Cassava grains(Gaari) is a staple food Nigerians love. Akeem Salami, CEO of Balkeem Nigeria Limited and graduate of Mass Communication creatively explored the opportunities in producing it few years ago. Today, his vision has not only materialized but has also metamorphosed into a lucrative venture many would explore. While he maintains that the market is vast enough to accommodate competitors, Salami believes success in this business depends on a number of factors. Sunday Sun explores these and many other vital tips on what it takes to succeed in it.
What’s the idea behind Ijebulawa Garri?
We have always talked about the promotion of our local contents. So, when we looked at so many brands we appreciate in Nigeria today, we discovered that they are local contents, local products elsewhere in the world. We also discovered that these products are made to attract our attention just because of the way they have been packaged and presented to us. This belief is what compelled us to look at the possibility of packaging our local food to attract attention at international level such that even people outside Nigeria will be able to appreciate and accept it just as we also appreciate some other products from other countries. That was why we decided to give this product the kind of packaging which has turned it into household product.
Why garri? Why not rice or any other staple food in Nigeria?
We are just starting. Our mission and focus is to promote our local contents. Starting with Ijebulawa Garri is just to be able to kick-start something that will give us the leverage to compete favourably in the market. We are still working on some other local contents that can be developed.
Is Ijebulawa Garri the pioneer of packaged garri in Nigeria. Have you come across a similar product in Nigeria?
Since we started, a number of people have come up with the same concept only that we are the first to package it in this form. But as a pioneer ,we have been able to enjoy the lion share in the market not necessarily because we are the first in Nigeria but because our being the first in the country has exposed us to a lot of things and we have consistently worked on these to make it the best brand in the country.
Most Nigerians looking for business they can dabble into often find it difficult to move away from their area of specialization unlike in your own case. You are a graduate of Mass Communication now dealing in agriculture. Does one’s area of specialization really matter when considering business ideas?
Success in business is not a matter of the course one studied. It’s a matter of thinking outside the box. What can I do to support myself and support country? What can I do to support government’s gospel of promoting local content development? By virtue of my decision to go into this business, I am so confident that promoting Nigerian local contents holds huge prospects for millions of unemployed Nigerians roaming the streets in search of unavailable jobs.
In fact the success story of Ijebulawa Garri bears testimony to the abundant opportunities available in the promotion of local contents. Promotion of our local contents is one of the most viable means for unemployed Nigerians to earn their living. So, if there is an opportunity for me to make money from promoting our local content, it shows that it is possible for millions of Nigerians out there to make money by promoting our local contents. Your course of study should not be a hindrance to the line of business you want to pursue.
What would you say are the challenges of starting a business of this nature?
There are lots of challenges because the perception of many Nigerians is that garri is the poor man’s food. Their thinking is that it does not deserve this beauty we have given to it. So, when we started we had the same perception until we approached NAFDAC for approval. Until we took that step, we never realized that the step we have taken was very critical. When we came onboard we had the feeling that we were going to deal in mere garri. Ordinarily, if you get to the market you can get Ijebu garri. But we have gone steps farther in preparing Ijebu garri. It’s more hygienically prepared and packaged. So, when NAFDAC insisted that we have NAFDAC number and reeled out specifications on how we should go about its production we were so worried. At the initial stage, we did not think of meeting NAFDAC but when we eventually met the agency and succeeded in meeting its standards we realized that we have succeeded in adding more value to Ijebulawa Garri. These are some of the challenges we faced and as you can see, that requires a lot of resources. It was not until we succeeded in meeting NAFDAC standards that we realized what the agency was really concerned about. They are deeply concerned about the safety of the product we intend to push out to the public and we have also come to appreciate it.
Having talked about the challenges, what would you say has been your major impetus to go ahead considering the challenges of doing business in Nigeria?
We have been encouraged by a lot of factors. We’re passionate about what we are doing and we believe in it. Unlike most new products which do not gain immediate acceptance, the kind of responses and acceptability we have been receiving has been another major encouragement to us. This, I can say has been the result of our relentless efforts in taking the product from its ordinary level to a level of added values that will make it a household product. People calling us and asking if this product actually comes from Nigeria and praying for us and positive responses like that have been major sources of encouragement to us.
Talking about the contents, what are those things that go into Ijebulawa Garri?
Ijebulawa Garri has moved beyond the level of ordinary garri. This is a kind of garri that has been processed under a tightly controlled hygienic condition. What we are looking at is to make it a meal ready to eat. It is the fastest form of food that you can ever think of, not even noodles, in your office and anywhere you may find yourself. We consider some other things that could be of benefit to human health to add to it. It has sugar and it contains milk. Also people have been getting back to us asking for groundnuts. While we are still working on every suggestion given to us, we believe taking garri with milk is more nutritious.
How do you convince people to buy Ijebulawa garri instead of going out there to buy garri, milk and sugar? What would you say is your unique selling point?
Generate Income producing Garri for export in Nigeria ...
