Heart & Capital Nigeria Limited is a food and agribusiness company. In this interview, its Chief Executive Officer, Umar Adelodun, speaks about the need for government and young graduates to explore the potential in the agri-business sub-sector. Excerpts:
There have been clamour from many quarters for diversification of the economy with special focus on the agriculture sector; do you see that as a measure that could revamp the economy?
Before the discovery of crude oil, agriculture was the sector fueling the nation's economy. The economy is said to have a potential of growing into a trillion dollar economy. Some of the bitter take home of the pandemic is the fact that the social, health and economic paradigm around the world would not remain the same. International trades are in serious peril. Job losses on the rise, investors have no confidence again. Agriculture remains the only sector to turn to for sustainable solutions. To make the diversification a reality, the agricultural practices have to be driven by the availability of fertile land, innovative technological practices, adequate funding, and human capital development. With these in place, I am confident that we would be able to attain and surpass the height of agricultural excellence around the time of independence (1960) when the sector accounted for about 68 per cent of the nation's GDP and also employed 70 per cent of the labor force especially in the rural areas. As at that time, it provided not only food but also generated employment and added 38 per cent of the non-oil foreign exchange income
What is your take about the approach of the current administration towards boosting agriculture? Are there areas you think the government should improve upon?
A pertinent factor to achieving sustainability in the agric sector is finance, and decent work has been done by the current administration in providing credit facilities to agribusiness owners. However, there are other factors such as technology deficiency and inadequate human capital to further look into. There is a need for the government to orientate farmers in taking agriculture as a proper business with good management skills, using improved seedlings and technology, factoring in irrigation systems and climate change.
The Establishment of Heart & Capital Nigeria Limited as a food and agribusiness company was to use it to grow and ease agribusiness in Africa through, what informed the decision and how far has the company gone in actualising the dream?
It all started with a dream of ensuring agribusiness owners do not go through some of the challenges we went through while starting up because frankly, we cannot afford that as a country. So we launched the firm to help grow and ease agribusiness in Africa through agribusiness consultancy, professional farm management and agribusiness training services we proffer. As for how far we have come in actualizing the dream, we have consulted for numerous farms across the country; we have fish farms, poultry farms and over 10,000 hectares of farmland under our management. We have also trained and mentored over 8,000 farmers and youths on agribusiness across the country.
What is the place of technology in the H&C operations?
We firmly believe that as a nation, we cannot feed our population with hoes and cutlasses hence, our technology inclusion cuts across all operations on and off the field; from soil analysis to mechanizing our land preparation operations, planting and harvesting operations. Our team of experts also comprise of certified agronomists, architects and irrigation engineers that determine what improved farm inputs to use, where to erect farm structures and the kind of irrigation system that would be best suitable for the different farms we manage. Furthermore, because of how important updates are to our clients, we make use of our website portal to keep them abreast of the progress we're making.
Can you please give the overview of the company's investment and operations?
As a solution provider, the company is heavily invested in its human resources. We have a team of certified agronomists, certified irrigation engineers, animal husbandry specialists, finance experts, etc. who have a combined experience of over 20 years from working with different multinationals such as Dangote, IITA, etc. that guide the decision making process on every project we work on. Furthermore, we have also invested in modern technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles and state-of-the-art tractors and machineries that enhance the efficiency of our operations. The company is also invested in a cassava value chain line with a 10 tonnes per day garri processing facility in Kwara state where we also have our fish farms, cashew farms, cassava farms spanning thousands of hectares.
In the last few years, you have partnered some other firms, what are those things you look out for in choosing partners?
We are very particular about our core values; integrity, innovation, teamwork, professionalism and accountability and we always make sure our existing and prospective partners possess them. When you take a look at these qualities, they are not farfetched in any organization that wants to succeed.
What are the challenges you face as you contribute your quota into the opening up of agric business terrain?
Just like many other startups, institutional voids such as poor infrastructures, inadequate information as regards the market as a whole, which significantly affects the transaction between buyers and the sellers, etc. remain a significant challenge. However, the recent rise in the number of "agri-tech platforms" that have been promising unrealistic returns and failing is alarming and this is quickly becoming a problem as it is reducing the interests of investors in the sector.
Coming down personally Mr. Oba, what is your attraction to this business and what prepared you for the role you are currently playing?
H&C is my baby and I really care about it! Watching it grow has been just like watching a plant grow. Our failures of yesterday planted the seeds of success everyone now sees. When you are working on something you care about, you don't need any external push or attraction, the vision pulls you. As for what prepared me for this role, I would say everything. From everyone one I have met, to every transaction and to every book I read. And I can't also over emphasize the team; they allow me to lead them while learning to lead, which was a very important factor.
What advice can you offer today's youths, especially young graduates in respect of the Agriculture sector?
The advice is that they should stop seeing agriculture in its peasant form but rather as a business by identifying what particular problem/opportunity they want to tap into. The sector needs their creative and innovative thinking to push agriculture forward from where it is now to where it could be