Ogochukwu Maduako, a graduate of Agricultural Economics and Extensions of Abia State University, is a food processor in Rivers State. She obtained her master’s degree in International Economics and Finance from River State University of Science and Technology.
Ms Maduako started farming in 2017 as a side hustle but resigned fully in 2019 to focus on her business. In this 19th episode of our Women in Agriculture series, Ms Maduako shares her experience on how she turns eggshells into calcium supplements and Scouring powder.
PT: You are into agriculture, what branch of agriculture is that?
Ms Maduako: Actually, we started up owning a plantain farm that belonged to poachers. we never really profited from farming plantain, so we went ahead to venture into recycling.
Firstly, we run a company called IFARM (IngeniousFarm Nigeria Limited). After our experience with plantain farming, where we made little or no profit, we decided to think about something that we could do, I came up with the thought of recycling agric waste, but at a point, I was like which of the agric waste will I recycle? One day I went to a market in Imo State, and I ran into snail shell and I thought to myself the snail shell is rich in calcium. What about recycling it for farmers?
I just felt the snail shell has a lot of advantages. So I spoke to a friend, who is already into snail farming and he said that snail shells are very good but recycling snail shells is going to be tough. Since I’m just starting, instead of snail shells, why not recycle eggshells? I was like the last time I heard of it was in secondary school, when we actually recycled some into scouring powder and that people already knew about it and he said what if they don’t?
I went ahead to research on eggshells and it’s looked interesting. As at this time, I was working in an oil servicing firm in Port Harcourt (9 – 5). I started going to outlets like; bakeries, indomie and egg spots, restaurants etc.
I arranged a pickup team whereby we go around picking up eggshells twice a week. For the first one year, we got it for free; subsequently, we were asked to pay. We recycle eggshells into calcium for poultry birds, birds, vegetables like tomatoes etc we started talking about it on social media and educating people as people that already know the use were contacting us and purchasing little by little.
While we were looking for a common product people can buy, not necessarily farmers, so I just thought about turning it into scouring powder since it’s a product everybody uses. I went ahead to start producing scouring powder We actually formulated our own scouring powder made from eggshells.
We generated good revenue from the scouring powder, but something in me was like “you can get something better why not just think of something else.” I personally don’t believe in one source of income.
In 2019, I heard of “Meet the farmers conference” a yearly conference that usually holds in Dubai, I felt it won’t be a bad idea to attend. I was like okay I can try this since I was already planning to travel to Dubai for a vacation so probably travel for the conference and start my vacation after the conference.
I registered, as it wasn’t free. The first day of the conference, I was impressed as I met a lot of people and we exchanged contacts, but something kept coming to my mind that nobody is actually talking about recycling of agric waste or anything related. But only talking about food! food!! food!!!.
How come Dubai doesn’t have farms, no good soil, most of their foods are being imported. It didn’t really sink in because all that was on my mind was how to sell my brand to these people. At a point, I felt this conference really centred on food.
The second day was still about food. So after the conference, I was like okay, I’ve not really had a good Nigerian meal in Dubai. So, I kept asking where I could get a good meal finally I got one. I ordered okro soup and eba. It wasn’t really as fresh as it is in Nigeria, as it was a bit stale but nothing really came to mind as I just ate my food. Then after eating I asked for my bill, I was told sharply I converted to naira. It was N11,500 and I asked how can I eat N11,500 for just okro soup and eba?
The guy replied that the cost of bringing in foodstuff is quite expensive. At that point, my eyes opened. So when I left, the N11,500 didn’t leave my head as I kept thinking of it. I told myself that when I’m back in Nigeria, I’ll start exporting food. Following up on people already in the export business I noticed there was a gap and that gap is branding. The packaging wasn’t really appealing. So I decided to do something more fantastic as I believe the eyes should eat first before the mouth. I chose the item I want to start with palm oil, crayfish, egusi and ogbono.
We started exporting in two months.
You know that earning in dollars is preferable to naira. So I decided that I needed to get my export area and the value chain right. You order your product, we dispatch and within two to three weeks it arrives. we kept getting more visibility and people kept referring us to friends so we started expanding.
We did USA, UK, CANADA, Australia, Dubai, Ghana and some other countries.
PT: The eggshells, you use machines to process them?
Ms Maduako: Yes
PT: How are you able to get the machines?
Ms Maduako: Actually, the machines we use, I acquired from my little earnings as I earlier told you that I worked 9-5. So for now we don’t hire.
PT: Currently, how much do you buy a bag of eggshells?
Ms Maduako: For egg shells, we are registered with some companies like Spar where we pay N2,500 monthly of which we get about 13 to 14 bags but it depends on what they use. With the bakery, we pay N2,000 as it varies among other companies. For the Indomie and egg factories, we pay N1,500 monthly.
PT: You said you went for a conference in Dubai 2019, so do you think that Nigerian farmers can compete globally with farmers across the world?
Ms Maduako: Yes we can; if only we can get the processes right because from all I gathered in the conference I noticed we have a lot of gaps starting from our ports, the packaging, handling, we have a lot to put in place. We can compete with others because we have a lot of resources that other countries don’t have. But in Nigeria, the problem is that we don’t have the right tools to get these products to the end-users, government should make amends on policies so that people can easily dive into this aspect of agriculture. Also, government needs to fix the roads and work on the ports. Which will prevent time wastage and quicker and better export experience in order to compete and win in the global markets.
PT: Aside from the challenges in exporting, what other challenges would you say you’ve faced and are currently facing generally as a farmer and a woman in agriculture as you know that women are under regarded in this sector?
Ms Maduako: Firstly, when I started, I didn’t experience being underrated because people already have this mindset that people in agriculture they look dirty, unkempt, but for me, I started when I worked 9-5 and when am kitted up to visit my farm I look neat and modern.
The challenges I had/have are access to grants, processing of certificates like NAFDAC, FDA, SON etc. Visibility is also a challenge.
I think these among others are the major challenges we have as a company.
PT: So the food you package, how do you get the raw materials to process them?
Ms Maduako: We partner with some local farmers.
PT: Processing and packaging sounds like a hard job, already agriculture requires serious labour. Do you employ women to work in the processing department?
Ms Maduako: Of course! 80 per cent of our workforce are women. I employ women because I feel they bring the energy you need into the business. When we want a good output, our women give us the best.
PT: Your story tells us that you seem to be in the right direction, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Ms Maduako: I see myself on Amazon and Walmart, I see IFARM YOUEAT as a household name. I see people walk into the supermarts requesting for “I farm, you eat” product even without an advert. I want to see our products sell themselves. We see ourselves in different countries in the world.
PT: Comparing yourself with the past four years when you were a 9-5 person, how will you rate yourself now?
Ms Maduako: I would say on a personal level I have grown, I have built myself. My personal development has been top-notch. It went from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. It has built me mentally, emotionally, financially, and physically. Even if I’m not making all the money, I know I am working towards it.
I am thankful for the challenges; when I resigned, it was rough for me. I left my job in January, February and March I was working on the scouring powder, after I launched it in April, I experienced a downtime. I started questioning myself if this was the best option. I asked myself too many questions but throughout that process, I knew it was shaping me for tomorrow. I never I felt I was wrong. I kept pushing and am thankful for the growth so far.
PT: How many staff do you have?
Ms Maduako: Currently I have seven of them, three in the recycling wing and then we have four in the packaging and processing wing.
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