African Harvesters had Agribusiness conversations with Adetoun Abbi-Olaniyan, Founder/CEO, Maidville Consulting Limited (ThistleBerry Farms). The interview was centered around Agribusiness Consulting, Farming, Training, Challenges in Nigerian Agricultural landscape and many more
The Stakeholders Interview
African Harvesters : Tell us about yourself and your Agribusiness?
DT: My name is Detoun, some of my associates call me DT…….an initial I have come to enjoy bearing.
I am the first of 5 kids from my parents and my childhood was spent across the North and the South West part of Nigeria. The greater part of my childhood and youth was spent in Abeokuta.
Growing up, we grew practically all that we ate at home. We also had a farm that was run by my Mum. At least two Saturday mornings are for farm visits irrespective of school work. At age 13, My Dad brought a male and female beautiful white rabbits home and as the eldest child, the responsibility to raise and nurture them fell on me. That period was one of the best childhood memories I have. We also raised chicken for meat and eggs, ducks, snails and had a commercial fish pond raising catfish, clarias and heterotis.
Till date, my Mum still has a 16 hectares oil palm field at Odogbolu in Ogun State.
Transitioning into Agribusiness from Banking came naturally to me. I had a flourishing and rewarding banking career that spanned over 12 years until I resigned in 2010 in pursuit on entrepreneurship.
In 2009, I bought a land in a farming community in Osogbo, Osun state for a Banana plantation which I never started. In 2011, I applied for a government farmland in Odogbolu and that never materialized. There have been challenges here and there in starting up, however that did not deter me from trying harder.
I have always known my strength was in Trade Support, Capacity Development, Consulting and Advisory, however the value I wanted to bring in Agribusiness required that I have a hands on experience in agriculture and its value chain. This would ensure that I am practical in my approach to problem solving, delivering values, capacity development and advisory.
In 2013, a few years after Maidville Consulting Ltd was established and of trying to understand the terrain of produce export in Nigeria, we got our first order to export Bitter-Cola and dry Chilli pepper. This experience also opened my mind to more opportunities and highlighting the challenges faced by an average SME interested in export.
The turning point for me was in 2016 when I applied to Enterprise Development Center, Lagos for the first OXFAM-WIP scholarship in Nigeria. Our company; Maidville Consulting Ltd was one of the 15 SMEs that was trained, mentored and up-skilled in entrepreneurship development. I must confess that this program helped me put a lot of things into perspective especially the role I wanted to play within the Agribusiness sector and exports.
In 2016, I began an urban garden project at my house. It was more of a laboratory facility for me. I tested out a lot of of stuff, planting vegetables, herbs and fruits just to learn more about them and the life cycles, pests and diseases. It was one of the most rewarding period for me. I planted in used tyres, sacks, empty water bottles, bamboo cuttings, wooden raised boxes. I experienced the frustration and challenges of commercial farmers when the pests came calling. This brought about creativity and innovation in dealing with this challenge……………I began testing out natural pest repellents that were brewed by me. Voila…it worked and so my passion for safe food from farm to table could not be contained- I had to scale up and own a farm.
Finally in May 2017, we planted our first commercial seed our own farm in Epe – Thistleberry Farms. Fast track to date, we have never used a drop of synthetic agricultural input (chemicals). We have our own brand of pesticides and plant growth aids used on our farm and sold commercially to urban gardeners and farmers. We also have Thistleberry CSA – a community support agriculture program that provides affordable, eco-friendly, fresh, healthy, safe, natural and ethically grown fresh produce to homes and offices within our community
Today at Maidville Consulting, we have have found our niche within the Agribusiness, SME and Export space. A few of who we are:
- A Licensed GlobalG.A.P. Farm Assurer Company
Trade support firm (export and domestic), providing market access to farmers growing fresh produce (fruits, herbs, vegetables & spices)
- Provide capacity development in-class and online. We actually have a Farmers’ Online Academy hosted in a virtual classroom
- Promote a Vegetables, Herbs & Spices Producers Association of Nigeria (VH-SPAN), a formally registered association
Consulting and Project Managing Commercial farm set-up (strength in organic/natural farms)
- Advisory & Mentorship in the entire value chain on agribusiness.
African Harvesters : How is your business participating in the development of Food Security in Nigeria?
D T: Our major campaign has been growing food ethically as part of Food Security advocacy . We run advocacy and training for Home Gardening Project. It is important for us to grow at least the basic food items within our homestead, especially in urban cities like Lagos. By so doing, we are assured of the basic nutrition for our family and availability of safe food. Also, the family financial economy can improve by selling excess food grown as a means of subsistence.
