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Making the most of opportunity – Tolulope’s brave choice in building her own cassava processing/packaging business venture

 

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Photo credit: Tolulope Aina

Aina Tolulope an undergraduate of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan and a native of Ogun State is the CEO of Tolulope foods processing and packaging company- which is currently into the processing and packaging of Gari and has a brand known as MyGari aside packaging food items as souvenier for events. She developed the interest in cassava cultivation and processing during the one-year practical year training program while she was in 400 Level.

Despite several challenges, Tolulope chose not to back down!  She believes agriculture has revolutionized in this jet age and with the current state of the country, Nigerians especially the youths, should wake up and be that change they want to see instead of waiting for miracles to happen from the government.

INTRODUCTION

My name is Aina Tolulope, a student of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan.  I am the CEO of Tolulope foods processing and packaging company, a brand that is currently into the processing and packaging of Gari called MyGari. I was born on the 12th of September!

When and where was the start of your journey into agribusiness?

My interest in agribusiness started during the practical year training program at the University of Ibadan for 400 level students. During this period, I developed the interest in cassava cultivation and processing and I decided from that time to pursue cassava cultivation, processing and packaging as a business venture.

Tolulope's Packaged Garri as souvenir for an event

What is your view about agribusiness?

Agribusiness to me differs from the conventional mentality people especially the youths have about the business enterprise. Agriculture generally has upgraded from the use of crude implements to mechanized farming, to agro- processing which helps to improve the value of agricultural products in the local and foreign market. The packaging also helps in adding value to the product. Oh well in this jet age, so packaging is key.

What part of your agribusiness do you find most satisfying and what part do you find most challenging?

The most challenging part has to do with expansion and capital needed for the business- since agribusiness is generally capital and labour intensive. Against all odds what’s satisfying about agribusiness is identifying problems that spring up from time to time, putting in place combating strategies and actually seeing positive results in respect to that.

What challenges did you face while starting up and what decisions and choices did you make to manage the challenges?

Hmmm… That’s a whole lot you know? but let me share a few of them. Initially, financing the business was the first issue, how to convince was next – how do I convince the identified sources to invest in the business? There was a dramatic incident which could have totally discouraged me from starting but I thank God I didn’t let that pose as a limitation, it was when a supposed expertise in the field who I expected to be a mentor was just after how much he could swindle out of me. Well, lessons were learnt and business had to go on. That’s what challenges are called right? (Laughs)….

Photo credit: Tolulope Aina

I chose not to back down, though challenges kept on popping up. The more they kept popping up, the more combating strategies were put in place. But then the beauty of it all is after much effort in trying to make things work out, you begin to yield positive results and those that looked down on you begin to appreciate you, people begin to acknowledge you as a source of motivation to others, a problem solver and a motivation to both young and old, these to me are priceless.

It’s not just about starting a business and keeping it moving, it is how much lives one can touch on the way up the ladder. Above all, focus, perseverance, hard work (with smart work as an active ingredient) and most importantly God’s grace is what has kept this business going.

How have the choices and decisions you made helped in the success of your business?

Choices like how to process the best quality of ‘Gari’, how to make it available for an affordable price, and what packaging material should be used, the form of packaging, size of the packaging, the target market among others. The decisions made were made based on the most cost-effective options that would benefit both the target market and the business. As an Agricultural Economist, I am concerned about minimizing cost, providing the product at an affordable price and still make the desired profit.

Some of Tolulope's packaged food products as souveniers

Do you attend seminars, mentoring programs for improvement in your business? How do you keep yourself informed for improvement in your business and what steps have you taken to improve?

Lol, why not? If I don’t, how then will I keep myself motivated and develop in the field? One of the essential qualities of an agripreneur is good and upgraded knowledge of the business. To me, knowledge is key!

What’s your view on youth involvement in agro-processing, and packaging?

It’s key, in short, this is the future of this nation’s agribusiness. The bulk of food being consumed in Nigeria come from rural sources, others are from import sources with very little from private owned commercial farms. These rural farmers employ the use of crude implements. This is the 21st century, technology has gone way beyond that, where are the youth, the leaders of tomorrow and what are they doing about this? Even rural youth are coming to the city to ride okada.

