Mrs. Aderoju Odunsi is chief executive officer of Rehoboth Agro Allied Ventures, a food processing company based in Lagos. The company is currently undergoing a process of incubation at the Technology Incubation Centre at Agege, Lagos. In this interview with Ikechi Nzeako, she speaks on the financial challenge that Nigerian entrepreneur’s face and how to overcome them. Excerpts:
What do you produce?
We produce the Sorrel brand of products and our flagship product is called Sorrel; a juice that is made from natural using hibiscus sabdarrifa, which has medicinal properties that have heath benefits. It reduces the cholesterol level and protects the heart against diseases. Sorrel is also a health drink. Apart from that, we also make herbal teas and we make tea from moringer and peppermint; we also make Sorrel ginger and other products.
The mission of our company is to transform Nigeria’s agricultural produce into world-class food products and we want to create employment for Nigerians. We want to prove to the world that Nigeria has quality that it can offer to the world.
What is your assessment of the Nigerian business environment?
It is tough but it also has great prospects because of the huge population of the country. I believe that with the right support, we can grow into a multinational company and I can say that for other Nigerian entrepreneurs who are educated and who believe in Nigeria and stay in the country when they could have gone elsewhere. The climate is changing for the better but the government has to rise to its responsibility of protecting Nigerian entrepreneurs, especially those that use local materials, because if they do not do that, we run the risk of being overwhelmed by imported goods. The cost of production is very high and we do not have the economy of scale. For instance, we produce a brand of juice, which if government and its institutions and agencies patronise us, we will not be struggling to survive. We are hoping that things will change but we are in it for the long haul and we want to continue doing it. We want to be a company that will employ many Nigerians not only in menial factory work but also as managers and even shareholders in the company because I believe that the company will outlive me.
What can the government do to assist entrepreneurs in the country?
I want government to build a technology park or an industrial park for entrepreneurs; I also want a business environment where either you get a mortgage to build a standard factory or the standard factory has been built and the entrepreneur pays a monthly mortgage just like you do for a house.
What is your comment on the funding of SMEs in the country?
Of all the funding that is available to SMEs, none will help the entrepreneur to build his/her factory. They can help the entrepreneur to buy the machines and some will give you part of the working capital but none gives you the fund to build your factory. An enterprise like ours, which is indigenous and uses local products, we use part of our working capital to build our factory and when this happens, you do not have adequate fund to invest in the business to improve the quality of your products. We want a technology park that has regular supply of electricity, where the roads are wide enough for the trailers to come in and where you are sure of the quality of the source of your water. If the enabling environment is provided, it will go a long way in reducing the stress the entrepreneur goes through.
What is your background?
I am a farmer; I studied agribusiness in America and I have operated a mechanised farm in Nigeria since 1986. What motivated you to set up the business?
I asked myself the question: how do I transform from a grower to a manufacturer and I chose food processing. I saw a window; I looked at the processed food that comes into the country that are marketed through multi-layer marketing and networking, and discovered that they are not as the products that we have in the country. I challenged myself that I should be able to produce a product that can fill the gap. Our products compete favourably with products imported from other countries. The sugar content of our products is very low and some, like our health drink, does not contain sugar. We do our best to make sure that Nigerians stay healthy.
The Central Bank of Nigeria set aside N220 billion as loans to SMEs in the country; have you made an effort to secure part of the loan?
Yes, I applied to access the fund through a bank but the credit officer at the bank said that since I use specialised machinery, I was not eligible to access the fund. Since the CBN told the banks to use their internal processes to disburse the fund and in their discretion, we are not qualified for the loan. There is the need for the CBN to tell the banks to give the loans to all entrepreneurs to develop the economy of the country. Accessing fund from commercial banks at high interest rate will lead to higher cost of production and we will not be able to compete and this will lead to sacking of workers. But there is the Bank of Industry loan and we are in the process of accessing it.
What should the government do for entrepreneurs like you?
There are many things the government can do; first government should be our first customers. You should not be saying “love Nigeria; love Nigeria” and drinks and food served at government events are made in Nigeria but by multinational companies. There are good indigenous products in the country and there is the need for government to patronise them.
Source : Independent