23 Jun 2011 ... There are different varieties of Garri being sold in the market; you have the red
Garri, White Garri and Ijebu Garri. The difference in these Garri ...
We have gone to the market and discovered that a lot of Nigerians who want to drink garri crave Ijebu garri. But it is always difficult for them to identify which of the garri is actually Ijebu garri. So, instead of going into the market and tasting different brands of garri to know which of them is actually Ijebu garri, by merely buying Ijebulawa Garri you can rest assured that you are buying authentic Ijebu garri.
Secondly, we have come to discover that people who want to take cassava grains buy that packaged with nylon and sold for N20 or N30 and for you to be satisfied you will need to buy two or three sachets and separately buy sugar and milk. Instead of you buying these items separately, we have made it all in one pack and made it very cheap so that every Nigerian can afford it. Thirdly, we are more concerned about the safety of our product and what people consume. That is why we submitted ourselves to the rigorous checks by NAFDAC unlike the one they sell outside there which you don’t know under what condition it was processed. You don’t how many people have come to the seller to dip their hands inside the product.
Many people are of the opinion that there specific areas of business in every sector that are yet to be exploited. Do you think there are more of such in agricultural sector?
There are a lot of things Nigerians can go into in the agricultural sector which are yet to be tapped. It’s not only garri. Even at that, so many people can still take the garri business up. We are expecting more competition because many people still find it hard to believe that a product such as garri could be packaged and promoted the way we have done it. Other people coming into it means that we have succeeded in foisting it on the country as a product that deserves the promotion we have given to it. Apart from cassava grains, we have melon; we have beans and so many agricultural products that can be promoted as local products. When we talk about entrepreneurship, I can tell you that Nigeria has the potentials and the resources to promote entrepreneurship, but government must make the environment more conducive for business.
What’s your assessment of Nigeria’s business environment ?
Government needs to do a lot in helping to improve the business environment in the country particularly in area of multiple taxation. This is one of the major factors that are stunting the growth of indigenous business in the country. There should be preferential treatment for local manufacturers. Nigerian government needs to look out on how they can encourage indigenous companies particularly the youths.
I am a young Nigerian with interest in agriculture. It is very rare seeing youths taking up business in this area. I think government needs to put more mechanism in place to encourage the youths in this area. If youths see that the government is coming up with policies and programmes that will benefit them in this area you will see more and more of them coming into the sector. Cassava grains is not the only local product we can promote, we have so many of them that the Nigerian youth can tap into. If this is done, unemployment will become a thing of the past in no time.
How best do you think the government can assist indigenous business owners in Nigeria?
It’s not only in the area of giving loans that the government can assist. There are other areas. Some people have started. They did’nt need government’s loan to start. Government should look inwards to areas where they can assist existing businesses and help them to grow. There are so many agencies that are financed by the government. Government could adopt some of these products of indigenous companies as official products for these agencies. For instance, government can officially adopt Ijebulawa Garri for Nigerian= Prisons. This will help to encourage local producers.
Business is full of uncertainties which make most people going into business anxious. Were you anxious initially?
Of course, yes, I was anxious. As a matter of fact, I never believed we could go this far. I was just thinking of having an additional source of income to augment my monthly income. On the other hand, I had some privileges which assisted me in dousing the fear. Unlike most people who have the challenge of start-up capital, I had worked in a few companies which assisted me in raising substantial capital needed to start the business.
I had equally gained some experience and I had little support from few quarters in terms of mentoring. It’s not enough to claim you have worked in so and so companies. You only work in your department or your area of specialization and that does not give you all the knowledge you need to run your own business successfully. When you go into the business proper you will discover that you have to learn a lot on the job.
What in your view is the role of mentoring in doing business?
Mentorship is very important in setting up a business. But one needs to be cautious about what you get from your mentors. It is not everything that is given to you by your mentor that you have to consume hook, line and sinker. You have to be selective; you have to filter it to know which one suits your business and which one does not. Ordinarily, if you are going into business you must have had your mindset and plans. So, having got all these, you only need complementary advice and counsel as a form of guide.
It is very critical because it gives you the needed inspiration and encouragement since you will be looking at your mentors and reasoning that for them to have got to where they are, they must have acquired the needed experience. It is also important that you have more than one mentor from different parts of the business. You can have a mentor in accounting, in production, in human resource management, so that when you have a challenge in one area of the business you know the appropriate person to run to.
What areas are you looking into as far as the expansion of your business is concerned?
Garri - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
To make garri, cassava tubers are peeled, washed and grated or crushed to
produce a mash. ... A variation of white garri exists, popularly known as Ijebu-
We have a lot of plans for expansion. We are looking at the possibility of accommodating more investors because we have seen that it is not just a business an individual can push and expand alone. There is need for some forms of partnership. I strongly believe that the level of acceptability Ijebulawa Garri has enjoyed so far and the potentials of the product are major attractions for who ever will like to partner with us.