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More Singapore businesses venturing into Africa, a 'long-term play'

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The number has almost doubled since 2010, with over 60 operating in more than 40 countries

A Singapore tech start-up that makes it easier for businesses to set up online marketplaces is aiming to help farmers in the Cross River State in Nigeria sell their cocoa beans and products domestically and to the world.

Arcadier, as the company is called, is quick to acknowledge that this ambitious project will be challenging.

"We are working with the government and it takes time," co-founder Kenneth Low told The Straits Times, citing issues the authorities there have to consider, such as creating cooperatives and looking into how the supply chain moves.

More Singapore businesses have ventured into Africa over the years, with experts warning that it is "long-term play".

The number of Singapore companies doing business on the continent has almost doubled since 2010, with over 60 operating in more than 40 countries, said Enterprise Singapore.

But this is similar to reported numbers in 2016, despite Africa's e-commerce market being projected to be worth US$75 billion (S$102 billion) by 2025.

The director of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Mr Johan Burger, said the number of Singapore companies may not have increased faster given the distances, a lack of infrastructure and an insufficient understanding of Africa.

"Africa is far, its risks are less known and people here may not be familiar with the different countries."

Some, like conglomerate Tolaram Group, have seen success by doing their homework on each area, he added.

More than 30 years ago, Tolaram brought instant noodles - Indomie - to Nigeria.

"About 20 years ago, each person in Nigeria consumed around one packet of Indomie a year. Today, it is 20 packets a person a year," said Tolaram's managing director for Africa, Mr Haresh Aswani.

"We created an eating habit, as no one there had noodles in those days. It took us almost 12 years to create a market for noodles commercially."

Mr Aswani predicts rapid growth in packaged products in households, especially in food and beverages. There will also be growth in the infrastructure, energy and service sectors.

Mr Collin Wee, director for international business at construction company Well & Able Holdings, said acceptance of new technology takes time and education.

This was the case for its prefabricated building techniques. It ventured into Mauritius to build the island's first mega-mall about a decade ago and has since moved to Uganda and South Africa, in line with demand and acceptance of its speedier building methods.

"Africa is a growing department for Well & Able," said Mr Wee, who foresees it making up 18 per cent of the firm's business by next year.