Our agribusiness conversations with Africa’s foremost social entrepreneur, Ndidi O. Nwuneli (MFR) explores closing gender gaps for women in Agriculture, ending hunger and achieving food security in Africa.
The exclusive interview explains her works in bridging the gap across agricultural value chain (farm to table), helping African agropreneurs scale through the Nourish Africa platform.
Here is the interview
Question 1: Can you introduce yourself and what your organization(s) does?
I am a serial social entrepreneur, author, public speaker, and consultant, with over 25 years of international development experience. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend,
In terms of my bio –
I am the Managing Partner of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd., which works across Africa shaping agricultural policy, creating catalytic ventures, and implementing ecosystem solutions. I am also the co-founder of AACE Foods, which sources from over 10,000 farmers and produces a range of packaged spices, seasonings, and cereals for local and international markets. I also the founder and chair of Nourishing Africa, a digital and knowledge hub for a million food and agriculture entrepreneurs, and LEAP Africa which inspires, empowers, and equips a new cadre of principled, disciplined, and dynamic young leaders in Africa.
I started my career as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, working in Chicago, New York, and Johannesburg. I have an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree with honors from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I was a Senior Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government at the Harvard Kennedy School and an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.
I was recognized as a Young Global Leader and Schwab Social Innovator by the World Economic Forum and received a National Honor from the Nigerian Government. I serve on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation, AGRA, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Nigerian Breweries Plc. (Heineken), Godrej Consumer Products Ltd. India, Fairfax Africa Holdings Canada, BusinessDay Newspapers, Royal DSM Sustainability Board, Netherlands, and the African Philanthropy Forum.
I am the author of “Social Innovation in Africa: A Practical Guide for Scaling Impact,” published by Routledge, and a new book titled “Food Entrepreneurs in Africa: Scaling Resilient Agriculture Businesses” which will be launched in March 2021. I am a TED Global speaker and my work has been featured on CNN, BBC, and a range of international and local media outlets.
Question 2: The Social Enterprise Industry has recently gained significance, what more can be done to amplify efforts by stakeholders?
As discussed extensively in my last book, Social Innovation in Africa: a practical guide for scaling impact, we need strategic cross-sector collaborations among stakeholders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to drive the transformation that Africa urgently needs. Social innovators operating on the Continent must lead this process by enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations. They must adopt demand-driven and stainable operating models, recruit and retain mission-driven high achievers, institute governance intro their operations, leverage innovation and technology to leapfrog, amplify their stories and impact, attract patient and catalytic capital, and actively shaping their ecosystem to ensure scaling. The public sector must also create an enabling environment for social innovations to thrive.
Question 3: What critical issues have to be addressed to unlock the investment and trade potential on the African continent?
Inter-African trade is currently estimated at between 16-18%, which is very low relative to other economic blocks in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Through my extensive research and work in the food and agriculture sector, I have identified three main challenges which have to be urgently addressed to unlock the significant opportunities across the Continent. The first are the “man-made” obstacles to trade driven by corruption, opaque border controls, check points, roadblocks, informal fees and inefficient and misaligned national and regional policies. The second is the poor infrastructure, including road, rail, ports, ICT, and financing/banking that limit cross-border trade and increase the time and costs associated with this activity. The third is the poor market linkages and the limited business networks that exist between entrepreneurs in the Continent, driven by our colonial histories, language and cultural barriers. At Sahel Consulting we are working to address these barriers and challenges, by providing credible data to inform policy making to ensure transparency and accountability at our borders. Through Nourishing Africa, we are building bridges between entrepreneurs in different African countries and fostering trade. In addition, I am optimistic that the AfCFTA will play a critical role in easing many of the critical barriers to trade.
Question 4: What is your perception on ending hunger and achieving food security in Africa?
As a continent naturally endowed for agricultural excellence, Africa holds significant potential to not only feed itself but also attain food security and become a net exporter of food.
The Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the locust infestation in East Africa and droughts in many countries on the continent has further highlighted the fragility of the African food ecosystem and the urgent need to look inward to invest in ensuring food self-sufficiency. These shocks have also reinforced the importance of human diets in boosting immune systems and ensuring food security and nutrition.
