Sahel Holds Virtual Scholars’ Conference 2021

The Sahel Scholars’ Conference, an annual conference organised by Sahel and Nourishing Africa and primarily targeted at university undergraduates and youth in general, held virtually on Wednesday, July 7th, 2021. This year’s conference themed – Shaping the Future of Food in Africa – The role of the African Youth, featured speakers who are trailblazers & pioneers in the food and agriculture sector from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt. Some of the speakers at this year’s conference include: Obi Ozor (CEO & Co-founder, Kobo360), Peter Njonjo (CEO & Cofounder, Twiga Foods), Femi Aiki (CEO & founder Foodlocker), Alima Bawah (CEO/Cofounder Cowtribe), Josephine Katumba, (Founder, Urban Farming Solutions).

Hosted by Aisha Hadeija, Manager at Sahel Consulting – the conference commenced with a welcome address by Remi Bodunrin – Operating Partner at Sahel Capital. In his address, he gave a brief background of the conference as a part of the Sahel Scholars’ Program targeted at providing mentoring, scholarships and internships in the food and agriculture sector to undergraduates. He further urged all participants to look forward to an informative and insightful event and stay actively engaged during the conference.

Following the welcome address, Ifeoluwa Olorunnipa, Consultant at Sahel Consulting gave an overview of the companies that organized the conference, namely Sahel Consulting, Sahel Capital and Nourishing Africa, briefly preceded by a short video showcasing the companies’ ethos, activities and major achievements. Her presentation also expatiated on the Sahel’s Corporate Shared Values (CSV) – social responsibility programs that serve as catalyst to build the capacity of individuals and advance social conditions in the communities in which Sahel operates, with the Sahel Scholars’ Program as a component of the Sahel’s CSV.

In his Keynote address, Mr. Obi Ozor, encouraged the youth to identify problems in agriculture which can be solved through technology and education. He highlighted a few of these problems ranging from land acquisition for subsistent farmers, funding for crop production, food wastage, extension services for improved farming methods and access to improved seedlings. He emphasized that young entrepreneurs must focus on their core competence areas and avoid distractions into many verticals until they can prove their market.

Moderated by Deji Adebusoye, Principal at Sahel Capital, the first panel, themed ‘Leveraging Innovation & Technology: How Young people are creating the Food ecosystems of the Future’, with Alimah Bawah (Cowtribe’s Co-founder/CEO) and Femi Aiki (CEO/Cofounder Food Locker), commenced after Ms. Olorunipa’s presentation. Key highlights from this session include Alima Bawah’s (Cowtribe Co-founder/CEO) recommendation of an investment in behavior change through the deployment of simple technology models to drive innovation in Agri-businesses and improved farming methods; Femi Aiki’s (Foodlocker Co-founder/CEO) call to Nigerian youth to seek education in Agri-tech and be fully involved in the sector by identifying sector-specific career opportunities that can facilitate production on the farmlands. Mr. Obi Ozor (Kobo 360 Co-founder/CEO), Keynote speaker, also participated in the conversation, highlighting the need for sophistication in addressing the problem of financing for farmers. He emphasized that there should be Agtech companies that focus strictly on financing farmers, leveraging existing data, integrating with incumbent financial services platforms such as banks, and proving the bankability of these farmers – thereby making financing them attractive.

Panel two on ‘Tapping into the 1-Trillion Dollar Industry: Empowering the African Youth to Build Resilient and Sustainable Agribusinesses’ was moderated by Rahmat Eyinfunjowo (Co-CEO, Nourishing Africa). Starting off the panel conversation, Peter Njonjo – Co-founder/Group CEO at Twiga Foods highlighted that the high cost of food on the African continent has a strong linkage to fragmented informal retail. To address the problem of fragmented retail in most of Africa, he explained the need to use technology to aggregate the demand of informal retail to build efficient supply chains that can feed the demand.

Josephine Katumba’s (Founder, Biakudia Urban Farming Solutions) expanded on the conversation by discussing her journey into becoming an agribusiness entrepreneur and the realization of agriculture as the backbone of humanity. Lanre Wilton-Waddell’s (Founder, Dilos Foods emphasized on the enormous opportunities in the food and agribusiness space given the need to feed Africa’s growing population and the fact that there’s room for many young entrepreneurs to be innovative and develop great products. However, he highlighted that the journey as an entrepreneur in food processing in Nigeria can be daunting given regulatory bottlenecks and informal supply chains and retail distribution. Peter Ngunyi’s (CEO Earlybird Ventures) dovetailed into the $1 trillion food and agriculture opportunity across many crop value chains that Africa is known for such as tea, rubber and cocoa and the need to have more African companies capturing a larger share of the value in these crop value chains through innovative business models. He highlighted that some of the key differences between successful start-ups and not-so-successful ones, include finding the right mentors, having the right team & collaborations, and showing traction – measurable progress.

Following the second panel session, the conference was split up into two breakout sessions for one-on-one engagements with experts (Nouran El-Said and Chef Winifred Nwania) on modern farming techniques and culinary. From the session anchored by Celebrity Chef Winifred Nwania (CEO, Zeelicious), the charge was for participants to disregard comfortable terrains and press on deliberately towards purposeful learning that can translate into visionary ideas and business outcomes, based on her experience of creating a culinary business from her passion for cooking. The second session with Nouran El Said (CEO, Plug’n’Grow, Egypt) unveiled opportunities in soilless technology such as hydroponic farming and how unlocking affordability for agricultural produce using this technology can unlock new dynamics for agri-businesses.

Temi Adegoroye, Partner, Sahel Consulting gave the closing remarks and encouraged all participants, especially the youth to change their mindsets about the opportunities in the agricultural landscape and food ecosystem by active involvement, innovative thinking and leveraging of existing platforms and resources.

The Sahel Scholars Conference is a component of the Sahel Scholars Programme (SASP), an annual programme introduced by Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Limited and Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Limited in 2017 to empower outstanding Nigerian students through conferences, internship, mentorship, and scholarships. Since the maiden conference in 2017, the conference has been held every year and has reached over 3,000 students. Prior to the onset of Covid 19, the conference held physically, hosted by different universities. Some of the universities that have hosted the conference in the past include University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna and Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, both in Nigeria. The first virtual conference held in 2020, with participation from students across 30 universities. The overriding objective of the Sahel Scholars’ Conference is to position the food and agriculture sector to university undergraduates as the sector of choice for career development by showcasing exciting trends and opportunities.

The video recording of the conference can be accessed here

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