Winning Visa’s innovation contest reinforces quality of Nigerian talents – Arikawe

AYO ARIKAWE, co-founder of ThriveAgric, recently emerged winner of the Visa CEMEA Everywhere Initiative. In this interview with OLAMIDE OLOGUNAGBE and DAMILOLA ODIFA, he highlights what made him stand out during the competition and opportunities for young innovators who aspire to similar feats. Excerpts:

Congratulations on your recent win at the Visa CEMEA Everywhere Initiative, could you tell us about the experience and what you think made you stand out?

It was really exciting, from the applications, to the interviews, to the pitch and then on the final day. I would say what stood out was definitely the story and the impact.

I think we were able to present our work in Thrive; what we’re doing with the farmers, and how we are able to help them increase their income, and I think the impact was what they saw. The real-life impact, changing the lives of farmers, changing the narrative of ‘oh all farmers are poor’, but now we are unlocking finance for them, we are helping them sell their produce, giving them financial services.

I think it was really that story of impact, and the opportunity of what can happen from 300,000 farmers today, to 10 million farmers tomorrow, and I think that is the story Visa wanted to be part of, that was definitely the experience and what made us stand out.

In what ways do you think this initiative can help in spurring more innovation especially among young people?

I was one of the youngest people that pitched, but I think, people just seeing us, and the young team at Thrive as a whole, makes them understand winning is possible. There is actually a lot of opportunities for young people and then you can challenge the status quo, you can look at really big things and say ‘I too can do this’, and just being able to see that such young farmers can get a partnership, or can win a competition as big as this with a global organization like Visa.

So I think the motivation for a lot of young people will be that this is possible, and can stir them to begin to think around ideas, solutions, because they now know that there are opportunities like this Visa challenge and many other challenges, which they could apply for and would help them support their ideas and push their dreams.

So, if I got you correctly, you mean that people would see that there is a platform like this that can reward innovation and then spur them up?

Absolutely, and it is very youth-friendly because now, they have seen a young person who has won this also, so it sounds like this is possible.

You should now be moving to the global final stage having emerged as a regional winner, so, what are your expectations?

We expect to win, honestly. For us, it is really more than the idea or the glamour that comes with winning but because of what we’re trying to achieve. We want to be able to tell the story of that young farmer somewhere in Kaduna state that needs all the support.

We’ve done it over the years but we want to change our story and many other people who want to be able to establish significant partnerships and investments that will come to those farmers.

Our goal is to win and ensure we can deliver on promises we gave our farmers when we came to their communities, so we think it is even beyond just our farmers, our customers, and the eventual effect on ThriveAgric, it is also for the agricultural industry and Nigeria as a whole. This will be significant, and it is a very interesting time in history where food prices are on the rise, there is just a lot around if we’ll be able to feed ourselves, and I think this is the best time for a company solving this at scale, especially in Africa to just go all out and be all ambitious. We expect to win.

Read also: ThriveAgric wins 2022 Visa Everywhere Initiative for start-ups

What do you think this award symbolises for ThriveAgric and the entire tech ecosystem in Nigeria?

It symbolizes growth. CEMEA is a very big region, and coming from Nigeria to win definitely symbolises growth, and it symbolizes that people see the impact of our work. It symbolizes that there’s a lot of growth, there are a lot of prospects and opportunities. So I think that’s what people would see, that okay, things are actually happening in Nigeria and people are doing what would have been thought impossible or difficult. It will definitely bring a lot of opportunities, and visibility to the ecosystem as a whole.

Tell us a bit about how ThriveAgric has been leveraging technology to solve the problem of food insecurity in Nigeria?

Today, we have built something called the Agriculture Operating System and it is a combination of apps built in-house by us and meant to connect the entire ecosystem together. It has something called the Field Officer App, used to onboard farmers, carry out credit decisions, and give them the access to actual finance, access to advice, and have them sell their produce.

That technology has contributed to us serving close to 300,000 farmers in the country, across 23 states and we have channelled tens of millions of dollars in financing to them.

In terms of production capacity, they’re doing about three times the national average on their crops. We’ve helped them significantly increase their income and now, a farmer is able to sell to the big FMCGs when before, they would have to sell through a chain of maybe six middle men at very bad prices.

With increase in food prices, as well as inputs for producing in the first place, how are you ensuring productivity is unaffected and helping to manage the cost of food, too?

What we’ve done especially for our farmers is, getting them a lot of their farming inputs, so things like fertilizers that are really expensive now, we’re able to still get them to our farmers at significant prices because we have used the power of community to leverage our conversations with the input dealers.

With the fertilisers and the seed dealers, for instance, they’re looking beyond just having to sell to one person; they’re selling to groups of 300,000 people, for instance. So we’re able to get significant discounts, get them to cover the cost of logistics, and ensure that the input can get to farmers at really good prices.

Also, beyond the turnout of prices is also the fact that the farmers are able to then leverage our technology and information to ensure that they are getting very good products. And once the quantity is good and you’re willing to sell at decent prices, it all work out.

I think for our farmers, it’s a story of yes, there are challenges but then by being on our platform, they’re able to minimize the effect of those challenges and still be able to stay profitable through these periods. So I think that has really worked out, and I dare say in our crops of focus, we’ve been able to contribute to an extent to the stability in food prices.

Today we’re working in two core value chains, and to an extent, we’ve not seen prices of those products move as much as the prices of other products. So maybe the answer to food inflation is if ThriveAgric gets into other value chains, right?

But addressing the value chains we’re in, we’re ensuring some sort of stability in the country in terms of pricing.

Finally, what prospects are you looking forward to from this program (by Visa) in terms of benefits to advance you and your organisation?

I’m looking forward to more partnerships, more support, I mean, right now, it’s just we won the award and there are a lot of conversations that will happen in the coming days in terms of actually looking at what the opportunities look like, and what those partnerships look like.

But then, we’re definitely looking at being able to leverage Visa’s network and support to grow because our goal and drive is to get Africa to feed herself and the world, and we mean that in every sense of the word. This is why we’re very interested in getting to this amount of farmers and ensuring that we’re providing the right tools to get the job done.

Q: CEMEA is a very big region, and coming from Nigeria to win definitely symbolises growth, and it symbolizes that people see the impact of our work

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