The reality is that there will be future shocks linked to climate change. As critical stakeholders, we must collaboratively and urgently rebuild the African agriculture and food landscape. This will require a concerted effort to support Africa’s youth entrepreneurs engaged in the agriculture landscape. We must invest in private-public partnerships to create an enabling environment for enhanced value chain competitiveness, transitioning our subsistence farmers to thriving agribusiness entrepreneurs, leveraging digital tools, and climate adaptation strategies. We must also unlock catalytic financing mechanisms, infrastructure including roads, rail, storage, and sustainable energy solutions, which are critical to reducing post-harvest losses, and fostering local value addition and a vibrant ecosystem for nutritious food. Also, we will need to invest in food safety and high standards for our products and build more robust market and trade linkages on the Continent, leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) to ensure greater regional and international trade. Finally, we must prioritize the agency, resources, assets, and skills for women as critical stakeholders in this ecosystem.
Question 5: Food Processing and cold chain play a significant role in addressing post-harvest loss (PHL), what more can be done to reduce PHL and boost agricultural productivity?
20-60% of food grown in Africa goes to waste due to poor storage, packaging, logistics, lack of cold storage and minimal processing. As underscored in my latest book, Food Entrepreneurs in Africa: Scaling Resilient Agriculture Businesses, processing is arguably one of the most critical stages of the value chain in Africa, that can contribute to agricultural transformation. Adapting technology to increase the efficiency of food processing on the Continent can reduce postharvest losses, ensure value addition and year-round availability of food, lower the cost of nutritious food, increase food safety, and spur significant economic growth.
Some strategies for addressing post-harvest loss (PHL) and boosting agricultural productivity include:
Well Connected Transportation Networks: There is an urgent need for increased investments in the construction and maintenance of roads, rails, sea, and dry ports to ensure accessible transportation routes and linkages and facilitate access to markets and ensure shorter turnaround times for off-taker activities. The construction of feeder roads in rural agricultural areas will improve farmers’ accessibility to markets to sell their products and reduce the cost of transportation of their produce to markets, which typically contributes to high food prices. Well-connected road and rail networks that provide linkages between key agricultural zones and processing zones such as the identified Special Agro-processing Zones in Nigeria will also support food transportation.
Community Shared Processing Centres: The availability of shared processing centres equipped with processing equipment, cold storage, and warehouse facilities near markets or in rural agricultural producing communities will enable farmers and food entrepreneurs to utilize services for an affordable fee and subsequently reduce food loss and waste.
Renewable Energy Sources: Investments in and commitment to alternative energy sources such as solar power generation will ensure the reliable supply of power especially in processing and storage activities.
Ag-techs such as ColdHubs report extending the shelf life of perishable foods from 2 days to 21 and reducing post-harvest loss by 80% by leveraging renewable energy solutions for refrigeration.
Enabling Policy Environment for Food Processors: Our governments must create an enabling policy environment for food processors to thrive and ensure sustainable food systems. This should include policies that demand at least 40-50% local sourcing for raw materials from multinationals, and institutional programs, including school feeding. It should also include provision of appropriate frameworks for de-risking investments into the sector, crowding in catalytic financing and insurance, and promoting public-private partnerships to spur investment in processing,
Question 6: How is Nourishing Africa supporting Agropreneurs in Africa?
Nourishing Africa has a mission to drive the profitable and sustainable growth of the African agriculture and food landscapes by attracting, empowering, equipping, connecting, and celebrating over 1 Million dynamic and innovative young African agri-food entrepreneurs. Its vision is to build a flourishing, sustainable, and just food ecosystem, which leverages agtech and digital innovations, driven by Africa’s vibrant entrepreneurs to ensure that the Continent nourishes itself, is food secure and becomes a net exporter of food by 2050.
The Nourishing Africa Hub serves as a platform for entrepreneurs to accelerate their work, connect with funders, markets, talent, and celebrate their successes on the Continent. The portal includes information about data, funding, knowledge, e-learning, African food and chefs, career opportunities, and other resources to enable entrepreneurs to scale their impact.
In 2020, Nourishing Africa partnered with the Mastercard Foundation and the United States African Development Foundation to launch the Entrepreneur Support Program. The program aimed to offer a robust business support program that leverages ICT, data, and innovation, to help grassroots and MSMEs, particularly women-led businesses, across Nigeria’s agriculture and food landscape rebuild and strengthen their businesses after the impact of COVID-19.
Question 7: With the recent shift with women inclusion, what more can be done for women in Agriculture?
According to UNWomen[i] significant gender gaps persist that directly impacts productivity, livelihoods, and poverty levels in Africa. In Nigeria, the World Bank reports that women farmers produce 30% less per hectare than men driven by the reality that women farm less-valuable crops, use fewer inputs and labor is less productive for women. Other gender gaps exist in agriculture research and development, land ownership, agricultural extension services, access to financing, aggregation, distribution, logistics, and in the production and processing of high-value crops.
