I was locked up…in Bucharest

My colleagues and I were cuffed and our faces covered with black hoods. We were led down the hall of a dungeon (or so I felt) and I was separated from the rest. A metallic door opened and I was shoved in and the hood removed. After adjusting my sight to the room I was locked in, I realized I was in a cell which was not more than 15 sq. ft. The cell had metal sliding bars as doors and a wall separated me from another cell. And there was another wooden door after the metal doors locking in both cells.

I had scramblings in the next cell next to me and I asked who was there and realized one of my other colleagues was locked in the other cell. But where were the remaining 3? The wall separating us had hollow space with some sort of maze and a pulley system. I started searching through the cell I was in to see if I could find anything that could help escape from the cell. After searching frantically, I eventually opened the cover of the wash hand sink in the cell and there was a key. I tried it on my cuffs and puff…it unlocked. There was no way to pass the key to my colleague to try but there were some markings on my wall which later proved helpful. After deliberating with my colleague for a while, we realized if we could slide a golf ball we found in my cell into the hollow space in the wall, it will fall through the maze and unlock something…what it was, we had no clue. So we got to that and tried hard to guide the golf ball through the hollow space. Eventually, it slipped and it started rolling down the maze. We waited, hoping and wondering what would come out of this. Eventually, it hit a dead end and we had a click sound…my cell door automatically opened.

I got out but I could not leave as there was a wooden door which seemed to need a code to unlock. I went to check my colleague and was surprised to find out she had some form of wooden jigsaw puzzle on the floor which she was fiddling with. There was a missing part of the puzzle which was in a 3rd cell which I had to get for her. As soon as she put together the puzzle, it formed some 4 numbers. We tried the numbers on a code reader and her door opened. We still had to figure out how to get out through the wooden doon. Eventually we did and we got into a hall way with 2 doors. One was opened and the other locked! Through the opened door, we realized our colleagues were locked in other cells in there. I first handed them the key to the cuffs and they were able to remove their cuffs. There were some marking on their wall indicating a part of the wall in the hall. We went back there and we saw nothing. Hitting on the walls, we discovered a part of it was hollow and after shoving hard, we pulled a brick out of the wall which had a key; we used the key to open a locker in the hallway and found the code to open the cells of my colleagues.

Eventually, 5 of us stood in the hallway wondering how to open the main door to the hall way. We would definintely need a 4-letter code but how to get the code was the question. After fumbling around the hallway for a while, one of us evetually noticed there were multiple lighting system in the room. We turned off the yellow light and put on the purple light and all of a sudden, the wall of the hallway which was empty was covered with several mathematical equations. We pulled out a sheet of paper and started adding, subtracting, dividing…it was mind boggling! We got the code, punched it in and the door opened to us. We got out in 59mins and 14 secs!!!

This was my first experience with the escape room game. It was the most awesome experience I had ever had as it challenged my thinking, enhanced how I communicated with my colleagues, questioned my assumptions, tested my wits and ultimately helped me realize how well I do under pressure as we had only 60mins to break out. Escape rooms are now the fastest growing adventure games in the world.

It’s really great to know now that the first escape room game has opened in Nigeria. While its not a prison break like I did, this has a serial killer theme – a serial killer kidnapped and murdered 3 ladies and now has a 4th target. You have access to his crime scenes and his den and you have 60mins to identify him, his 4th target and what weapon he uses. If you have the opportunity, you should go with your friends, colleagues or family to really have a great fun time. Check it out at http://www.escaperoomnigeria.com




Technology meets Agriculture: Digital revolution in the industry

Anyone who knows me well will not doubt my passion for technology. When you think technology in the context of agriculture, several people will readily think of the farm machinery, irrigation equipment and probably even inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers, chemical protection, etc. However, I am thinking differently now, especially for those who think their passion for digital technology makes them incapable of exploiting opportunities in Agriculture.

In recent times, several agriculture firms have been investing in technology to help make smarter decisions. Monsanto purchased The Climate Corporation which mines data to produce valuable insights and information as recommendation to farmers. It could be as basic as when they should plant or if they should treat their crops earlier than planned. These sort of information usually proves helpful to farmers. In 2014, more venture firms started backing Ag Focused technologies, with CNBC reporting that over $250m was spent in Q3 2014 on Agriculture and Food sub sector investment. 50% of that investment went into precision hardware and Food Logistics & Safety.

If you think about this, as the need for protein increases both from a rising income and population increase point of view, the pressure on land, water increases. We have to seek ways to get more from less. While the agriculture R&D firms need to continue to research how to do this from a biological point of view, the world of technology could also rise to the challenge to empower farmers to make the appropriate use of the stretched resources. How would it be if farmers could better predict the climatic conditions or get quicker insight on observed pest on their field and acting accordingly or get better visibility on commodity prices at the point of sales or map their fields and get advice on what the fertilizer requirement of the different portions of the land would be.

It would ensure that the already limited resources are used more efficiently and farmers are putting their money exactly where it is needed. The needs differ between developing and developed countries but ultimately, technology has a major role to play in the transformation of the Agriculture industry over the next few years.

I will write next on one of the projects proposed in the LAKAJI Corridor assessment that explores the role of technology in the sector within the context of a developing country.

(Feel free to comment below on other areas where you see technology playing a key role in Agriculture revolution especially in developing countries)

The LAKAJI Corridor – the future of Nigerian Agriculture?

If you are familiar with the Brazilian Agricultural terrain, then the Cerrado will not be strange to you. This is an area covering over 2,000,000 square km, which is about 23% of the country. The cerrado has a rich diversity, estimated at 160,000 species of fungi, plants and animals. According to the oxford journals, over the past 25 years modern agriculture has been developed in the cerrado to produce soya, maize, rice, etc and enormous numbers of cattle are raised in planted pastures. A lot of the success of the Brazilian Agriculture is linked to the Cerrado. However, I was pleasantly surprised when a senior Brazilian colleague of mine informed me that the Cerrado was not the making of the government but people moving into the region to practice agriculture on a large scale after many years of treating the acidity in the region with lime.

