EXCLUSIVE | Interview with Mr. Caleb Usoh, Country Manager (Nigeria) at OCP SA

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COVID-19 has, no doubt, disrupted some activities in agriculture and supply chains. Talking to Agrigate Global, Mr. Caleb Usoh, Country Manager (Nigeria) at OCP S.A., sees the importance of increased access to quality inputs and low-cost financing as part of a government’s policy design to revive the farming sector.
With nearly two-decade experience in aspects of supply chain management, business development, marketing, business process design and strategy, Mr. Caleb Usoh highlighted the significance of intensifying agriculture investments in Nigeria to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an exclusive interaction with Agrigate Global’s Saura Panigrahi, Mr. Usoh also reiterated the need for well-formulated policies coupled with robust partnerships between public and private sectors in order to boost agricultural productivity in view of burgeoning population.
Edited excerpts:

What’s your views on expert’s predictions that ‘Agriculture in Africa’ is the key sector that will drive the future?

With a pressing need to ensure food security, providing fibre and fuel for a population of about 1.4 billion and growing at a rate of 2.5%, definitely agriculture has been recognized as the sector that African countries can harness its entire value chain to create wealth and ensure economic development and human sustenance. Interestingly, the natural factor enablers like availability of arable land, water resource and conducive/varied weather condition favour the African continent to take advantage of, in deliberately charting its path towards future prosperity.
Africa produces less than 5% of the global agriculture supply but has a population that accounts for as much as 17% of the global food need. This gap alone is a pointer to existing local opportunities to optimize the supply side of the agriculture system and take both financial and social benefits from a big market that can guarantee significant year-on-year growth in a race to reach equilibrium.  With a world population projected to reach beyond 8 billion by 2030 and the pressure that that will put on the world food system, the lower hanging opportunity for global food security is for Africa to optimize its agriculture system towards worlds average productivity levels by just replicating in its unique way adaptable examples that have been achieved in other developed and developing parts of the world.
Well envisioned government policies, public-private partnerships and development focused financing source for the entire value chain will assist to stimulate massive business minded participation in agriculture and consequently growth of the sector in Africa. OCP Africa within the past five years has taken the lead to influence the growth of the space by working with farmers and every other value chain stakeholder to provide customized solutions that is developing the agriculture ecosystem in Africa. More collaborative efforts between actors in the space are required to unlock the massive opportunity in Africa Agriculture thereby building wealth for a sustainable future.

You have an extensive track record of strategizing and managing businesses. Tell us about your time in building OCP Africa in Nigeria.

My current role as the Country Manager of OCP Africa Fertilizers Nigeria Limited reminds me of my early career days about 20 years ago as a Management Trainee with a Nigerian conglomerate UACN Plc. Those opportunities that were made available to me as a Management Trainee undergoing intensive and deliberately planned management development program across many facets of corporate organizational functions like strategy, Business process design, finance, auditing, supply chain etc, prepared me to be able to easily adapt and perform in my current role. I will ever cherish those humble beginnings where a corporate organization takes you fresh out of college and prepares you to embody and represent what a totally grounded future leader in corporate industry should be.
Also coming with experience from the fertilizer industry and the agro chemical industry as a result of my work history with Notore Chemical Industries where I left as the Head Marketing and Business Development and Bayer Crop Science where I was the pioneer Country Manager in Nigeria, my understanding of the possibilities in agriculture was developed and my  passion in farming as a possible solution to the economic challenge of my continent was heightened. Having core functional experience in the industry of Fertilizers, agro-chemicals and seeds coupled with leadership level experience with big corporates and multinational, it was quite easy for me to start up OCP Africa Fertilizers Nigeria Limited in the year 2016 as the pioneer Country Manager when the opportunity came.
It was like a dream come true taking the lead to set up a subsidiary of a company that truly focused on significant tangible investments in overall development of the agricultural space in Africa as a continent.
For me, the business model of OCP in Africa which is geared towards collaborative development to grow opportunities for all players as against the conventional stiff market competition to take from a small existing market size, makes it very inspiring, motivating  and I dare say Soul satisfying to be part of this noble  vision for Africa.
Over the past three years, OCP has have invested  about $3m in sponsoring R&D to provide specialty fertilizer formulations for eight key crops in Nigeria, we have supported over 500,000 small holder farmers through our strategic farmer centric programs,  we have supported the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) of the Government of Nigeria to guarantee shift towards local blending of fertilizers as against total imports of finished fertilizers, we have invested  $42million in the development of three Blending Plants to boost local production capacity in Nigeria, and we are in partnership with the Nigerian government jointly investing in a $1.4billion  industrial Platform for local production of ammonia and Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP). All these speak volume of the commitment and believe OCP has for Africa and Nigeria in particular and this is what motivates my everyday activity while in OCP

The COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on the agriculture sector. What do you think are the immediate steps that need to be taken as we move towards the path to recovery?

