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.
Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home
Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)
Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.
Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?
Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.
The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.
Alaba: What is your background?
Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.
Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?
Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.
Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.
Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!
Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.
The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.
Alaba: What are your main challenge?
Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.
Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?
Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.
Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?
Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.
Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine
Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)
Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.
Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.
In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.
Revolutionizing West African Food
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.
In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.
Visit Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity
Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.
Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.
“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.
One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.
Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”
One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.
In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.
“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.
A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.