Tolulope's Packaged Garri Product

The period of glut is accompanied with abundance of some resources and when these products are off season the nation experiences severe scarcity. What is wrong with our storage facilities? What is happening to mechanized farming? Asides from what we hear in the news about government empowering the youths in Agriculture? How many deserving youths have been empowered? How can a nation like ours that is blessed with a favorable climate for the cultivation of various agricultural produce still be unable to boast of being food secure? What is the problem? Is the government doing less or are the citizens ignoring agriculture? The reality is this, the supply of the labour force is higher that the demand for it. Year in year out we have thousands of youths ploughed into this sphere called labour force yet everyone prays and hopes for a good job, please where are these jobs? Youths let’s sit back and think about how we can help reduce these problems rather than add to it. How can we help ourselves to help others?

I apologize if I have somewhat digressed but then, we have to tell ourselves this truth, with the current state of our economy right now, everyone has to wake up and think of how to help revive our nation, the government cannot do it all, we cannot die of starvation by waiting for miracle to happen from the government, let us wake up and be that change we want to see.

What ideas would you encourage the government to implement to ensure youths involvement in Agribusiness?

Government, please help the youths, create avenues for seminars and training for the youths in Agriculture, there is need to reorientate the youths that there is more to agriculture than the use of hoe and cutlass, in short aside from all these ambiguous empowerment programs with little resultant effect on the economy when evaluated,  Identify interested youth, train them, divide them into teams of professionals in various aspects of agriculture, empower them by giving them substantial amount of hectares to cultivate, provide them with required resources, prompt mentoring and put up a structure that can accommodate sales of their product. When the government has agricultural products to sell, sporadic fluctuation of food items by suppliers will reduce. It is a broader concept which I cannot elaborately explain in this interview, but then trust me- there is a lot to be done especially on the part of the government.

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What is your advice to agropreneurs that have the desire go into agribusiness agro-processing and packaging?

In business, if one looks at all the likely problems to be encountered, no one would really start anything. Like I actually tell people from experience, there will never be a perfect time to take a bold step towards achieving one’s goals. You have to take the time (which is now) and make it perfect. Against all odds, you just have to take the  risk, calculated risk and not just risks without a well thought out plans, do not let anyone or anything weigh you down or deter you from achieving your dreams.

Identify persons that keep you motivated and strive towards being a source of motivation to others, be ye never particular about the profit to be made from a business but be more concerned about how many lives you can impact, a problem solver you can be not just for yourself but for the benefit of the entire human race. But then, you can never be too certain about some outcome, therefore, you should never rule out the God factor, do your best and let him crown your effort.

A lifestyle of Passion and Hardwork – Atinuke’s story on her Agribusiness and challenges

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Atinuke on the farm

This month we introduce you to Atinuke Lebile a young agro-entrepreneur without a family farming background but has grown for herself a lifestyle in Agriculture that is inspired by passion and hardwork. Atinuke started her agribusiness year 2014, today she has sole income from her 10 acre farm where she plants plantain, cassava, rice and vegetables while also processing some of her farm products.

Agropreneur Naija had an interview with her where she tells us about herself, how she started her agribusiness enterprise, challenges she faced when she first started up and how she was able to hold on despite the challenges faced.

Q1: Agropreneur, can we meet you?

Answer:  My name is Atinuke Lebile a native of Ondo State, Nigeria. I live in Ibadan, Nigeria. I am a rising young female, social agro-entrepreneur with apt interest in societal and human capital development. I manage La’Luce Foods and Integrated Services. I’m a Strategic Officer at Ogunmod Farms & Farmers and Farmers’ Academy and a Production Manager at Cato Foods and Agro- allied Global Concepts. I have a passion for feeding the nation and I’m so overly excited about agriculture. I was born in December!

Q2: How do you view Agribusiness?

Answer: Agriculture is a lifestyle borne out of passion. In this way I’m able to face challenges and head on when they arise.

Q3: Did you grow up on an Agricultural farm?

Answer:  No, I don’t have a farming family background.

Q4: So, what brought you into Agribusiness?

