‘Our target is to be the largest Potato farm in Sub-Saharan Africa’
In this interview, seasoned wealth advisor, Olusegun Paul Andrew, who has initiated, managed and directed world-class projects for key global institutions, governments and individuals, spoke to CHUKS NWANNE on Nigeria’s agric sector and how Vicampro Group intends to change the country’s economic lanscape with its 80-million dollar-potato farm/processing plant.
It seems the fall in oil price has finally forced Nigeria to embrace agriculture?
Don’t forget that before we discovered oil in Nigeria, agriculture was a very serious venture; the west was known for Cocoa; the North for groundnut and the East for palm oil. That was actually what Nigeria was surviving on until Shell discovered the black gold and we all abandoned agriculture. Unfortunately, we have not been fortunate with quality leadership for the past 50 years. We’ve had visionless leadership that never looked at other sectors. They killed the manufacturing sector; they killed the transportation system that could have supported agriculture, and other critical sectors that should be allowed to take root; and that is what brought corruption into the limelight, and people now started struggling for what they could get out of the pie. Right from independence in 1960 down to the present moment, we’ve been struggling to get it right. Leadership has remained an issue but that has to change.
Your organisation, Vicampro Farm, is making huge agricultural investment in Nigeria. Can you tell us about the project?
I work for BlackPace in the Netherlands and Switzerland. BlackPace is an investment firm. What it has done is to partner with a local brand called Vicampro Group. Vicampro currently owns 7,500 hectares of land in Manchok, Southern Kaduna and Vom in Jos. Jos potato farm is 800 hectares fully and privately owned by Vicampro Group and they have planted 220 hectares potatoes and they are increasing that. In Manchok, 6,500-potato farm is being developed as well. We also have a processing plant to be set up in Manchok, which is going to be on 5 hectares of land. The processing plant is industrial and is going to be the largest in sub-Saharan Africa with a capacity to produce close to 40 to 60,000 tons per annum of French fries and potato flakes. That will apparently handle local consumption in Nigeria and will export to neighbouring countries as well as other countries within the Sub-Saharan region.
What’s the total cost of the investment?
We have arranged the investment plan, and the total cost to put the facility in place is 35million Euros (about 45 million US dollars), which is already signed. Kiremko is manufacturing the plant; it is one of the largest potato French fries, flakes plant manufacturing firms. So, what they do is that they manufacture the industrial plant and they also support the manufacturing chain by supplying all the technical bits you need in the process. So, we have reached an agreement with them to manufacture this plant.
What production scale are we looking at?
The plant is industrial in scale and total set up is 35million Euros by the time it will finish. Vicampro has already started planting the potatoes in readiness for when the plant is set up; it will take one and half years to build. The plant will do five thousand (5,000) kilogrammes of potatoes, French fries a day up to 40 to 60,000 tons per annum as a turnkey project, which is what we are looking at; which is ultimate. But in the initial 1st year, beginning from late 2017 to early 2018, we are looking to produce 15 to 20,000 tons. Why, because you have to get the plant ready to operate to its optimal capacity to do 40-60,000 tons per annum. Currently, what is imported into Nigeria is between 40 and 60,000 tons. Because, actually what we eat here, about 90 to 99 percent of all the French fries are imported from South Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands as well. And I know it is like an annual importation of close to 250 to 300 million dollars which definitely we will save for the government and that also will increase the FX earnings.
How will this affect the economy?
The revenue stream from what we do; I mean we’ll earn FX to the tune or excess of 60-70 million dollars per annum, at least, in the first two, three years. And that will increase as we increase the capacity and that also will create additional jobs to 500 direct hands and 5,000 indirect jobs immediately within the next18 months from now. The potato value chain is actually what we are after and that is why we bought into the farm; 100 percent owned and (acquired). So, it is our own way of changing the economic landscape of Nigeria. Our strategy is to do it the professional way. We are looking to take Nigeria out of the mono-economy into a fully diversified economy. I’m coming from an investment management background. Whilst making Nigeria a robust Agric economy, we are lending support to government’s economic blueprint for a sustainable and diversified economy. Vicampro Farm project will, in the long run, inject about 50,000 jobs into the economy and also increase economic activities in the retail end of the economy.
