Olubunmj Agbato is the Chief Executive Officer of B-Spice Fish (a subsidiary of Bspice products and services limited) in Oyo State.
She processes fish into 10 products which has attracted international grants to her business. In this episode of our Women in Agriculture, Ms Agbato shares her experience.
PT: Can you put us through your journey in Agriculture?
Ms Agbato: Firstly, I’m an aquaculture person which is like a subsection under agriculture. I studied Aquaculture and Fishery Management in university as an undergraduate and a postgraduate. I am still doing my research in that field. Tactically, I’m into food fish value addition, processing, marketing and sales. I do more product development but you can say that it all started in university.
PT: Agriculture is a course people don’t apply for willingly, what inspired you to study agriculture at the university?
Ms Agbato: In all honesty, I didn’t want to study agriculture in the university and I’m more of a spiritual person. I was supposed to study pharmacy but due to some reasons I had to choose between agriculture and microbiology. I prayed and concluded that whichever way it is I should dwell in that and I also know a lot of pharmacists that are not doing so much so I just prayed and I think the guidance was to move on with agriculture. But as a young girl, I didn’t want to do agriculture. I happily applied for pharmacy in the university of Ibadan but as God will have it, I’m doing agriculture.
PT: Since you started your career in agriculture, have you had any regret of going into the business?
Ms Agbato: So far so good. I’ll say it has been so so great. I’m not saying there are no challenges but I have no regret. Regret? No! Challenges? Yes. A lot of it. Technical challenges, workmanship, etc but so far so good we are scaling through them one after the other. But for regret, I love what I’m doing so no regret at all.
PT: How many ponds do you have?
Ms Agbato: I have a fish farm comprising six ponds. Two large ponds and four smaller ponds with a capacity of 10,000 fishes or about 10 tonnes weight fishes.
PT: Some fish farmers produce the feeds for their fishes, do you produce fish feeds?
Ms Agbato: I don’t but my husband does produce fish feeds and the machines for its production. He is an engineer and produces the fish feed aspect of the business. Sometimes, we buy fish feeds but it’s when the fishes are growing till about eight weeks old that we switch to our own produced feeds.
PT: When did you start your fish business?
Ms Agbato: From the year of registration I’ll say 2017. But in 2016 I was already doing my awareness and practice.
PT: It took you a year to create awareness for your business, most likely it may be presumed you didn’t have the resources to start immediately. How did you raise capital to begin your farming?
Ms Agbato: It was not easy at all. The first equipment that led to all this, although very small, cost about N100,000 and that money was raised during my service year. I did a lot of work as a corp member which gave me the avenue not to touch my alawee at all. I got my processing oven which processes plenty and we were saving up. Along the line, I got a grant from an international organisation in 2020. And that helped us move up from where we were to where we are now. Basically though, I’ll say from my savings and my husband.
PT: Association have helped and informed a good number of farmers, do you belong to any association?
Ms Agbato: Yes, I’m a member of the Fish Farmers Organisation of Nigeria (FFON) and also the Fishery Society of Nigeria (FSN).
PT: Since you joined these associations, have you benefited from any government policy at all?
Ms Agbato: So far so good. In this industry it’s more like the fastest growing sector and a lot of assignments are still undone. I won’t say I’ve benefited directly but as a member of an association we do meetings where we learn and unlearn from each other but politics; no. Finance; No. Personally, I got my support from international bodies but locally it’s just to learn from each other. So many policies from the government are unfavourable.
We have been discussing certification for people to scale up their businesses. For example, now it’s cheaper to get a NAFDAC certification which is fair but what of other requirements which are not favorable for a starter. How will you ask a starter to have a building structure of about 8 to 10 rooms, is that person still a starter? So being in an association, there are many things we end up discussing even though there might be slow impact but there’s progress.
PT: You mentioned getting international grants, what would you say attracted the international grant to your business?
Ms Agbato: The creativity and the gender because the first two organisations I had to work with have invited me as a stakeholder because they felt since a woman can do this she can inspire other women to do such too.
PT: Creativity; what is the special thing about your product that attracted international organisations?
Ms Agbato: We are into catfish farming and from catfish we have value actions. So from catfish we have about 10 other products. We have fish powder which can be included in baby food to increase their nutrition. We have fish pellets, fish oil, fish cake, fish cookies, etc. Those actually leave a way for us in the market because people could find something different than the regular fish processors.
PT: You earlier mentioned you have challenges and there are basic challenges that affect agriculture these days. Challenges that include insecurity and the likes. So how have these challenges affected your business?
Ms Agbato: There are so many challenges and I’ll discuss the ones that are particular to me and the insecurity also. Firstly, my workstation is different from my farm. My farm is just for fish production but my workstation is in the heart of Ibadan where people are working and you can bring in your fresh stuff and we can add value for you.
