6 Crazy Facts You Did Not Know About Doing Business In African Agriculture

6 Crazy Facts You Did Not Know About Doing Business In African Agriculture

Are you ready to hear more about some less known and pretty crazy facts surrounding Africa’s agricultural sector? Ernst & Young have forecast that African agriculture will be the second biggest sector on the continent in about a decade – it has simply incredible potential and will be key in creating jobs and reducing poverty. So a pretty dynamic industry, but some facts may be a little unexpected. But before we dive in, please remember that our African Business Jumpstart blog is not here to merely entertain. Instead, I want to really give my best to empower you in your own business endeavors: If doing business in agriculture is of interest to you, take the insights on board, so you can make creative, informed, and strategic decisions when doing business in Africa.

So let’s have a look!

1. Strange Fertilizers are hitting the market….”I mean you would have never thought of it, right?”

If you are not an expert in the fertilizer industry, you may think cow dung or potash and then you hit a dead end. The enormous growth in Africa’s agriculture sector results in a significantly growing demand for fertilizers. In Nigeria, for example those figures have sky-rocketed in the last few years. The need for fertilizers receives particular attention from stakeholders who try to increase local harvests on widely depleted dryland soils. There seems to be growing interest in Africa to use organic fertilizers, as they are often much cheaper. But they also decrease the risk of harmful residue; this way it is easier to comply with the high standards set by certain buyers, such as hotels for example, or US and European firms who want to import the products.

Now, a Somali lady I met in Nairobi was importing organic fertilizers from far shores. But it wasn’t the usual stuff. Her fertilizer product was made of the mud that the producers extracted from the grounds of Baltic lakes thousands and thousands of miles away to the North. She met the traders during a trade show and decided that this would be good for farmers in Kenya. According to her, women coffee farmers who tried her fertilizers saw an increase of 2-3 times their original harvest in three to six months. Seems to be like some good stuff there down the lake. I wonder if this could even be somehow sourced in African lakes.

You can also produce fertilizers using water hyacinth. It grows like an aggressive weed jamming many African rivers or lakes and reducing fish stock. Collect for free – process.

But the first prize for unusual fertilizer production in Africa goes to Madagascan accountant-turned-entrepreneur Erick Rajaonary who had the idea in 2005…..here it comes….to collect bat poo in caves. Yep, that’s right – he turns that into fertilizers and now even exports to Europe and the US. His approach has paid off: According to media, he has grown his company into a million Dollar venture. Here is his story:


2. Africa has shortage of food …..”Yes, but tons of it goes to waste.”

When we think of Africa we often think of poverty and food shortages. And while this is absolutely correct, most of us do not think about thousands of tons of agricultural produce such as tomatoes or fruits going to waste in Africa each year. The reason? Lack of dynamic local markets, transportation, storage, and cooling facilities. In short, farmers have often not the means to transport their bumper harvests or surplus to bigger markets to sell them. And if they do, the transportation cost is often so high that they cannot market their products for a profit.

Eric Muthomi from Kenya started Stawi Foods when he noticed how some local farmers were regularly throwing away their banana harvest, because they were unable to transport the fruits to the far away markets. Eric is buying these wasted bananas off poor farmers, dries them locally and produces banana flakes, which he sells as baby food, among other. It’s a total win-win situation. Think rotting tomatoes in Zambia or wasted mangoes in Nigeria. Buy cheap, add value – in form of a tomato paste or a fruit juice concentrate for example – market and sell.

But there is also ample opportunity in finding solutions regarding the lack of transportation, storage, market information and marketing links between producers and buyers, which could be made available to local farmers via special apps.


3. Africa is importing tropical fruit products from Europe …….”What !? Why?”

Yep, here we go. Did I not say we are looking at some crazy facts today? Nigeria was said to have imported $140 Million Dollars worth of orange fruit concentrate from Europe last year. The Europe with an all-year long tropical climate and huge orange plantations? Hmm, that has to be the one…..Well, it does not add up and as unbelievable as it sounds – sadly, it is correct. Africa exports its tropical fruits at a cheap rate and then imports tropical juice concentrate and fruit juice selling to those who have enough spending power.

