Challenges, Opportunities, and Innovations for Emerging Agricultural Entrepreneurs Part 2
Last week, I shared the story of a young entrepreneur and agribusiness strategist, Simileoluwa Lawson. He is one of the minds behind The Global Farmers Register (globalfarmersregister.com), an online agribusiness inventory of all stakeholders in the agriculture industry which provides content management, knowledge sharing, networking, information dissemination, and business matchmaking services for agricultural entrepreneurs.
In that article, Lawson, a graduate of Geography, revealed that years of research into business and economic development opportunities while at a trade firm led him to agriculture’s doorstep. Having spent several years in the trade field, he has been able to bring his business strategy expertise and research experience to bear in the field of agribusiness. Certain that knowledge, partnerships, and the skilful use of resources are everything, Lawson has created an agribusiness destination for all looking to navigate the world of agriculture.
One of the most prominent features on The Global Farmers Register platform is SMS forum – which will allow local farmers to set up their profiles automatically on the site and engage with the platform without having internet access. This SMS forum, which is nearing completion, will also include an SMS information centre that will help local farmers to access information on local and international best practices regarding their areas of expertise. In light of the ongoing discussion on what mobile phones have got to do with agricultural development, Lawson’s approach challenges the assumption that mobile technology is useless. “It has to be inclusive, or else it would not make sense,” he says, alluding to the sharing of information on his agricultural platform.
Speaking to the opportunities in the agricultural space for aspiring and upwardly-mobile young agropreneurs, Lawson says: “I have heard this question time and again – where do we find young people to engage in agriculture? The argument that follows subsequently is that young people don’t want to go to the farm. The question I ask is – why should they? I also find it interesting that most of the people who ask these questions are not farmers themselves. Fortunately or unfortunately, a third of all that is being produced globally goes to waste across the value chain.”
This statement is sure to get one puzzled. But Lawson immediately offers an explanation: “It is fortunate because it creates a huge opportunity and it is unfortunate because we are not exploiting it. I have often said that a viable entry point for youths into agriculture should be services. We can bolster and integrate two separate economies from this process – the urban and the rural. Under this arrangement, the rural sector will be the production force while the urban can be the marketing force that caters to everything from services and post-harvest activities – from storage and package to sales. Only then can any young person bring their expertise to bear in the agricultural space. I don’t have to be a farmer to make money from agriculture. We had this in mind when creating The Global Farmers Register because we realised that people would need a destination to go to where they can harness this information for commodity tracking. The opportunities are enormous – we need journalists, veterinary doctors, engineers, marketers; even transporters are needed. Who says we can’t have packaging as a profession?”
Shedding more light on his services’ answer to the youth agricultural entrepreneurship question, Lawson shared two personal anecdotes with me. One was about a conversation he once had with a member of staff of an international airline. In the course of that conversation, he discovered that all the poultry products used on the flight were imported. According to him, his station manager for Nigeria could not find one poultry farmer/supplier that had the medical reports of their chickens. Lawson’s immediate thought was: “That is an opportunity right there!”
To further drive home the point that challenge and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, he shared another about a Ghanaian friend’s complaint that every president that has come into power has promised – and failed – to irrigate the Accra plains where most of the grains come from. “I asked, ‘Do you need to wait for the government to do it? That, in itself, creates an opportunity for retailing infrastructure. Can someone invest in that and retail the use of that infrastructure per plot to the farmers who will pay monthly?’”
But is it really that simple to leap from challenge to opportunity and entrepreneurial bliss? Not really, Lawson confessed, as he shared the challenges he faced on the entrepreneurship path. “I was not spared the same challenges every entrepreneur faces when trying to take on the marketplace. In my case, I think it was even worse hit because I am a very big dreamer and I was ambitious enough to believe that I could take on the world. Working as a strategist really helped because a lot of things that we think we need money for as entrepreneurs can be sorted out by simple partnerships. There is always someone who needs something you are willing to offer; you just need to be patient and walk with God. In my case, I can confidently say I have enjoyed unprecedented favour with God. Most of the strategies we designed which blew the minds of many totally failed. God does not call the qualified; He qualifies those He calls. It was not until I totally handed it all to Him that He started to raise people from places I had no idea about.”
The biggest take-away from my time with Lawson can be summarised in the words of that Tuface song – “na community na im make us tall; secret society na im break us all”. And what better community to join than a community of committed men and women with ideas and expertise, experiences, and perhaps the very resources that need to be pooled to effectively elevate all stakeholders and ultimately transform the agricultural space.
First published in Business Day