Answer: Passion and business. In spite of me being a graduate of Agriculture from the University of Ilorin, my venture into agribusiness was largely of passion and the need to do agriculture in a more attractive way like a real profitable business. The need to reduce postharvest losses experienced by farmers and develop the value chain of primary agricultural products also motivated me to go into agribusiness. I still strongly believe agriculture needs to become attractive especially to young people like me; we are the future of Africa.

Q5: When did you venture into Agribusiness?

Answer:  I started agribusiness in the year 2014.

Q6: What Agribusiness do you manage?

Answer:  I am into cultivation of vegetables, plantain, cassava and rice. I package ofada rice, fruits, chips, plantain flour, garri, catfish in various sizes (100g – 50kg), and I’m also involved in agro-processing.

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Atinuke harvesting her corn from the farm.

Q7:  How many acres is your farm?

Answer: 10acres

Q8: Is farming your only source of income?

Answer: YES

Q9: What time does your day start and end?

Answer: My day starts at 4am and ends at 11pm

Q10: Does your family have an influence on your Agribusiness?

Answer: Yes, they do. They respect my choice and provide guidance where and when necessary. Even though while starting my dad was not happy seeing his only daughter going into farming. He has    been a great support, just like every member of my family. Financial and moral support from my family has really been encouraging.

Q11: Did you face any challenge while starting up?

Answer: YES!

Q12: What challenge did you face, and how did you deal with it?

Answer: Funding is a major challenge for startups and I wasn’t exempted in the funding issue. I also faced the challenge of standardization and certification by NAFDAC. I chose to start small to achieve my big dreams in terms of finance. I also learnt a lot from mentors.

Q13: What part of Agribusiness do you find hard?

Answer:  Primary Production

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Atinuke performing irrigation on the soil

Q15: What part of Agribusiness do you find most satisfying?

Answer: The part of having to create products through postharvest processing and cultivate to feed people

Q16: What is the difference in your Agribusiness now and when you started?

Answer: I am still operating at a small scale compared to where I would love to be, but I am not where I used to be. No matter how small progress is, it is still progress anyway.

Q17: Have you ever considered getting out of agriculture for a more lucrative career? Answer: Agriculture is the only sector that has the capacity to create many jobs. My passion has always kept me going. However, there are times that one just feels overwhelmed.

Q18:  How do you see your role in your community?

Answer:  My role in my community is a very crucial one because I provide food on people’s table.

Q19: How do you think the government should implement the change in the agricultural sector?

Answer: There should be strong input from the youths on policy formulations that can drive the agricultural sector in the direction of commercialization and business development. Agricultural inputs should be subsidized and marketing board should be developed.

Q20: Have you seen any change in the present government involvement with agriculture in Nigeria?

Answers:  I believe there will be a change. But I would suggest that they should improve on the achievements of the last administration

Q21: Do you think Nigerians are aware or care about mechanized farming?

Answer: Sure, Nigerians care about mechanized farming

Q22: What changes do you predict the agricultural sector in Nigeria will see over the next 3 years?

Answer: There is going to be more youth involvement. Agriculture will create a lot of jobs and it will benefit from diversified funds.

Q23: Do you have any neighbor, family or friend that have given up Agribusiness?

Answer: YES, a lot.

Q24: What made them choose to give up?

Answer: It was mostly due to the enormous challenges of finance, marketing, climate change, most importantly impatience.

Q25: Do you plan to extend your Agribusiness?

Answer: YES

Q26: What is your plan?

Answer:  To expand postharvest production and create more jobs. I intend to expand production to reach out to more markets.

Q27: What advice would you give a friend that is also an Agropreneur?

Answer: Take Agriculture as a business. It is viable when you give your best to it. Don’t seek overnight success. Agric will not give you sudden wealth but it will build you sustainable wealth. More females need to come into agriculture because females do things with more precision, care and passion.

