Ashley Jiritmwa D. Tapgun is a Nigerian entrepreneur from Plateau State who grew up in Jos before she traveled out. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and MA in Global Ethics and Human Values. She, however, left the UK to start farming business in Nigeria. In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday, Ashley speaks on why she ventured into strawberry farming.
DT: Your story is trending on the net, tell us why you left the UK to start a strawberry business in Nigeria. Was there any particular incidence that happened there that triggered your decision to return home?
Ashley: Like many others, I went to the United Kingdom for my higher education. I started my business in my 3rd year of undergrad and had care takers looking after it in my absence, but I came home regularly (during the holidays) to check on the farm. For me, coming home was not an option; it was always the plan to return home after university. After University, I applied for several jobs but for me, leaving the country was strictly for education, and once that was done, I did not see any reason to stay. I stayed in the UK for five years as a student.
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DT: Many would like to know why you opted for farming and on full scale?
Ashley: I started farming strawberries mainly due to my love for the fruit (personal consumption). I then realised that not a lot of people knew/believed strawberries could actually grow in Nigeria. With the reactions I received, creating awareness became my goal. From awareness, I discovered that there was a huge, untapped market for strawberries, and the rest as they say, is history.
DT: Many farmers today complain of some sort of challenge or the other, do you face any, and if yes, how have you been able to overcome them?
Ashley: With any business there will be challenges and this is no different. I have faced the same challenges as many other farmers including reliable logistics, access to quality storage facilities and availability of appropriate packaging, however, I have tried to make the most of what is available to me. For example, as much as possible, I try to source for my packaging locally and I have identified a few reliable logistics companies who I can trust and just maintain those relationships.
DT: How did your parents react to your decision to return home to farm?
Ashley: My parents are incredibly supportive and have always encouraged me and given me the tools to be my own person. We are of similar opinions when it comes to returning home and using the knowledge acquired abroad to make a positive impact back home, especially in our communities. Both parents were excited that I had the same vision as they did, and they welcomed the idea with open arms. Also, because I come from linage of farmers so they did not need much convincing.
DT: Are you impressed with the outcome of your decision?
Ashley: Very much so. There is so much to discover in Nigeria, especially on the Plateau. Every day is a learning experience for me.
DT: How much did you start with and how much is your business worth now?
Ashley: Once I get on Forbes list, that information will be disclosed to the general public. Unfortunately, you just need to wait a couple of years.
DT: How many people have you employed so far?
Ashley: Currently, I have employed seven staff to carry out various operations pertaining to the farm. We also have a lot of support staff, especially during strawberry season.
DT: What other business have you ventured into?
Ashley: In university, I made shawarmas in a Nigerian restaurant. Back home, I have tried my hands at Interior décor.
DT: Do you sell only in Nigeria or export?
Ashley: Currently, we only supply within Nigeria. But exporting to other African countries is definitely the goal.
DT: Would you trade this trade of yours for a white collar job?
Ashley: When I moved back, I solely focussed on farming, but last year, I decided it was necessary to get a ‘white collar job’ as strawberries are a seasonal crop and I needed something more to sustain both myself and the business. Choosing one over the other was not an option, and fortunately, I have been able to balance the two.
DT: Looking back, do you have any regret(s)?
Ashley: It has not been a walk in the park, but I will not say I have any regrets venturing into agriculture. The most difficult part has been creating a niche for myself and refusing to quit when things do not go as planned.
DT: What advise do you have for other Nigerians abroad that are looking to return home?
Ashley: There are so many untapped resources and opportunities back home. Small businesses like mine face so many bottlenecks but I believe that with the right enabling environment, small businesses will contribute immensely to the Nigerian economy. There are many Nigerians all over the world that are succeeding and breaking records in their respective fields and they should look at how they can contribute their quota to the development of Nigeria.
DT: So, you are of the opinion that, there is no place like home.
Ashley: I will say it over and over again. There is no place like home.