My journey into agripreneurship, Borno State, Nigeria

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Nkeki Kamai is proud of this article as it gladdens his heart that youths especially a female one for that matter was taken off the streets of Borno State by N2Africa Project and not just becoming self-employed but engaging other youths. This is so important because of the fact that recently most of the suicide bombers in Borno state are females. (First appeared in Podcaster 46, June 2017)

My name is Mercy Haruna Wakawa. I am from Borno state Nigeria and I studied Food Science and Technology at the University of Maiduguri. Like every other Nigerian youth I was full of dreams and enthusiasm for a robust working career and livelihood after graduating from University. I searched endlessly for corporate jobs that are no longer available for my generation. My dreams suddenly collapsed as I came face-to-face with the reality of vanishing job opportunities and an increasing rate of youth unemployment in my country.

The story of my journey into agribusiness is intrinsically linked with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the N2Africa project. This is because after so many futile efforts to get a job, and almost at the point of giving up on everything, IITA gave me a rare opportunity to participate in an enterprise development training alongside other youths from Borno state in September 2014.

I was a bit reluctant and did not expect that anything meaningful would come from it. The training was organized by IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA), at the IITA Kano Station. It was three weeks of mind-changing intensive training covering topics in agribusiness, entrepreneurship, ICT in agribusiness, fish farming and science-driven agricultural practices.

Based on my background (but initially against my wish) I was counselled and mentored to venture into the post-harvest processing of groundnut. The business took off in January 2016. I was given a starter package by IITA/N2Africa project in the form of machinery and working capital which is worth 2.5 million naira (almost 8000 USD). Groundnut processing is a profitable business, as a good one ton of groundnut seed will produce an average of 450 litres of oil and 400 kg of groundnut cake which is a major raw material for animal feed mills. Confianza Global Resources is currently employing four youths from the host community. The business has also created livelihood opportunities for many women in sludge processing and marketing in neighbouring communities.

A major challenge of the business is the periodical stop in production due to the seasonal nature of groundnut. During the lean season there is scarcity of raw material and my inability to stock-pile at harvest because of low capital often affects my production.

My advice to young entrepreneurs out there is to always believe in their capacity to succeed and not to be discouraged if they are taking only small steps at this moment, because they do not know where it will take them. My most satisfying accomplishment in business is creating job opportunities for youths, providing market for groundnut farmers, and providing a solution to the customers yearning for genuine products of processed groundnut. Good and properly refined groundnut oil and cake is highly nutritious both for human and animal consumption.

The sky is my starting point and this is a step for the journey ahead. My life as an entrepreneur is an interesting one: when you have challenges you have to face them, and where you see opportunities you have to explore them. It is really challenging but eventually rewarding to be an entrepreneur. My life as an entrepreneur is about working round the clock.

In the next 10 years I want to be one of the key players in groundnut oil production. I would like to experiment with backward integration such that I can develop the capacity to produce my raw materials directly on my farm, and possibly also establish livestock production units that can utilise the groundnut cake from my mills as feedstuff. I will then be in a position to employ more youths, not only from the host community but youths all over Nigeria and Africa at large.

Mercy Haruna Wakawa, Managing Director at Confianza Global Resources