Omolara Svensson: Most people didn’t see what I saw in agric
The Group Managing Director (GMD), OOK Group Ltd., Omolara Svensson, has said that for any business to thrive in any nation, basic government infrastructure must be in place.
Svensson stated this during a symposium organised by the company at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo State, with the theme, Redirecting The Youths And Women To Opportunities In Agriculture And Agri-Business Industry In Nigeria.
The event, which had in attendance farmers, researchers, stakeholders and students, deliberated on the challenges, opportunities and prospects of the Agric sector.
Svensson informed that the company went from having over 10 trucks to no trucks in the space of 12 months, as a result of terrible conditions of Nigerian roads and insecurity, which can only be provided by the government.
On how she started her firm, she informed, “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 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 the African individuals in other Scandinavian countries. This was when I was exposed to the role African plays in feeding the world. I saw the opportunities, I had the vision and I pursued it.”
She continued: “When I shipped my first 20ft container of food out of Lagos in 2005, the feeling and the sense of accomplishment words cannot describe. By 2009, supply orders and LPOs were flooding in; demands for food items we never take seriously was 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 regards, the country itself has no understanding of the enormous wealth there is in Agriculture and Agribusiness, hence no bank or investment outlet will listen to me or even take a look at my proposals, everyone was fixated on crude oil,” she noted.
She added: “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 I started channelling all this into the business. At the time I started farming, my mother couldn’t see any reason with me, no matter how much I try to explain and make her see reasons. The painful part of this was 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 lack of conducive business environment to lack of human capital.
“To top it all, the Apapa gridlock was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It was almost impossible to have a reliable team to work with, as most of the staff are only looking for a shortcut to success and are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get their fast and easy wealth. The serious-minded ones only used us as a ladder to get Canadian visa and left, most of the time with little or no notice. On the other side are the gender-based issues, which despite our track record, still find a way to resurface at every turning point.”
Looking back now, she said, “I must say it took a lot of strength and determination for OOK 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.”
She continued: “Today, we have our farms in various parts of Oyo and Kwara state respectively. Our O.O.K Agribusiness Academy has also been launched and our second term for the year 2022 starts on the 1st of April 2022.
At the academy, we work towards redirecting the African populace to wealth in agriculture and agribusiness.”
Also speaking, Chief Executive Officer, F-Step Cassava Enterprise, Ibadan, Oyo State Ogidan Oluwaseun said the opportunity available for women in agriculture is enough, but funding remain major challenge.
“It is easy for women to be dedicated to whatever she’s doing, but there is an extent a person can get to without funding.”
On her part, Olarenwaju Elizabeth Nwankwo, one of the speakers, identified the opportunities in export, creating jobs and opportunities for youths along the Agric value chain amongst other issues.
On his part, Prof. Isaac Aiyelaagbe talked extensively about the milestones and steps taken to improve the sector and make it attractive by glamorising agriculture.
“The future is bright and the marketplace is supposed to wear a new look. We need to take advantage of the female gender; we have the opportunities to move faster if we use females. You can see that the narrative has changed with more female executives in the banking sector. That will also happen in Agriculture soon.”