Rilwan Raji is the Managing Director /CEO of Dekoraj Farms and Equipment Company, one of the fast-growing agriculture startups in the country, with offices in Lagos and Abuja. The firm specialises in agricultural services like farm setup, poultry penhouse building, sales of agricultural equipment, fabrication of battery cages, training and consultancy services.
Raji, who recently spoke with Daily Sun, bared his mind on the startup’s growth and the challenges confronting it. He blames high interest rate on loans by lenders as a major challenge facing Nigerian entrepreneurs
The company, since inception, has enjoyed wide patronage owing to the fact that we have been able to create a niche for ourselves. Some of those that patronise us are farmers, government agencies, NGOs, empowerment centres, contractors, consulting firms, bakeries, restaurants, hotels, bulk sellers, among others
Challenges of poultry business
The challenges we face include cost of feeds and continuous efforts to get a better understanding of available alternative feed ingredients. As of now, feed cost is probably one of the most serious challenges faced in the industry. Feed quality is another factor entirely.
Another is disease outbreaks and implementation of biosecurity programs, although the extent and also types of disease outbreaks. Management problem is another factor affecting poultry business and this is really frustrating most farmers. Other issues are surrounding inclusion of antibiotics in poultry feed and also the use of alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters; safety of poultry products for human consumption; poultry welfare-related issues; nutrition-related environmental issues which involves the excretion of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the manure; issues related to water in terms of both quality and quantity. The issue of accountability also pose a great challenge. Most farmers treat poultry business with levity not as real business. They don’t do a proper accounting. Let me also state that pilfering is a major challenge in poultry production.
As an entrepreneur, I have learnt that time is money. Money, customers, ideas are all resources you can potentially gain more from. Time, however, is the one commodity you’ll always have a finite amount of. One way to ensure you make the best use of your time is to assign an hourly dollar amount to your tasks.
Ask yourself, what would be a fair wage for the tasks I perform? If someone else can competently accomplish these tasks for less money, let them do it so you can focus on higher level, revenue-generating tasks. As a business owner, you should only do the tasks that only you can do. Not all money is good money. This is a lesson many entrepreneurs struggle with early in their career. When you are getting your business off the ground, it is easy to fall into the trap of taking money from anyone who offers it. The problem is, not all customers or clients are worth it. I have also learnt to avoid clients who take up too much of your time, who consistently have unrealistic expectations or who you just generally dread working with.
Customer is not always right 100% this part is important from my experience. From day one, we are told that “the customer is always right.” We are expected to bend over backwards to please every single customer, even when they are clearly and painfully wrong. This maxim can do a serious disservice to ourselves, our employees and our customers. Give your customers the benefit of the doubt, but not at the expense of your employees and your personal dignity. I think hiring people who are smarter than you in Agricultural business to face it: There will always be people who are smarter than you. If you are lucky enough to find these people, hire them. Focus on the things that you are best at, and give them the freedom to do the same.
There are no cheap shortcuts in marketing. I often speak to business owners who want marketing advice. Some of them shun my recommendations as being “too expensive.” The truth is, cheap marketing can make your brand look cheap. This very important, from my personal experience. By keeping your mind open to new ideas,you make opportunities for yourself. By exposing yourself to a multitude of businesses and products, your scope expands. Conversely, if you always have your blinders on, your perspective becomes too narrow and you miss out.
Competition and patronage
Competition strengthens us to do more. We don’t even focus on that but we do more to improve our services to our customers. We have always been enjoying referrals due to our act of professionalism and one stop services which include setup, purchase, training, after sales services, complete packaged services, to mention a few. Being an innovative company, at Dekoraj Farms and Equipment Company, we get good patronage, as we continue to strive to be better.
SMEs and loan accessibility
It is difficult accessing low interest loans. Available ones are not easily accessible and needs a lot of paper works and patience. It takes time before SMEs can access them. The easier ones that can be easily accessible are with high interest rate. They are small loans. This is really killing most entrepreneurs than saving them because they end up working for the lender only, without making their own profit.
If they default, they take tougher actions on them rather than saving them. Only a few commercial banks have customers’ interest at heart. Imagine some banks with interest rate as high 4-4.5% monthly in 10months. What kind of business can an entrepreneur do to earn 40 percent in 10months? Is that not greed? This is the kind of loans trending lately. The CBN needs to checkmate this and to make sure SMEs are getting single digit and easily accessible loans. This would really boost our economy. We have people with good business ideas; people who are innovative like us but cannot start due to funds.
Entrepreneurs’ expectations of government
The government needs to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and enhance growth of local products. It should also fund and support made in Nigeria products, create an alternative to imported items. Our exportation should be more than importation. Government should organise trainings on different skill acquisition and engage professionals like us in agricultural services and others in different sectors. Let SMEs have easy access to loans and the process should be stress free. Loans disbursement should be fast at most six weeks. The Government is really trying and I must be sincere. We just expect more from them.
Covid-19 and SMEs survival
This really shows that we really need to work more on our agricultural sector, seeing that everyone is now fighting for survival over everything else in life. Imagine farmers and players in pharmaceuticals thriving during this pandemic.
They will always thrive till eternity, making good money. Intending SMEs should look in the direction of the agricultural sector. They should make sure they engage services of professionals like us to train and guide them in this sector. The government also needs to invest more in the agricultural sector. Thank God for our President’s support in agriculture, so far.