The pandemic affected all sectors of the economy and agriculture was not spared. The surest path to speed up economic recovery is through intensification of agriculture investments in Nigeria. The pandemic and the disruption to global supply chain exposed the fragility of our food system that had been significantly dependent on importation before the change in policy direction by the current Government of Nigeria.
We need to leverage the lessons from the panic of the global lockdown period to put in place structures that will support our smallholder farmers with increased access to quality inputs- seeds, fertilizers and CPPs, access to low cost financing, access to modular storage and processing facilities and access to structured markets devoid of rent seekers. This is the first major step to create increased value and to ensure recovery in this sector.

It’s always challenging to get farm input credit available to farmers, particularly to small holders. How does OCP Africa approach this point?

In OCP Africa we have been able to design an end to end Farmer Centric program called Agribooster. This program initiated and driven by OCP brings together all participants in the value chain that play a role to guarantee Farmers access to Finance, quality input, training and market access. This model which we have operated for the past five years and reached over 200,000 farmers has been able to provide input finance to the farmers due to the confidence the financing institution has on the end to end system that will guarantee loan repayment and productivity of the farmers investment. A system that provides confidence to financiers and creates visibility for each individual farmer within a structure network is what is needed to unlock loan within the value chain.
We will continue to work with partners to expand this project to many of our smallholder farmers in all the states of the federation as this is one of the surest way to increase farmers access to loan, and allow agricultural development to be driven by stakeholders in the private sector.

Access to fertilizers is one of the key indicators of food production. How do you think your vision of “Africa feeding the world” can help achieve food security in today’s scenario?

In OCP Africa, we strongly believe in the capability of Africa to feed itself and be a net exporter of food. It is this belief fueled with our passion for Africa that informs our significant investments that we are sure will contribute to strategically position Africa to leverage its capabilities to impact the global food system. Through customization, digitalization, Research & Development and Innovation, and End to End Supply Chain and Inclusive Value network, we will continue to support the development of agriculture on the continent
We are making available to our farmers customized solutions (e.g. tailor-made formulas, Agribooster, and other farmer-centric projects geared towards improved productivity. The customization efforts stem from our investment in Research & Development and Innovation working with our partners in Nigeria and in Africa to develop crop and soil specific fertilizer blends that will guarantee agricultural productivity. We are already seeing the results from the activities of the early adopters.
Our digitalization efforts will provide integrated solutions for the value chain using OCP Africa developed platform called “Udongo” to provide agronomic information and access to quality inputs to farmers wherever they are in Nigeria and Africa.
To address the problems farmers encounter having access to quality fertilizers at the right time, right place, right quantity OCP Africa has invested in “Farm and Fortune Hub” this is a last mile distribution structure that serves as One Stop Shop to address all farmers’ input requirements and training in very rural communities. So far 90 units of the hub has been developed and we have an ambitious plan to develop and franchise 500 of such with partners by 2025.
There has been a significant investment in Nigeria over the past five years in fertilizer production, both in Urea capacity and NPK blending plants. As earlier said, OCP is investing in three blending plants in the states of Kaduna, Ogun and Sokoto. The three plants with a combined capacity of 450,000 metric tonnes per annum will make readily available quality specialized blends all year round for farmers. It is worthy of note that USAID through the West Africa Trade Hub has partnered with OCP Africa Fertilizers Nigeria Limited to develop the fertilizer blending equipment in our Kaduna state Plant through a grant of $1.4m. This has further reiterated the belief of international organizations and other developmental partners in the developmental strategy of OCP Africa.  In addition to the three blending plants, our parent company, OCP Africa is co-investing with the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) to develop a multipurpose chemical platform that will leverage on the abundance of natural gas in Nigeria, and phosphate reserves in Morocco to produce, Ammonia for export,  Di- Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) requirements for fertilizers production in Nigeria, and other quality NPK blends that will meet the needs of the Nigeria farmers and also serve the rest of Africa. All these strategic investments of OCP Africa and OCP Group are geared towards making Africa self sufficient in food production while meeting the food requirements of the rest of the world. We are relentlessly committed to make Africa the Green Ocean.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of Agrigate Global.