.Omolara Svensson

By Moses Nosike

Seasoned businesswoman and MD/CEO of OOK Group Nigeria Limited, Omolara Svensson who has made a name for herself as one of the frontline exporters of Nigeria’s agricultural products, recently revealed how operating a Nigerian restaurant in Sweden birthed her passion for agri-business.

Svensson recalled that while she was in Sweden, she opened the first Nigerian restaurant called, ‘African Way Cafe’, where she was exposed to the regular foods we don’t take seriously here in Nigeria.

After that exposure, she realized that opportunities abound in this line of business, hence her decision to delve into agri-business professionally.

According to her, I saw the opportunities, I had the vision and I pursued it.

Svensson said this during a symposium organised by her company at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo State. The themed of the event, “Redirecting The Youths And Women To Opportunities In Agriculture And Agri-Business Industry In Nigeria,” had in attendance farmers, researchers, stakeholders and students, who deliberated on the challenges, opportunities and prospects of the Agric sector.

She further informed her audience that her company went from having over 10 trucks to no trucks in the space of 12 months, as a result of terrible conditions on Nigerian roads and insecurity, which can only be provided by the government.

Recalling how she started her firm, Svensson said “OOK group started in Sweden in 2003 as African way Café. African way Café was the first of its kind in Sweden serving not just Nigerian delicacies, but also delicacies from all West African countries. “I started bringing food items from Nigeria and Ghana into Scandinavia, not only for the café but also shipping to African individuals in other Scandinavian countries. This was how I was exposed to the role Africa plays in feeding the world. I saw the opportunities, I had the vision and I pursued it.”

“When I shipped my first 20ft container of food out of Lagos in 2005, the feeling and the sense of accomplishment words cannot describe it. By 2009, supply orders and LPOs were flooding in, and demands for food items we took seriously were in high demand all over Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I then started searching for interested partners and investors. I approached a couple of banks as well and this is where the reality starts to set in.

Not only was my gender working against me in this regard, but the country itself also has no understanding of the enormous wealth we can generate from agriculture and agribusiness, hence no bank or investment outlet listened to me or even take a look at my proposals. Everyone was fixated on crude oil”.

Continuing, Svensson said, “my late husband Tony Svenson who had in the earlier years signed me up for a training in business and investment studies where I had learnt how to trade and started channelling the knowledge into the business.

“At the time I started farming, my mother couldn’t see any reason with me, no matter how much I tried to explain and make her see reasons. The painful part of this was that she wasn’t alone; most people did not see what I saw and couldn’t tap into my vision.

Gradually, the reality and challenges started coming in; from a lack of conducive business environment to a lack of human capital. Looking back now, I must say it took a lot of strength and determination for OOK Group to have come out of it all and still be standing tall. Not only have we come out of all these trials today, but we have also come to realise that problems are part of growth and we as a company and I as an individual see our challenges as an opportunity for us to do better in all we do.”

In addition, speaking on the topic: ‘Opportunities in Commodity export’ at the symposium, agric export expert, Olarenwanju Nwankwo said that Nigeria’s economy would grow at a faster rate if more Nigerians could develop abilities to discover opportunities in the exportation of agro-allied products.

She posited that more women should be encouraged to sharpen their entrepreneurship skills.

“As an entrepreneur, you should be able to identify problems and how to solve them. Like in the Gambia, they have cassava that you can cook and eat like yam because it is sweet. You can’t use that kind of cassava for garri. So, we have Nigerians and even non-Nigerians who need garri not only in the Gambia but all over the world, why can’t we take the commodity to them.

“We aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities in agro-export enough and that is why I want to encourage especially our women to explore those grounds.

 There are many commodities we were doing very well in their exportation in the past but today we don’t take them seriously again. We used to be the number one in cocoa exportation in the world but today we are not even in the top three and the demand for cocoa in the world market hasn’t dropped. There are quite huge markets for yam, maize, cucumber and tomatoes both locally and internationally and more women can key into these opportunities,” she said.

For Dr Reuben Abati, a seasoned journalist and a member of the panel, “It is even difficult for women to get access to land for farming. They are made to pass through a more rigorous process and most times they get the access only when they have the backing of powerful men behind them.

I don’t think they are given enough opportunities like their male counterparts.

Abati who was a Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan said women constitute 70 per cent of farmers in Nigeria but they were largely based in the rural areas where they are involved only in subsistence farming.

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