Now think about rotting fruits again …. then recall the $140 Million Dollars yearly for orange fruit concentrate in Nigeria alone. Put the dots together. I guess you are in business.


4. Lack of milk on the continent……”Drive slowly, Jeremy, there is another herd of cows crossing the road.”

African businesss dairy

This is quite mind boggling. Africa has some of the highest farm animal densities in the world but, yes you guessed it: there is a huge shortage of milk. In some areas you will find goats and cattle crossing the roads – but when you stop at a local shop or supermarket, there is often no milk or it is imported. This is truly crazy. The reason for this is often a denial by African governments that the livestock sector has as much (if not more) potential as crop based agriculture, for decades Africa’s livestock sector at large has seen little investment. And this is really only slowly shifting.

Rwanda is leading by example. It has decided to invest into dairy processing a couple of years ago. Great decision. The income from dairy exceeded that of traditional coffee exports in 2014. Among the top buyers: Tanzania.

I hope it just demonstrate to you the huge potential of diary business and investment in Africa.


5. The problem with packaging agricultural produce: “If we can’t transport it, let’s sit on it.”

Agricultural produce does not only have to be grown, transported, and processed – it also has to be packed. And the availability of affordable and appropriate packaging is a problem in many areas. I remember a story written in a Zambian news paper a few months ago featuring a group of farmers who had made a call to the government to quickly send them some packaging. They had harvested their crops (can’t remember what it was) and had built a big mountain collecting all the produce on the ground. As they had no means to package it to send it to the city markets, they decided to sit on it. Literally. Farmers reported they worried that wild animals would eat the produce, so they worked in day and night shifts to guard and protect their riches. This is when they sent a message to help them out. I don’t know what happened to them – but there is clearly a market gap that you could fill.  


6. I am producing cocoa, and I ….. – “Deal, I am buying.”

african business cocoa

The Western world loves chocolate. A lot. But the new emerging Asian market will probably grow bigger than that. In the meanwhile cocoa production is still mainly taking place on African soil. But it is not growing anywhere near as fast as the global demand. There is currently a cocoa fret going on in the industry. There is simply a worrying shortage of it. And that means: not enough chocolate. This is a non-brainer. It may take 3 years to grow the trees (using special hybrid seeds, otherwise it can take up to 5 years), but once the trees produce, oh, you will sell.

Not to mention the fast rising African upper middle class who has a sweet tooth as well.  I will never forget how I was stuck at Nairobi Airport on my way to Kigali with some dear Rwandan colleagues who bought chocolate for family and friends – duty-free. The prices were three to four times higher than those in Europe! This chocolate that I would just throw into my trolley as a bonus when shopping at my local supermarket in Frankfurt or London cost an absolute fortune! They spent $16 on a simple pack of pralines, which would cost me $4…..and they figured there were four families who wanted chocolate gifts. It was a lot of money for not so much chocolate.

Test the local conditions. Get some farmers on board. Start planting. Become the Charlie of your African Chocolate Factory – it’s not a difficult production concept at all. Cocoa beans or chocolate – and you are so in business.

So what was the most crazy fact for you? Please let us hear it. 🙂  By the way, if you want to be notified about my latest blog posts as they come in, not to miss out, just click the little box below under the comment section: “Notify me of new posts by email.” See you soon!

And still. Let’s be defined what dosage in this case approaches most of all. There can be it cialis 20mg or something another. To me I think it isn’t necessary to choose for you necessary. Think. Perhaps suits you cialis 20 mg It is much better.

Dr. Harnet
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion is the Founder of africajumpstart.com and co-author of the book '101 Ways to Make Money in Africa'. She coaches individuals and consults existing companies assisting them to make smart and strategic business decisions in Africa’s new emerging markets faster and more confidently. Dr. Harnet also regularly writes for the renowned DHL powered publication howwemadeitinafrica.com. Get in touch to inquire how she can be of assistance to your own Africa business endeavors: harnet@africajumpstart.com

User Comments ( 33 )

  • Negash

    Thanks Dr Harnet for sharing. It is quite an eye opening information for all.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Thanks, Negash. Glad to hear you found interest in it. All the best!

