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How border closure policy turned me to an entrepreneur – Alifa

Nicholas Alifa is a 26 year old entrepreneur and a fellow of the Borlaug-Adesina Fellowship. He is also the CEO of Ajaoko Agritech Limited, a…

Nicholas Alifa is a 26 year old entrepreneur and a fellow of the Borlaug-Adesina Fellowship. He is also the CEO of Ajaoko Agritech Limited, a platform that provides smart solutions to farmers on complex challenges. It also connects farmers with stakeholders in the food and agricultural education sphere. In this interview, Alifa talked about getting over key challenges in the agriculture business, among other issues.

What was growing up like for you?

I was born and bred in Kogi state. My parents are teachers and growing up was exciting, I spent my early childhood reading books and playing. I play a lot. Sometimes my parents wondered how I performed well in school. I had my first degree on food science and technology at Kogi state University and currently Pursuing my master’s degree at the University of Ibadan.

How did you form the Ajaoko venture?

I was part of the 2016 innovation competition known as Aso Villa Demo Day award where over 4,000 contestants submitted a business proposal across various sectors. We were shortlisted to 30 finalists. In 2017, Growth and Empowerment Project of the federal government awarded a grant to us.

Ajaoko started as an online platform that connects different stakeholders in Food and agricultural related issues. It later metamorphosed into an end to end solution for agriculture in Nigeria. The  system provide farmers with easy and fast access to farm inputs, technical support, near and profitable market as well as funding to enhance efficiency.

We are working through our agribusiness model with a cluster of farmers in the rice sector thereby helping them gain access to the latest technology in rice farming and processing as well as providing technical support for them.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

The policy of the federal government on importation of rice in the country is no longer new. According to National Bureau of Statistics, the amount of money spent on importation of food and drink as at 2015-2017 has increased from $2.1bn to $4.1bn. It is apparent that, when we produce what we eat and drink in our locality, we have high chances of eating healthy.

Moreover we have little or no idea of the fertilizers and other chemicals applied on such crops, it may be harmful to our body or even the money used in importation will be diversified into other sectors of the economy.

I thought of the benefit attached to it and how it will boost our GDP, this is why I decided to initiate #Ajaokorice, a rice brand produced in the market.

I could recall that, I wanted to study biochemistry in the university but my course was changed to Food Science and Technology. I never knew such course existed as at that time.

During my third year, I realized that there was little or no citation of African indigenous foods in most International food science textbooks. It became a big concern to me that African indigenous food products couldn’t compete with others on a global scale.

Over time that concern translated into passion that led me to start up Afrifood Initiative to promote the African indigenous food products, through awareness and grass-root mobilization for youth involvement in value addition.

You are a fellow of the Borlaug-Adesina Fellowship. Can you tell us more about the programme?

I was selected among the top 10 youths from Africa into the prestigious Borlaug-Adesina Fellowship by the World Hunger Foundation during the World Food Prize event in the United State. The Foundation was founded by the president of the African Development Bank, and 2017 winner of the World Food Prize, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. He saw the passion in us to fight hunger in our various countries.

However, the aim of inaugurating us into the foundation is to proffer lasting solutions hence bridging the gaps between farmers with stakeholder to alleviate hunger and wastage of food produce especially in Africa.

How has technology helped in improving farmers’ performance?

In the course of running this project, I discovered that one of the major challenges in the Nigerian Food System is as a result of the gap between the major players’ that is, farmers and consumers as well as the value chain.  The model focuses on producer networking instead of the conventional product buying from the market. We collect the produce from the farmers, connect to the buyers and deliver at ease to the customer. In that way, we are able to monitor the farmers’ performance and help them to improve yield and maximize profit.

Through our agribusiness cluster, we have been able to provide inputs, technical services, funds and an accessible market to our network of farmers. This has improved their yield by up to 45% and profit by 37% over the past four years.

How has it been competing with other brands in the industry?

Like every other solution, we have a unique market segment, value proportion, and business model. For example, our solution is value chain specific, and as we grow, we move into more value chains. Competitions are constant and God is helping us scale through.

Where do you see yourself and Ajaoko in few years?

I see Ajaoko becoming one of the top household names in the food and agriculture business in Nigeria. Likewise I see myself becoming a globally recognized authority in Agribusiness, Especially from the African Perspective.

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