Ikenna Nzewi, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Releaf applied for Africa’s Business Heroes Competition, sponsored by the Jack Ma Foundation in the Agriculture category and has made it to the Top-20. In this interview, he revealed what he intends to do with the grant if he makes it to Top-10 and eventually wins any of the grant categories.
Food shortage is one of the major problems in Nigeria, what solution is Releaf bringing to the table?
Wastage is a major issue that is contributing to food shortages in Nigeria. According to The World Bank, Nigeria loses and wastes 40 percent of its total food production. This is a result of a variety of issues from storage to processing techniques, and Releaf’s technology is designed to address this, starting in the oil palm sector. One of the main sources of wastage in the oil palm sector is the fact that many farmers still rely on handheld rocks for de-shelling palm nuts. Apart from the drudgery of this process, the use of rocks means de-shelled nuts are rarely fit for purpose and end up largely being thrown away. Kraken (our proprietary nut cracking technology) can crack palm kernel nuts with 95% efficiency (better than any other method), ensuring little wastage. By ensuring that more of farmers’ produce make it from farm to market, we are making it easier for them to meet the challenge of supplying food for our growing population. Our technology also makes it easier for farmers to focus on what they are best at – food production. Our technology takes care of the processing and the guarantee of off-take at market prices provides a great incentive for them to produce in large quantities.
How did you get to know about Africa’s Business Heroes competition?
Africa’s Business Heroes was recommended by a friend and mentor, Oluwasoga Oni (ABH 2020 Top 3 finalist). Soga spoke highly of the ABH program and how the ABH team made the competition enjoyable, as well as the exposure and networking opportunities that came with participating in the program.
What are your chances of getting into the ABH Top 10?
I am up against some exciting entrepreneurs and innovators, but I have great confidence in our solutions and business model. We are not just a software player in the oil palm sector, we are a physical participant in the market, processing palm nuts in the heart of Nigeria’s oil palm sector. We have the vision to make tech-enabled food factories the economic pillar of rural communities and we believe this model is critical to the industrialization of Africa’s rural areas. This vision and model sets us apart, and I am confident it will take us into the Top 10 and beyond.
What do you intend to do with the grant if you eventually qualify for a share?
We will use the grant to kick off the process of setting up an additional factory. Our mission is to create a network of decentralized, tech-enabled food factories near farming hotspots across Africa and we aim to underpin every decision in this process with technology and data. We will conduct a mapping exercise that will use machine learning data to enable an accurate view of oil palm hotspots so that we can make the most informed decisions without relying on any guesswork. This process will demonstrate that a network of food processing factories is a novel and necessary model to unlock Africa’s unique agricultural potential.
What is your assessment of Africa’s Business Heroes competition?
We’re really big fans. We’ve laughed, learned, met other entrepreneurs, and generally been encouraged that Africa’s greatest days are ahead of it. We strongly believe that this century is the African Century and we’re excited to be surrounded by other mission-driven entrepreneurs and such a supportive competition team.