By Esther Onyegbula
Imu Ovaioza Yunusa is a fierce young Nigerian agro entrepreneur redefining the agricultural sector. She is the CEO of Ovaioza Group of Companies, a business with an interest in agriculture and the recreational industry. Through Ovaioza Farm Produce Storage Business (OFPSB), she engages in the propagation, processing, storage, distribution and retailing of farm produce, while contributing to domestic resource mobilization.
She is also the founder of the Ovaioza Skills Acquisition Center (OSAC), a non-governmental organization up-skilling young Nigerians. Before officially establishing OFPSB in 2018, Ovaioza liaised with market women, learning the process of sourcing, processing, storage and distribution from them.
Recently OSAC held its maiden exhibition in Abuja, where numerous outstanding works of graduating students were displayed and sold to customers. Over the years, Ovaioza has received several awards for her contribution to the agricultural sector. In this interview, she talks about her journey into the business world so far. Enjoy!
What inspired you into the storage business?
I have always been interested in business and, like the popular social concept proves, our environment influences our choices. I had a lot of people engaging in small scale agro-businesses around me. Going into this field was a predictable choice. The desire to earn a living gave birth Ovaioza Farm Produce Storage Business (OFPSB) but with time, the more seasoned I became in the agro-industry, the more I realized that I wanted to create impact beyond my income. This was what influenced my business model to include partnerships.
Apart from farm produce storage. I saw the potential for more people to get into the industry through me and I incorporated it into my system, thereby creating a source of income for them too. Furthermore, I realized that I wanted to do more to improve the lives of those around me, beyond my business.
This passion inspired the establishment of OSAC, an organization invested in human capacity development. Relax and Chill and other existing and upcoming business arms of the Ovaioza Group of Companies are also capacities focused, as much as they are profit-based. I am always inspired by the need to successfully create impact.
What services do you provide?
OFPSB is an agro-company involved in large scale cultivation, processing, storage, distribution, wholesale supply and retail of diverse agricultural produce. We also have a partnership system with the public, where they can liaise with us to do any of the agribusinesses we open up for partnerships. OSAC is my non-governmental organization, offering competitive industrial skills to young Nigerians while giving them the platform to learn practical business management first-hand.
We upskill young Nigerians, with high-in-demand skills across diverse industries at OSAC. Beyond capacitating people with practical skills, our curriculum is designed to teach transferable business skills that will translate into marketable opportunities, when people graduate from the centre.
I envision OSAC globalizing its reach and empowering people beyond the shores of Nigeria. We need more people building sustainable businesses and we are strategically placed to equip them with the skills they require to begin. With the level of growth we have achieved at OFPSB, it has not been easy for us no doubt. Like most new start-ups in Nigeria, it is sometimes rocky but at every point, we have found a way to navigate challenges and continue running a successful business.
What are the major challenges you encounter in running your business?
We face the same challenges we all face in Nigeria as business persons, ranging from systematic barriers to people’s management and structural challenges. I have a great team working with me. We ensure that proper licensing is done and we observe all legal necessities required for businesses operating in Nigeria.
This way, we can always navigate out of systematic challenges when they come up. “Doing the right thing at all time helps” as we know. As for structural challenges, we have set up a very efficient business structure, ensuring that each time challenges arise at the point of purchase, sales, storage or management; we always know what to do because we have prepared ahead.
What do you consider a must-have skill set for entrepreneurs?
No matter what you do as an entrepreneur, there are specific, core soft skills you must possess and these include efficient communication skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork, emotional intelligence and problem-solving skills. We prioritize these skills because they are transferable and guide business interactions with people at every level. Secondly, we are in a digital age where almost everything we do is intertwined to some level of tech dependency.
This means every prospective entrepreneur should have some basic tech skills that can aid business management. This can be skilled as simple as the ability to respond to digital communication.
What are the legislative reforms that can assist female agro entrepreneurs to thrive in Nigeria?
Apart from providing raw materials for industries, food for the population and employment opportunities, agriculture contributes to the country’s GDP. It is circling back to becoming the major source of economic sustenance for the country. From what I have seen in the field, women make up the major population of agro entrepreneurs. This is why priority should be given to legislation guiding land tenure reforms. This is 2021 and in some parts of Nigeria, women still cannot own land due to cultural barriers. We need laws that empower and do not discriminate against women. We also need improved legislation on policies guiding agricultural credit facilities, making them more accessible for women. Export is also a high yielding agricultural venture. Adopting good food security policies will improve export potentials also.
What is the major landmark you have achieved?
I think the decision to even establish the Ovaioza Farm Produce Storage Company was a major landmark for me. This step solidified and defined the type of business structure I wanted to have. It made my vision more feasible and began the journey that has led me thus far.
What is your vision of an ideal society?
My vision for an ideal society is one where everyone has access to equal opportunities, basic amenities and the right to justice but sadly, we live in a society that is still tied down by so many social and economic inequalities.
What are the mistakes female entrepreneurs make that have kept them below the radar?
Women have come a long way from the docile past where we let society limit us. It will be a mistake for women who want to do more with their lives, to hold back because of social constraints and expectations. Female entrepreneurs should be as bold and audacious as they want, especially when they have a vision and start their own businesses. Don’t be afraid of owning and running big businesses. That fear is a mistake. You are capable and the future is here for us to do more.
What policy change should government initiate in favour of female entrepreneurs?
When it comes to entrepreneurship in Nigeria, I think the challenges presently cut across both genders, but as we all know; women always have more barriers when it comes to access and resolution. We need policies that promote the sustainability of more tech-enabled enterprises. This will lead to more business ease for women. Government support for businesses should also cut across early-stage to late-stage businesses for women, to enable scale-up.
If you were to serve as President of this country for one month, what change will you make that you feel will effectively address the menace of food scarcity and unemployment in this country?
I think the first thing I will change as the President of Nigeria is some of the policies governing activities around the agricultural sector, trade and export. There is so much potential out there, especially in this era where tech has made access to global resources easier for us. Our policies need to devise ways to exploit this reality.
If you could change one thing about life in general, what will that be?
If I can change just one thing about life in general, outside my field, I would change the existence of sickness. Imagine a world with no cancer, no malnutrition, no terminal illnesses. Sometimes, good health is underrated. People shouldn’t be going through so much pain. Life is already hard enough as it is.