Ayodele Olajiga is an entrepreneur, consultant, and investor. Mr. Olajiga has extensive experience in the African financial services sector, having served in senior management roles at Rand Merchant Bank in Nigeria and South Africa. Mr. Olajiga was also a consultant with Mckinsey&company where he served several large companies across Africa.
Mr. Olajiga is the Co-Founder of Foodpro Limited, a leading Nigerian-based retail snacks business focused on processing and producing superior quality cashew nut products for retail and commercial customers in Nigeria and globally.
Mr. Olajiga is active in the agribusiness sector as an investor, advisor, and consultant.
As part of our Future of Agriculture & Food report, AfricaLive asked Mr Olajiga how the sector find the balance between creating economic opportunity and implementing sustainable practices.
Africa needs to manage the competing interest of creating economic opportunity and sustainable practices. Given the level of poverty across the continent, it’s understandable that most of the focus is on creating economic opportunities and not sustainability.
Hence, there is a need to link economic opportunities and sustainability positively; otherwise, we won’t see the desired change.
The starting point is that we must leverage smart agriculture to drive economic opportunity at the farm level.
Specifically, we need to focus on yield improvement as a growth source rather than simply more acreage. Currently, the primary source of growth is bringing more land into production to the detriment of the environment.
Yields in Africa are among the lowest globally; as an example, various research has shown that cereals yield is only c.47% compared to the rest of the world.
Africa can leverage some of the established methods on increasing yield, such as using adequate fertilizers, data-driven farming, alternative farming methods like urban farming, better seeds while investing in finding other ways to improve the yield per acre. Overall, there needs to be more investment and focus on how to do more with less.
We also need to reduce production losses to the minimum levels possible across the value chains. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, post-harvest losses can be as high as 50% in Africa, which means producing twice as much as required to get the desired output. And if growth is via acreage increase, then the environment’s damage is an obvious consequence with minimal economic benefit.
Also, there is a need to focus on streamlining the value chains to capture more value lost to several middle players. There are too many players between the farmers and the main markets. Intermediaries reduce value attributable to the farmers and potentially also increases losses. According to Benin’s African Cashew Initiative, intermediaries increase costs on average by 15%, which could be significantly higher in other markets.
Overall, this means that we need to look at the value chains to eliminate inefficiencies and improve effectiveness. This approach will require investments from African governments and private sector players. At the moment, there is a lot left to the small farmers who dominate the space, and they cannot afford to invest.
Finally, there is a need to explore an acreage rotation system like crop rotation that protects the ecosystem. For the sake of argument, you could have a process whereby deforestation and reforestation are happening to maintain the ecosystem’s balance.
If we can support the farmers in improving their yields, reducing post- losses, and capturing more economics, it’s easier to push sustainable farming practices.
Overall, the challenge before African governments is how to create a system that is improving its population’s economic realities sustainably.
It will take consistent and focused investment; however, it will yield both short and long-term benefits.