Nigeria used to be the world’s largest oil palm producer with a global market share of 43 per cent in the early 1960s. This reputation was lost during the years of the oil boom. Today, the country contributes less than two per cent of total global production. To revive the crumbling industry, Releaf, an ag-tech startup has partnered with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in improving growth and sustainability in oil palm production in Nigeria and across Africa.

As a technology-inclined company, Releaf develops proprietary hardware and software solutions to drive the industrialisation of food processing in Africa. The International Institute at its end generates agricultural innovations to meet Africa’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and natural resource degradation. The partnership will enable the startup, and the award-winning research-for-development institute to explore ways to increase oil palm yields, deploy the best intercropping mechanisms, and work with fabrication and mechanisation experts. This will foster innovation and development in Nigeria’s smallholder-driven oil palm sector.

Despite having 80 per cent of the market share, four million smallholder farmers in Nigeria’s oil palm sector are unable to maximise the opportunity available to them due to relatively low yields and limited access to adequate processing equipment. Releaf’s innovation, Kraken is helping these farmers maximise their production ability. Kraken is West Africa’s most advanced palm nut de-sheller, which can process up to 500 metric tons of palm nuts per week to produce premium palm kernel products at 95 per cent purity, better than the 88 per cent industry standard.

Releaf also works with farmers to improve their output, by encouraging the adoption of best practices to increase their yield and supporting environmentally friendly farming activities. In less than 18 months, Releaf has led over a thousand smallholder farmers to provide food factories with 7.5 million kilograms of quality crops.

Ikenna Nzewi, CEO and co-founder of Releaf expressed his excitement for the partnership with the age-long institute whose antecedent is great. “IITA has a long and rich history of working with international and national partners to impact agricultural value chains, and we are excited to be partnering with them. IITA also represents the beginning of the journey that led me to co-found Releaf, and I am grateful for the opportunity to take this relationship forward. Oil palm is one of our most ubiquitous plants, and we must continue to develop technology to improve its sustainable impact on rural communities’ livelihoods.” he said.

Speaking about the partnership, IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga explained how impressed they are with Releaf’s achievement in a short while. “I recall our first meeting with Ikenna in 2015, and it is great to see what that first encounter has led to. Investing in research and development is always a great advantage for everyone, and we are looking forward to working with Releaf to explore more ways to add value across the agricultural value chain.”

Written by Adekunle Agbetiloye

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