A natural juice manufacturer and farm-to-table restaurant chain in Nigeria that gives smallholder farmers better access to markets. A snack brand as trendy as it is healthy. A tech-savvy logistics company that connects producers and consumers across the African continent with impressive efficiency.
Each of these enterprises has been lifted off the ground by investment from Agrolay Ventures, a Nigerian-based investment firm dedicated to growing the agricultural and food sector in Africa and the brainchild of Ada Osakwe, the Nigerian founder and CEO of the company.
In addition to her work at Agrolay, Osakwe – who once described herself as “a woman determined to break boundaries in the world and play a leading role in the transformation of Africa and its generation of young people” – currently advises the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) president on the Bank’s Jobs Youth in Africa initiative, as well as sits on the board of the One Acre Fund, a non-profit organization that supplies smallholder farmers in East Africa with asset-based financing and agriculture training services to reduce hunger and poverty.
At the age of 38, Osakwe has had an impressive constellatory career. She’s been at the top of the private sector in New York, serving as vice president of private equity firm Kuramo Capital Management; and of the public sector in Nigeria, as senior investment adviser to Akinwumi Adesina, the former minister of agriculture and rural development.
She led the development and launch of the USD 100 million Fund for Agricultural Financing in Nigeria (FAFIN), an innovative private equity fund that invests in small- and medium-sized domestic agribusiness companies; and she’s bounced around the ranks of the AfDB, leading teams through evaluations of billion-dollar equity investments and pioneering the Bank’s development of local debt capital markets across its namesake continent.
As filled as her resume is, so too is her trophy case. In 2014, Forbes named her one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa. In 2015, she received Nigeria’s Achiever in Agriculture award, and in 2016, she was a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow of the African Leadership Institute.
While her experience is vast and varied, it seems Agrolay is the venture that finally ties it all together.
“For me, agriculture is amazing,” Osakwe said in an interview with Nigerian news outlet Vanguard. “When I look at the entire value chain, it’s not only about farming. You can see these farmers need markets and you can create those markets by taking the farm products from the farmers and processing them into finished product.
“It’s not just about processing, it can also be the chain; the logistics of packaging and taking these products to retailers and, eventually, to our tables as food. At every single point, there is business opportunity on that chain.”