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With increased worldwide awareness of food security and sustainable food production, agriculture is rapidly growing as one of the key industries on both a global and local level.

In Nigeria, there is a renewed focus on growing the non-oil sector of the economy and the Agro-industry is experiencing a renaissance with dedicated government policies geared towards encouraging farmers and investors and increasing the contribution of the sector to the GDP.

In this interview with Osazuwa Osayi, Co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Farmforte Limited, he buttressed the need for the nation to sustainably increase export earnings and how to increase earnings for smallholder farmers. Farmforte’s roots lie in an end-to-end agricultural solution and mechanized farming system.

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What influenced your choice of Agribusiness?

Farmforte is an agricultural – value chain development firm, we play along the entire Agri value chain of specific crop types in Nigeria, Africa, and across the world. Our mission is to utilize technology and innovative models to create the most efficient and affordable methods to produce crops, add value and create access to markets locally and globally.

When we launched our operations, we were a mainly export-focused business and the challenge we had in mind was how to sustainably increase export earnings and how to increase earnings for smallholder farmers. Our business has, however, now evolved and we work to solve challenges across the value chain from farm to fork.

How exactly do you play across the value chain?

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Our solutions cut across sustainable agriculture, value addition, and market creation. A large part of our farming and processing activities are housed at the Farmforte Food Valley (FFV), an agro-industrial park located in the Evbolekpen community of Benin-City, Edo State where we have a collective landbank.

Some smallholder farmers still find it difficult to source and aggregate produce like sesame seeds, cowpea among others. What do you proffer to address this?

Smallholder farmers are the key to food security in Africa. Not only do they hold large swaths of arable land, but they also constitute about 70% of the workforce on the continent. Through our out-grower programs, we work with smallholder farmers (about 110,000 of them in our network) to source and aggregate produce such as sesame seeds, cowpea, cocoa, and cashew both for export and for local consumption.

What are the challenges the smallholder farmers are facing?

They are bedevilled by a myriad of challenges ranging from low yields, post-harvest losses, lack of finance, low mechanization, and poor access to markets. We provide them with credit, training, input, and harvest support. Another major challenge farmers on the continent face are access to markets and guaranteed access is vital for profitable success.

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What are the solutions needed to drive growth in Agri-business?

We have developed several solutions to process and package agricultural goods into world-class products for local and global markets. From our sweet potatoes grown in Nigeria, we produce a sweet potato beer product for the European market in our facilities in the Netherlands, we also produce sweet potato puree, french fries, and chips.
At FFV, we have a 10 ton per hour integrated rice mill, a fully automated poultry centre with 2,500 birds per hour processing capacity and we are setting up a 50 cattle per hour automated slaughterhouse. We also have a 20 metric tons per day capacity cashew processing facility in Lagos State.

Storage and logistics are key challenges facing farmers. How do you address these?

We eliminated wastage by deploying world-class technology to tackle storage and logistics challenges to ensure that traders in open markets across Nigeria can gain easier access to produce sourced directly from farmers.

On retail, we recently launched our retail flagship store in Lekki where we give consumers a complete farm to fork experience. They are able to purchase produce sourced from our farms and from other farmers across Nigeria.

On export, we understand that guaranteed market access is vital for the profitable success of smallholder farmers. At Farmforte, we provide reliable access to local and global markets for smallholder farmers. We buy up all our smallholders’ produce and add value, thereby giving them a guaranteed income and greater potential for profit. A lot of our export activities are coordinated by our sales office in the Netherlands.

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What is Farmforte’s value proposition?

Our Value Proposition is ‘Adding Value, Creating Wealth.’ It is based on the premise that Agriculture goes beyond just farming and the true substance lies in adding value to what is farmed, to maximize its potential. We recognize sustainable agriculture as a strong instrument of economic growth and shared prosperity.

We are an impact-oriented firm focused on creating novel solutions to existing problems in the African agriculture landscape and transforming them into economic opportunities.

How have your operations evolved over the last few years?

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We started our operations in 2014 and we were focused on creating global markets for local produce, by exporting very specific crops such as sweet potatoes, sesame seeds, cocoa, cowpea, and so on. Since then, we have expanded our activities to play across the entire agricultural value chain, from production to retail.

What strategic partnerships have you embarked on to aid growth and expansion on the domestic and international front?

Our strategic partners have been instrumental in helping us achieve some of our set goals. For example, we have partnered with HYBR, a Pan-African innovation firm and growth platform for the implementation of scalable solutions on some of our projects.

Matter Innovation, a UK-based innovation firm has also been working with us on a syndicated innovation program, centred around unlocking opportunities in the agricultural value chain in Nigeria. We have also worked with Technoserve, an international non-profit organization, for some of our activities with smallholder farmers.

How would you describe your organisation’s work culture?

Our work culture can be described in three words: Authentic, innovative, and entrepreneurial. We work in a dynamic, rapidly evolving sector that requires us to constantly take intelligent risks in order to stay ahead.

What are the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic has taught us to be nimble and ready to adapt to situations, even on short notice. Despite the pandemic, we have been able to maintain a seamless flow of our operations across over 8 locations, leveraging virtual office platforms and using bespoke project/task management and tracking technologies.

Is adopting corporate social responsibility in line with Farmforte’s core values? If so, what are your CSR objectives?

Corporate Social Responsibility is not just something we adopt; it is embedded into all our business operations from sustainable farming to community relations, to employee welfare, and so on. We aim to ensure that all our activities are socially responsible and also take steps to maximize our positive social impact. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life and wellbeing of the people living and working on the farms in the communities we operate in because sustainable agriculture and social development go hand in hand. We are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which has guided our commitment to social innovation in the following areas: Water, Energy, Healthcare, and Education.

What CSR activities have you taken on?

We have several projects in the works but most notably, we recently renovated a school in the Evbolekpen community in Edo State (where our farm and industrial centre are based) and both the enrollment and attendance at the school have increased significantly. We also created a 5KM road in the same community to improve mobility and access to the community from Benin City.

What are your priorities for 2021?

There are several exciting projects in the works, but over the next few months we plan on increasing our cashew processing capacity to 13,200 tons per annum by expanding to a new location, we also plan to have completed our fully automated rice mill with a capacity of 73,000 tons per annum at the Farmforte Food Valley (FFV) to name a few.

What would you say is Farmforte’s vision for the next 5-10 years? And what strategy is the company employing to make these goals a success?

Ultimately, our vision is to feed the world but we hope to partner with at least 1,000,000 smallholder farmers by 2025 and beyond that, we aim to be the largest and most valuable global sustainable agri-business by 2050. Our strategy is to constantly innovate and to remain relentless in our approach to tackling challenges and achieving our goals.

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