Jan. 27, 2022

Venkataramani Srivathsan


Venkataramani Srivathsan

Managing Director & CEO, Africa and Middle East, Olam International

Olam is a leading food and agri-business supplying food, ingredients, feed, and fiber to 17,300 customers worldwide.


Venkataramani Srivathsan joined Olam in 1994. After taking on country and regional finance roles, he moved into operations and is currently the Managing Director & CEO for Africa and MENA. With over 25 years of commodities industry experience, he has been instrumental in building up a strong business in Africa. He is the executive committee member of Olam's top making policymaking body. Srivathsan has presented many papers on smallholder farming at pan-African forums. Under his leadership, Olam Nigeria has won several international and national awards. He was awarded the World Business for Peace Award in 2010 and the UNDP World Business Development Award in 2008, amongst others.

How has Olam grown across Africa since its establishment in Nigeria?

Olam started in Nigeria in 1989 as a trading house buying cashews and other commodities from farmers and exporting to Asia. Over a 15-year period, we expanded our operations across North Africa and into Southeast Asia. Today, our value chain spans over 60 countries, 24 of which are in Africa and includes farming, processing, and distribution operations, as well as a sourcing network of an estimated 5 million farmers. In Africa, we are one of the largest employers with over 30,000 full- and part-time employees. In 2021, Olam was certified a top employer by the Top Employer Institute in Africa, while our operations in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and the Netherlands were also separately awarded for their HR best practices. Olam is a leading food and agri-business supplying food, ingredients, feed, and fiber to 17,300 customers worldwide. Some of our customers include but not limited to Nestlé, Hershey's, Ferrero Rocher, and Starbucks. We source directly from farmers and do a great deal of processing ourselves, as we own our own private labels. We are the largest supplier of cocoa beans in the world; one in three chocolate bars is made from cocoa supplied by Olam. We do not produce coffee in Nigeria, though globally we are a major player in the coffee space; in fact, we are the largest coffee shipper in the world, and we supply all the large coffee houses, including Nespresso. One in every five cups of coffee comes from coffee beans supplied by Olam.

What is Olam's connection to Nigeria?

We were established in Nigeria and have been here for as long as the company has existed. Although we are global now, when I joined over 20 years ago, Olam was only present in Nigeria. This makes us very passionate about the country. We have an extremely strong connection to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Over the last five years, most of our executive board members have visited our operations in Nigeria and other parts of Africa to establish a rapport with the country governments. We have also been growing our manufacturing and processing businesses in Ghana, Cameroon, and Senegal. In 30 years, we have grown to a complete supply chain, added-value agribusiness company.

What have been your biggest investments in the Nigerian economy?

Until 2005, Olam's growth was organic. After the exchange listing, we had a great deal of inorganic growth too, through acquisitions. We made our first major acquisition in Nigeria, Crown Flour Mills, in 2010. In 2016, we acquired BUA Group's wheat milling asset, and in 2019 we bought Dangote Flour. Another large investment is in our animal feed and protein segment, which is a completely organic, greenfield factory. We set up two large factories, one in Kaduna and another in Ilorin. The Kaduna one, a USD150-million investment, is one of the largest DOC poultry facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. Another large investment was the 5,000-ha mechanized and irrigated rice fields in Lafia, the largest mechanized rice farm in Africa. We also acquired OK foods, the biscuit producer, in 2012, for USD167 million. Our investment in Nigeria amounts to more than USD1 billion.

What is your outlook for Nigeria's agriculture in the coming years?

Nigeria and Africa acted swiftly, perhaps due to their experience with Ebola, and were some of the first countries to close airports and enforce lockdowns. They also ensured that essential services such as water, electricity, and the food sector, including manufacturing facilities, continued to operate. Nigeria is blessed with many natural resources. The agricultural sector should focus on food security and self-sufficiency as well as increasing its exports thanks to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The agricultural sector can easily record double-digit growth in the coming years. The government is doing the right thing. It should fast track infrastructure, so that the ports become a reality and road connectivity is improved.