Chief Executive Officer, Sunesis Farms, 27-year-old John James, in this interview with FEYISAYO POPOOLA says Nigeria is in desperate need of entrepreneurship
What crops or products does Sunesis Farms focus on?
At Sunesis Farms, we produce palm oil and rice paddy.
When and how did you learn farming?
Being a business-oriented person, I left the university with the mind-set to become an entrepreneur. As a result, I started learning about palm cultivation and processing in 2016 while going through the national youth service scheme.
I learnt a lot about the business online, joined a few groups of palm oil producers online and apprenticed with one of them at his business site for six months.
In May 2017, I joined the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter, in order to diversify my business by plugging into the rice cultivation, which has a shorter gestation period compared to my palm cultivation. Hence, I am never out of business now as we produce palm oil in large quantity in its seasons and cultivate local rice round the year.
For how long have you been in business?
I’ve been in business for two years now.
What is your educational background?
I am a graduate of accounting from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. Also, I’m currently pursuing a degree in law.
What degree are you pursuing in Law and why?
I am pursuing another bachelor’s degree in law because I feel I made a mistake in studying accounting in the first place. Besides, I still have time on my side; so it’s never too late.
Do you have any corporate work experience?
No, I don’t have any.
What motivated you to start up your own business?
I am a very vibrant, resourceful, creative and enterprising young man who believes that entrepreneurship is a national service. I have passion for creating entities and adding value to mankind.
It is no gainsaying that entrepreneurship is now in desperate need in an economy where retrenchment, underemployment and unemployment rates are on the increase. Seeing the myriads of graduates that run after the few available vacant positions in different organisations, I have always promised myself that rather than become a graduate that needs help, I will be one that gives help to others through job creation.
I have not just chosen to become an entrepreneur but I have chosen a path indispensable to man from time immemorial – agriculture. The mere thought of the fact that I will impart lives, help people achieve their dreams and provide job opportunities for others raises my passion for this business.
How much was your initial capital and how did you raise it?
My initial capital was N2,300,000. A large proportion of the fund was a grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation while a very small portion was from my personal savings while in school.
What are the major challenges you’ve faced and how were you able to overcome them?
Initially, capital was a major challenge until I was selected for a business grant worth $5000.
Also, I faced the challenge of getting the right technical knowledge for the business considering the fact that I don’t have an agriculture background hence I had to patiently undergo series of trainings and exposures to understand the nitty-gritty of the business.
Currently, our major challenge is electricity to power our palm processing machines. Hence, we rely on generators.
How do you get customers?
We have registered wholesalers who buy directly from our factory and sell to retailers and consumers. We got most of these wholesalers from nearby markets and others via referrals. We sell our rice paddy to nearby rice mills.
Do you advertise the business?
For now, we don’t do any form of advertisement as our production is yet to meet current demand.
Has there ever been anytime you thought of quitting and seeking paid employment?
Yes, there have been several times. But the passion for and the prospects of the business kept me going and I really do not regret the decision to stay.
Is your business registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission?
Yes, it is registered.
Do you have any employee?
Yes, I do. I have six full time employees and 10 casual workers.
How profitable is the business?
The palm oil business is very profitable. I harvest my palm fruits every five weeks, produce them into palm oil and sell them in 25litres keg and in drums. I make about 40 per cent return on investment every five weeks. So it’s profitable. Rice cultivation, on the other hand, has a farming cycle of four months and it can give about 100 per cent ROI.
What other skills do you possess?
I have a very good business development skill, great communication skill, public speaking skill, leadership skill, forex trading skill, research skill, data analysis skill and project management skill.
Where do you see yourself and your business in the next five years?
In the next five years, I see myself as one of the top five youngest entrepreneurs in Nigeria. I see my business having presence in all the states in Nigeria. I intend becoming a force to be reckoned with in the agribusiness space both locally and internationally.
Considering the fact that most parents want their children to concentrate fully on education, do you think there is hope for entrepreneurship?
The decision to become an entrepreneur is usually a very strong and personal one. It is a function of passion and determination. Entrepreneurship doesn’t hinder education really. It just turns a graduate like me into a job owner (an employer of labour) and not a job seeker (employee).
With the current trend of massive unemployment and underemployment, I think there is hope for entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
What would you say is the most influential factor in your business’ success?
God is the most influential factor of my business’ success. He made everything easy including the knowledge of the business which I acquired at ease.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?
You need that staying power. Don’t lose focus. Be patient. Let your passion for that business grow by constantly improving on your knowledge of the business. More importantly, put God first.
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