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I abandoned Masters Degree programme for farming –Adewole

At a time friends are still busy designing attractive curriculum vitae in readiness for available job openings, 29-year-old Temitope Adewole moved on.
The graduate of Crop Protection and Environmental Biology from the University of Ibadan (UI) is fast becoming the envy of friends and colleagues, particularly those in the banking industry.
Within one year of planting five hectares of cassava, which he intercropped with corn and watermelon, Adewole has raised money to rent a two-bedroom apartment in a housing estate in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, bought a fairly-used Mercedes Benz 190 car for mobility, just as he was able to help his younger undergraduate sister offset her tuition.
This is the sweet side of a tough decision he made earlier. One of such was leaving Lagos, where he was born and bred.
“I grew up in Lagos State where I was born. I attended my primary and secondary education in Lagos State,” Adewole noted in an interview.
But he was quick to point out that he is not a peasant farmer. “I am a farmer, but of course not a peasant farmer. I am a professional farmer.”
The big decision
“I decided to come to Ekiti to start a farming project,” Adewole, who had the advantage of not being a total stranger to agriculture because of his university training, said.
However, he had a confusion to deal with after graduation and national youth service.
“After NYSC (National Youth Service Corps), I thought of going back for my Master’s degree as Plan A, and going into farming as Plan B. How do I do it with no funds? I went back to Ibadan to pick up a form for my Masters. I was admitted,” Adewole said.
He, however, had to put the programme on hold after completing his course work, just before he commenced work on his dissertation.
“At this time, my uncle, Dr. Wole Olugboji, who works in Ekiti, called me, that I should come to Ekiti if I was interested in farming. That is how I moved to Ekiti to start a farming project,” he said.
Support
His uncle did not relent, as he went ahead to tell Adewole of a programme of the state governor, Kayode Fayemi, that supports youth in farming called Youth in Commercial Agricultural Development (YCAD).
“My uncle asked if I were interested and I said yes. But he said it was not automatic; that I was going to fight for it.”
Spurred, Adewole took the giant step.
“I obtained the form and entered for the programme. Interview was conducted. Out of 1,000 candidates, 150 were picked. I was lucky to be among them.”
That marked the change in fortune for the young Adewole, who had ventured into agriculture at a small scale during his NYSC service year in Ogun State, where he served under Odeda Local Government in Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority.
Rare determination
Adewole said, as a young graduate, what he was going to do was a constant thought in him.
“I have seen a lot. My brothers and friends that had graduated earlier could not find jobs to do. So I decided on what to do.
“I have never worked anywhere in an office,” he confessed, describing farming as the only job he has ever had.
He started without any physical assets of his own, but has now started building his own assets.
“When I came to Ado Ekiti and started the farming, I started with nothing other than what Governor Fayemi promised – that was the N1.4 million for each beneficiary, which was not given in cash. But everything we use on the farm was provided but was deducted from the N1.4 million.
“As you can see, I can really stand and call myself a man from the little I have made in the last year alone,” he said, while also using the opportunity to show gratitude to Governor Fayemi.
“There is a lot that I have done with the cassava money within a year that I can’t even say. I don’t think that there is any job anyone can offer me now that I will run to and leave this farm. This is where I think my wealth comes from. I don’t think there is any place that would have paid me what I have realised so far.
“Within this short period, I can now boast of two-bedroom flat, even in an estate.”
He is even happier for not being a complete let down as anticipated by his friends.
He said: “When I started, a lot of my friends were laughing at me. They said Tope, you that grew up in Lagos State, you are going back to your state to farm. What are you thinking of? What are you doing? Even the person I was dating could not make it up with me because of the farming that I decided to pick.”
The story is different now, as he is a fond friend to many again.
“When I started, I was staying with my uncle that invited me. After a year that I harvested my cassava, I got myself a two-bedroom apartment.”
Challenges and motivation
“One of the problems I encountered in the course of farming was transportation,” Adewole said. This is the reason he bought himself a car with the income he made from the first year harvest.
The motivation to produce cassava came after the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, visited Governor Fayemi on YCAD in Ekiti in 2012.
“The Minister of Agriculture, because of what he has been saying, has made it compulsory for me to go into agriculture.
‘Meanwhile, he has called for cooperation between the Federal Government and Ekiti State government to boost the cassava industry.
“I want a situation whereby the Federal Government will work in collaboration with the state government to help the youth. Fayemi has shown that this can work,” Adewole stressed.
The young man is already thinking like a businessman. He said his mind is on how to engage corporate agro-entrepreneurs.