Promoting the prosperity of agribusinesses
In 2009, Oluyinka Alawode, a financial journalist, participated in WRENmedia’s Better Science Reporting training in Ibadan, Nigeria to learn how to write about agricultural science. Following this, she became excited about reporting on the sector and moved into agricultural journalism. She has since set-up her own online agribusiness information platform, with the aim of enhancing the prosperity of Nigerian agribusinesses.
I set up Farm Café in 2016 after realising that farmers and small agri-processors required more information that was tailored to their specific needs in order to expand their market frontiers. Having worked as an agricultural journalist, I had visited Nigerian farms and agri-processing companies in rural areas and on the city outskirts, to publish the views of agricultural stakeholders in my stories for BusinessDay, a daily newspaper published in Lagos. During these visits, it became apparent that clear information, communication and connection gaps, between people in the same agricultural value chains, were hindering businesses.
So, after over a decade working with BusinessDay, I started Farm Café on my own, with the aim of helping agribusinesses to thrive through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The company has since developed as a social enterprise, providing ICT solutions to farmers and small agri-processing companies – such as the marketing of produce online – for free, or at low rates that clients can afford. Thus, even though Farm Café has been designed to run as a for-profit business, it is currently operating as more of a social enterprise to help kickstart these businesses.
Information regarding where to purchase certain inputs and equipment, or which companies to contact to buy/supply various agricultural commodities, is sourced through WhatsApp, emails and phone calls with relevant stakeholders, or publicly posted on the Farm Café website, and the Twitter, Facebook and YouTube social media platforms. Those requiring further information, or business-to-business connections, can make contact via the various communication channels.
Although, to some extent, the goals of Farm Café have been achieved in terms of providing much needed services to small agri-businesses, my long-term desire to further the prosperity of agribusinesses is proving a challenge, due to limited access to capital. I have also had to contend with the challenge of getting business owners to understand the importance of the timely use of Farm Café’s communications services. Some farmers, for instance, only make contact for marketing assistance after their crops have already been harvested. In the meantime, any produce that is not sold at the local market – particularly highly perishable products, like fruits and vegetables – starts to rot and is much more difficult to sell. If these smallholders had contacted the company in advance of crop harvesting, they would have been linked up with interested buyers and could therefore reduce their post-harvest losses.
There have been other hurdles in terms of business development, such as getting people to take a young, independent journalist seriously. Some people find it difficult to accept that there can be an entrepreneurial dimension to agricultural journalism. To boost my credentials, I have attended various communication training workshops, aiming to build on my abilities to reach a larger audience through my business and the services it provides. I think that continued personal development is important for improving professionalism, understanding your field of work, and focusing your career path. My training with WRENmedia, for instance, and continued mentorship from the team in my writing for Spore, has been invaluable in improving my writing and general journalistic skills over the years.
To other young women looking to get into the field of agricultural journalism and entrepreneurship, my advice is therefore to keep developing your skills and be focused. Agricultural reporting is interesting, very dynamic, and fulfilling. Through this work, you will, even if only in some small way, be helping to increase awareness of food security, nutritional safety and healthy-living, and also contribute to the successes of businesses in the agriculture sector, helping to bring about prosperity in your country.