This post was original published on UN Women's EmpowerWomen.org site, and is cross-posted with permission.
I love being independent. For me, economic empowerment means the ability to rely on oneself, not to be too reliant on one’s husband, and to contribute towards household expenses such as bills, school fees, and fuel. As a woman, I am driven by two things: my husband as my biggest supporter and the motivation to have a better life than my mother. My mother has been a huge influence in my life and she still lives with me since my father died. I am glad to care for her in her old age.
Nine years ago, when I built a small fishpond in my family’s backyard as a hobby, I did not imagine that it would bring such purpose and value to my life: it has become my family’s main income source and business. When I realized that clients took my fresh fish to be smoked down the road, I decided to expand into fish smoking. Over the last five years, I took advantage of several training opportunities offered by USAID-funded development programs. Most recently, I attended a USAID business skills training for planning, income projection, record keeping, savings, marketing, and how to add value to products. These trainings have empowered me to manage my farm like a business; in fact I actively encourage other women to attend similar trainings.
After the training, I started specializing in fish processing and packaging smoked fish as I had learned it would command a higher price, earning about $20 per kilogram of packaged fish as opposed to $3 per kilogram of fresh fish. Demand for my smoked fish became so high that I could barely fill all the orders. Today I am a well-known fish processor with three employees.
I continue using what I learned in the trainings. I keep records of business expenses, revenues and sales volumes. This recently paid off because I approached the bank for a loan and because I could show them my numbers, I was accepted for a loan. Considering that most banks in Nigeria are hesitant to approve agricultural loans, this is a major achievement for a business of my size and nature. I will use the funds to install a larger smoking machine.
My economic empowerment created a stronger bond and partnership with my husband. In my community, my status as a successful entrepreneur has allowed me to influence more women; they see me as a living example and how they can change their lives by being economically empowered. The community appointed me as President of Lagos State Women’s Cooperative Association, where my mission is to encourage other women to earn a living so they can contribute to their family’s well-being. I mentor, promote and train them in aquaculture and constantly encourage them to form cooperatives and start agricultural enterprises. Many men around me are still getting used to the fact that I am no longer a woman in need, like they are used to. I am so proud of myself when I look at my success and how competitive the business is. I love my status and I am not about to stop any time soon.
As women, we need to focus, find strength within us, strive to shine in the crowded business environment, and help our families be in a better situation. I see two main areas of opportunity for women in Nigeria: (1) joining or forming cooperatives and initiating member-generated loan funds to establish businesses and because most assistance is given to groups, and; (2) utilizing various local, state and federal government agricultural program opportunities.
I see my future as becoming the best fish processor, establishing a standard modern fish processing plant that will improve shelf life and enhance the quality of smoked fish for export. I will support my cooperative members to rise and shine with me because that will ensure more women are economically empowered.
Alhaja Mulikat Kikelomo Ogunlola is a beneficiary of USAID's Maximizing Agricultural Revenue and Key Enterprises in Targeted Sites II (MARKETS II) project, implemented by Chemonics.