Whenever the topic is agribusiness in Nigeria, passion, dedication and vision are what flows in the veins of Mr. Idowu Asenuga, the CEO of Agri Supplies Nigeria Limited. The company has been scheming over the last two years to reposition the agribusiness space in Nigeria through the much talked about West Africa Agribusiness Show (WAAS). With barely two weeks left to the event, Mr. Asenuga invited Livestonews to the opulent secretariat of WAAS located at 11 Abiodun Shobajo street, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos state where he bared it all to the duo of Idowu Ola and Akpan Samuel.
LN: You are the convener of the West African Agribusiness Show (WAAS) 2020. I want to ask you, what is the motivation behind it, and what does it hope to achieve?
Asenuga: Thank you. When I look at my experience, I would like to claim that I have about 30 years in the industry. Because immediately I finished from secondary school, I joined my father in the farm, worked with him, and each time I’m on holiday, that is where I did my Industrial Training. So, coming back to setting up my own business, working with my dad and my international exposure, I realized that there is a gap, and I saw that, that gap is part of the major problem we are having in the agribusiness space. First, when you look at events that are supposed to showcase agribusiness innovation and what have you, they are all organized by the Westerners; at least the key ones. I can mention very easily Agro Food and Agra Innovate organized by FairTrade and Informa, respectively. For me, I believe strongly that it is only Nigerians that can solve Nigeria’s problems. The foreigner cannot be passionate enough to want to make our problems their issue; at best they would only want to earn from the gaps that exist in the system.
Another gap I saw was that the public and private sectors are at divergent positions; they are hardly converging. The policy makers, government, private sector and even academic institutions are completely moving in different directions. When you look at researches in our institutions, are they addressing our industrial problems? When you look at policies made by government, are they addressing the challenges of the organized private sectors? So for me, those are the challenges that we have as a people, and not until the country creates a platform where the public and private sectors, their international counterparts and the research institutions can converge in one sport to engage and showcase what they have, for investors to evaluate, and maybe invest in, we may be going nowhere.
That was why we felt there’s need for such a platform to exist, and that’s why we came up with WAAS. This exhibition is meant to bring to the front burner issues that have hindered us as a people from taking our rightful position in the agribusiness space globally.
LN: How would WAAS be different from all the other shows/events that you have mentioned in the course of your response, and what is WAAS going to do differently?
Asenuga: Part of what WAAS is doing differently is this interview we are having today. I would want to ask, if any of those event organizers came to you for an interview? The answer is probably “no”. And the reason why the answer is “no” is because they are not critical stakeholders. Also, most event organizers are not looking at getting the stakeholders on the table to engage. One of my close friends I tried to engage for this project was telling us that we need to promote WAAS mainly on Instagram, Facebook, etc. And then my question is, how many agribusiness players are active on these platforms? Facebook is the last thing I check, any day. Instagram, I hardly even go there. And I know there are millions of agribusiness practitioners like me that act same way. So, the only platform you can get these stakeholders is through their associations, and personal engagements with them. Also, I ask: which of these event organizers have active relationship with these stakeholders? Very few.
I will give you a clearer example. When we went to Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), we were told that among all the reputable international and local agricultural exhibitions in Nigeria, we are the only one that have registered with them. And, most events organizers are not even aware that to do such an event in Nigeria, you must get a permit from NACCIMA, which we have done! And I believe, like I said earlier, the difference is that it is only a local person that is ready to work, ready to engage, that serious about solving problems; that can do a proper event the way we are doing this.
For us, it’s not about the money, because this first edition is almost 100% financed by us. And that is because of the passion that we have for the industry and the fact that we are result-oriented. We believe strongly that if in the first year we are able to do this much through our focus on different agencies, government parastatals, and private sector investors, then we can imagine what the event is going to look like in 3, 4, 5 years from now.
LN: How frequent is WAAS going to be; yearly or biannually?
Asenuga: That is a very good question. When I was talking to the international director of a company called Jaarbeurs, the owners of VNU in Netherlands and organizers of VIV, who came to Nigeria to meet with us, he stressed the need and possibility for us to hold this event bi-annually. But then, we have looked at it in our own wisdom; the challenges on ground in Nigeria to be solved cannot wait for another 2 years! If this event can hold twice a year it would be nice, but then, the minimum is at least annually. We need just this one-year gap to drum up engagement, drum up discussion, drum up interactions so that we can begin to change most of the narratives. Nigeria needs to move away from talking about potentials, to tangible achievements that is measurable and impactful. So, for us, it’s about continuously bringing these stakeholders on board, having serious engagements and dialogue, and talking about critical issues that need urgent solution. For instance, one of the issues we want to discuss in this maiden edition is “Solving the Perennial Egg Glut in the Poultry Sector”. And then looking at export challenges. Nigeria is the highest producer of yam and cassava. Why can’t we also be the highest exporter of yam and cassava products? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves. And then when the agencies responsible for most of these things like the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) are seated, and the industry people are seated, they can look at each other in the eye, and then begin to proffer serious solutions to some of these problems.
