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  How I transferred computer science knowledge into fish farming – Rashidat

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Rashidat Umar Oyinoza is the brain behind Oyinespecial oven-smoked dried fish, which focuses on fish farming and agro-processing. In this piece ENE OSHABA looks at the peculiar struggle by women owned businesses in accessing business loans for expansion.

How it started

Rashidat Umar Oyinoza said while growing up with her elder sister back then in Kaduna state, she learnt the skill of rearing livestock and poultry and she never forgot to explore the business side when she grew older.

She eventually got admission to study computer science at the university but she continued in her trade, got married and started having babies while in school yet she was consistent because she had always wanted to be her own boss.

What she never imagined, however, was that she could connect computer science to fish farming, networking and marketing.

A graduate of Computer Science from the University of Abuja, she also holds a Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Education from University of Ilorin and currently running a Masters Degree programme of Database Management and Information System at the Nassarawa State University, Keffi.

She has completed other certificate courses on Agrobusiness, fish farming and Entrepreneurship.

“I had always known how to care for birds and I told my ex-husband’s dad, Col. M. J. Omeiza (retd.) that I wanted to start poultry farming and he advised me to add fish farming as it was more lucrative. I was reluctant about his idea but I couldn’t turn it down. So, I decided to invest in poultry and fish farming.

“He bought the ponds for the fishes, gave me space and capital to start up. So, the zeal of never letting him down kept me seeking knowledge on how to succeed in the business.

“It was in my quest that I realised that fish farming was truly more lucrative than poultry then I began to love fishes a lot, feeding them, changing their water was giving me much joy. So I stuck to it and found ways to make sure I maximise profit after harvest.

“I decided instead of selling fresh fish only, I smoked it into dried fish then packaged with my branded label before selling to consumers,” she explained.

Applying Computer Science to fish farming

“My major field during my Computer Science study in the university was networking and troubleshooting hardware. However, getting married and having babies while in school I couldn’t imagine myself moving around with cables and systems. I concluded that I was studying for a man’s job but thought I should just graduate and find something else to do that could give me time to raise my kids.

“Little did I know that I could relate most of my computer science knowledge to my fish farming. Today, I would say the multi-tasking skill I have today being a fish farmer, from fingerlings to processing the fish into oven-smoked dried fish and going ahead to networking, is all the knowledge I gained from studying computer science.

”Today I am networking using humans not systems anymore and making sure I have all my customers on a database where all their information is stored. This has made reaching my customers even those I have had for the past seven years always easy,” she added.

Being a female entrepreneur

Rashidat’s flair for business has made her try out several petty agro-businesses and trades over the years until she got introduced to fish farming which today birthed the Oyinespecial oven-smoked dried fish.

According to her she is focused on growing her business into a household name and company and also create job opportunities not minding the status of women especially in the economic sector, her father’s advice has remained a motivation as she works hard towards achieving greatness and contributing to the nation’s Gross National Product (GDP)

”My Late father, Alhaji Yaqub Umar, while we were growing would always tell us: don’t let anyone cheat you speak up where necessary and we are all equal as boys and girls because he made sure whatever is due for the boys is due for the girls too he even gave much privilege to us the female children than the boys he was our backbone.

“I was never scared; I always wanted to stand out because my dad would always ask: what impact did you make today? So, this made us more outspoken and industrious.

“Again, growing up from age 10 with my big sister, Hajiya Aisha Umar, she was very industrious. We were running three different businesses and I learnt from her. When I got to secondary school I was living with my uncle and his wife Mr and Mrs Bello in Abuja. She was a teacher. I would prepare snacks, stick meat, and recharge cards for her to help me sell to make my own money.

“I continued my trade in university and so when I graduated from school I wasn’t scared of venturing into business full time because I already know the basics and I’m really not keen about getting a white collar job at the moment ,” she narrated.

Her fish brand has continued to grow since its inception and she now produces to the quantity of 500kg weekly consisting of about 1,000 packs with each pack having five to 20 pieces of fish depending on the size of order from customers. She has also employed seven workers(three permanent staff and four casual staff) for more production due to high demand and orders.

