SEEDS OF TOMORROW

Nigeria 2019 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Farming is key to the livelihoods of millions of Nigerians. To increase their yields, fertilizers from businesses like Notore Chemical Industries are hugely important.

Onajite Okoloko
BIOGRAPHY
Onajite Okoloko is the Group CEO of Notore Chemical Industries. Before 1994, he worked in the US and has over 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, and business development. He is a member of the National Technical Working Group of the Nigeria Vision 2020 and the President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council. He graduated from the University of Benin, Nigeria and is also an alumnus of the Harvard Business School.

How did Notore become the leading agro-allied company in Nigeria?

Our most important initiative was spending time developing an extensive network of 90-100 distributors to ensure fertilizers get to the end consumer where they are actually needed. Below them are over 3,000 retailers and then village promoters, or private-sector extension services workers. We train them to teach farmers agricultural best practices in the use of fertilizers. Nationwide, we have 3,000-4,000 small plots of land less than 1/8 of a ha for demonstrations in the heart of the farming village communities. The promoters employ traditional practices on one portion and Notore's best practice on the second. Come harvest time, farmers can compare and see how to gain 10 times as much crop yield per ha. That is how we have been able to enhance the use of fertilizers. We have taken a commodity and made it a consumer product supported by the brand, which helped us gain the leadership position.

African farmers are among the lowest users of fertilizers. Why is this so?

It is a combination of factors. Best practices should be as much as 200kg of fertilizer per ha; in sub-Saharan Africa, we use an average of 8-10kg per ha. Nigeria currently uses about 12-13kg, though that is still low because farmers do not know what fertilizers can do, they may not be available or correctly used, and because logistic problems have resulted in their price being significantly higher than other markets. It is extremely important for farmers to understand the impact of the use of fertilizers and improved seeds that respond positively to the application of fertilizers. Farmers in Nigeria use farm safe seeds, which is not enough to get the kind of impact we want. They need hybrid seeds that respond positively to the application of fertilizer and are more drought resistant. Education is crucial to improve yields and assist Nigeria in eventually becoming a net food exporter.
How does Notore contribute to boosting fertilizer demand in Nigeria?
We hold 60-70% of local market share, especially for urea. We will continue to deepen our channels and train farmers. We have also brought about a change of attitude. The previous mentality was “one type fits all," which is erroneous. Different qualities and types of plants require different ratios of macronutrients, and we will put specific fertilizers for specific plants into the market. The urea super granule we developed a few years ago in the long run helps farmers save on fertilizer costs because the release into the soil is slower, and the plants retain 40% more because of the slow release. Farmers use less fertilizer and their crops get more nutrients.

What are your expansion plans?

We have a fertilizer plant that was the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. For Notore's Train II, we intend to build a co-production-plant, which will produce a significant amount of fertilizer and methanol, therefore increasing our overall fertilizer output and diversifying our revenue stream. We expect to complete the turn-around maintenance by 4Q2019, which will bring the existing plant back to producing at 100% of its designed capacity.

What is your outlook for 2019?

We are extremely proud to have educated millions of farmers in Nigeria. Farmers are today more aware of the impact of fertilizers on their crops and yields. When we first started, many farmers believed that as long as there was rain, the soil would be fertile. Post-harvest losses averaged 50%. Now we are beginning to see a mending of the value chains that were previously broken. Farmers now know how to channel their products into the market. That creates an additional hunger for farmers to continue to improve their yields. This is how the green revolution will occur moving forward.