Founded in 2017, Releaf participated, but only began operations in the oil palm area in 2019, participating in Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator Accelerator Program in January of this year.
“Our hardware increases the availability and quality of raw materials for food factories and our sourcing software connects us directly to over 2,000 smallholder farmers,” said Ikenna Nzewi, who co-founded Releaf alongside Uzo Ayogu and Isaiah Udotong.
“Starting in Nigeria’s oil palm sector, we are creating technology that will make farmers and food factories in Africa more efficient and profitable.”
With 80% of the domestic market share, Nigeria is the world’s largest smallholder oil palm producer. Palm kernel output rates, on the other hand, remain poor since many farmers still rely on inefficient de-shelling methods, such as the usage of pebbles and insufficient gear. Due to a lack of high-quality raw materials and the cash to buy them, 90% of manufacturers are operating at less than 50% of their installed capacity.
“With that in mind, we act as a bridge between smallholder farmers and food manufacturing companies, providing working capital for farmers to access more palm kernel and equipment, and processing the raw material into factory-grade inputs for vegetable oil factories,” said Nwezi.
“We also work with farmers to improve their monthly income by up to 5x, and grow their wealth by enabling them to spend their time on the most profitable aspects of palm production and financing increased local processing capacity.”
In Q2 of this year, the business concluded a seed fundraising round with investors such as Samurai Incubate and Future Africa and aims to utilize the cash to boost uptake, which Nwezi describes as “great” thus far.
“We have a network of more than 2,000 smallholder farmers, with around 600 that consistently provide output for offtake. We will continue to explore opportunities to penetrate the market a little further but our focus is on deepening our relationship and the value we create for our most productive smallholder partners, rather than focusing on numbers for the sake of it,” he said.
Releaf, on the other hand, is focused on expansion. It intends to grow across West Africa in oil palm and into other crops in the future, eventually establishing a continental footprint and a network of decentralized factories to enable the industrialization of food processing.