“Rome was not built in a day.” The famous saying by John Heywood rings true in farming as well as business. Every large company today exists because of a growth plan that was laid out years ago. Right from the inception of its operation, the firm followed a strategic path that was flexible yet stubborn in its vision.

Most of the large international agricultural companies began their operations in the previous century when many companies currently operational in Africa were not yet established. There are still opportunities to penetrate the market, expand an asset and clientele base, increase expertise and focus on innovation.

But to do so, smaller companies may need to overcome challenges such as the marginalisation of Africa from the global economy, poor healthcare and infrastructure, lack of financing, climate change, and weak governance.

The size of an agribusiness firm can be categorised by its sphere of operation such as seed production, bioenergy, artificial intelligence, pesticide production, and machinery and vehicle manufacturing. However, most companies function in multiple sectors.

Currently, the agribusiness industry is worth over USD 2,4 trillion and employs over one billion people. Global companies dominating the top five agricultural spaces are Cargill, the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM), Bayer, John Deere, and CHN Industrial.


Cargill began operations in 1865 when William Wallace Cargill became the proprietor of a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa. The flat house, a type of warehouse that preceded country elevators, was at the end of the McGregor & Western Railroad line. Today, Cargill has interests in crops, livestock, food, raw materials, as well as industrial and financial risk management.

Cargill employs over 166 000 people in more than 66 countries. The company is responsible for about 25 percent of the grain exports from the USA. In 2020, their company revenue was USD 114,69 billion, making it the top agriculture company in the world.

Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM)

Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM) was founded in 1902 as ArcherDaniels Linseed Company by George A Archer and John W Daniels. The Minneapolis-based outfit processed linseed (also known as flaxseed) oil for ink, paints and linoleum. Currently, Archer-Daniels-Midland is the absolute leader in food processing and commodities trading.

Globally, ADM maintains a massive inventory of operating 270 plants, and over 400 procurement facilities, where food, beverage, industrial, animal feed, and nutraceutical products are manufactured by processing oilseeds and cereal grains. The company’s revenues hit USD 64,34 billion in 2020, making it the second-largest agriculture company in the world.

Employing over 38 000 people, ADMs, products include high fructose corn syrup, ethanol, food and bioenergy.

Bayer AG

Bayer is a German chemical and pharmaceutical company founded in 1863 by Friedrich Bayer (1825–80), who was a chemical salesman, and Johann Friedrich Weskott (1821–76), who owned a dye company.

Apart from being one of the largest agriculture companies in the world, it is also among the largest global pharmaceutical companies. The company also ranks at the top for its research in crop science, holding over 175 breeding sites globally. The company acquired Monsanto for USD 63 billion in 2018, further cementing its position as the largest global player in crop sciences and agriculture. The company’s revenues reached USD 51,18 billion in 2020.

Products Bayer specialises in are veterinary drugs, diagnostic imaging, women’s health products, general and speciality medicines, seeds, pesticides, plant biotechnology, over-the-counter drugs and diagnostic imaging.

John Deere

John Deere was a blacksmith who developed the first commercially successful, self-scouring steel plough in 1837 and founded the company that still bears his name.

In 1848, Deere moved his growing operation to Moline, Illinois, on the east bank of the Mississippi River.

There the company was making a thousand ploughs a year. Business boomed as Deere established a reputation for both his ploughs and his principles. Those same principles guide Deere and company to this day.

Currently, John Deere has strong footings in agriculture, forestry machinery, construction, drivetrains equipment, diesel engines, and lawn care equipment. The company’s agricultural products include: combine harvesters, tractors, cotton harvesters, silage machines, balers, sprayers, and planters. They supply machinery to industries such as agriculture, forestry, consumer and commercial equipment, as well as construction.

CNH Industrial

CNH Industrial is an American-Italian multinational corporation with offices in Basildon and Amsterdam. Employing over 63 000 people in 67 manufacturing plants and 56 research and development centres, the company is one of the largest producers and sellers of agricultural and construction equipment. Their products include trucks, special vehicles (Iveco), buses, and powertrains (industrial and marine applications). The company generated over USD 28,1 billion in revenue last year.

These top five agribusiness firms based in developed countries represent a total revenue in 2020 of almost USD 275 billion. For Africa, more than 60 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 23 percent of the GDP comes from agriculture-roughly USD 621 billion.

This means that five companies can equal almost half of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural-based GDP. It shows that there is a need for growth and
participation of more companies.


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