So,based on your initial question, WAAS is going to be an annual event.
LN: So this palatial WAAS Secretariat, is it going to remain active all year round, or is just seasonal?
Asenuga: Yes. This office is for WAAS, and we are actually looking beyond WAAS. Five years ago, I made a personal resolve, when I told myself:“Idowu, stop complaining about Nigeria. If you want Nigeria to change, roll up your sleeves and do something within your circle of influence”. Of course, you cannot change the entire country; but you can change your immediate environment, family, and industry.
This, I have embarked on in the past few years, and part of the things I hope to change is the agribusiness space. This office is going to warehouse a multimedia/communications outfit with focus on agribusiness, as well as a company that would in the future, run WAAS. For this maiden edition, we had to put everything together quickly as a makeshift, and so, Agri Supplies is powering WAAS 2020. For the next edition we will float an SPV, which will primarily be an event company for WAAS, and other events in different industries under that particular company, hence, all of these activities will hold in this space.
LN: Would this SPV also handle similar events like Nigeria Poultry Summit (NPS), and other such events?
Asenuga: Well, I wouldn’t say so for now, though I would really be glad if that is possible. We have been travelling and working round the clock with the WAAS team. So, in terms of event planning and organization we have built capacity. Part of the problems we have is that no event management company in Nigeria has adequate knowledge of the agribusiness space. They don’t understand it. So, we had to build capacity in-house. Our website is managed in-house, our communication and most of the other things we are doing are majorly done in-house. It will be a wonderful privilege for us to be able to use this capacity we have built, to improve on the way the NPS is being currently organized, of which I’m currently one of the committee members. We would extend that hand of collaboration, because it is in our interest that NPS becomes an internationally recognized event, and we believe it has all it takes to become such; and we hope all the committee members and other stakeholders will look at it from that point of view, and ensure we rally round NPS to make it truly international event.
LN: Can you give us a run-down of the facilities in the WAAS Secretariat?
Asenuga: In this facility we have offices for different departments: department of publicity and communication; dept of project planning and execution, dept of finance and budget, as well as the legal and contract department that are in charge of our partnerships, contracts and agreements. We also have a 13-man sitting situation room, where we brainstorm fortnightly, plan and hold meetings; then a call center.
LN: What should people expect in WAAS in tangible terms, and what is it doing to encourage local content?
Asenuga:What we want to achieve basically is to ensure that we aggregate all the stakeholders in our theatre, an exhibition hall, where we would have engaging discussions and interaction. We will be having people from the western part of the world coming to share their knowledge and experience with us. And then we have our sister West African countries, Ghana to be precise. The Ghana Investment Promotion Council will be having a booth at the event. And then we will have over 30 speakers who will be also part of our panelists.
So, we have the theatre as a knowledge platform, the VIP lounge for our VIP guests, where they will chill, discuss, and have constructive engagements with one another, and a B2B room where we want to pre-arrange meetings between investors and the exhibitors.
What we’ve tried to do this year which would be a continuous thing is to try to encourage the local producers to come on this platform. The prices for our booths are the cheapest you can find at the Landmark Event Center. The facility is very expensive, but despite that we’ve been able to bring the cost of participation to its barest minimum, to encourage the local participants. And this is the first event at Landmark Centre where you will be having a majority of local participants. What you usually find in other events are foreign exhibitors who can easily afford the cost of the facility, taking over the event. In our case we have the local people who we are encouraging to showcase whatever they have to the teeming visitors.
So, we are advocating for people to come from all over the country and West Africa, and make a date with us from 18th-20th of February, 2020.
LN: As at today, how many exhibitors and visitors have pre-registered?
Asenuga: We have well over 4,000 delegates that have registered online and willing to participate. We will have our press conference on February 11th, 2020; news mention so that WAAS can have adequate reach to those that need to hear about it, and we can have a packed and impactful event. The exhibitors so far are about 50, that have made commitments to the event; and then we are looking at the possibility of an additional 20, hopefully before the event takes place.
LN: Can you mention some of them, the big ones that would probably drive traffic to the event?
Asenuga: We would be having the big boys like Hy-line International which is one of the global leaders in poultry genetics. Also, UAC foods through its subsidiary, Livestock Feeds and Grand Cereals, Interswitch, Access Bank, Salmate (a leading poultry cage manufacturer in the world), Big Dutchman from Germany (another leading livestock equipment manufacturer in the world), Poultec (from Belgium), Animal Care, Amo Buying, Eltees Farms, Cumminsand organizations such as Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigeria Export Promotions Council (NEPC), Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Institute of Agribusiness Management of Nigeria (IAMN), Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), and a host of other agencies and the private sector.