Agropreneur, Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru meets with the AWP Network to discuss what it is like to be a farmer in Nigeria.
My business, Farmshoppe was born out of the need to provide fresh food produce to customers. During my university days, I had the privilege of going shopping for women who were busy executives and could not find the time to go to the market. So I thought to myself, why not set up a nice posh market where these women could come to pick up their fresh food produce at competitive prices? That\’s what gave birth to Farmshoppe.
Initially, I supplied produce to a few QSRs – quick service restaurants – but they didn\’t pay on time and this affected the business in terms of having cash flow. Then I made the decision, rather than wait indefinitely for other people to owe and delay my growth, why not revisit my business plan and change the strategy so we could increase our output and affect our bottom line positively? I did just that.
How Have You Dealt With Challenges Related to the Farming Business?
It is interesting that your team has chosen to interview me now. When I started out, everyone thought I was crazy. They would say, why go into farming? why agriculture? why are you wasting your time? So there was a lack of support. You see, many Nigerians don\’t see the type of opportunity that I see.
Another challenge was related to funding. For this type of business, I needed constant positive cash flow. I needed the money to drive the business in the direction that I imagined and wanted but I did not have the cash for it.
In addition, I did not have access to the land and resources needed to grow my business. I started by outsourcing farm produce and by supplying them to quick service restaurants that wanted them. Along the line, the inconsistency of their business, pushed me to start producing earlier than I thought. While in production, I needed land – because I was producing chickens and snails, which had to go to the clients frozen. Electricity and power was a major impediment to growth. We had myriads of challenges: lack of support, access to capital, access to land, and I needed the support of men to help me gain access to land that I could use as collateral.
It got to a point that I couldn\’t take it anymore. Things became unbearable and frustrating, I was on the verge of giving up. I was actually going to give up; but something within me kept saying: you know this is what you want to do, don\’t give up. Then I decided to do something else on the side.
Unfortunately, the parallel business I ran threw me into more troubles because it was a terrain that I did not fully understand. I started importing electronics and I faced lots of challenges. I was working on my MBA in the Netherlands and a friend at home told me he went to China and Dubai every weekend, so I joined him in the importing business. I was actually making money until my third shipment when the cargo airport went on strike and I lost everything I put into the business. The question then became: where do I go from here? At this point, I proved to myself that not only was I cut out for business, but I knew it had to be in agriculture, I knew it had to be about food; but I was stuck and was not sure how to go through any longer.
Then I learned about the 10,000 Goldman Sachs program for women and I applied for it. I dropped out of business school as I could no longer afford tuition. A friend informed me about the Goldman Sachs enterprise development program here in Lagos. The program lasted for six (6) months. By the third session, I realized that I was passionate about farming and about my business. All I needed was the “how to.” Afterwards, I was able to re-appraise my business and start it all over again, only this time with more vigor, greater excitement, increased passion, and a resilience that I don\’t think will leave me till I die. I am very happy that I took part in the Goldman Sachs program because it allowed me rediscover myself and passion.
I started my business on a new leaf. I realized that I have so much to give, I not only ran Farmshoppe and Honeysuckles but registered the business legally and operated for four (4) years before I got another scholarship to attend business school again. By this time, I had honed in on my business skills and set up my business to manage its growth. I started Farmshoppe as a full-scale agricultural entity and I was able to put to use all of my experiences and everything that I had learned over time into good use.
What is next for Farmshoppe?
Farmshoppe has evolved. We are looking at setting up different outlets in the near future and expanding the business by having people become franchisees. You do not know how exciting it is for me to see a baby that I gave birth to several years ago, now grow. Not only do we have a standard retail outlet, we also have a 25 hectare farm in Ogun state, which we did not have when I started Honeysuckles. What we had then was about 4 hectares, which we leased with a lot of limitations. It would take me 8 hours to run on my farmland today, I am truly excited and there are many business opportunities coming up.
What motivated you to go into farming?
My paternal grandfather was a cocoa and cassava farmer, I was his “city grandchild” so he never let me go into the farm. My love for farming grew in secondary school. I was an active member of the young farmers club and I enjoyed the fact that I could take vegetables home every other weekend. It was fresh, from the soil that I tilled and cultivated myself. That just made me think that I could do this beyond just eating and taking vegetables home from school. It was not easy initially, in fact, my father complained about me to his friend who at the time was general manager at a restaurant in Nigeria, and she became upset that I would not take a job at her restaurant.
I also worked at ExxonMobil and I felt that there had to be more to life than working at ExxonMobil. As you may know, in Nigeria, it is every young person\’s dream to work for an oil company, but it wasn\’t for me. I saw the opportunities there; I mean it is a growing sector but not emerging. Agriculture on the other hand, is good business, everyone needs it. I saw farming and agriculture beyond food. I saw a business opportunity in the food industry and I took advantage of it.
The answer I would have for that is: why not farming? I got into the farming business because I know that as long as man is alive, there is only one thing he cannot do without after breathing; and that is eating food. So as long as man eats, it means that I will stay in business.
Advice for upcoming entrepreneurs?
What I would say to anyone who wants to go into agribusiness is that the journey may be tough, the road may not be easy but the spirit of resilience will keep you through. Above all, trust in God, discover yourself and follow your passion through. You will find success if you keep at it.
by Olufemi Omotayo for the AWP Network