On 24 September, the Releaf Group-a team of youth-visited IITA
headquarters. Releaf is led by Ikenna Nzewi, operating the technology value chains of crops, including cassava, oil palm, soybean, maize, and cashew. The visit was to request support and explore possible areas of partnership with the Institute for agricultural sustainability on oil palm production.
The organization started in 2017 as an agricultural technology company that develops proprietary hardware and software solutions to drive the industrialization of food processing in Africa, starting with Nigeria's $3 billion vegetable oil market.
Their proprietary hardware (Kraken) increases the availability and quality of raw materials for food factories, while the sourcing software connects them directly to 2,000 plus smallholder farmers. Releaf also uses digital technologies, including USSD and open banking, to work seamlessly with its network of smallholder farmers, who have supplied over 10 million kilograms of quality palm kernel nuts to food factories.
The group was received by IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga, BASICS II Project Manager Prof. Lateef Sanni, CEO of IITA BIP Frederick Schreurs, IITA Post-Harvest Engineer Engr. Diallo Thierno, and members of IITA Youth in Agribusiness (IYA). In the opening meeting, Sanginga recalled his first encounter with the youth in 2015 and the remarkable agricultural advancement they have made in a short while. He was impressed that they made good use of the mentorship they had received from IITA.
Schreurs gave an overview of oil palm plantation management, advised on necessary management practices and using the right management practices to ensure proper fertilization. "We would give support in consultancy of soil fertility analysis, facilities, oil palm management, and leaf analysis for good productivity," he said.
Furthermore, he explained that insect waste could be recycled into organic waste, which will serve as a medium to grow oil palm or a source of protein and feed for livestock.
The Releaf Group Co-Founder, Nzewi, gave an update on the group's activities, including trading crops from farmers to companies to prevent postharvest loss. He explained their expectations from the partnership with IITA: to learn how to increase yield, find out the best intercropping mechanism for oil palm plantation, and linkage to fabrication and mechanization experts.
Thierno and Peter Iluebey, International Trials Manager, IITA Cassava Processing, Utilization, and Mechanization Unit, spoke about machines and their importance in harvesting, production, and processing. Thierno added that the first step is to see the machines and how they operate to get more fabricators. They showed them some of the facilities and equipment used in IITA.
Responding to the questions about crops that can complement oil palm production, Prof. Sanni listed crops such as soybean, cassava, and maize. Nwezi added that the value chains attached to soybean would lead to greater productivity.
It was a pleasant reunion between Releaf and the IITA youth group. Releaf shared their experience so far and learned about new approaches to getting more youth involved in agribusiness, including the Start Them Early Program (STEP) strategy.
Discussing the next steps, Nwezi suggested that West African Training Investment Company (WATIC) invest in research and development in the aquaculture value chain. "If we can find a way to create a platform to make this discussion move forward, it would be a great advantage for everyone," he said.