“Because majority of my staff are casual, only few are permanent staff, so I engage them twice a week we do a capacity of 500kg which is about 1,000 pieces of fishes we sell some as fresh to restaurants for pepper soup and barbecue then process the smaller sizes into smoked dried fish which we sell throughout the week till the next week when we process another.

“However, I have been able to register my business with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as a limited liability company, have my fish trademarked with ministry of trade and industry, registered with export promotion council working on getting my NAFDAC approval soon so as to be able to export my fish to other countries.

“I have been using agents to send my fish abroad but I want to be cleared to export directly and have my products in supermarkets all over the country and outside the country,” she said.

Business challenges

Though now a single mother of three she continues to push herself up the ladder while also creating quality time to raise her kids.

For her, fish farming turned into a passion which has metamorphosed into mentoring of younger women.

Recalling when she started the business after her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Rashidat believes the business has outgrown the early stages challenge and is more stable now, however funds to expand in order to meet the demands of her customers has remained a hard nut to crack. The major challenge for me just like every other growing business is the inability to access minimal or interest free credit loans.

“I started this business seven years back after my youth service as a fish and poultry farmer but over the years I realized that fish farming was what I have more passion for so I increased my breeding capacity and I stopped the poultry farming. From there I looked into more ways to maximize profit so I delved into the processing and packaging aspect of the fish farming business which birthed the Oyinespecial Oven-smoked dried fish.

“Credit loans to expand are not accessible and when you get the opportunity to access funds the conditions given as a woman are always difficult to meet up, and with such conditions at the end of the day you lose out on such opportunity.

“I firmly believe that women empowerment through access to credit is a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development, improvement and sustenance for livelihoods.

“I have tried several times with the opening of most of the federal government loans but they have all proved abortive, though maybe because I have not followed it up aggressively as I should but like I stated earlier the conditions are a discouraging factor for me.

“The available enabling environment tends to favour some particular set of youths who already have the connection but if you have the skill and the finances to actualise such skills is not there how do you push through?

“The inability to secure loans affected my business a lot, it has delayed my expansion process but for everything I do I always have plan ‘B’ so as not to get stuck. Adashe has been my life saver. I just make sure I set a target for myself if there are new appliances I need to buy for the business and to God be the glory, I have been pushing like that for years now maybe till that loan opportunity that would favour me comes,’’ she said.

Similarly, a rice farmer and member of the Association of Women in Trade and Agriculture (AWITA), Mrs. Linda James, said she had applied for several government loans to acquire land for rice farming because land had been her constraint due to huge rent on the current land she was cultivating.

Linda explained that she had crossed the first hurdle of going through the training; however she has continued to wait endlessly for the loan itself which means that the training is not guarantee for loan.

She said, “I was privileged to be part of an all expenses paid seven-day training organised by the Ministry of Agriculture for Women in December 2019. I know that to qualify me for the CBN loan, one has to go through the training. I am still waiting for the processing and hope to get it soon.

“I need this loan because I pay over 200,000 yearly for a six hectares farm land which I cultivate. The profitability of my farming therefore depends on a good harvest. Sometimes, the land can give me 30 bags of 150kg and more. I want to expand the business and I need to own my own land to be able to do that.”

She regretted the fact that in the last five years she had been farming rice and her business was growing gradually but her greatest challenge was land ownership.

“I rent the farm land I currently use for my rice farm and each year we are at the mercy of the land owners. I want to own a land of my own because it is safer and more lucrative.

“Another thing I fear is that the land owner may decide not to rent out the land next year or may decide to give it to a higher bidder.”

Speaking further she said, “The training (by the EDI) only qualifies one to apply for the loan; when you apply you write your business proposal and that is what determines how much you will get. There are steps to writing the business proposal.

“The Microfinance banks are handling that now because it has been shifted to them by the CBN. I think this loan would be beneficial to women in agriculture if the money is released to us on time because the business of rice farming requires a lot of money.”

unfeasible economic policies

It is no longer news that the Micro, Small, Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) sector is the growth engine of any economy contributing to its development, job creation, export, poverty alleviation amongst others.

