personal and business goals.
Alaba: What makes Insure Africa special from other startups driving insurance inclusion?
Judith: While other startups are driving insurance inclusion through Artificial Intelligence and Technology, Insure Africa is doing same through literacy, awareness, making sure that Africans are well informed about insurance, so that when they decide to take on any insurance products, they are equipped with the knowledge they need.
Alaba: What have been the biggest challenges and successes in building Insure Africa till date?
Judith: I think I would have less to say in this regard, considering that Insure Africa has been actively operating as a company for only about four months. I think the biggest challenge has been trying to convince people that we are not insurance salespeople. I think the moment you mention insurance to someone in Africa, they feel like you are trying to sell them a product. People that we have been able to reach, see value in the services we offer and have given us positive feedbacks, I would consider that a success.
Alaba: How has the insurance industry evolved?
Judith: Unlike before, when most people thought insurance was only for the rich and large corporations, more and more people are now seeing the need for insurance. The Covid-19 pandemic has also proved the importance of insurance. And with the use of technology, insurance companies are now offering insurance products through different channels making it more accessible to consumers like never before.
Alaba: Kindly share the most difficult part of being a CEO of a startup?
Judith: I think one of the most difficult part is the unpredictability, that what you are trying to build will either fail or be a success.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Judith: I feel great and inspired by other African entrepreneurs who have made it to the top.
Alaba: What are Insure Africa’s expansion plans in terms of product, tech & markets in the next 5 years?
Judith: We are more of a service company and have plans of reaching as many people as possible that might need our services. We do have tech plans but are not ready to share those plans yet. We already have representatives in about 5 African countries and think that the opportunities are endless, and the future is looking bright.
Alaba: Finally, what piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Judith: Keep building, there are going to be tough days, but hold on to the vision and hope for a better end.
Edith Njage: My Letter to fellow Female CEOs
Edith Njage, Co-Founder and current CEO of Arielle for Africa (Image: Supplied)
Edith Njage is a Social and Serial Entrepreneur based in Africa. She is the Co-Founder and current CEO of Arielle for Africa, which aims to create over 100,000 jobs in Africa through empowering, training, coaching and connecting and funding entrepreneurs. Edith is the Country Representative for Invicta Ventures on a mission to fund social impact ventures with up to $10 billion in developing markets. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a major in Finance and a Bachelor in Business Management with a major in Economics. A Master of Science in International Business with a major in Disruptive Innovation and a Master of Science in Finance, both from HULT International Business School. Excerpts of her letter below;
There are realities that come with being a woman in leadership that in most cases remain secret.
Realities faced but not communicated.
My journey as a Young, Black and Female CEO has been nothing short of rough, tough and everything in-between. The hardest truth is that the journey has been lonely with no-one to turn to, until I decided to make changes to not only my leadership, but my circles as well. I began my journey as a serial entrepreneur at 18, relatively young in the books of most but when a problem in your continent calls, age is never a factor. I became a CEO at 24 and to date I wish someone explained the realities of being a woman in leadership. Especially a young and black woman in leadership.
I wish I knew the bias that I would face each time I walked into a room and sat on the table when most expected me to just bring the coffee,
I wish I knew that fundraising would be more about my gender and race than the value my companies brought to the table,
I wish I knew that the most powerful weapon a female CEO can wield is a network of other female CEOs,
I wish I didn’t do it all alone.
Dear Female CEOs,
You are powerful. You are graceful, You are beautiful in leadership. I know that the world has taught you to blend in, I know you have been told to use your position or title to protect your vulnerability and I know most days it feels like no-one in the world can understand what it is like to be you. I want you to know the key to our strength is each other. I want you to know that rather than face the bias alone, rather than rise to the top alone, we can band together and not only rise but build a system for the next generation of female CEOs to struggle less than we did.
Where the world has called us bossy, let’s exude grit and relentless pursuit of our dreams,
Where they have called us soft, we can preach emotional intelligence and finally,
Where they have prevented our progress, we can build paths for the progress of other women after us.
This is our time, but we cannot go at it alone. We must band together and begin talking about these realities, not in secret but for the world to see. It is for this reason that I decided about a month ago that enough was enough and that it was important for me to begin sharing the truth behind my journey as a Young, Black and Female CEO. I started a podcast!
Since beginning this journey I am in awe of how many women in leadership, in business, in politics and in corporate have reached out sharing their stories!
The Latest Episode is available below (streamed to Spotify and Apple Podcast). Adding onto that I have decided to be intentional about building a Female CEO Global Board. A space for Female CEOs to share their stories, struggles, plans for growth of their businesses and so much more!
If this is something that interests you and you would like to join us next week or maybe just find a safe space and community of women who understand, book a coffee chat with me here; https://calendly.com/edith-njage-alpha-group/one-on-one
I became intentional about building circles with fellow female CEOs and investing into those circles so that as a tribe we would all rise! Rise in business, rise in our purposes and pursuits and rise in who we are as people in the world.
As always, I hope that unashamedly sharing my truth will help you know that you are never alone.
Interview with a Polyglot: Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, Founder Empress Linguistics Services
Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, Founder Empress Linguistics Services (Image: Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo)
Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo is a polyglot who speaks nine (9) foreign languages. She is the Founder of Empress Linguistics Services (ELS) creating new ways for businesses to interact with consumers across borders. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola spoke with Favour about what it means to be a polyglot, her journey in entrepreneurship and much more. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your journey into entrepreneurship?
Favour: Becoming the Solution! Oh yes, I proffer Solutions. My name is Favour Chisimdi Emerald Nwobodo from Enugu state in Nigeria. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be the Solution to people’s problems. Growing up, I got to witness the high rates of unemployment/poverty in the country, and the urge to put an end to this problem started growing.
