CEO, Seed and Seedlings Agricultural Enterprises
For Mr. Gbolabo Olaniwun, the agricultural sector needs maximum attention if food is to be produced in large quantities and at very affordable prices. Little wonder he opted for fish farming, which he believes has a lot of potential except that many often fail in the business due to inadequate training and lack of technical know-how . In this interview with AYO ALONGE, Gbolabo, the accountant turned farmer, gives an insight on how he started his business and his staying power. He also talks about the knowledge and training required to enhance success in the business. Excerpts:
Could you tell us about your background?
Wow! That is a long story. What would you like to know?
Just your family background.
Well, my name is Gbolabo Olaniwun. I am the Managing Director of Seed and Seedlings Agricultural Enterprises, makers of Treasure Fish. I was born here in Lagos State and I am the last born of a family of four. I attended Redeemers University. I have never worked for anybody all my life because I got this idea of fish farming as an undergraduate and that is what I have been doing till date.
What led you into fish farming?
I would say it is the passion I have for the agricultural sector at large. I got the vision when I was in part four, wanting to know what I would do after graduation . Meanwhile, I studied Accounting and I just saw what I liked. Actually, the motivating factor was that I saw that food was expensive in Nigeria and I wanted to contribute my quota in ensuring that food is available and affordable, and that led me to thinking agriculture on a large scale.
So, what plans have you been able to put in place towards achieving your goal in food production, like you said?
It’s quite hard, I won’t lie to you. At times, you envisage things and the workability becomes so difficult to decipher. Getting out into the real world, after graduation, I found out that it was not very easy, but gradually, we will get there. To achieve my vision, it has to really be done on a large scale and that would make us understand the benefit of economies
of large scale production and that would even cut down cost. This is not easy with respect to capital. But with the youth empowerment scheme in Lagos that I am a member of, we produce food in large quantities and at farm gates, they are not too expensive but the problem has always been with the midstand the benefit of economies dlemen. It’s the middlemen that make food expensive in Nigeria. Across the North, South, East and West, food is not expensive but because we don’t have a good storage system in Nigeria, the burden is now left for the final consumers to bear and that is what makes the food expensive for consumers. So, what we are now trying to do is to link consumers directly to the farm so we can make food cheap for them. For us at Treasure Fish, that is what we are doing. We produce and sell directly to the consumers.
How helpful has the government been?
They are doing what they can in their capacity but information is what really matters. The Ministry of Agriculture has been helpful in the area of food fertilization and giving information about the sector. For me, I still feel that they can do better. We have a lot of uneducated farmers, especially in the North, unlike what we have here in the West, where a lot of farmers are very educated. Lagos State government has been helpful in this regard but what I consider worrisome is the joining together of 20 people. Some also believe it’s all about making money, but for me, I think it is all about cutting cost and ensuring that food is affordable for all. I feel government should get people started individually and have a monitoring programme to see them through the business.
How long have you been in business?
I graduated in 1999. Served in 2000 and afterwards, I started business in 2001.
How were you able to rise to the point you are now in the business?
Hmm! It has been a really tough one. After my service year, I was just sitting at home but I still had the vision of going into the business so I was busy looking for opportunities here and there. Then, the Lagos State Agric YES Programme came up and I quickly enrolled. We had six months of training, six months of internship and the settlement came up after that. I thought I could start something having learnt a lot about aquaculture (fish farming), poultry and vegetables. I looked at the options I had and because of the capital involved, in my own opinion, I saw that aquaculture is not that capital intensive and I went for it. I started from my father’s house on two plots of land and I was allowed to use them. I had two ponds then and my idea was to raise the fish and sell them directly. Fish in the open market are sold according to sizes but in the farm, people buy it from us by measurement , so there is a prevailing market price. A kilogram of fish goes for between N500 and N550. So, what I had in mind was to get a place where I could sell to final consumers based on measurement where I can just have a little premium, but I didn’t have enough capital so I ended up selling to few consumers that would come into the farm, but mainly to market women who paid immediately. Basically, when I started the business, I had a little problem. When I was writing my business plan, I wrote a particular number of feeds that the fish would eat to give them a particular body weight, giving that all other conditions are okay. After a while, I did a random check of their weights and saw that these fish were not performing well. Their weights were lesser than expected, so I knew I was losing money already. I stopped feeding them and I contemplated how I would get back my money and that was what led me into smoking the fish. By smoking fish, you add value to them. You are preserving them so you can spend less, by still adding value to it and making more money. So, that was how I was able to retrieve my capital from the first harvest. I eventually discovered that more people love their fish smoked because it reduces the level of cholesterol which is very high in catfish, and that is healthy living for you which I have always had the dream of promoting.
Can you recall how you raised your start-up capital?
That was a very funny experience. You know I have had to learn from a lot of people, particularly, Pastor Sam Adeyemi. He was teaching one day on what he called “Real Money” and he said what you need to start a business is not actually money, contrary to what people say and he added that money is the last thing. He said the first thing is for you to generate the ideas. The second is for you to write them down on a paper. The third is for you to project them through your mind. Sincerely, I tried it and it worked for me. When we were sitting for our final exams during the training, I wrote a business plan of N5million and I did not even have five million kobo. I was so serious about it and even calling experts and professionals to seek their advice on the business. Having done that, I just sent the proposal to four people and that was how one of them offered to help, and I started with N600,000. I had to start with that on a smaller scale.
Can you tell us about the profitability of this business?
Sincerely, when I started, there was so much hope, from the papers, anyway. But when I delved into it, I saw the challenge. I soon found that the problem was the nature of the land I was using. One pond was doing well and the other wasn’t. This is a lesson for everybody. If you are going to start your own business, make sure you do thorough research. Eventually, I was able to balance up. After a year, my uncle thought of selling the land and that became a fresh challenge for me and I had to start using tanks which did not give me the needed result like a concrete pond would .
What do you know of fish farming business in Nigeria?
From my knowledge, I can see that we do more of catfish farming in Nigeria. The reason is that catfish take atmospheric oxygen. Other fish like tilapia may not be able to do that, and that is why a lot of people rear catfish in Nigeria because of the cost implication of tilapia and others that require much of power supply because their water must always be oxygenated. Tilapias cannot take atmospheric oxygen and so power is always involved to oxygenate their water, and we all know the situation of power in the country. That is why when you go to eateries and restaurants everywhere in town; you have mostly catfish pepper soup. Meanwhile, a lot of people have done the catfish business and failed because of inadequate training. You must have the technical know-how and detailed information about the business. For the business, three things are involved. Filtration, the feed and the fingerlings.
You must also consider the space for the fish. Catfish need wide space. They need space to swim and as they move around, they gain weight. Most people will have small containers and pack a lot of fish and expect them to grow. No!
What are you doing to keep yourself in business?
I would say it’s acquiring knowledge about the business and this is very important. My first harvest was a loss for me but I learnt from it. So, knowledge and experience will help out in minimizing your losses in business. As an entrepreneur, you have to be resilient. That you lost out once does not mean you will always lose.
How about your core values as a person?
That is what matters most to me and that is what I have brought into the business. My core value is integrity and that is basically what I learnt as an accountant. For me, financial integrity is key. If you call on me to make a supply and I know I am not going to make it or that I would be late, I will tell you. It makes people have interest in your business.
What’s your advice for young entrepreneurs
Source : SunOnline