According to the research paper by Development Research and Projects Center (DRPC) and Partnership for Advancing Women in Economic Development (PAWED) Nigeria, titled: “Challenges of Informalisation of Business Sector Activities for Women in Nigeria and Prospects and Opportunities for Formalisation” the latest SMEDAN/NBS MSMEs Survey indicates Nigeria’s MSMEs contributed 46.31 percent of national GDP and account for over 80 per cent of employment in the country.

The paper posited that the sector is pivotal to Nigeria’s growth including reducing poverty levels, adding that despite the fact that men own about 61 per cent of businesses in Nigeria, women entrepreneurs have emerged as significant players in Nigeria’s entrepreneurial landscape.

“Women’s independent business activities have become a source of livelihood, income, employment, community cohesion, and have laid the groundwork for women to achieve self worth,’’ it stated.

“However, many challenges remain for many women seeking to formalize their businesses in Nigeria. It is estimated that 40 per cent of Nigerian entrepreneurs are women (one of the highest rates in the world) but owns approximately 23 per cent of enterprises in the formal sector which ultimately impact their economic development,’’ it added.

The above assertion by PAWED captures the exact challenges women-owned informal businesses, especially growing enterprises like Oyinespecial Oven-smoked dried fish face while they struggle to thrive in the economic sector.

More women in agro-businesses, young entrepreneurs, and others who intend to sail into the world of business have also lamented low interest credit schemes even though there is a call on youths and women to go into business instead of waiting for unavailable white collar jobs. This has made it impossible for them to realise their dreams.

With the CBN AGSMEIS Loan for instance, a budding entrepreneur with a smart business idea is supposed to be able access up to N10 million at five per cent interest annually, without collateral. However, the disbursement appears to make the process complicated as more women wait endlessly to access the funds.

Applicants have to go through a compulsory training by an EDI, which is not a bad thing in itself. However, applicants are told to bear the cost of the training even without guarantee that they would get the loans.

The fixation on collection of training fees by the EDI has created an industry fleecing of already impoverished loan applicants, who afterwards have to wait endlessly for NIRSAL MFB loans, which may never materialize.

Another member of AWITA, Lynn Olisa, expressed concerns about the loan amount, saying there should be lower loan amounts to make it more inclusive.

She said: “The loan amount is too high and that is why the process of receiving it is difficult and discouraging. With the amount being given only a few women can access it.”

She also faulted the practice where NIRSAL MFB, which is supposed to disburse the loans, uses training paid for by applicants as a prerequisite for accepting applications, noting that such demands further puts burden on the women.

“I am an agriculturist and I know loans are available but the same amount is what is given to everybody. I think the loans for women should be in different categories and there should be more opportunities for women to access funding.

“In the case of this loan, when you indicate interest, you are directed to go for a particular course which will cost you about 25,000. And after paying and attending, that doesn’t even guarantee you will get the loan. That kind of system is not encouraging.

“I know some members of AWITA were opportune to be part of free training last December but what about many other women out there who don’t have such opportunities,” she queried.

She further asserted that a lot of women were working hard to put food on the table of their families and as such should not be asked to pay such an amount for training before being short listed to apply for the loans.

Resilience amidst hurdles

Rashidat remains optimistic and believes that no matter the situation, setting one’s priorities, goals and targets are keys to a successful business, though unable to get loans to expand her growing business she maintains a positive attitude  towards sustainable growth of the output of her Catfish production through increase in productivity, high quality packaging standard and export-oriented.

She maintained that young mothers find it more difficult to manage business due to motherly roles especially with their children but passion for growth and to mentor more women has been her determination, hence why she has refused to let setbacks take a toll on her.

“I always set my goals right from the beginning, how to run the business side by side with my home. In fact, I choose to stick to my fish farming and processing business because it keeps me closer to the home where I can still keep an eye on my children, being my own Boss I know when to end the day, which is obviously when the kids are off to school I make sure I do all I need to do before the close of school then I am done for the day so I can get back home to play my role as the mother but should this always be the narrative for women,” she queried.