  • Brahim

    Thanks Dr Harnet For this very interesting information. I was in Gabon as Farm manager and I can say, there is a lot of opportunities to explore and real need for technology transfer and sustainable policy for the development of local agriculture.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Brahim

      This is wonderful! I have to say I know very little indeed about Gabon. If you find some time, kindly share more details with us here, regarding your experiences and the products that would work in Gabon. If you are extra committed, I am also more than happy to invite you to write a short guest post for us Africa Business Jumpstarters here – introducing Gabon and it’s farming sector from your own personal perspective. That would be fantastic, let me know! Welcome to our online community, good to see you here!

    • Wallace

      what sort of opportunities are you talking about over there in Gabon? I am curious.

  • Excellant article DR,african agriculture must align itself to take full advantage of the coming upswing in commodity demand and i agree with all your setiments expressed

    • Dr. Harnet

      Thank you, Charles, and I agree with you. We have not even touched on the opportunities in staples such as wheat and rice for example. I just hope that African policy makers will approach it in a responsible way – leasing thousands of hectares of local land to foreign investors for cash crops that will be exported is of big worry if overdone. Warm welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart!

  • WHAAO quite informative and interesting

    • Dr. Harnet

      Mmamosa – welcome to our online community. The whaao factor is the best driver to action 🙂 Thank you!

  • Andrew

    Good article. Abundance of opportunity on a beautiful continent. Any thoughts regarding the challenges/restrictions/red tape to start AG business as a foreigner?

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Andrew

      Welcome here on Africa Business Jumpstart and thanks for your question. The business environment and challenges vary widely across Africa, but it can be set that many of the dynamic markets have amended their policies and regulations for foreigners, so they attract more investment. So you will find that you will not be discriminated against when planning to set up a business or invest. Some countries require slightly higher fees or additional documentation, owning land or property may be more difficult in some markets. If you are an investor, minimum investment requirements may be higher for foreign investors. But other than that you will face more or less the same challenges or incentives. Having said that you would need to look at each market separately.

      If this is your first attempt to do business in Africa, I would look for markets that are relatively simple to operate in – Rwanda is my favourite, and agriculture is a top sector there as well. Let me know should you require any more tips.

      All the best!

  • Andre Luft

    Very interesting article. I’m an agribusiness executive coming from Brazil to manage a start up soybean project in Mozambique. After 6 months living here and having over 25 years managing agbusinesses in Brazil and Latam I can say its really a challenging business environment over here. But yes, a lot of opponurtunities in a place where basically everything hass to be made and built from nothing. Congratulations for this Africa Jump Start blog, I’m already following everything. Your articles, ideas and concepts are inspiring.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Dear Andre

      Wonderful to hear from you and thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! If you have years of experience working in an emerging market like Brazil and you agree that Mozambique is very challenging, we certainly must listen. It’s indeed not easy, and some African markets are much harder to manage than others, even for nationals!

      Thank you for your kind words and hope to hear from you from time to time here on our blog or via e-mail.

      Best wishes,

  • Jean.

    Amazing Article , Thanks Dr. For Such Educative Information. I Now Take Pride In Having Been Born In Africa, Let Us All Set New Goals To Not Miss Anything Especially Those Things That Are Within Our Reach. It Might Take Alittle Initiative On Our Parts But Let Us Think Of The Rewards That Await Us. All We Need To Do Is Allow A Conscious Act To Well Up From Unique Thoughts And These Acts Will Bridge Our Dreams With The Reality Of New Experiences. Agriculture Is The Way To Go For Africa, As A Youth Who Did Not Complete School ,I Now Look Forward To Engage In Agriculture. Iam Gonna Specialise In Commerncial Vegetable Farming My Wish Is To Engage My Local Community As Well , Dr. Please Guide Me , Big Smiles From Uganda.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Dear Jean

