From Zambia to Nigeria: Cashing in on Africa’s agriculture opportunities

Felix Kamassah, founder of Maphlix in Ghana, which supplies KFC and exports to Europe.

Felix Kamassah, founder of Maphlix in Ghana, which supplies KFC and exports to Europe.

We highlight five entrepreneurs unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential, from working with small-scale farmers in Zambia to grow crops like cowpea and groundnuts, to exporting hibiscus flowers from Nigeria.

1. Zambia: $10m company proves small farms can be big business

Agriculture in Africa is dominated by millions of small-scale farmers who cultivate modest parcels of land. Smallholder farming on the continent is often synonymous with low yields, limited use of quality seeds and fertilisers, minimal mechanisation, and general hardship and poverty. Yet, one company, Good Nature Agro (GNA), has tapped into the latent potential of Africa’s smallholder sector, establishing a business with $10 million in revenue by collaborating with farmers in Zambia.

At its core, GNA contracts over 20,000 small-scale farmers to grow legume seeds and commodities – such as cowpea, soya bean, and groundnuts – and then purchases these products from the farmers to sell at a profit. However, GNA’s integrated business model extends far beyond simple trade. It provides farmers with loans to buy high-quality seeds and other agricultural inputs, offers continuous farming support through private extension agents, and delivers financial and digital literacy training. GNA is also involved in financing assets for farmers, ranging from agricultural equipment to mobile phones.

The smallholders are both the company’s suppliers and customers. “We knew that farmers needed quality inputs [and] they needed financing in order to be able to access those inputs. They needed technical support throughout the year in order to maximise what came out. And then they needed a guaranteed market – they needed sureties, like farmers anywhere in the world. And so we built a business model around fulfilling all of those needs,” explains GNA’s co-founder and CEO Carl Jensen. Read more 

2. From LinkedIn lead to Nigerian export success

Timi Oke secured the first client for his fledgling Nigerian export trading business through LinkedIn. In 2012, while working a nine-to-five job at a bank in the UK, the Nigerian-born Oke decided to follow the advice of an import-export trader he had become acquainted with.

“I had always been interested in agriculture and trading from a young age. Even while I was working at the bank, I would research different agricultural products that could be viable for trade,” he says.

The trader advised Oke to attend as many trade fairs as possible and recommended a few industry groups on LinkedIn to join. “For about six to twelve months, I was constantly on these groups, asking questions, eliciting responses and then contacting those individuals directly. Eventually an importer from Mexico asked me if I could supply five containers of dried hibiscus flowers.”

Oke took a career break, not officially quitting just yet, and asked his brother and a good friend to join him in the newly registered company called AgroEknor. It was a scramble to deliver that first order. The partners crowdfunded and used their own money to raise the necessary capital to buy the hibiscus flowers from middlemen, who sourced them from small-scale farmers in northern Nigeria.

The shipment was eventually dispatched. Oke still remembers the day the first payment for 60 tonnes of dried hibiscus was transferred into the company’s account. “It was a celebration. I gave notice at the bank and settled permanently in Nigeria to do this full-time,” he says. Read more 

3. Ghana: Side hustle becomes sizeable farming business

In 2012, Felix Kamassah worked as an economist in Ghana’s banking sector while dabbling in farming on the side. He learned from his aunt, who raised him, that growing food can always be part of one’s life, regardless of one’s day job. She, for example, was a nurse but also grew her own vegetables.

With his wife as his partner, he first planted cassava and maize on a piece of land in the Volta region, near the southeastern border with Togo. The business soon expanded to include various other crops, driven by local demand. In 2013, Kamassah resigned from his job to establish Maphlix Trust.

The company has grown from supplying a few local shops in Ghana to becoming a thriving producer and exporter of over 27 different vegetables, tubers, and fruits. It employs over 150 permanent staff, and when harvesting is in full swing, another 80 daily casual labourers are brought on board. Maphlix Trust counts Shoprite and KFC as its main domestic customers and exports over 90% of its produce to markets such as the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, and the UAE. Read more 

4. Profiting from Rwanda’s avocado and chilli export potential

Entrepreneur Seun Rasheed, founder and CEO of SOUK Farms, is capitalising on Rwanda’s ideal conditions for growing and exporting avocados, chillies, and beans.

Rasheed hails from a farming family in Nigeria but moved to the UK in his early teens. His parents maintain agricultural business interests in Nigeria. The inspiration to start SOUK Farms in Rwanda came during a holiday in April 2019, which unexpectedly turned into a business feasibility study.

“I fell in love with the country… it’s a very easy country to do business in. It took us six hours to register the company… and by the next day we had our bank account open,” says Rasheed.

“In terms of the climate, it is perfect for horticulture crops,” Rasheed notes. “With the right irrigation installation, you can farm… and supply your customers with produce all through the year.” Read more

5. Entrepreneur aims to expand Uganda’s share of the superfood moringa market

Uganda-based Raintree Farms, established in 2012, specialises in the production and processing of organic moringa, a crop renowned for its health benefits. The company, founded by Teddy Ruge, cultivates moringa on its own land and also sources it from small-scale farmers. Its primary clients are nutritional supplement companies in the US and EU, which use Raintree’s moringa powder to make pills, energy bars, and smoothie mixes.

Raintree has also launched a consumer-focused moringa oil beauty brand called Qwezi Beauty. “The margins from exporting a commodity like [moringa] oil are very thin, but if you go several steps up in terms of value addition, you are immediately able to multiply your profitability by several factors. It also protects the business from the shocks of international export by multiplying the customer base infinitely,” Ruge explains. Read more