Mezuo Nwuneli (Nigeria ’15) is co-founder and managing director of Sahel Capital, a private equity firm focused exclusively on the Nigerian agribusiness sector. Nwuneli is a 2015 Global Fellow and explored agricultural finance, private equity and the use of technology to minimize post-harvest loss. His goal is to increase Sahel Capital’s capacity to tailor financing to small and medium sized agribusinesses and farmers. Since his fellowship, Nwuneli has continued to work to help Nigeria reach its agricultural potential by increasing investments into businesses around Nigeria and doubling Sahel Capital’s investment funds from $33 million to $66 million in just two years.
With a population of close to 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Despite its exponential growth over the last thirty years, Nigeria continues to import a large amount of certain food products due to the predominance of small scale farming and limited access to equipment and technology. It is against this backdrop that Nwuneli used his fellowship as an opportunity to learn different farming practices, understand private equity in the agribusiness setting and also gain access to technological trends in the industry, in an effort to make Nigerian farming more productive and spur economic growth.
As one of the five major food and agriculture private equity firms operating in Africa, Sahel capital has steadily raised its profile by tripling its investment team and investing in three additional businesses. Nwuneli also said that the wide exposure and knowledge gained during fellowship continues to inform his work by providing a frame of reference and larger appreciation for the varying techniques and changing landscape of farming in the American market. From visiting farms in rural America to meeting with industry leaders at an agribusiness private equity conference in New York, Nwuneli said that the breadth of perspective offered by the fellowship was vital, even where some of the information did not directly transfer to the Nigerian market.
Nwuneli also indicated, that thanks to the fellowship, he was also inspired to create Sahel Management Training, a two-year program that offers nine month internships for college graduates. The internship offers experiences with some of the top portfolio companies in Nigeria and intensive training and guidance at the head office in Lagos. Beyond these activities, Nwuneli has expanded his influence in economic policy in Nigeria through talks he has given to high level government officials and other policy makers who have sought his insight into the agribusiness sector.
Though the economic downturn of 2016 and other events have posed challenges in the Nigerian market, Nwuneli is optimistic in his ability to continue to drive growth and to achieve his ultimate goal of poverty reduction and economic development through investment in agriculture. With invaluable ideas and networks forged during his Eisenhower Fellowship, Nwuneli has maintained consistent growth of Sahel investments, which he hopes will revolutionize the Nigerian agricultural sector.
Written by: Chioma Azi, Program Officer