At first, I started EMPRESS LINGUISTICS SERVICES (my brand) as a Linguistics brand – just Translations and Language Tutorials. I was the only one handling it but at some point, I did quit. During those bad moments, I was aimlessly searching on google when I saw the current finance situation. I felt bad – Nigeria is slowly losing “NAIRA”. I went on to search for ways to strengthen the economy of the country and I saw “Promotion of international trade” That struck!. But we’ve got machines and interpreters, why is yours different?
But then machines would be machines and sometimes those Interpreters might Interpret wrong stuff and scam people. I left the site and went into proper thinking, I thought about it and came up with ” LINGUISTICS IN FINANCE ”- when Linguistics meets Finance, it doubles it, it revives the currency etc.
I went on to propound the “LINGUISTICS IN BUSINESS SYSTEM”. I tried my hypothesis with a client’s job and it worked- I was convinced! So I came back stronger at Empress Linguistics Services and we’ve been able to help companies, businesses, and all thrive.
So far, we have been able to pull off a lot of deals. And from the comfort of our client’s home they are able to run their Businesses with ease, learn and attain fluency in foreign languages with ease. Our peer to peer service makes it so easy for Companies that most of them stick to it as their Linguistics needs (Translations and all) are attended to in 24 hours.
Also , seeing the way non English speakers are marginalized in various countries- they can’t access lots of things (products, companies etc) as they can’t understand English. With this, Empress Linguistics Services is working hard to eliminate Linguistics barriers and give them accessibility to various opportunities with LINGUIS-NESS (LINGUISTICS AND BUSINESS) a news platform in various languages that enables non English speakers access lots of information in various languages.
Alaba: Empress Linguistics is creating new ways for businesses to interact with consumers across borders. How did it all start?
Favour: My manager “Barr Chijioke Ojukwu” told me about opening a brand, and the brand “Empress Linguistics Services” was founded. At first, I had no vision. I just wanted to tutor languages and that’s all. I wanted it as a side hustle but then, REDIRECTION happened.
During the trying times, I went off and did some research and founded “Linguistics in Business”- How Linguistics helps to make businesses thrive, it was a great module. I also did some case studies with our client’s business and it thrived. It was a sell out, this prompted me to seek for “Linguistics in Finances” to help companies, firms and organizations meet their target companies and stabilize their finance goal by thriving in non english sectors.
Currently, we’re about entering the TECH and HEALTH sector to create products/services to serve everyone and make life easy. Just like our slogan says, “With ELS, lives are made easier”.
Alaba: Can you describe in detail what your company does and the response from your target market?
Favour: Empress Linguistics Services is a Linguistics Service aimed at profering Linguistics solutions to Businesses and the world at large. We’re in to make the world a better place with Linguistics and so far we’ve been good. Reaching the target market hasn’t been as I just entered the niche but I’m damn enjoying my growth. It’s worth it.
EMPRESS LINGUISTICS SERVICES is currently working on the Health sector with another product “DIGITAL HEAVEN”. I am sure you can wait for it. Some of our services are;
- Translations Services
- Interpretation services
- Proofreading Services
- Language tutorial Services
- Transcription services
- Advertisement in various languages
- Jingles in various languages
- Website Translations
- App Translations
- Movie Subtitlings
- Lyrics Translations, etc.
Alaba: What makes your brand different from the rest of the language translation startups in Africa?
Favour: What makes ELS stand out is ELS would always be ELS. The goal of ELS is to solve the Linguistics needs of Man. We are here to proffer solutions to man’s needs. Also at ELS, we have the peer to peer services that enables companies to get their Linguistics needs in less than 24 hours and from their own comfort.
We’re not a Translation startup, we’re a Linguistics startup as we offer both translations, tutorials and more. We’re in for TECH, HEALTH , EDUCATION and FINANCE and we’re working on making things easier in those sectors.
Alaba: You seem to really enjoy learning languages. What would you recommend to people who don’t like language learning but still want to speak in a new language?
Favour: When people say “Languages are hard” I tell them everything is easy once you understand the methodology but unfortunately some school’s methodology are so bad that people struggle to learn foreign languages and that’s why ELS was born to make it easier for MAN. At ELS, we make language learning easy and fun.
Alaba: What did you find to be the biggest myth when it comes to language learning?
Favour: Mmmmm, the myth I got to find out is “elimination of FEAR” and knowing the grammar rules.
Most language speakers don’t try to learn the grammar rules as they feel it’s a waste of time and it makes it hard for them to attain fluency easier and faster. Some of them find it hard to read and speak because of this.
This is the secret to the faster fluency in our students . Some get to make sentences and speak in their 2nd month. Once the rules are understood, you’re good to go.
Alaba: Who are some of the modern polyglots you are impressed with, and why?
Favour: Jaindersingh , my friend on LinkedIn is a Polyglot speaking nine Languages and I’m impressed. They’re good. But for now, I’m yet to see people proffering solutions with Businesses and that’s why I’m in to make all that happen with ELS.
Alaba: Where do you see ELS in the next 5 years?
Favour: In the next 5 years, I see ELS as the No1 Linguistics company in the world creating solutions in various sectors of the world.
Alaba: As a student-preneur, what is your advice to students who are aspiring to make an impact through entrepreneurship?
Favour: My advice is that they shouldn’t give up as nothing good comes easy, it might take time but it’s gonna be worth it. They were days when I was laughed at for learning foreign languages, days when I was looked down on.
But look at it now? That’s life!! Just keep doing what you’re doing. and like I’ve always said it’s “Quality consistency” or nothing.
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