      Thank you for your inspiring words, which I enjoyed reading. Absolutely, I agree. I am glad to hear that you want to engage in farming as a path towards success. If commercial horticulture is your passion – please look into growing mushrooms, strawberries, or high-quality tomatoes under green house conditions. All of those would be sold not at traditional markets or shops, but to hotels restaurant and food processors.
      Maybe also consider growing herbs, especially rarer herbs (not widely found in Africa), such as herbs for Italian and French or Asian cooking.
      If you have the right climate conditions, patience, and plots of land, you may also consider growing cocoa, avocados, or aloe vera and for the beauty industry, or flowers the oil of which one can use for the beauty industries.

      These are my ideas for niches that you could own quicker, as competition is relatively low but the demand is clearly there. Maybe do some research on the ideas I provided for the Ugandan context. Good luck and keep in touch!


  • Bisi

    Funny but factual

    • Dr. Harnet

      Thanks, Bisi. And welcome to our Africa Business Jumpstart online community!

  • Africa has the potential to develop through agriculture . Thank you Dr.

    • Dr. Harnet

      A warm welcome, Mozeh, and yes, agriculture has also the opportunity for job creation among the poor, it’s a very important sector. The most important probably at this point.

  • Riziki Messa

    Africa has a very big potential in agriculture. It is unfortunate that the opportunities are not fully exploited by Africans. Thanks Dr for an eye opener. I am optimistic that this article will help more Africans to think twice and eventually venture into the various agriculture projects, as the opportunities are massive.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Riziki

      Thanks for your feedback, and yes, I could not agree more with you! The image of agriculture stuck in the head of many is still that of poor farmers and little output, but agriculture is now fast turning into a hugely dynamic and exciting sector with ample opportunities. In many African countries engaging in agribusiness is now becoming hip among university students, because they have witnessed the quick successes among their peers. A long journey is still lying ahead of us, but it is an exciting and hopeful one.

      Thanks again, Raziki, and welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart!

      best ,

  • Ismail

    Dr. Just last night, we discpushing this same topic about this kind of products like rubber, cocoa and let say rubber. They are always exported in thaheir raw form to Europe and America. And they will send them back to us with very high prices on them. These products are controled by the government. I was telling my friends that i don’t know if it’s possible to have our governments facilitate the constructions of factories that will process these products to their finished form in order to have everything been done in Africa by African. So we as Africans can export them to various countries within and out Africa for sale… Implying to figure out how will this affectin the Europeans…

  • Roni247

    Very informative piece Dr. Thank you!


    Great article, done with light touch but with heavy insights and facts, its amazing how our-Africa huge potential lies in the so to say funny challenges. I’m Radford writing from Kenya

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Radford

      Thank you very much and a warm welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart!

  • Michael sempiira

    Good article for entreprenuers.

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Michael

      Thank you so much for your kind feedback! Welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart!


    Thanks doctor for this educative and informative piece. Like you rightly said agric biz in africa is indeed challenging and the lack of storage system and market for such product is also a huge problem.. I was involved in the cassava planting last year in Nigeria and unfortunately made a huge loss cos there was no one to buy them , Middlemen were ready to take them off the farmers at very terrible price as there is no direct link btw the farmers and the end users. l pray things would improve soon

    • Dr. Harnet

      Hi Esther – thank you so much for sharing your personal insights with us. I am sorry to hear you made losses during the last harvest, and yes, I hope farmers find better ways of bringing their produce to market at a fair price. Cooperatives, on-farm processing, better storage facilities, and alternative utilisation for certain products could improve some of that. I want to say also a warm welcome to you at Africa Business Jumpstart (and apologies for a late reply!)

  • Michael


  • Terefe Taye

    I thank you a lot for it the information and is
    quite an eye opening information for us !
    Am Terefe Taye
    Fron Ethiopia Work as Sustainable dairy development Resercher

    • Dr. Harnet

      Thank you, Terefe, for your kind words and welcome to Africa Business Jumpstart !