Nigerian agri-tech startup AgroEknor is working on transforming the value chain of superfoods with scalable digital infrastructure through backward integration.
Founded in 2013 by brothers Timi and Ayo Oke alongside Attah Anzaku, AgroEknor operates by sourcing, refining and exporting superfoods such as dried hibiscus flower, ginger, sesame seeds to global clients.
Through this value chain, investments and solutions are provided for agro products which have created higher income opportunities for smallholder farmers and also reduced wastage in the agricultural value chain.
The startup came about after the team spent around 12 months researching which products were most viable for trade.
“We were able to identify the opportunity with superfoods. We then joined a few industry groups and began to engage potential partners and stakeholders to establish our credibility and build the business,” Timi said.
“We eventually secured an order of 60 tonnes of containers of dried hibiscus from a Mexican customer. We were upfront with the customer that this was our first deal but we were able to give them enough assurances to go ahead with the transaction. Myself, Ayo and Attah used our own money to purchase the hibiscus from middlemen who procured it from small-scale farmers across Northern Nigeria. We successfully completed the order, delivering 60 tonnes of dried hibiscus to a satisfied customer, and that was the beginning of the long journey that has brought us to where we are today.”
Now, AgroEknor has 68 employees and counting, and operates from two locations – a processing centre in Kano and a liaison office in Abuja. Timi said growing global demand for natural, nutrient-rich meals, and changing lifestyle choices, was driving the global superfood trend, with demand expected to reach US$204 billion by 2025.
“Hibiscus, for example, is predicted to be one of the biggest global food trends in 2022 and Nigeria happens to be one of the largest growers in the world. With scalable digital infrastructure and impact-driven, inclusive partnerships, AgroEknor is helping farmers and other players in Nigeria’s superfoods value chain to maximise the opportunity that is available to them by driving greater efficiency and enabling increased export earnings,” he said.
“The opportunity to transform Africa’s agriculture sector is attracting more attention and drawing more players to the market but our focus on superfoods is our main differentiator. As most of our customers are based outside Nigeria, our competition is typically agribusinesses from other parts of the world where some of these superfoods are also grown.”
AgroEknor secured an undisclosed investment from Aruwa Capital Management, an early-stage growth equity and gender lens fund investing in Nigeria and Ghana, in November of last year, and has also received some grants, including the export stimulation facility from the Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM).
“We are currently in the process of engaging investors to secure more funding to drive the delivery of our tech-enabled solutions,” Timi said.
Regardless of funding, adoption has been strong. Over the last five years, AgroEknor has empowered over 5,000 smallholder farmers with farm inputs to maximise crop cultivation potential, and exported more than 15,000 tonnes of agricultural products to clients globally.
“Through our end-to-end value chain involvement, we are able to enhance food security, extend shelf-life of agro commodities and ultimately improve palatability and export value of agricultural commodities,” said Timi.
AgroEknor currently exports agricultural products to global clients spanning Asia, Europe, North and South American markets.
“Over the next few years we want to scale our sourcing and processing infrastructure to three identified value chains across West Africa,” Timi said.
Scaling is not without its challenges, however. Timi said a lot of the infrastructure for quality control is “not where it should be”.
“As a result, many of the products we export are at the lower end of the pricing scale. Poor storage also presents a challenge, accounting for around a third of wastage across the value chain,” he said.
“There is also the yield challenge. If you have one hectare of hibiscus, you should expect about 1.5 tonnes as your yield. But because of farming gaps and practices in the value chain, the yield was significantly less than it ought to be.”
AgroEknor is currently piloting a range of technology solutions to address these challenges.
“By introducing technology into the value chain of these superfoods and building on traditional agri-food production expertise, we will create more efficient operations and profitability across the board,” Timi said.