Sahel Celebrates 10 Years of Impact

Over the past ten years, Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Limited and Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Limited (“Sahel”) led by Ndidi Nwuneli and Mezuo Nwuneli respectively have worked to transform Africa’s agriculture and nutrition landscape by providing strategic advice, policy interventions, and ecosystem solutions across multiple value chains, and investment growth capital to food and agricultural companies in West Africa.

Sahel held a virtual conference on Tuesday 24th November 2020 to celebrate its 10th anniversary tagged “Zero Hunger: Africa’s Private Sector Driving Innovation & Growth”. Notable amongst the keynote speakers include Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank; Dr. Rajiv. J. Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation; Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); and Dr. Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). During the conference, Dr. Cosmas Maduka, Chairman of Coscharis Farms also shared key insights and lessons from his entrepreneurial journey.

The official host of the session, Mr. Frank Aigbogun, Publisher and CEO, BusinessDay Media opened the conference alongside Ndidi Nwuneli, Managing Partner at Sahel Consulting who gave the welcome address and set the tone for the conference. She described entrepreneurs as the lifeblood of the agriculture sector. She reiterated that it would take the engagement of stakeholders across the food ecosystem including policymakers, entrepreneurs, youth, and farmers to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – Zero Hunger by 2030.

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina commended the co-founders for their passion, hard work, and commitment to transforming the agriculture landscape. He highlighted the need for Africa to capitalize on the market opportunities by producing more food efficiently and sustainably through agro-industrialization, and in a manner that supports both the farmers and the private sector. Dr. Adesina described a working agricultural sector as one which is private sector-led, but government enabled. He urged that the youth must be encouraged to see agriculture as a business to be driven by their innovation and business acumen.

During his remarks, Dr. Rajiv Shah emphasized the need for a focus on nutrition and sustainability, rather than just increasing food production. He discussed the importance of energy in achieving development goals, as well as the efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation to end energy poverty in the world and gave examples from countries such as Nigeria and India. He also urged the conference participants to rethink existing food systems and to create innovative new businesses within the food and agricultural sector.

In her remarks, Dr. Agnes Kalibata described African entrepreneurs as dynamic, vibrant and data-driven; focused on transforming Africa’s agriculture and nutrition landscape. She further encouraged all stakeholders not to relent on their commitments to double down on the efforts of the government and private sector to increase food production. She stated that Africa’s private sector handles 80% of food consumed on the continent and 48% of food consumed in urban areas; and urged the conference participants to support and celebrate the successes of these businesses, and especially women-owned businesses.

The keynote addresses were followed by two sets of three-panel discussions which ran concurrently and focused on “leveraging technology”, “the impact of big data”, “agriculture development”, “economic transformation”, “women in agriculture”, and “building ecosystems of support”.

During the session “Leveraging Technology & Innovation to Leapfrog”, Dr. Angel Adelaja-Kuye (Senior Special Adviser on Agriculture to the Ogun State Governor), Dr. Maneshree Jugmohan-Naidu (Director of Biotechnology at the South African Department of Science and Innovation), Mark Nelson (Managing Director at Context Global Network), and Prof. Olugbenga Ogunmoyela (Lead Consultant, Glylabs Consulting) were the key discussants. The panelists emphasized the need to leverage technology to leapfrog, driving productivity improvements and dramatically reducing post-harvest losses. The panelists reinforced the importance of private-public partnerships to support the emergence of strong value chains.

In the second panel session, “The Impact of Big Data on Food Ecosystems”, Dr. Daniel Asare-Kyei (CEO, Esoko), Dr. Jessica Fanzo (Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, John Hopkins University), and Dr. Simon Winter (Executive Director, Syngenta Foundation) discussed the need for data use and tracking in the agricultural space.  They emphasized that data must be made affordable and accessible to smallholder farmers. Dr Winter amplified how accurate data has enabled various stakeholders to make optimal decisions within the sector. He shared the example of the Seed Trial App, developed by Syngenta, which provides seed regulators and seed production companies with the information necessary to understand the commercial viability of investing in specific seed varieties. In closing, the panelists highlighted the need for data banks across the continent to ensure accurate data is not only collected but also accessible and affordable to all.

