NIGERIA – Nigeria-based agritech startup Releaf has partnered with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to improve growth and sustainability in oil palm production in Nigeria and across Africa.

In the early 1960s, the West African country was the world’s largest oil palm producer with a global market share of 43 per cent. Today, it contributes less than two percent of total global production.

The new partnership aims to restore the sector to its former glory as the startup and the award-winning research-for-development organisation will explore ways to increase oil palm yields.

This will be achieved through deploying the best intercropping mechanisms, and working with fabrication and mechanisation experts to foster further innovation and development in Nigeria’s smallholder-driven oil palm sector.

IITA will support Releaf with soil fertility analysis, access to its facilities, oil palm management programmes and leaf analysis for improved productivity.

The partnership will also explore how insect waste can be recycled into organic waste that can be used to fertilise oil palm or as a source of nutrition for livestock.

“IITA has a long and rich history of working with international and national partners to impact agricultural value chains and we are really excited to be partnering with them.

“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,” said Ikenna Nzewi, CEO and co-founder of Releaf.

Nigeria’s oil palm sector is dominated by smallholder farmers who account for 80% of the market share.

However, the 4 million primary producers in the sector are unable to maximise the opportunity available to them due to relatively low yields and limited access to adequate processing equipment.

To this end, Releaf has invented Kraken – 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% purity, better than the 88% industry standard.

Releaf also works with farmers to improve their output by encouraging the adoption of best practices to increase their yield and supporting farming activities that are good for the environment.

IITA Director General Nteranya Sanginga said, “We are really impressed by what Releaf has already achieved in such a short space of time. 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.”

The agricultural technology company develops proprietary hardware and software solutions that makes African farmers and food factories more efficient and profitable.

Starting with Nigeria’s US$3 billion vegetable oil market, Releaf ensures smaller factories are set up near smallholder farmers, enabling the former to get better processing yields and fewer logistics costs; and also provides a direct and accessible market for the farmers, increasing their income.

The company recently secured US$2.7-million in a seed funding round to enable the development of industrial food processing technology in the country’s smallholder-driven oil palm sector.

In addition to the seed round, the agritech startup secured US$1.5 million in grants from The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) and USAID.

The grant will enable Releaf to provide working capital and other value-added services for smallholders and small-scale processors.

It will also support the training, recruitment and retention of more women and youth in Nigeria Oil Palm sector through the creation of both digital and technical jobs.

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