Published on 28 May 2024

Singapore trader to strengthen sesame supply chain in Nigeria

Robust International to provide farmer training and access to better seeds

Singapore-based agricultural commodity processing and trading firm, Robust International, is collaborating with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to enhance its sesame seed sourcing operations in Nigeria. The IFC recently disclosed an advisory services agreement with Robust, which will mitigate the operational risks associated with a prior investment made by the IFC in the company.

In 2022, Robust signed an US$18m loan agreement with the IFC to establish modern warehouses and processing centres for sesame in northern Nigeria. Sesame accounts for 55% of Robust’s operations in Nigeria, while other crops include cashew, ginger, gum arabic, pulses, turmeric, and shea nuts. The company sources 40% of its raw commodities directly from over 40,000 farmers, and 60% from 40 licensed buying agents. Robust conducts primary processing, such as fumigation, sorting, and hulling, before distributing to its clients. The majority, or 53%, of its commodities are supplied to China, with other important markets being Vietnam (37%), Turkey (6%), and India (4%).

The advisory service contract with the IFC includes three key elements: (1) Training sesame farmers on good agricultural practices, focusing on soil and water management technologies and pest management; (2) Building the capacities of licensed buying agents in record keeping and product traceability; and (3) Linking farmers to sources of high-quality sesame seeds. The project will be piloted in Kano State before being extended to Bauchi and Jigawa States.

Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest producer of sesame and the third-largest in Africa, behind Sudan and Tanzania. Most sesame cultivation occurs in the drier northern region. Sesame crops account for approximately 25% of Nigeria's agricultural export value. In 2022, Nigeria exported sesame seeds worth US$330m, with 40% going to China, 22% to Japan, and 9% to Vietnam.

Yet, the industry faces several challenges. Most of Nigeria's sesame cultivation is done by small-scale farmers who struggle with low productivity due to limited use of mechanised farming techniques and insufficient access to improved seed varieties and other essential agricultural inputs. Additionally, the country lacks adequate sesame processing facilities, with most seeds still being processed manually, leading to reduced quality and high wastage.

At the Africa Singapore Business Forum in 2023, Robust entered into an agreement with another Singaporean entity that employs AI to enhance agricultural yields. The partnership with Adatos will help farmers gather more accurate information on weather patterns, yield predictions, and nutrient usage for sesame crops in Nigeria.



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