Ene Otse Unoogwu, CEO of FarmBiz Enterprises, is a social entrepreneur from Nigeria working in agribusiness – in a country where the main sources of wealth are the fruits of the earth, but where farmers, 70% of the population, are destitute. A reality at the heart of Ene Otse Unoogwu’s commitment. She won the “Agriculture Award” from Women In Africa (WIA) Initiative’s Program 54.
Even a day after the ceremony in honor of Program 54’s laureates, as part of the second Women In Africa (WIA) Initiative World Summit held in Marrakech in September, Ene Otse Unoogwu’s eyes are still wet with tears, her voice shaky with emotion, a testament to the deep commitment of a woman who strongly believes agriculture can help develop her homeland.
“I chose to work in agriculture because I wanted to find solutions to the problems my country is facing.”
“It’s funny when you think about it… I have a degree in communication. I was doing quite well, I was a good writer and I think I had an artistic flair, but ultimately I chose to work in agriculture because I wanted to find solutions to the problems my country is facing.”
A native from Kaduna in northern Nigeria, she was likely moved by the many social and economic tensions plaguing the region, tensions fueled by the great imbalances in wealth distribution in a country which has become Africa’s main economic and demographic powerhouse.
“Nigeria’s fast-growing population has reached 200 million people, 70% of whom are farmers. They produce one of the country’s most valuable resources (Editor’s note: agricultural products amount to 82% of Nigerian exports), yet still live in poverty. Why? It spells trouble for Nigeria. The peasant’s children no longer want to be farmers. They move to the capital or other big cities instead, while our villages are emptying out. We must make agriculture attractive again.”
“With Farmbizz, We help farmers maximize profits by creating an empowering environment”.
Such is Farmer Biz’s vocation: to create added value in a sector with a strong socio-economic dimension. It was with tomatoes that Ene Otse started it all.
“I began planting tomatoes but was soon faced with the problem of market access. Exports would have resulted in net losses. I had to devise a series of solutions.”
From product transformation into concentrated tomatoes, to packaging, to the use of solar energy for irrigation. But the true strength of the project lies in the fact that Ene Otse has managed to convince other farmers to join in the adventure. As of today, Farmer Biz is involved at every step of the value chain, from production to processing, packaging and export.
“We help farmers maximize profits by creating an empowering environment that provides all stakeholders with the resources needed for large-scale commercial farming.”
A concept and results which have sparked the interest of investors during the WIA Summit. A rewarding experience in many ways for Ene-Otse, whose mood swings from laughter to tears.
“When I came here, it was to build up my skills, change my perceptions. How should I put it… Above and beyond this award, even though it is already quite something, I had never had the opportunity to do a public speech. Since last night, I know I have it in me. I learned a new way to promote my business. I have also met women from other countries, with whom I can collaborate, because they work in the agricultural sector, too.” That’s not all. Ene was also able to secure financial backing. “I spoke with very interesting people, investors, including a woman who… Let me put it this way, in Nigeria we don’t believe in coincidences, we believe in God. This lady who came from England and works for an investment fund was looking to finance an agricultural project in Nigeria, to provide solutions in terms of irrigation. It was incredible. The stars aligned so that we would meet. And she’s going to finance us. What an unforgettable experience…”
After WIA 54
Ene Otse Unoogwu and Christine Sesay, both laureate from the WIA 54 2018 program, respectively from Nigeria and Sierra Leone, met on the last WIA Summit in september 2018, and then, co-founded a new company called Smartagri.
Smartagri is a social for profit agribusiness company that is focused on the development of africa’s agriculture with a holistic approach, aiming to ensure food security for the continent. The objective of the company is to evolve agriculture from subsistence to viable businesses, especially for the benefit of the smallholders farmers.
It offers a holistic solution from land preparation through to harvest and markets, leveraging on technology with a sustainable platform. It’s a bundling of various products & services, each product will utilize value from each other to create as part of a safety net for farmers.
The Platform should be online on February 2019. Keep posted !