Femi Adepoju, a barrister with interest in agriculture, is the Chief Executive Officer of Crown Fisheries, a subsidiary of Crown Farming. In this interview, he speaks with RAHEEMAH AROGUNDADE on fish farming, while advising prospective farmers
What inspired a barrister to go into fish farming?
To be honest, being a barrister doesn’t guarantee you a good living, especially at the beginning of law practice. The Nigerian law school churns out at least 4,500 lawyers a year into a dwindling economy. Since the country’s law sector is not as viable as that of most countries, only a fraction of the 4,500 starts out with good working conditions.
I delved into fish farming mainly to augment my income as a lawyer. Lawyers are the poorest paid of all professionals in Nigeria. It is heart-breaking that some start with as low as N20,000 as salaries in big cities like Lagos and Abuja. How is such a person expected to cope, considering that most principals do not leave room for private practice? I knew from the start that another source of income is necessary because I cannot depend on a salary that is below average to achieve my definition of a successful life. While in the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp, I got involved in the skill and entrepreneurship development programmes, and the agro-allied sector got my interest. After my training and survey of that field, I found it profitable, though not risk- or stress-free. In reality, nothing worthy is stress-free.
Would you like to share your experiences as a fish farmer?
It has been an exciting journey with its ups and downs. A start-up is prone to mistakes. I once over-administered Vitamin C on the fishes, which wiped out the entire stock after six weeks of culturing. But that didn’t stop me; I started all over again. As the saying goes, no pain no gain. It is stressful for me being a sole proprietor because I have to wake up early or stay up late to change the water in the tanks and feed the fishes before going to the courts. The most challenging experience so far has been management and mortality.
Are those challenges over now?
I resorted to good planning and sought help. Also, consulting experienced people helped. No one is a fountain of knowledge, because the mistake I made that wiped out my first stock was an advice from someone who is supposed to be an expert. Regarding the issue of mortality, it was an awakening I never expected but grew to understand that it can’t be ruled out; it can only be managed or reduced.
What kept you going amid those challenges?
For someone just venturing into the fish farming business and having his whole stock wiped out, I was at the ebb, thinking maybe it was destiny telling me to think again. But I had no other ready plan, so I soldiered on and hoped for the best. When I think of how my business can create opportunities for other people, boost the Nigerian economy, contribute towards healthy and affordable life for Nigerians, as well as the profit I can make, I get motivated.
What did you see in fish farming that encouraged you to go into it?
I saw it as an opportunity to generate extra income and probably experience another field aside Law. For anyone intending to go into fish farming, I can only advise patience and persistence, because it is not an easy road. To be a fish farmer, you have to be emotionally strong. It’s depressing seeing fishes floating after weeks of breeding, but you can’t avoid it. Fish farming also makes youths and entrepreneurs eligible for grants and loans in Nigeria. Though I haven’t got any, I am optimistic that my experience and skill will land me some in due course.
Looking back now, is it a business you would have started?
In hindsight, I would have started the business early as possible. While in the university, I had a friend that was conversant with the business. He kept advising me to give it a try, but I never heeded. Starting early when I was a student probably would have put me in a good financial position by now, with loads of experience and contacts.
In the next few years, you would not expect this business to be where it is today.
I dream of monthly harvest and record sales.
What does success mean to you?
At different points in my life, my view of success evolved. At a point, it was finishing with good grades. At another, it was making it into the Nigerian bar. At a point, it was making good income. Success, to me, right now means having a healthy financial position and impacting on lives, which you can only do successfully if you have a good financial standing.
How would you advise those interested in this enterprise?
They should be properly trained to discover what works for them early and have a reasonable and realistic expectation. Can you become a millionaire overnight in this business? The answer is ‘no’, but in few years’ time, with good investment and prudent decisions, you will have your answer.