Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The time is ripe for agribusiness : These are exciting times - Amaka Agbakoba Onyejianya

Amaka Beverley Agbakoba MD / Co-Founder UWA Earth Foods

By Agropreneur Nigeria - Associate of The Unknown Nigeria

Amaka Beverley Agbakoba, is the MD of UWA Earth Foods, a wholefoods and health conscious brand which was founded in 2015 by two friends with passion for health and nutrition to create a demand for minimally processed, under-utilized natural products and raw materials in Nigeria. Her product offerings include edible peanut butter, cashew butter, peanut crunch bites, pure handmade red palm oil, wet milled coconut oil, and Baobab fruit powder all NAFDAC registered and produced form raw materials sourced from local markets within Nigeria.

The journey so far at UWA Earth shows that it is possible to succeed in doing Agribusiness in Nigeria with determination and hard work. 

We had the opportunity of catching up with Amaka to discuss about the whole foods business at UWA Earth, she advices young people about putting themselves out there. She says “the more you get out there within the Agribusiness space the luckier you get and you meet some great people”.

Q1. Can you tell us what growing up was like for you?

I grew up in the home of Olisa and Lillian Agbakoba, two legal professionals passionate about their family and careers. I am the first born of three sisters. We had a regular childhood. We grew up in Lagos but stayed closely connected to the East.

Q2.What brought you into agriculture?

Uwa Earth was borne from a passion to harness the untapped agricultural wealth that Nigeria has to offer and also to take control of our futures. It was co-founded by myself and a friend Oby Ugboma. We used to talk about doing something that could make a difference and we shared a passion to create a brand that is health focused but easily attainable by all classes and walks of life. Moreover, we didn’t want the business to be reliant on imports rather utilize the precious raw materials of Nigeria.

Co-Founders UWA Earth Foods

Q3. Tell us more about your agribusiness venture?

Uwa Earth is a whole foods business. This is the popular term for food that are minimally processed and has no additives and preservatives. Uwa Earth is a light food manufacturing business that produces the first NAFDAC registered and properly packaged peanut butter and cashew butter in Nigeria. Uwa Earth also distributes pure red palm oil, coconut oil. We believe in socially responsible business that adds value and gives back to society.

Q4. Did you face any challenge while starting up?

As with most startups the major challenge we faced at the very beginning was securing capital. We started with our salaries and some savings. Agribusiness can typically be capital intensive to setup and also getting the right type of equipment and packaging to ensure we maintain high standards. The great thing about the industry now is that there a lot of Agribusiness and entrepreneurial focused competitions and resource centres to help people acquire the necessary information, skills and financial assistance needed to get moving.

Q5. What is the hardest part of your agribusiness?

The hardest part I would say is that it can be unpredictable best of times. The key to success to an extent lies in being able to predict the future by that I mean properly forecast future incomes and manage all future risks. It is true that many businesses don’t make it beyond the first two years but the truth is if you’re really determined anything is possible. 

Q6. What is the most satisfying part of your agribusiness?

The most satisfying part is the fact that you are actually making a difference to the economy by generating more local jobs, creating a new subset of the industry, giving consumers more choice in the market and saving the cost of imports by creating beautifully packaged goods that are mostly made in Nigeria. It is a very good feeling.

Q7. Do you view agribusiness as a lifestyle or choice or some combination of the both (give a reason for your view)

It really depends on what part of agribusiness you are into, For some it may be more of a lifestyle choice and for others it may purely for income generation . For us, it is a mix. We believe in healthier choices and also believe that we have a lot of natural resources we have been blessed with as a nation so why not tap into that as a potential source of income generation. Moreover we want to help give people this choice to decide to pick quality alternative product that is made in Nigeria.

Q8. How do you source for raw materials for your Agribusiness?

Uwa Earth is a proudly Nigerian business and all our raw materials are sourced locally. We do not grow crops for the business, yet.

Q9. Do you plan to extend your agribusiness?

We only started in 2015 and in a short time we have developed up to 10 products which are on the market. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far but there is still a lot that needs to be done to start to take the products further afield to other states and also outside Nigeria. So further development is on cards but not immediately.

Q10. What societal problems are you solving with your work and what solutions are you using? What are the hurdles currently being faced?

Societal problems can always be overcome with hard work. Implementing Good processes and procedures are very important to help manage daily business risks and typical problems such as hiring good staff. You have to be diligent and resourceful when looking for new staff. Conduct all the necessary checks. Have a good record keeping and filing system. The best way to deal with it is to learn your market well before get into it and also do a lot of research.

Q11. What advice would you give to any young person interested in getting into farming/Agribusiness

Our advice to young people wanting to get into the exciting area of agribusiness is to know where your strengths and interests lie and once you identify the part of agribusiness you like, know that sector inside out learn everything you can about it. Know your competitors very well. Oby absolutely loves nut butters and I love red palm oil and coconut oil. So naturally we gravitated to areas that we had an interest in and fused these areas under one brand. It is good to be driven not just by money but really by a passion as this will take you much further especially when things get tough and the motivation is low. But with everything it’s just for a short time and things turn around again.

Q12. What are the challenges of youth engagement in agribusiness as it relates to starting up, how do you think it is affecting Entrepreneurship in Nigeria?

I think lack of information and general awareness remain prevalent however more and more private and public sector initiatives are springing up every day that help to fill the knowledge gap. In the past few months there have been so many programs and focus groups geared at empowering youth in Nigeria to acquire skills for agribusiness. One just needs to keep their ears peeled and nose to the ground. It may seem at first like there is not much information out there but the harder you look the more information you find.

Q13. What do you think government should put in place to improve the agricultural sector in Nigeria?

The previous government had actually put in place a special grant scheme to help entrepreneurs called You Win which some people who are into agribusiness were lucky to be recipients of. Currently there is a new scheme called Big Portal NG. Which is not just for the agriculture sector actually but other sectors. It is necessary to stay abreast of what is going on and to regularly check social media pages, local radio, the internet, to really know what opportunities are out there. There is a lot more happening now than there ever was. The time is ripe for agribusiness. These are exciting times.

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