‘Change in government affects our chance to access N220bn MSMEs funds’

Felicia Chika Okafor is the President of Certificate in Entrepreneur Management  (CEM) set 11, a woman empowerment group. She spoke to our reporters on the important of joining a cooperative and other issues relating to women in business.

What does your group stand for and in what way are you helping the women?
It is a women empowerment group that lends a voice to any issue relating to women in agriculture businesses. We also look at policies that can drive the women forward and also how to access fund for our businesses.
We started with 15 membership as students of Enterprise Development  Center (EDC) and we have been growing since then. Our aim is to have a voice that will drive policies that will affect agriculture generally, funding and the like for women in agriculture businesses.
Who are your major target?
Women in farming businesses are our focus but we have few people that are registered with us even men because the courses we are taking are beneficial to everybody. Anybody that aspires  to be an entrepreneur is expected to attend.Though those of us that are registered members are on scholarship while others pay for it.
The scholarship is mainly for women because the sponsors have a target. The target is not only to make agriculture beneficial but we are looking at making agric a lucrative business. This is because we have been told even by those that studied agric to the tertiary institutions that if you want to be an agriculturist you cannot be rich. We want to proof that wrong because  we know that so long as people eat food they must spend money on it and those in the business must be rich.
You cannot be producing food everyday and selling them to people and still be poor then something is wrong somewhere. These are the challenges we are trying to address. We want to see how we can plug the holes and make agric business more lucrative especially for women.
In what way are you supporting the women through this cooperative?
The support we are giving now is basically training. Whatever we know we teach them. We have people among us that are into fishery, poultry, veterinary medicine, integrated farming, marketing and so on. They lend their support in teaching others in their area of specialisation.
And with the exposure we have had so far in school we also know that there are places we can access funds for our businesses and we make such information available for women because it is not all that is bleak. There are funds that are accessible. Though some could be very cumbersome.
Has any of your members been able to access loan facility?
Not yet because we were trying to access the N220 billion loan for entrepreneur but the trouble of election stopped us and we have been at a standstill since then because there was change of government and waiting for the minister appointment. Now it has come we don’t know if that will continue.
From inquiry we learnt that Bank of Agriculture (BOA) gives N1 million naira loan to women in  farming business and it is without collateral and any one that wants above will have to provide collateral.
For the Bank of Industry (BOI) they support with only equipment but there is certain amount also without collateral but then they deal with registered company that have operated minimum of three years with current tax clearance for the company, current tax clearance for at least two directors and annual returns.
What are some of the challenges you face?
The main challenge in growing businesses is lack of facilities and funding. There are lots of businesses that if you just google you get support but what about status? A lot of the facilities are not available for starters, if you do not have family and friends that will build you up to a certain level then you cannot access it. I was the secretary to the Lagos State Fish Farmers Association for two years and then you see lots of Microfinance Banks coming to us and some agric friendly banks come and access their funds but the interest rate is not agric friendly because by the time you are through you are paying interest rate of between 25 to 30 per cent.
And then, agric fund that Nigeria is bringing out, they did not sit with the farmers to determine them. If they do they will realise that the terms and conditions are not good.There is no agric friendly facility in the country, the closest is that of BOA which is 9 per cent per annum but the moratorium is not friendly.
What advice do you have for the Nigerian women?
Nigeria women are hardworking people. As a woman, you find out what value you can add to the society, discover it and  pursue it with every energy that you have. Some of us may not be too lucky to have a husband who will support. And for some that are asked to be a full time house wife, even from the house there are value you can add, nurture it and study on how best you can do it to generate income.
In the process let your family know the support they can give. Women should not give up for lack of resources.

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