CHARLES OKEKE ODIUKO, chairman Tshabron Group, says his passion for business is driven by the desire for job creation to contribute to tackling youth unemployment in the country. He shares with DIKACHI FRANKLIN, in Owerri, the decision by his Tshabron Group to diversify into agriculture, floating Tshaborn Farms, with its fish Farm located at the Owerri-Onitsha Road Industrial layout.
Could you share with us what prompted you or what you to venture into agriculture that many other industrialists or businessmen shy away from?
Any business man or a Nigerian investor who is responsible enough, who thinks about the growing population in this country and feels much concerned, I think should have a good plan not only for his family but what he can do to sustain the growing population of Nigeria. Apart from contributing to reduce the growing unemployment in the country by creating job opportunities for the youths, every living person must eat food and farming is one of the sectors that provide food. If massive investment goes into agriculture, I think we should be able to alleviate our problems of food scarcity in this country. So we went into farming to create jobs and it is a business I have always loved to venture into it.
You said Tshabron Group has established Tshaborn Fish Farm; where is it located and how did you get it started?
We acquired a farm that was being run by its former owner; we bought it entirely and the fish farm is quite massive, located in the heart of the Owerri-Onitsha Road Industrial layout, near Irete, Owerri West Local Government Area, here in Imo. It is the area that the state, under the late Sam Mbakwe, the former governor, designated as the industrial layout of the state.
The fish farm is quite massive with about five boreholes spread throughout the length and breadth of the farm and with 14 big fish ponds which can, in full capacity produce up to 150,000 fish a month.
So we have moved in there and we have also started harvesting the first set of fish.
There is no business that does not have challenges, there may be some challenges facing the fish farm, could you share with us these challenges?
Well, I can say that we are doing well by our own estimation, but the main problems are still the same the business community is facing in the state especially in the industrial estate. In the industrial layout, the number one challenge is none availability of power, power is the albatross.
To generate power, we have to run generators, both petrol and the diesel generators and you know the cost of buying petrol and diesel, they make the business seem very, very uninteresting because at the end of the day you input everything you have used for production, and you will find out that you are almost running at a loss.
But because we have these other fundamental challenges or responsibilities in the country, to contribute in the provision of fish, food and jobs for the Nigerian populace and the urge to create employment opportunities, we are forced to run the business with determination even though we have not started to make any profits from the fish farm sector of our business; but with time, we will break even.
We see ourselves deriving from being counted as one of the firms helping to alleviate the hardship in this country caused by unemployment.
Another challenge is the decaying internal road network because our farm is located in the heart of the industrial layout. This industrial estate is one that has been abandoned by successive governments, no government has been able to do any development or reconstruct the broken infrastructure, including the roads.
So you find out that many vehicles that come in here either to load or offload or to carry fish always get stuck in the mud. It is terrible and frustrating having your business located in such an abandoned area which could have by now served as the hub of manufacturing for the South East and South South regions of Nigeria.
Investors are apprehensive of this industrial estate not only that there are no good internal road networks, but because of other problems including security, are you pleased with the level of security in the area?
Let me tell you, there is nothing like security here. The Police post there has been closed for a long time, weeds and grasses have covered that place and as a result a lot of stealing and robberies are going on in the area; the only thing is for you to engage your own security to safeguard your investments by using the police or engaging your staff.
But it is not easy to get people in Nigeria who are honest workers.
Why do you say so, is there any ugly experience you would want to share with us?
The previous manager in the fish farm, I brought him from Asaba and trusted him very well. The ponds were stocked with fingerlings; but I did not know that he was not an honest man. I lost a lot of money from that business; I did not know that he was selling them at night, stealing from the business he was managing.
And we have also this challenge of herdsmen because this is the area you see cows flocking everywhere. There may be times you come out and if you do not close your gate, you will see cows all running into your farm and destroying things.
Are there things you would want to tell the incoming government in the state to do?
Yes, the government has a lot to do for the purposes of enhancing the living standard of the people and encourage industrialists and investors.
The state government should look at the industrial sector of the state and the industrial layout created by Sam Mbakwe’s administration. It is a very wonderful concept by that administration, which set out that area for industrial cluster.
Government should provide the enabling environments – electricity, good roads, water and security, so that investors both local and foreign will take advantage of the enabling environment and invest.
If this is done, jobs will be created, crimes and criminalities would be curtailed, and government can earn a lot of revenue and boost its internally generated revenue (IGR).
The teeming unemployed youths will get work and when they are gainfully employed, the government may not have too much problems in checking crimes in the state; revamping that area is the surest way to reduce crimes in the state.