11 entrepreneurs cashing in on Africa’s agribusiness opportunities

Namibian entrepreneur Eben Ngula founded African Grain Millers.

From exporting trendy superfoods to turning farming waste into organic fertiliser, Africa offers numerous agribusiness opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors. Here is a selection of 11 businesspeople, interviewed by How we made it in Africa over the past six months, who are capitalising on the sector’s potential.

1. Company taps into growing demand for superfood fonio Fonio, the ancient West African cultivated grass that produces small nutritious grains, is gaining popularity as a superfood among health-conscious consumers. Fonio is rich in amino acids, protein and iron, gluten-free and has a low glycaemic index that makes it suitable for diabetics. It is drought-resistant, can grow without the support of fertiliser and restores organic matter in fallow soil. In Ghana, Abdulai A. Dasana and Salmal Abdulai, founders of the AMAATI Group, recognised the potential of the crop back in 2012. Read more: Ghanaian entrepreneurs build company that processes fonio into cereal and flour for both the domestic and international markets.

2. Industrialising agriculture in Nigeria In the early 1990s, Kola Adeniji quit his job at Guinness Nigeria to start his own business, Niji Lukas, a mechanical engineering service aimed at solving some of the processing challenges faced by food manufacturers in the country. Thirty years later, Adeniji has expanded this company into the diversified Niji Group with various subsidiaries that not only manufacture agri-processing equipment but are also involved in food processing, farming, the assembly of tractors, agricultural training and hospitality. Through Niji Foods – the agri-processing subsidiary – the group has the capacity to process 100 tonnes of cassava daily at an integrated cassava processing plant near its 4,000-acre farm in Ilero, Oyo State in south-west Nigeria. How Adeniji established a business involved in everything from manufacturing agri-processing equipment to farming and food production.

3. Exporting coconuts from Côte d’Ivoire to Europe Trading company Zatwa sells Ivorian coconuts to clients abroad. It is one of the top five exporters of coconuts in Côte d’Ivoire, shipping 20 containers each month to around 15 countries. Zatwa has grown its turnover from €100,000 in 2017 to €1.5 million in 2020. Its eyes are now set on processing raw material to get the most value rather than trading purely in unprocessed commodities. Read Zatwa co-founder Mohamed Diaby’s story of getting started in the agri-commodity trading game.

4. Idea to commercialise a local pepper sauce becomes a listed food company Twenty-eight years ago, Leticia Osafo-Addo returned to her native Ghana after studying as an anaesthetist and critical care therapist in Germany. She never entered the medical field, instead choosing a different path after recognising a gap in the market to commercialise the production of a local pepper sauce: shito. The sauce is used as the main ingredient in many of the country’s popular dishes. Learn how Osafo-Addo, founder of Samba Foods, capitalised on increased demand for convenience food.

5. Turning overlooked croton nut into a cash crop The tall and leafy croton tree, found in East and Southern Africa, is most commonly used as firewood and charcoal. While others previously saw more value in removing the trees, Cosmas Ochieng, CEO of EcoFix Kenya, is carving out a business turning the nuts into biofuel and various other added-value products such as fertiliser, animal feed and cosmetics. Spotting value in croton nuts: Ochieng’s story.

6. A brand of health and beauty products made from oil palm J-Palm is an agribusiness company founded by Mahmud Johnson in Liberia in June 2013. The business supports smallholder farmers who harvest the fruits from naturally-growing oil palms in their communities for oil production, purchasing both the palm oil as well as the kernels left over as a by-product. It then processes the kernels into palm kernel oil for its range of consumer lifestyle products – soaps, moisturisers and hair conditioners – under the brand Kernel Fresh. It also aggregates the crude palm oil purchased from the smallholder farmers to sell on to retailers. Find out how Johnson overcame initial scepticism and obstacles to grow the company.

7. Ghana: Turning cocoa waste into organic fertiliser Akwasi Osei-Bobie Ansah had obtained a teaching degree after school but was always more interested in agriculture. Back home in the village where his parents had their fields, he had observed higher crop yields in areas where cocoa shells were left to decompose. He realised that this waste product from Ghana’s biggest export product could be channelled into making an organic compost or fertiliser. Today, Farmers Hope products – the original organic fertiliser (named Asaase Nofosuo) and an organic pesticide and fungicide – are sold in both Ghana and Burkina Faso. Read more: Creating an organic fertiliser company that supplies farmers in West Africa.

8. Processing rice in Nigeria The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many lessons and challenges for entrepreneurs. For Abubakar Sadiq Falalu, the health crisis has helped affirm one thing: he is in the right line of business. Pandemic or not, people have to eat. Falalu runs a rice production and milling venture in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. His company FaLGates Foods grows, processes, packs and sells parboiled rice to its largely Nigerian clientele. 31-year-old Nigerian reveals how he established his rice production business.

9. Producing flour from millet grown in northern Namibia Mahangu is a hardy and drought-resistant pearl millet (a cereal grain that belongs to the grass family). Entrepreneur Eben Ngula knew the majority of the people living in the rural villages around his hometown of Ondangwa always have excess mahangu that they look to sell to local millers to make flour. “After harvest, they always have grain stored throughout the year. I realised availability would not be a problem for a milling business,” Ngula explains. It was while he was a production manager for Namibia Grape Company in the south of the country near the Orange River, that Ngula conceptualised and planned his venture. In June 2020, African Grain Millers was founded. Full article: Entrepreneur quits job and moves back home to start agribusiness venture.

10. Capitalising on a gap in the chilli market In 2002, at the age of 25, Margaret Komen landed her first export client for African bird’s eye chilli powder from Kenya. What makes this feat remarkable is, at the time, Komen did not have a registered company for the planned export. Nor did she know where she was going to secure the chillies required to produce the powder. She also had no start-up capital, no processing facility, and no experience as a business owner. Over time, the company has become a major player with clients in Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and South Korea. It currently exports five varieties of dried chilli in bulk to pharmaceutical and food industry clients in Europe and Southeast Asia. Exporting chillies from Kenya: Agribusiness entrepreneur outlines her journey.

11. International market for hibiscus flowers from Nigeria “Organic hibiscus is grown in Africa – mainly in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Sudan. When we started, there were a lot of trade restrictions in Sudan. They were in the middle of a civil war. Essentially there was a global supply gap,” says Timi Oke, co-founder of Nigerian export trading business AgroEknor. Oke also knew that the big hibiscus growers in northern Nigeria were unable to get their products out of the country as local traders did not want to deal with the tension and unrest in the area. It was a gap AgroEknor could capitalise on. The story of how Timi Oke and his partners built a company that exports agricultural commodities from Africa to the world.