Omorinsola Giwa is the Managing Director of Mamijo Farms, a fast-growing catfish farm in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve center. She runs two expanse facilities – one for Grow-Out (read-for-market) fishes and another for Fingerlings/Juvenile and Hatchery (An environment where catfish eggs are artificially hatched, nurtured, and managed until they develop into fingerlings).
But Omorinsola had her fair share of business failures before landing a goldmine in Aquaculture. She and her husband had shut down their previous business ventures out of frustration, and they pulled all their resources together to start a new business. “We found a ready-made market, and we wanted to go all in,” She recounts.
The duo had done their market research and gained insight that suggested they would hit big in this new venture, so they were pumped to hit the ground running.
Omorinsola took a 3-month course in catfish farming at the Ministry of Agriculture, Agege, a Lagos suburb, and she thought that was all they needed to get started. But one not-so-good morning, they got to their farm and found all the fish on the floor, dead! Millions of naira flushed down the drain overnight—all their life savings.
What happened? How did they go from there? Omorinsola takes us through her insightful entrepreneurial journey in this interview. She reveals her mistakes, how she used it as a stepping stone, and more.
Tell us about your journey into Catfish Farming.
I got into Catfish Farming after being frustrated with other businesses I had tried. Marketing was a major challenge with my previous businesses. Customer acquisition was a real struggle, and in the end, the revenue didn’t make up for the marketing cost and efforts. So, I was looking for another business with a ready-made market that needs minimal marketing to get the maximum result. That was what led my husband and I into Catfish Farming. We started in 2017 with all our life savings from our previous businesses.
How did you start – did you immediately acquire a property, and how fast did you start making sales?
No, we didn’t acquire a property. I first underwent a 3-month Catfish Farming training program at the Ministry of Agriculture in Lagos State. Then, we started the farm with a rented space that accommodated five fish ponds. But unfortunately, we experienced a major loss at that time. As they say, “Experience is the best teacher.” Most of what I learned during the training was theory; the practical is a different ball game.
Practical plays a major role in all the business you want to do – as you read, you have to practice before you can actually know how to run that business.
What exactly happened?
The first problem was that we got the wrong fish ponds. The ponds busted overnight. We had no idea since we don’t live on the farm. By the time we came to the farm in the morning, all the fish were on the floor, and most had died due to stress. We lost millions of naira.
What we should have done was that when we got the new ponds, we were supposed to fill them with water and leave them for a while before pouring the fish in them to test their durability.
Secondly, we got the wrong fish stocking. That’s what happens when you buy fingerlings from one of the dishonest breeders. When you get the wrong stock, the fish die, or they don’t grow. Also, Feeds was another problem. I was milling my feeds at that time, but I was getting bad materials, so I didn’t get the desired result.
Another loss was from customers. Some of the customers are thieves. For example, as a fish farmer, you have 5 tonnes of fish ready for harvest, and you have different customers that would buy 1 tonne each. Imagine 3 out of the customers steal half of that; your capital + profit is gone. I initially suspected our staff were stealing, but I didn’t confront them because I don’t like to accuse people without proof. So I installed CCTV, and we found out it was the customers. One can lose money in Catfish Farming in many ways – you have to know it and block the loopholes.
How did you recover from that loss, and how lucrative is catfish farming?
Well, we counted our losses and started all over again. But this time, we started small. We have been growing since and dealing with other challenges as they come. As for the catfish market, in Lagos State alone, I don’t know about other states; the demand is higher than the supply. Anytime your fish is ready, there are buyers for it. Aquaculture is one of the most profitable ventures in farming.
Our major challenge is electricity. If there’s no light, we have to run on diesel because we need water 24/7. We tried solar, but it’s not working for me; it might work for other people but for me.
How do you mitigate the environmental impacts since your farm is within a residential neighbourhood?
There is a way we treat the water before it goes out. The water has some channels it would pass through, so it will filter it before it gets to the main drainage. We also change our pond water every other day. We don’t leave the water for long, and that’s why there is no offensive smell on the farm and around the neighbourhood.
Do you get government support in any way?
We once did. The government gave us one pond and some feeds through our cluster. I greatly appreciated the support because I had to buy more of that pond from the supplier.
What’s the difference between a Tarpaulin and a plastic fish pond?
There are more types. There is an Earthen pond, Concrete Pond, Tarpaulin Pond, and Plastic Pond. But I use Tarpaulin Pond because it’s durable and easily movable from one location to the other.
What are your future plans for the business?
I plan to get a bigger space and increase production, which means I’d employ more people and reduce the unemployment rate in the country. I intend to have a branch in every local government area in Lagos state.
How do you leverage technology to make your operations more effective and efficient?
Yes. There was something I innovated, but I’ve not put it out yet, and that’s why I’m not going to show you. It’s called Venturi. It’s used to increase the oxygen level in your water, especially for people that have large farms like ours. You cannot have a suspended water tank big enough to serve your farm. The water has to come straight from the borehole into your pond, so by that, the oxygen level in your water has been reduced because it’s not going through a water tank before it comes into your pond. So, the work of the Venturi is to increase the oxygen level in your water.
How would you advise someone interested in catfish farming?
I’d say be patient. Business takes time to grow, and you need to learn to over-project. Then, know your customers and your market. Do what works for you. Don’t implement other people’s advice or adopt their strategies hook, line, and sinker. Start small. Practice. Make your mistakes and try again till you get it right.
Warren Buffett, the American business magnate and investment genius, attributes his monume…