At my workstation we have this big generator we use in powering the facility which was stolen and it’s about five months old now. We reported and there’s a police station which is not far away. We also have security but the generator was stolen. The generator we use for work has been stolen, the electric supply is bad, there are insecurity issues on the farm.
ALSO READ: First Day: New WTO chief, Okonjo-Iweala pushes for fisheries deal
You hear people saying people come to their farm for grazing but on my farm, there are missing fish. That’s a major issue. I’m considering stopping the fish production part and going into purchasing fish from other farmers due to the challenge of missing fish. You get there today and they tell you fish is stolen, tomorrow fish is stolen and so on. We don’t know if it’s the people in charge, the farm manager, the grazers, etc.
You’ll be expecting a particular quantity from the farm but when you get there it has reduced. As a business owner, I have my own personal challenges which includes staff. Getting people to work with you for a long time is hard. People can get greedy along the line, people are not willing to do dirty jobs because the process is dirty but with the best products. You get an elderly person and over time gets greedy, you get a younger person who gets lazy which makes the work difficult.
PT: You said you have about 10 products from fish and fish is a durational animal where you start today and wait for them to grow into maturity. How do you meet up with the demand of the products?
Ms Agbato: We do a lot of statistics and we do buy from other farmers. We have partnered with so many other farmers. Some are on the agreement that I consult for your farm but you own everything and when it’s time to take to the markets we buy off from them. Some we ask to bring their money while we do the technical part and when it’s time to sell we buy from them at the regular rate that is obtainable in the market.
Speaking of statistics, we don’t grow our fishes to the fully grown size and at some point we stopped supplying pepper soup joints and restaurants. We stopped selling fresh fish and diverted all our energy to value addition. Maybe in future we can go back to them as for now we grow every four months and just for the value addition. Also in statistics, we stock up monthly.
We stock one pond this month to harvest in four months and then next month, stock another one to harvest after four months of stocking and so it goes so as to have fish in constant production which is still not sufficient. Seventy per cent of the fish used in our production is gotten from other farmers which is a major challenge to us. That is the problem with our lack of capital.
We could do the production ourselves if the capital was there and not have to buy from other people. So generally, finance is a major challenge in this business which is affecting virtually everyone. You mentioned seasonal fish that are not catfish. They are not cultured fish. They are captured fishes. Those captured from the world are bought at their season. We have a facility where we can store fish for about 6 months which is the strategic farming and production we do.
PT: What do you think it means for a woman to make a significant difference in agriculture considering the fact that it is regarded as a man’s thing?
Ms Agbato: Being a woman in the agricultural venture is one hard thing and to be in Nigeria is another thing entirely. Sometimes, it’s courage as we just have to keep encouraging ourselves. It’s harder for me now that I’m married with children unlike when I was single without kids. For some single people, it’s still very difficult though. But what worked for me is that we decided to go into that part that doesn’t require us to be on the farm all the time.
For a woman, for you to do it you’ll have to make up your mind. You can’t do agriculture online, you have to be available, hardworking, consistent, etc. What also helped me is that my husband is in the feed production aspect of agriculture which makes him oversee what goes on on the farm while I do my thing at the workstation. As a woman, take one step at a time and look out for women empowering organisations that can maybe give things that’ll make it easy. Also getting training under the agricultural venture they want to go into is very important.
PT: Storage and preservation are important segments in the value chain considering that it is into fish farming and processing. And I believe there are some times you have to store and preserve your fishes and products. So, aside from price destabilisation, are there other problems these storage and preservation have caused?
Ms Agbato Storage issue is a problem although we have our ways of solving issues like this. We have a problem with storage especially when there’s no power supply. If we are expecting a fish supply at 12pm and due to logistics, it came in at 6pm all we can do is condition it. If some are going to die due to being weak and some are freshly dead what we do is we cut up and put in the freezer but then what if there’s no power supply and we can’t run the generator over the night, we just incur the loss. But then losses are avoided, especially those that can be prevented from the beginning.
But losses that can’t be prevented are losses incurred after processing. For example, maybe while processing, the fish got burnt or got soiled due to insufficient heat. These losses are part of the reasons we have other products. When we see a product not looking marketable, we improvise and that gives us another product.
There are times we buy because it’s their season and it’s cheap at that time and we start seeing ants and other insects and even before then we put them on discounted prices so as to prevent losses. But for us, we don’t do anything outside biology. Everything we do is biological as we don’t use chemicals or anything but the problem of storage is there.
PT: Do you export some of your products?
Ms Agbato: No we don’t as we are yet to get an export certification. But sending to people who have African stores abroad or maybe people who need for private consumption we send to them through export agents that we partner with.