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My husband’s love for smoked fish made me change my career -Awfishnet Nigeria president

In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, where challenges abound and opportunities are vast, we meet an inspiring figure who has carved out a niche for herself in small-scale fishing business sector.

Oluwafunmilola Shelika, fish processor, trader, and the president of Awfishnet Nigeria Chapter, shares her remarkable journey from working as a banker to becoming a pivotal leader in the aquaculture sector. Her story is one of resilience, innovation, and dedication, making her a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

SHELIKA shares her experience with SONIA OKERE

Please, can we meet you?
My name is Oluwafunmilola Shelika. I’m a fish processor, trader, and the founder of Gef’s Smoked Edibles.

While growing up, did you envisage yourself becoming an entrepreneur?
Yes! Actually, I was very young when I discovered my superb ability to convince people to buy a product. So, I studied Marketing at Enugu State University of Science and Technology. After my degree program, I worked in the bank for many years. However, a time came when I resigned and became a full-time entrepreneur.

You describe yourself as a fish processor. Tell us how your journey to the aquaculture industry began
First of all, I would say I became interested in processing fish because my husband loves smoked fish a lot. Before I became a processor, I used to buy different species of smoked fish for the family’s consumption. However, I noticed that some of the fish were not properly processed, so they would spoil within a short duration. So, I started learning proper ways of processing these aquaculture products, and my goal was to have products that retain their freshness even after a long period of time.

I worked in the bank as a marketing officer. I have also done several businesses, depending on the season

Additionally, I live in a part of Lagos where there are many fish farmers. A time came when I realized that most farmers were struggling to sell off their mature fish. Then, I started buying the fish from them at a cheaper rate, processing them, and exporting the products to the international market. That’s how Gef’s Smoked Edibles came into existence.

Before you went into fish processing, what were you doing?
I worked in the bank as a marketing officer. I have also done several businesses, depending on the season. However, Gef’s Smoked Edibles was born when I identified a need in the international market and decided to provide a solution. For example, most Nigerians living abroad complain about the scarcity of our local food items in those countries. So, Gef’s Smoked Edibles started exporting processed seafood to the international market, and the volume of sales was massive.

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What are the challenges you are experiencing as a businesswoman in Nigeria?
The major challenges are lack of finance, social amenities, and manpower. Every business person needs finance to expand their business. Unfortunately, we live in a country where it is not always easy to get business loans. Poor power supply, bad roads, and price instability also contribute to losses in this business.

Due to the nature of the business, physical manpower is a necessity. However, in the past, we have had employees who were very lazy. So, finding serious and hardworking people is another challenge.

we started as an exporting company, and back then, the international market was booming. In 2017, there was a ban on fish exportation, and that really affected the business

You have been an entrepreneur for over a decade. Was there a point when you felt like giving up?
Yes! As mentioned earlier, we started as an exporting company, and back then, the international market was booming. Unfortunately, in 2017, there was a ban on the exportation of fish, and that really affected the business. It was a struggle getting into the Nigerian market due to the high level of competition. Moreover, the Nigerian market price was very low, compared to the price we were selling to the international market. So, I almost gave up.

Being a trained businesswoman, I had to diversify, and that was how we started selling both fresh and smoked fish to hotels, restaurants, and retailers. We also incorporated other seafood like snails, crabs, etc.

The fishing industry is still believed to be mainly populated by men. What has your experience been in terms of gender discrimination?
Well, holding a leadership position comes with its challenges. However, when it comes to gender discrimination, I would say that I haven’t experienced any direct form of discrimination. I have attended leadership meetings where I was the only female. That was possible because I was bold, hardworking, and intelligent.

I have attended leadership meetings where I was the only female. That was possible because I was bold, hardworking, and intelligent

Since I had the necessary training and certifications, I was appointed as the president of the Awfishnet Nigeria Chapter, and so far, I have been advocating for more women to join the industry.

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What advice do you have for women who might wish to go into fish farming—in terms of how to source capital, manage time, and grow the business?
Firstly, don’t start any business because everyone is doing it. Know your strength, and study the business before you start. Nowadays, it’s more convenient to obtain the necessary training online; so, study and get the necessary certifications.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must be determined and focused. Don’t give room for excuses.

don’t start any business because everyone is doing it. Know your strength, and study the business before you start

In terms of sourcing capital, there are different microfinance banks that offer loans if you are eligible. So, just try your luck. However, if you are unable to get a huge start-up capital, then just start with any amount you have.

Finally, while growing your business, you will need a lot of patience. The dividends might not come immediately, but if you continue to work hard and blow your trumpet, you will surely succeed. In fact, the sky will be your starting point.

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