In this exclusive interview, we delve into the world of Uka Eje, the Co-Founder & CEO of ThriveAgric Limited. With a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Covenant University and honours from global platforms like YCombinator and Alibaba Business School, Uka has become a pivotal figure in Africa’s agricultural landscape. Under his leadership, ThriveAgric has traded over 1.5 million metric tonnes of grains and impacted 2,900+ communities across Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya, all within just five years.
As Business Elites Africa explores in this enlightening conversation, ThriveAgric is more than a business; it’s a mission-driven enterprise. With a focus on empowering smallholder farmers through technology and finance, the company is revolutionising food security on the continent. Uka’s insights have graced global stages like the World Bank and Harvard Business School, and he has garnered several prestigious awards.
BEA: What’s the story behind ThriveAgric’s inception and your personal motivation for establishing a company that focuses on linking smallholder farmers to finance, technology, and global markets to ensure food security?
Uka:The start of ThriveAgric was inspired by my firsthand experience with the challenges that smallholder farmers face. I grew up in an agrarian community in Benue State, Nigeria, which exposed me to these realities. After graduating from university and engaging in farming activities myself, I learned that smallholder farmers often lack adequate access to quality seeds, fertilizers, and best farming practices, as well as the right markets for the offtake of their commodities.
Interestingly, during my undergraduate years, a friend told me about his father’s soybean factory, which was struggling due to a lack of adequate supply and quality of soybeans. Despite the factory’s ability to afford large volumes at affordable prices, supply remained a problem. After graduation, I realized that the issue stemmed from the farmers’ lack of access to input financing and market access, compounded by middlemen interference and post-harvest losses of up to 40%. My co-founder, Ayodeji Arikawe, and I decided to bridge this gap by matching farmers with off-takers, and thus ThriveAgric was born. We started working with these farmers to provide Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training, loans via input financing, logistic solutions, and market access.
BEA: How did ThriveAgric secure over $65 million in funding, and how will this financial backing drive your mission of transforming agriculture and food security?
Uka: Over the years, we have strategically built relationships with local and international fund providers within the agriculture space. Our journey towards securing these funds has been one of building trust, competency, technology solutions, securing professional relationships, and most importantly, ensuring that the challenges smallholder farmers face are adequately mitigated. We transitioned from our previous retail financing model to institutional funding, which is not only sustainable but also tailored to the nature of debt funding that agriculture largely relies on. This financial backing is instrumental in achieving our ambitious 2027 SDG goals of reaching 10 million (40% female) smallholder farmers, building a network of 4,000+ tech-enabled field agents, and employing 500+ staff across five African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya, and by the end of 2023, Tanzania and Zambia.
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BEA: What factors do you believe attracted both banks and institutional investors to back ThriveAgric’s vision and initiatives in the dynamic agritech sector?
Uka: Several factors have attracted our funders. First, our deep understanding of farming communities and a clear, sustainable, and profitable operational model have instilled confidence. Second, our emphasis on technology has created a high level of transparency, enabling access to verifiable data for informed investment decisions. The deployment of technology has also helped solve the problem of identity visualization and traceability for the farmers and the entire agriculture value chain, which further strengthens investor confidence.
BEA: Could you highlight key moments that fueled ThriveAgric’s rise, impacting 2,900+ communities and empowering 514,000+ farmers within five years of operation?
Uka: Strengthening our human resources was pivotal to our growth. In 2020 and 2021, we expanded our finance, technology, and risk teams, bringing in experts with core competencies in agriculture. This stability enabled rapid scaling both within and outside Nigeria. Partnerships with key stakeholders like the USAID-funded West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, MercyCorp, and Heifer International have also been crucial. Additionally, we developed a proprietary technology called the Agricultural Operating System (AOS), which has been invaluable in financial inclusion, data-driven insights, climate mitigation, and market access.
Several factors have attracted our funders. First, our deep understanding of farming communities and a clear, sustainable, and profitable operational model have instilled confidence. Second, our emphasis on technology has created a high level of transparency, enabling access to verifiable data for informed investment decisions.
BEA: How is technology helping ThriveAgric achieve its dual goals of empowering smallholder farmers and promoting food security across Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya?
Uka: Our Agricultural Operating System (AOS) has been central to our growth. This technology has enabled us to build the needed visibility and transparency across our operations. We’ve connected these farmers to the right financing, data-driven best practices, and access to premium local and global markets for their commodities. Technology has also helped us carry out soil tests and analysis, collect key data, and produce a special blend of fertilizer suited for the kinds of crops in our farming operations. Today, with the use of our technology innovation, we have onboarded and gathered the bio-data of 560,000+ smallholder farmers who have accessed over $150 million in credit since inception, while tripling their productivity and doubling their income. Using our trading platform, ThriveAgric currently also supplies about 5% of the national demand for maize in Nigeria.
With the successes recorded in Nigeria, we’ve significantly scaled our operations to Ghana and Kenya and are also still penetrating other African markets.
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