Apiculture, or beekeeping, isn’t something you readily associate with Nigeria but that is starting to change with innovative startups recognising how lucrative the sector could be, with its relatively low capital requirement and a high revenue yield. Globally, honey and other bee related products have been estimated to generate upwards of $600m annually due to its versatile use in various industries from FMCGs to pharmaceuticals. According to the USAID beekeeping pollination project, Nigeria can generate over $10 billion from local and international trade in honey and other hive products as domestic consumption currently stands at 380,000 metric tons. The global monetary value of trade in honey alone stands at about $4.5 million.
In 2017, Olumide Ogunbanjo realised there was a real opportunity in beekeeping. There was a high demand for bee products in Nigeria but supply was relatively low. Ogubanjo, who comes from a farming background, co-founded AgroData, a community-based beekeeping initiative that provides farmers with free beehives. The social enterprise is designed to empower Nigerian farmers to gain a sustainable share of this lucrative market.
Making subsistence farming more profitable
AgroData is a simple yet sophisticated solution that supports rural farmers in optimizing smallholder farmlands. The company started off by mapping honey bees in Nigeria and developed the Community Bee-AgriFood Network (CoBAN), installing free hives on farmlands, to encourage cross-pollination of crops by honey bees. The company aggregates raw honey and honey products across participating farms which benefits the farmers through a revenue-sharing scheme.
Ogunbanjo himself grew up in a rural area in South Western Nigeria, the youngest in a family of subsistence farmers. His parents couldn't afford to send him to university but as the youngest child, he had the fortune of being the only one of his siblings that got the privilege of going to school. He subsequently succeeded in securing a scholarship at the University of Ibadan, where he studied agriculture.
Ogunbanjo never forgot how tough it was growing up on the income of a smallholder farm, and for this reason, he made it his life’s mission to return to his hometown to make a difference in the farming sector. As part of its mission to help rural farmers increase their yield, Agrodata encourages farmers to grow specific crops, including pineapple, banana, cucumber and plantain. To date, Agrodata says farmers increased their banana harvest by 35%, without the use of fertilizers.
Business lessons from an entrepreneur
One thing Ogunbanjo believes is that failure is not the end, but an opportunity to make a fresh start. He says that “when you try to do something and it doesn't work that way, you have not failed - it just means that one idea hasn't worked and you can always try another to reach your end goal.”
Ogunbanjo has experienced several hurdles in trying to scale his business, from a lacklustre response from the ministry of agriculture to attempts to create a tech-enabled solution for agriculture that didn’t quite take off. He saw each of these challenges as an opportunity to try a new approach. Which is exactly what he did.
Ogunbanjo used the software he had created for his other innovations and applied it to beekeeping, which uses an IOT device to do the bulk of data collection that he wasn't previously able to do.
COVID-19 impacted Agrodata’s revenue, the majority of which comes from sales of bottled honey from the beekeeping community of sharecroppers. With COVID restrictions hindering sales, Agrodata began selling through ecommerce platforms. This has also given them a new avenue to sell their products through in the long term.
Agrodata believes that farmers need to enjoy profitable operations if there is to be food sufficiency in Nigeria, and for the agriculture sector to truly grow. This is why the business focuses on the small scale farmers who contribute 70% of the food consumed in the country. The company feels that the sector’s growth needs to be staunchly supported at the grassroots.
And with an ethos of never giving up, founders like Ogunbanjo are a force of good for the many subsistence farmers who ensure Nigerians get the many fruits and vegetables they live on. “Even if you fail once, keep trying as there’s always a way out.”. We couldn’t agree more!
Connect with Olumide Ogunbanjo and Agrodata on Twitter.