Bringing this closer home, the government of Tanzania wanted to replicate this feat but this time, with the support of the government. The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) was initiated at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Africa Summit 2010. SAGCOT, is a multi-stakeholder partnership to rapidly develop the region’s agricultural potential. The goal is to create a public-private partnership that will develop commercial agriculture along the southern corridor of Tanzania by identifying new and existing project opportunities in the infrastructure and agriculture sectors. Think about it, if you have excellent road/transportation networks around and through the corridor, communities start evolving with the support of private investment who have the right incentive to farm around the corridor. Coordinating this with the appropriate financial programs, market access and commodity pricing transparency, I see few chances of failure.

It is with the same spirit that the LAKAJI(Lagos – Kano – Jibiya) Agricultural Growth corridor was developed by the Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport (NEXTT) project to stimulate investment in Nigeria’s agricultural sector, linking the largest consumer market in West Africa (WA) with some of the highest potential agricultural zones in Nigeria. In partnership with USAID, an initial assessment was completed to identify investment opportunities related to infrastructures, logistics, along the corridor (if interested, I can forward the findings to you although its available on the internet) and the findings are quite insightful and at the least worth reading.

Can this be a real catalyst for agricultural development in Nigeria if implemented properly?I would like to review some of the projects proposed from the assessment conducted on the corridor over the next few weeks and hopefully make people aware of potential investment opportunities in the region.

Jobs on Farms

There was a time in Nigeria that every young graduate wanted to work with an oil and gas firm. Not because of the work to be done but because of the money to be made. Few got the opportunity to walk that path while most did not even get close to it. Then the trend moved to the banking industry and this has long changed since the consolidation a few years ago. And now I ask myself what exists out there for our teeming youths to do. To put things in perspective, Nigerian will be the 3rd most populous nation in the world by 2050 with about 450million people. Africa will have experienced a 55% increase in population, only followed by Asia at 36%. To make this more interesting, more than 40% of that population in Nigeria will be entering the work force, which then raises the question on your mind as well as mine, “Where is the job?”

This brings me back to an essay I wrote in 2012 when I was applying to INSEAD on how to grow agriculture in Africa. It all boils down to being able to get our youths engaged in this industry. There is no other single industry that can absorb so many youths at a time and still not sufficiently meet the demands of the market in terms of finished goods. What remains a major question is how to encourage youths to engage in Agriculture?

My single proposal on this is what I call the creation of agricultural cohorts. Very simply put, the government should create a holistic program which starts with a short intensive training on Agribusiness (see I did not say Agriculture). People need to understand how to make money from Agriculture for them to put their heart and soul into it. Teams of 4-5 diverse skilled youths should be formed from these cohorts. It should include a technical person (depending on what crop/livestock they will be assigned to), a finance expert, a supply chain expert, a marketing expert and a general manager.

Each cohort should be allocated a large expanse (also depending on what crop/livestock) and most importantly be provided with financial support in the form of a loan which will have to be paid back after a grace period at a reasonable interest rate. In this way, they are unleashed, with supervision, to go create value on the farm while being continuously supported with training and mentoring. The crop/livestock selection will also be made on the basis of alignments with major off-takers who will be ready markets for these farm outputs. The cohorts will be responsible for building a business that will employ many, and more so, become sustainable and pay back the loans with interest to the government.

This will require a long-term approach from the government and a commitment to see it through the implementation.

Rethinking donations to Agriculture in Africa

If one starts reeling out the statistics of how important it is for Africa to start thinking of ways to feed its population, we would be completely absorbed by the exercise. Yet, one cannot but ask the question if we are really ready for this great task.

The population of Nigeria, ever growing, is estimated to hit about 450million by 2050, making the country by far the most populous in Africa and the 4th highest in the world, only behind India, China and the US. Governments have labored extensively to transform the Agricultural landscape, with the most recent effort led by the current president of the African Development Bank, Dr. Adewunmi Adesina. The strongest point in my opinion was trying to position Agriculture as a business and not some development venture where they need to continue to throw in donor money. Don’t get me wrong, we continue to need such efforts to develop this sector and I will explain why.

Think of the pharmaceutical sector! These companies spend so much money to develop new blockbuster drugs which are then patented to give them an opportunity to recoup their investment. This encourages them to continue to invest in developing drugs that will revolutionize the health sector. Otherwise, there will be no incentive for them to continue to invest in new breakthrough drugs. However, after developing these drugs, they market usually through the doctors and medical practitioners who recommend these drugs to the people.

In Agriculture, the leading companies invest so much to develop blockbuster inputs and usually patent them to also give them that same opportunity to recoup their investment to further encourage the spend. However, what is missing are those ‘medical doctors’ who will recommend these drugs (read inputs) to the farmers. Hence, a lot more needs to be spent to reach the farmers and do some development work which then makes the cost of the inputs prohibitive to the farmers, coupled with the poor yields, unpredictable weather, small land holding of farmers in this clime and limited knowledge of best practices.

What however needs to change about donor money is the mindset of the donors. They also need to start seeing Agriculture as a business and not just some development activities. With this mindset, they will also reorganize internally to challenge the recipients of the donations to seek profitability. And this will become a critical measure they track the projects they support. When farmers and other investors in the value chain make money, they will invest more and expand and hence attract more people to work in the sector. What scares more than feeding these 450million mouths, is not having a job for the more than 40% of that number that will be entering the workforce!!!