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Pulse Blogger I want to create 100,000 jobs in my lifetime - Leonard Ebute

For Leonard Ebute, Chief Operations Officer of CrestAgro, this dream can become a reality if we tap into the green of our flag – agriculture.

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I want to create 100,000 jobs in my lifetime.” A tall order from a man who desires to see Nigerian businesses creating social change and outliving their owners.

For Leonard Ebute, Chief Operations Officer of CrestAgro, this dream can become a reality if we tap into the green of our flag – agriculture.

Like Oprah Winfrey puts it 'we can have it all just not all at once'. Our proprietary sector prioritization model shows Agriculture as the best value sector; it is the industry that can best put our teeming unemployed youth to work,” he says.

And his picture of agriculture in the 21 century is one that embraces technology.  

Some are of the opinion that mechanized farming results in job loss for humans but we forget that it is a person that will drive the tractor. It is another person that will apply the chemicals and yet another that will handle the administration. The smallest mechanized farm has  proven potential to employ far more than the biggest multinational firm.”

Passionate about the value agriculture can bring in feeding the nation and providing jobs, it is easy to believe that this Benue State native had to farm in his blood. Born to a military father turned journalist, Leonard spent his childhood living in different parts of the country and never considered farming as a future career.

His first shave with agriculture was by accident and came when at the tender age of fourteen he was orphaned and forced to step prematurely into the shoes of fatherhood. The eldest child and brother to five sisters, he fended for his family by farming, trading in farm produce, herbicides and pesticides.

I was favored when I started a business. People trusted me with their goods and allowed me to take them on credit. I sold second-hand clothes. I transported yams in lorries from the North to the East. I supplied farmers with inputs. At the time, it was what my hand found to do. It paid some pressing bills for sure.”

A lover of all things numerical and strategy, Leonard was drawn to the logic behind the figures, opting to study Economics at the University of Jos and starting his professional career in the banking halls.

An opportunity to gain experience at a multinational company saw him veering off to Supply Chain, a sector which he has remained in for over a decade. Prior to joining CrestAgro, he was Head, Supply Chain, Kimberly Clark West, East and Central Africa. He has also worked as Head of Procurement for North/East Africa at Sanofi-Aventis and held various positions at Nestle Nigeria PLC all within Supply Chain.

Yet his passion for numbers never left him. Leonard holds an executive MBA from Lagos Business School and a graduate diploma in supply chain management from the UK. It was during his studies, the entrepreneurial seeds were sown.

Supply chain is about freeing up the value pipelines and keeping them free. Our business thinking builds on this principle by aiming for full-proof sustainability in our model. Our thesis is that businesses are sustained by society and will remain as sustainable as a society to the extent of its impact on society. In other words, welfare or social impact for is a demand to be swiftly and profitably met. Businesses that are plugged into society, will be sustainable.”

On course to being the largest cassava value chain solutions company in Africa, Crest-Agro Products currently employs 470 people and is projected to triple the figure by 2017.

Our hope is to be the 3 largest employer of labor by 2019 after the government and the Dangote Group. We are advancing this agenda by growing our farm to become the largest in the world by 2019; expanding our outgrower scheme from 400 farmers to 5,000 farmers within the same period, and sustain our the off-taker capability by increasing our processing factory to 600,000 metric tonnes of Cassava roots consumption by 2019.

The company is focusing on small holder farmers in Kogi State to enable them to deliver better value and access to the market. This involves setting up a world class cassava processing factory.

We are into farming ourselves to serve as a model for all the farmers. The company acquired 13,000 hectares of land on Obajana road for its cassava farming project while the processing factory of the tubers into Food Grade Cassava Starch is at Achabo village.”

In under two years of operation, CrestAgro has already attracted attention and collaboration from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through their local partner organization, Synergos. The company is also in talks with the government on other areas of collaboration such as rural road construction, provision of finance to outgrowers and security, particularly with the herdsmen menace.

An avid reader, chess player and motorbike rider, Leonard also enjoys football and travel.

I like photography. I want to see the world. I believe people at their core are the same. I love to laugh at the simple things. Nature; the mountains and hills of Jos. The buzz of Lagos. The laughter of a baby. I am drawn to the simple things.”

Passionate about education, Leonard supports foundations centered on the development of human capital.

Our greatest resource is not oil, not even agriculture, it is our people. When I’m 50, I want to teach and provide guidance to the next generation. I give to Moslem and Christian foundations that focus on education, the poor and the downtrodden.”

An astute commentator on social and political issues, Leonard is passionate about the Nigeria project.

He says, “There is nothing wrong with the slogan ‘Nigeria, good people, great nation.’ For us to grow as a nation, we have to build institutions to attract the best. I want to help push for a political structure where our best are attracted - where logic and progressive ideas win over politics of racism and bigotry.”

For Leonard, the focus should be to draw the young people into politics for the purpose of nation building.

We have a responsibility to the next generation. Old men plant trees not because they hope to eat the fruits but for the enjoyment of the next generation. We need to teach our children to plant not just take and take.”

His dream Nigeria is where Africa’s most populous country is driving the agenda not just for the continent but for the people of color in the Caribbean and the blacks in Diaspora.

Nigeria should be at the forefront of African foreign policy. However, this can only be achieved if we have credible democracy and a social context that is all embracing and consistent with our culture and values. It will be Nigeria or no nation at all.”

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