Managing harvest and post-harvest losses is another of our campaigns – Food safety from farm to table is critical to Food Security and it honestly does not matter if you grow with synthetic inputs; what is important is that farmers practice integrated pest management system (IPM) to manage threats to farm produce. Overuse and applying cocktails of chemicals is the primary reason of harvest losses.
To achieve this, we teach with practicals how to make affordable, Eco-friendly and natural pesticides, mulches, grow medium and plant nutrition with what is available within the natural environment. Eco-friendly food production brings a balance between man, farm activities and the environment. Food security also means that we encourage farmers to plant more open pollinated seeds. This way, farmers can save cost of buying seeds season in, season out by saving seeds from matured produce to replant.
In addition, we run advocacy and training for Home Gardening Project. It is important for us to grow at least the basic food items within our homestead, especially in urban cities like Lagos. By so doing, we are assured of the basic nutrition for our family and availability of safe food. Also, the family financial economy can improve by selling excess food grown as a means of subsistence.
African Harvesters : How has the Agribusiness entrepreneurial journey being?
D T: I cannot contain the bubbles of excitement inside of me………………I work in my natural habitat – Agribusiness. Frankly, the journey has been fraught with challenges no doubt, especially the learning curve. However, I have stayed committed, kept an open mind, asked questions (however silly they are), learnt to collaborate in areas that are not my forte and understood the nitty – gritty of the values required to excel in the business environment, the rest I would say is innovation, creativity and scalability in providing those values.
African Harvesters: What are some of the challenges you face in your Agribusiness and how do you overcome those challenges?
D T: The challenges in Agribusiness is no different from any other sector, especially when one wants to imprint her mark in the annals of time for our generation. It seems agribusiness is an all comers affair today which is fantastic for Nigeria. If there is one thing we got right as Nigerians, it is exploring aggressively the entire value chain of agriculture which is Agribusiness.
A specific challenge we have faced when we started out was folks not wanting to pay for professional service or workshop. Our people typically wants freebies and I always insist that freebies never does anyone any good. Appreciating what you have not exchanged value for is never appreciated.
We also found out that a lot of people are “Google Farmers’ so they tend to always have theoretical answers which has not been proven by their experience. So it became a challenge to re-orientate them to try out their ideas practically as we have done – we actually ran our farm as a Demo Farm for 6 months, covering 2 seasons. Of course, a couple of them came back to learn” How To” from our farm.
Finally, a few saw us a competition rather as collaborators which was really saddening. However, today the story is different. Our intention are clear as they have come to realize. We daresay that we have added value to at least 150 farmers in terms of productivity, output, business dynamics, encouraging creativity directly or indirectly since 2016.
Today, I am proud to say that all our clients are referred by satisfied clients.
African Harvesters: Where do you see your Agribusiness in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
D T: In 5 years, my vision is to see fresh produce export to Europe as one of the most lucrative sectors in agribusiness whereby Nigeria will share the fresh produce export index with Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and some other African countries.
In other words, all we have done and have been doing is to develop Good Agricultural Practices as a basic standard of safe food production after which the export standard would then be entrenched. We have started that journey to standardized and certified export in 2017. We were the local partner and event organizer of the first ever GlobalG.A.P. Tour Stop in Nigeria in July 2017.
The Tour Stop had the MD/CEO of GlobalG.A.P Dr. Kristain Moeller in attendance as the leader of the delegation. With the Tour Stop also came the Localg.a.p training organized by Maidville Consulting Ltd and the the Farm Assurer workshop. The Farm Assurer workshop was facilitated by Dr. Freidrich Ludeke – Snr Expert at GlobalG.A.P while the Farm Assurer qualifying practical was carried out at our farm – Thistleberry Farms in Epe, Lagos State/
In October 2017, we became a GlobalG.A.P Licensed Farm Assurer Company with an independent Licensed Farm Assurer Manager.
In essence, the journey to my 5 years vision already started in 2017.
African Harvesters: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start an Agribusiness or invest in Nigeria?
D T: Think big…….start small
Reaffirm to yourself .. Even my shadow cannot stop me from excelling
Never be afraid to make mistakes……….they are a good recipe for success.
Do not be afraid to ask questions.
Learn from others ahead of you.
Read, Read, Read
Develop your skills and capacity – formally too.
Innovate, create, re-create.
Adopt a standard applicable to the value chain you would want to operate in. It distinguishes you from everyone else.
Become a mentee….never too late to learn new tricks