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A Startup that Will Cut the Cost it Takes to Produce Palm Oil

Besides being a key ingredient for cooking jollof rice, vegetable oil is used industrially in paints, soaps, biofuels, and lubricants. But getting the oil from palm nuts can be a hassle for manufacturers if they have to engage smallholder farmers directly. In most cases, the Nigerian farmer cracks palm nuts with large stones, an inefficient process that makes eventual finished goods more expensive. Nigeria-based startup Releaf intends to solve this problem by processing produce from farmers, and also delivering the oil to food manufacturers. The startup has raised $2.7 million from a number of investors including Samurai Incubate, a Japanese venture capital firm, and Nigeria-based firms Future Africa, and Consonance Investment Managers. Releaf also won a $1.5 million grant from the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE), a program by the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, and the United States Agency for International Development. The big picture is to put a factory closer to smallholder farmers who produce 80% of Nigeria’s oil palm. Most production happens in the Niger Delta (42%), southwest (27%), and southeast (25%) regions, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). “We believe the firm’s thesis on decentralizing food processing would have a strong match with Africa’s economic development landscape for the next few decades,” says Rena Yoneyama, managing partner at Samurai Incubate Africa.