In a separate session, Christopher Brett, the Lead Agribusiness Specialist at the World Bank gave a presentation focused on how agriculture development could drive economic transformation across Africa.  During his presentation, he discussed the hidden costs of the global food and agricultural system, which he estimated at $12 trillion, and the importance of building a food system that is holistic – ensuring healthy people, a healthy planet, and a healthy economy. He highlighted the rapid growth of the world’s population and the challenge of feeding more people with fewer resources. After his presentation, he was interviewed by Mezuo Nwuneli, Managing Partner of Sahel Capital, and their discussion addressed issues ranging from food supply chains to agricultural policy, and subsequently to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The fourth panel was focused on the critical role women play in the agricultural sector. The session featured Carla Denizard (Regional Leader for West Africa, World Vision International), Elohor Mercy Diebiru-Ojo (Assistant specialist, Cassava Seed Systems, IITA), Betty Kibaara (Director, Food Initiative, Rockefeller Foundation), and Vicki Wilde (Senior Program Officer, Agricultural Development, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Their discussions highlighted the importance of gender-inclusive community sensitization to increase the participation of women in the sector.  They discussed practical ways in which girls could access the right information, skills, tools and resources to change their trajectory and future participation in the sector. Vicki Wilde emphasized the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s effort to increase women participation within the sector such that they are able to make economic decisions that transform the sector.  Carla Denizard concluded by saying that the food security of Africa and the world rests on women’s activities across the various value chains.

The fifth panel focused on “Africa’s Rebirth: The Role of Agriculture In Economic Transformation”. The session was moderated by Shachi Gurumayum (Director, Agrimayum GmbH). It featured Sami Khan (Director Strategy, Food and Agribusiness, CDC Group), Uche Orji (CEO, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority), Atsuko Toda (Director, Agriculture Finance & Rural Development, the African Development Bank), and Kees Verbeek (Chief Representative Officer, Rabobank Kenya). They highlighted the efforts of institutional investors working to address the challenge of access to finance for Africa’s agricultural sector, particularly for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). The panelists also discussed the need to provide risk-sharing facilities for financial institutions in Nigeria and across Africa to de-risk the agricultural financing value chain and institutionalize agricultural lending. They also reinforced the need for creating strategic and innovative partnerships among institutional investors to unlock economic opportunities within the sector.

The final panel was focused on “Building Ecosystem Of Support For Africa’s SMEs”. The session included Olagoke Balogun (CEO, So Fresh Nigeria), C.D. Glin (President and CEO, U.S. African Development Foundation), Lesego Serolong Holzapfel (Founder/CEO, Bokamosa Impact Investments), Chidinma Lawanson (Country Manager Nigeria, Mastercard Foundation), and Sunday Silungwe (Co-Founder and Director of Marketing, Good Nature Agro). During their discussion, they highlighted the need for a support system for SMEs to ensure their survival and the effect of fragmented value chains on the business processes thereby, forcing businesses to depend on the open market and smallholder farmers for supply. They reinforced the critical role of Nourishing Africa in helping SMEs overcome a myriad of challenges and enabling them to scale.

Dr. Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, in the final keynote address, gave thoughtful insights on how SMEs could scale to achieving sustainable businesses. He explained that small and medium enterprises need to be investor-ready and fully aware of the finance mechanism available to them. He underscored that the future of Africa’s food system must develop and scale new models to avoid many of the challenges faced in Europe and other western countries.

As part of the vote of thanks, Mezuo Nwuneli, Managing Partner, Sahel Capital, acknowledged and thanked the Sahel team, partners, clients, investors who have supported the company over the past ten years. He expressed excitement about the future of the Sahel Group working collaboratively with key stakeholders to transform the ecosystem, to ensure the achievement of Zero Hunger in Africa by 2030!

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