Mrs Mariam Saeed Abonika left the civil service to take up farming business. In this interview, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Famafa Biofeed Farms Limited at Karshi in Abuja narrated her motivation, challenges and the beauty of agribusiness.
How did your motivation for agribusiness begin?
I have been in this business for over eight years. I worked as a civil servant for 13 years with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria.
I was still in the service of the Legal Aid Council when I started this business as a farmer. One day, I asked myself, why can’t I be an employer of labour instead of remaining an employee? I started the business gradually and nurtured it to where it is today. It is still growing. I have a number of staff, almost 22 workers who include, vet doctor, animal scientist, accountants and many others.
I pay close to N1 million as salary to my staff. So, I looked at it and said to myself if what I pay to my staff is more than what I get from my employer, is it not better that I resign and do more to expand my business? So I tendered my resignation but my director, then, refused to take the letter to the DG. It was when I got to him and explained what I wanted to do that he said “Hajiya you have taken the right decision at the right time if that is what you are into. I will forward your resignation letter.”
How did you source capital to start the business?
I started the business with little capital. When I saw that the business was good, I sold my jewellery worth over N1.5 million and added it to the capital. Alhamdulillah for where we are today. Famafa Farms is into so many things – farming, cold room, and milling: we sell raw materials, feed and serve as consultants to farmers. We are into fishery. We are now thinking of how to export our fish to other countries.
Before I came to Jaiz Bank for financial assistance, I was partnering with another bank. When we approached Jaiz Bank, the management came to my company and did some findings. They were very friendly, they added value to Famafa.
We really need assistance from the government. Sometimes we cried to Jaiz Bank to help us reach out to the government to assist us. If the government can come to our aid we will do better than we are doing now. I have lots of customers and I have empowered many people. I give people capital to start a business. We give them feeds which they sell and pay us.
I have brought many farmers to Jaiz Bank. If the government’s intervention in the form of grants can come in, it would go a long way in assisting us. Our system is computerized, and we have records of all our customers. We want all farmers to enjoy whatever help the government can render.
What were your initial challenges?
I started this business with fishery, I bought 2000 fish and because of inexperience, I didn’t know they eat a lot of food. After two, three months, I could not feed them again and my husband was assisting me. Then I had to bring out my pieces of jewellery with the intention of exchanging them for feeds but the person I approached gave me feeds. He said “you are a trustworthy person. Go back with your jewellery.”
At the end of the month, I paid her for the feeds. I looked at what she was doing and told myself, can’t I start doing what she is doing? I started gradually. But I sold off the jewellery and used the funds as capital.
Farming business is capital intensive and funding is the major challenge to expanding the business. If I have enough funds, Famafa Farms would go far. I want people to visit the farm and see what is on the ground. I want all products to come from my milling and that would be another employment opportunity for our teeming youths. I want to have all the raw materials required in the farm.
What is your advice to other civil servants and youths generally on this?
When I was in the civil service, I usually told my colleagues that they should have a plan B aside from the monthly salary. That they should learn how to save; if they save they can venture into agribusiness because it is allowed by the government. I also advise graduates to go into farming and think of being on their own.
I know of an Agriculture Engineering graduate who started his agribusiness and is doing very well today. He was trained on my farm. There are others coming for five to six months training on my farm. Their major hindrance is capital. If you don’t have money, you may not really enjoy it but if you have enough money, I don’t see any business that is more than it. It is the easiest business that anybody can go into. You mustn’t go into mechanized farming to make profit and create employment for others.