What have been the latest investments in agriculture in the last few years?
Our strategic vision is to feed the nation every day. As the leading food and agro-allied business in Nigeria, our focus has always been to build linkages and become fully integrated right from the upstream, midstream, and downstream sectors across the food value chain. In the agro-allied space, we have continued to consolidate our investments in the five key value chains of starch, sweeteners, protein, oil and fat, and grains. In Kwara State, we have a 3,500-ha cassava farm where we cultivate and produce cassava tubers in partnership with smallholder farmers and farmers groups through an outgrower scheme. We have also invested in a processing plant where we convert the cassava tubers into high-quality cassava flour and have recently developed a local content product line, introducing Golden Penny Garri to the market. Garri is a popular staple food in Nigeria, and while the product itself is not new, ours is perhaps the first attempt to produce garri on an industrial scale.
What crops are the most relevant in your portfolio?
We are directly involved in the cultivation of sugarcane, cassava, maize, palm, and soybean. While a significant percentage of our wheat is still imported, we have invested considerably in developing local capacity. We actively support the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria through R&D, provision of high yielding seeds, and other initiatives aimed at promoting Nigeria's vision for self-sufficiency in wheat production. Palm oil, is however, our mainstay. Nigeria used to be the biggest producer of palm oil in the 1950s and 1960s, and although we have long lost our edge in the global market, the government is working hard to return to the world stage. Over the years, FMN has invested heavily in the development of the oils and fat value chain in Nigeria. For instance, in Edo state, we have a 4,500-ha oil palm plantation that provides raw materials for our edible oils factory.
How would you assess the current business environment?
Things are improving at the macroeconomic level. Policies are now clearer, more stable, and are being properly executed. Newer policies that are introduced are also more inclusive, which is extremely important to encourage investment. The government's initiative for the ease of doing business in Nigeria has been extremely helpful, especially in terms of infrastructural development. We have also observed improved monetary policies, leading to better lending and lower rates.
What is FMN's vision for import substitution?
First, we must lay the foundation for agriculture by looking at soft and hard infrastructure. We recently announced a partnership with DowDuPont to develop high-yielding hybrid seeds for maize, soybean, cassava, and palm oil. The partnership will also promote modern farming techniques and practices for local production, including crop protection. Moreover, there is a need to lay the foundation for fertilizers, and several companies have started to move into that sector. We also need to take a closer look at proper agronomy methods—to train and increase capacity by choosing the right seed, chemicals, and other modern agronomic practices. Irrigation is also extremely important as we cannot continue to rely solely on rain-fed agriculture. Similarly, the government has to develop crop-processing zones as crops cannot be grown in the north and processed in the south. That is our model and vision to get Nigeria on the map of developed agricultural states.
What do you expect for FMN and the general business environment in 2019?
Nigeria has just emerged from some of the most challenging times for businesses. While we are appreciative of the improving economy, things are still somewhat fragile, although it is important to note that the government is doing everything possible to build the base for stability. 2019 can only be a growth year for us in terms of increasing our market share in the sectors that we operate in. Notably, our share price more than doubled over the last year. In the agro-allied space, we are securing our supply chain and ensuring that our core food business continues to get stronger.