To close these gender gaps, we need key interventions:
- Promote the use of gender-sensitive data collection and gender statistics for evidence-based planning, policy, and program design, implementation, and evaluation
- Strengthen women’s land rights at the federal, state and local levels, engaging with governments, traditional rulers and faith-based organizations
- Close the financing gaps faced by women by creating a comprehensive strategy led by central banks, and all financial services providers to ensure clear quotas and targets, incentives and windows to support female engagement
- Our extension systems must engage female workers, ensure special training, and support program for female farmers, and market linkage initiatives to ensure equitable access to inputs, skills, training and markets to enhance their income and improve their livelihoods.
Closing these gender gaps have significant economic impact and will result in an additional 2.3 – 5.8% of GDP.
Question 8: What more needs to be done to accelerate youth inclusion in Agribusiness?
One of the strategies to accelerate youth inclusion in agriculture is to tackle the perception of agriculture as a low-paying, labour intensive venture rather than an exciting, and profitable business and career option. This is one of the key reasons that I wrote my new book: Food Entrepreneurs in Africa: Scaling Resilient Agriculture Business – to change this narrative, showcase successful African agripreneurs and provide a practical guide to support aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs.
We urgently need to:
We must urgently revamp agribusiness education in all of secondary schools and universities in Africa to prepare youth for successful careers and businesses in the agriculture and food ecosystem. This curriculum should include internships, agribusiness, and entrepreneurship training. Sahel Consulting has been working with universities across Nigeria through the Sahel Scholars Program to provide training, internships and scholarships to students to attract them to the sector and retain their interest. We are also partnering with the faculty in these universities to retool.
Nourishing Africa is also supporting youth through its many programs, as well as its Entrepreneur Support Program, funded by the Mastercard Foundation and USADF.
Thankfully, the sector is starting to attract young entrepreneurs in the agtech, fintech, and digital landscapes, as well as food bloggers and chefs. As their businesses grow, they, in turn, will serve as critical champions and influencers, attracting more youth into the sector.
Question 9: How has your role in bridging the gap across the Agriculture Value Chain (farm to table) been?
“If I tell you my dream, you might forget it. If I act on my dream, perhaps you will remember it, but if I involve you, it becomes your dream too.” This proverb completely captures my entrepreneurial journey with LEAP Africa, AACE Foods, Sahel Consulting, and Nourishing Africa. I have actively engaged and involved dynamic young Africans, and they have become the greatest champions, advocates, and supporters of the sector.
It has been a fulfilling journey, but we have only scratched the surface of what needs to be done on our Continent. I am excited that 2021 is focused on the UN Food Systems Summit, and driving ecosystem approaches to transformation. Working with a range of stakeholders across the landscape, I am optimistic that in our lifetime, we will ensure that nutritious food is available, affordable, accessible and acceptable for the masses of people on the African Continent.
LEAP Africa is a youth-focused leadership development nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, empower and equip a new cadre of leaders with skills and tools for personal, organizational, and community transformation. It works across six African countries delivering a range of training and support programs for teachers, students, social innovators and community leaders.
AACE Foods is an indigenous Nigerian company that processes, packages, and distributes nutritious and tasty food made from the best of West Africa’s fruits, herbs, vegetables, and cereals. Its product line consists of spices, spreads, sauces, and complementary food that excite and satisfy institutional, commercial, and retail customers.
Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Limited is a management consulting firm with a mission to transform Africa’s agriculture and nutrition landscape through tailored, innovative, market-based research, strategic consulting and training support, policy analysis, and the implementation of catalytic ventures and ecosystem solutions, thereby impacting communities and achieving sustainable growth.
Nourishing Africa is a platform for entrepreneurs to accelerate their work, connect with funders, markets, talent, and celebrate their successes on the Continent. It envisions a flourishing, sustainable, and just food ecosystem, which leverages agtech and digital innovations, driven by Africa’s vibrant entrepreneurs to ensure that the Continent nourishes itself and becomes a net exporter of food by 2050.
- FAO reports that if women were to have the same access to resources as men, agricultural productivity would increase by up to 30 percent, agricultural output by up to 4 percent, and the number of poor people would decrease by 100 to 150 million (http://www.fao.org/3/ca3883en/ca3883en.pdf).
[i] UN Women. 2019. The Gender Gap in Agricultural Productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Causes, Costs and Solutions. Accessed: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2019/un-women-policy-brief-11-the-gender-gap-in-agricultural-productivity-in-sub-saharan-africa-en.pdf?la=en&vs=1943. (11 August 2020).