Of all the crops, what’s the attraction to potato?
We are doing potatoes and actually, our programme is to be the largest potato farm in Nigeria and in the Sub-Saharan Africa. I have earlier said that Nigeria currently does 830,000 tons as a whole. We are looking to do 400,000 tons in addition to what is being done. At least 400,000 tons would be on for the first three years. So, that’s why you see us acquire space and large landmass to be able to do that volume.
How do you intend to handle the issue of herdsmen and cattle grazing?
Of course, people tell me, ‘ah, it is very risky to invest in such massive farm in the North at the moment, the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle could invade the farms, and all that.’ But what we have done to secure the farm is simple and common sense. We dug about 5-6 feet trench round the farm; it is simple and common sense. Someone suggested we should use electric barbed wires to get the herdsmen pull back, but you know that by the time 10 or more of their cattle plunge and die in the trench, they will be forced to pull back. It is a common sense. That’s what we have done stretching up to almost 15 to 17 kilometres and it is cost-effective and also of huge benefit to us in the irrigation system. Meanwhile, we distributed 2000 seeds to farmers in Jos to encourage them to grow; we also buy back whatever they produce at the end of the day. We don’t want a monopolistic thing; it is a strategy. On the day of distribution, the Plateau State governor was around and was shocked at what he saw.
How long does it take potato to mature?
Well, we harvest four times a year; that means every three months. Whatever is planted is harvested for instance; one is going to be harvested this August.
What’s the cost implication of your investment in the farms?
In Jos, currently we have done close to $20 million (twenty million dollars). Kaduna is going to do, with the processing plant and the farm, an additional $60 million. So, on the whole, we are looking at $80 million.
How to you plan to secure your investment?
We’ve asked the government of Kaduna State to provide a kind of security. The state also will help in the area of power because we’ve got to tap into the grid. We are in touch with General Electric and they said they have a place in Kaduna, so they are advising on that, including the use of solar system. You know Southern Kaduna is a hot spot; so they’ve got to reassure us of adequate security and protection for our investment there, and the government has made a commitment in that regard.
It appears banks are hesitant when it comes to funding agricultural projects?
Look at the economy, what have the banks done? They have relegated agriculture to the background. It is the same lack of vision; lack of purpose; it is still a systemic issue. And borrowing at almost 25percent is an annihilation of the Agric revolution in Nigeria. CBN should look into this and lend at a pretty rate below 9 per cent they are lending to this sector at the moment. Following the meltdown of oil prices, several banks are now exposed to serious debts and have been burnt by the same oil that was their main focus back then. They’ve invested billions of dollars in a mono-economy without looking at other sectors that could drive growth and stability. This is absolute lack of foresight and strategy; they lack vision, and that is what we have seen.
What will you consider the best approach to drive the agricultural policy in Nigeria?
What is required is to have the right people with the right mind to drive such policy; there’s no project that does not require foreign investment. You need people, who can look at the economy and say, ‘this is the direction; this is how we are going to engage foreign investors.’ Things must be properly put in place to attract foreign investments. As I talk to you, no one is investing in this economy from abroad; FDI is being slowed because, the present government has not created the enabling environment to attract them; they have killed the investment spirit in Nigeria. You want to clean up the society? Fine, you have our support, so that when I am dealing with a Nigerian, I know that I am dealing with a true Nigerian. But that is a 10-year vision plan. So, investors’ appetite is completely gone; I am into the potato-farming project because I have seen what the local people are doing and I want to support their drive. I personally signed the MoU with other partners. I guaranteed the loan for the investment.
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