Business transactions thrive on trust. When trust is absent, the buyer-seller relationship either collapses or it never happens in the first place.
Interactions along Nigeria’s agro-business value chain suffer the same trust issues that bedevil a lot of commercial relationships in the country. Suppliers are uncertain that they’ll get paid by clients. Manufacturers can’t be absolutely sure that they’ll receive the exact sort of raw materials they’ve been promised by vendors.
The resulting mutually-held suspicions hang-over so many trade contracts like dark clouds.
It’s this business-stifling reality that the founders of Releaf set out to remove when they launched the startup in Nigeria in 2017. For two years, they’ve been hard at work, trying to strengthen portions of the country’s agro-industrial setup by connecting farmers with manufacturers who use their produce as input for making new goods.
The Releaf team started off as a group of three ivy-league students: Isaiah Udotong, from MIT; Ikenna Nzewi, from Yale University; and Uzoma Ayogu, from Duke University. They began fiddling with the idea for the startup in 2015. They leveraged the innovation programs and contests at tertiary institutions in the United States to float their idea at its pre-launch stage and got the support of the MIT.
Following a trip to Nigeria, their native country, they decided that they would be serving its local farmers and agro-processing businesses by linking them up with contracting and trading opportunities. They also thought up a means of collecting valuable data about these sectors and offering them to potential investors.
In 2017, they secured funding worth $120,000 from Y-Combinator, the world’s leading early-stage startup incubator. Then they began registering agri-businesses on their platform.
In the two years that have followed, Releaf has zeroed in on the palm kernel production and processing niches. It’s currently functioning as a conduit between farmers and palm oil processing factories, one of which they run. They’re deploying smart technologies and applying data-driven input sourcing techniques so that they’re able to produce more than the regular kernel processing facilities.
The startup has the backing of a few notable advisors, including Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, and Ifueko Okauru, a former head of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
The team intends to replicate its success with other agricultural products in the coming years. At the moment, its founders consider the business to be in its formative stage- they’re still fine-tuning its offering. But they’re hoping that as they gain an even greater understanding of the Nigerian marketplace, they will perfect their market-linking solutions and expand into other patches within the agricultural space.
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