The agro-industry in Nigeria is experiencing a renaissance. Thanks to the quagmire the country’s economy was plunged into after years of over-dependence on oil. Out of necessity, the government had to diversify the economy, and agriculture is the viable alternative.
Hence, the government developed policies geared towards encouraging farmers and investors. Rice, a major staple in many Nigerian homes, is at the center of the government’s intervention. An embargo was placed on the importation of foreign rice, paving way for local rice farmers to thrive.
Engr. Gbenga Eyiolawi is one of the entrepreneurs who took a real bold plunge on the opportunities provided in the sector. Although his mom had persuaded him two years earlier to give the food processing business a shot, he was neck-deep in his real estate business, which he has run for 11 years. And the day he decided to give the business idea a try, he hit the ground running. He established Titan Farms, which is now a leading rice manufacturer and trader, with a strong market presence in South West of Nigeria.
Eyiolawi recounts his humble childhood in this interview, and how he failed at other businesses due to lack of capital and bad government policies. To him, you don’t need passion to be successful in business. He attributed the accelerated growth of his company to him treating the business as a fun game that he played right, in addition to the right team.
You were raised by a struggling mother who slaved herself to make food available for her family and ensured you had rice in the house. Share with us how that experience gave birth to Titan Farms.
It’s euphoria for me. I’ve always wondered how she was able to do that. We, my siblings and I knew there was no money at that time. In a day, her entire sales may be around N250 and we’d wake up the following morning and see rice in the house. Despite bad sales, we’d eat. Little did we know that all we were eating was her entire sales. We’d go to school and they’d send us back home for non-payment of school fees, but we’ll still get home and eat. Nothing else other than rice. That made me discover that no matter how bad the situation is, food, especially rice, will always sell.
There used to be a time that every Sunday, we’d eat Jollof rice. We ate rice for breakfast every day, then Jollof rice on Sundays. That was our own Christmas day. And when we were sent back from school, you should go home dejected and sad, but not for us. We’d stay home and still eat until she’s able to raise the funds to get us back to school. I kept wondering why she couldn’t use all the money she spent on food to pay our tuition so we could return to school. I didn’t understand the logic behind that until later.
So at what point did you think you had to go into the business of rice farming?
I didn’t think so at all. I’ve been in real estate for 11 years. Two years earlier, my mom who now has a food processing business of her own, called me and asked; ‘don’t you think it’s time for you to diversify?’ Think agriculture, and think food! She added. We didn’t have that conversation again until one day when she came to my house with a bag of packaged garri (yam flour) made by her friend. She said, this was what I was telling you some time ago. Immediately after she left, something clicked. And I thought to myself, why don’t I just try this? I like challenges. I like new ventures. I started this as an adventure, so to say, but as it turned out, this now a full-time thing for me. I had to leave my real estate business for someone to manage because this is quite interesting.
The fact that you are unable to predict what tomorrow might be is interesting for me and that’s what the rice business is in Nigeria. You know the price today and tomorrow you don’t know how much you’ll sell. At the point of purchase of your paddy in the north, you know how much you’re buying, but by the time you get to the south where you want to sell, you don’t know what the market trend would be. That’s interesting. For some people it’s risky but for me, I see it as fun. I can play with time and also play with price…
EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here to read the full interview. It’s on page 16 of our latest edition, ’20 Trending & Most Profitable Business Ideas in 2021′.