AFEX Beginnings — Saying Yes and Other Stories

by Ayodeji Balogun, CEO AFEX

For me, as humans, we define our success in clear fundamentals.

First, the authenticity to pursue an ambitious dream.

I was tasked with one goal: To transform Nigeria’s commodities exchange market into a scalable, efficient, and profitable system.

To achieve this, I was to bank on data and a trusted network of investors in the agricultural ecosystem to create a market infrastructure that could work for our country. But first, I had to perform a significant task: marry the love of my life, Kemi Balogun, on 27th December 2012. I still don’t know what I told Kemi to agree to marry me, but it worked. Two weeks after my wedding, I had moved to the small city, Kigali — then only known from the movie Hotel Rwanda, but has since grown to be a place I call home — to start up the East Africa Exchange (EAX).

That was the beginning of my #myAFEXstory. It’s easy to see how interest can quickly metamorphose into an impact-driven project to fight food insecurity.

2013 was epic! I was living the #MBA dream: newly married, new city, expatriate treatment, working for two billionaires on a special project. I was learning a lot too with setting up the Exchange and having some amazing consultants help shape up the plan like Rod Gravelet-Blondin, Yohannes Assefa, Bharat Kulkarni, PhD, and Brett Riley.

  • First, set up and operate warehouses.
  • Second, connect processors to finance.
  • And third build a technology-enabled exchange.

Growing what was to be the largest supply chain infrastructure to unlock capital for the agricultural sector and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers was a big goal, and is now a big achievement, but it required commitment, courage, and resilience.

The first deal to bring life to the business was the N1 Billion financing program. Thanks to Chibuike Goodnews who was relentless in pursuing the deal to close. It was the first of its kind in the bank. It also brought some form of revenue, albeit infinitesimal since we were strangled in between the bank and the clients.

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AFEX’s infrastructure and platforms drive capital to build a trust economy in Africa’s commodity markets.