Challenges, Opportunities and Innovations for Emerging Agricultural Entrepreneurs Part 1
Chief among complaints made by Nigerians in the agricultural sector is the abundance of information gaps, which makes coordination among stakeholders very difficult. This is because many stakeholders do not know where the opportunities are and, as such, cannot exploit them. Additionally, in a knowledge-based field like agriculture, the lack of knowledge on trends and techniques has very costly implications. Finally, symbiotic relationships, which are formed when like-minded individuals are able to connect, pool resources and maximise returns/outcomes, are often difficult to obtain.
In light of this, a group of individuals has taken the initiative to create an online community of knowledge for all stakeholders and key players in the agriculture industry. This serves to provide content management, knowledge sharing, networking and business matchmaking opportunities for existing and emerging agribusiness entrepreneurs looking to share business ideas and innovative technology or invest and/or buy products within and beyond borders. This online community of knowledge is called The Global Farmers Register (globalfarmersregister.com).
Leading the team is a young strategy and business development professional, Simileoluwa Lawson. Graduating from the University of Lagos with a B.Sc. in Geography, Lawson went on to work for Rimsom Associates – an international trade consulting firm with branches in Nigeria. At Rimson, he worked as a brand custodian and later on as a senior associate on economic planning. While at the firm, he worked on the annual trade-related conference – Partnership on Trade Industry and Commerce (POTICO) – which was a collaboration between the US ambassador to Nigeria 2007-2010, the Bank of Industry, and First Bank of Nigeria plc.
Notable among the successes recorded by POTICO is the landmark ACET meeting with the Oyo State Ministry of Commerce and the West Africa Trade Hub which formed a public-private partnership, integrated the ACET cashew processing plant with that of Oyo State, and ultimately created jobs for 2,500 people. Another is the launch of the US Bank of Industry/Agriculture Growth Opportunity Act (BOI AGOA) Resource Centre, which has helped Nigerian businesses better utilise the AGOA resources available to them and access the US market. Finally, with all the experience and expertise Lawson and his partners gained on their numerous projects, it is safe to say that The Global Farmers Register is an offshoot of the POTICO project.
With no previous background in agriculture, Lawson revealed how he became interested in agriculture. “It all started with POTICO,” he said. “We had to research extensively on areas of mutual interests for Nigeria and some developed economies. The focus was on developing the non-oil sector and the research was extensive. At the time, there was not a lot of noise about agriculture, but my team and I were able to determine that it was the largest sector that held the most promising opportunities. Trying to focus on those opportunities, however, became a challenge because people were more focused on discussing the challenges in the sector.
“What I was able to get out of those conferences and the research in particular was that we needed an organised body of knowledge that will cater to all concerned. As we all know, knowledge is dynamic. As such, the best way to get real-time knowledge was to create what I call an agric-business destination that is interactive and inclusive, where individuals can contribute experiences from their wealth of knowledge or share real-time experiences of challenges they just overcame. This was also intended to be an avenue for disseminating information on opportunities in the agricultural space irrespective of political boundary lines between countries. If we share knowledge about these challenges and their accompanying solutions, other people in different regions but perhaps with the same climatic, geographical, topographical and technological challenges can learn from our experiences and avert such problems before or when they surface.”
On how he founded The Global Farmers Register, Lawson said: “I have a constant yearning for cutting edge strategies and also a penchant for generating volumes in business. I strongly believe that we do not have to re-invent the wheel each time in order to create opportunities; if we tweak it well enough, we can cater to multiple needs. That was how The Global Farmers Register was conceived. We started first with a simple register or database as you may call it, but eventually it has evolved into a full community with a database covering over 50 countries, though we have little participation in some countries recorded. We only just recently launched the beta version which has come equipped with so many agric-business tools. We are currently getting ready to launch our inclusive agric financial tool called the timeline matrix, which allows agric businesses to set up virtual value chains and submit them to banks as an automated loan application. We are looking to partner with the African Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (AFRACA) to deploy this around Africa.”
In 2012, Lawson was invited to the UNDP/EMRC forum in Dakar where he passionately advocated for youth engagement in agriculture through integration, information and inspiration. Earlier in the year, he was at the 5th AFRACA Agri-banks Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, speaking on the need to unlock finance for the agricultural sector through innovative ICT systems. His presentation focused on strategies for rural outreach, market access, information dissemination and inclusive agricultural financing. As a business professional, he has seen the opportunities and prospects. Back at home, he manages the Frebay International Company Limited, providing strategy and logistics supports (including need-based assessments and opportunity charts) for businesses, advising them on how to best maximise economic returns with limited resources.
This is why The Global Farmers Register is important and the potential it promises for all stakeholders in the sector is enormous. More will be said about Lawson, agricultural opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs in a sequel article . As a young Nigerian under 30, Lawson is a testament to the fact that there are passionate Nigerians who are working within and beyond agriculture to make a difference to society. They recognise prospects, create opportunities, advocate change, and put their money where their mouth is. And they continue to serve as role models to other young people who are still unsure of how they can engage with society, exploit their seemingly meagre resources and connect with external opportunities. They remind us that we might not see the big picture yet or believe in a national transformation agenda but in their own little niches and in big and small ways, some nagropreneurs are transforming Nigeria.
First Published in Business Day