written and interviewed by Samuel Fadipe and Godwin Onyemaechi
PLS KINDLY INTRODUCE YOURSELF?
My names are Agnes Abimeku Olagoke, I am the managing director of Home of Laurels Nature Nigeria Limited, am a family woman with lovely children, the company I manage is basically into health conscious business, what we do is to connect people with food that they will eat to enhance there health. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO VENTURE INTO THIS LINE OF BUSINESS?
One, it is the love I have for nature, I realized that there is healing in nature which a lot of us are not aware of , we neglect it because of the inter – relationship we have with the western world, there is actually a lot to learn and benefit from it. The food we eat is very important because every healthy society checks what they eat to determine how healthy they want to be, this has actually been a desire for me, growing up growing up as a northern girl, farm was what you see around is,you go to farm and also go to school , and some times, when their was a lot to do in the farm, we forfeit school and when we are free, we then go to school, so growing up exposed me to a lot of natural things.
: WHAT ARE YOUR RANGE OF PRODUCTS?
When we started initially, I looked at the rate diabetes was increasing in our society, I realized that a lot of people where diabetics, ther sugar levels where so high even among children , so it became a source of concern, so I started with fonio.fonio is a grain that is grown in the northern part of Nigeria particularly Plateau State, though most people are not a were of it in the North, we call it Acha, while some call it hungry man”s rice because of the tiny nature . So I started with that , than I was doing some small business , I will have most people come to tell me that they have diabetes that there sugar level was high, some tell me that their eye sight was poor because of sugar, some say they couldn’t perform well with their spouses because of too much sugar in there blood etc. so I knew that fonio is what we use to reduce sugar level, we make kunu with it, we cook porridge with it which is called Pete , we also make our swallow which is Tuwo, so we make a lot of things out of it including Oath .
around our environment that has actually inspired me into what am doing today, I never new that I will end up taking it as as a profession, I was like any other child that complained that farm was too much and some times we cry to go to farm and our parent will force us to go, but today, I realise that it is beneficial not just to individual but to the society at large.I also noticed then that the taste was different because there is no glotin in fonio, so the body does not store it but digest it completely , so o introduced some people into it , I will bring it from the North , clean it up and package it for them , and a lot of them will come back testify on how there blood sugar have normalized, so I picked interest and started introducing some other products to them.
So I looked at Tiger nut , it is one of the healthy nuts that we have and it is also grown in the North and part of Niger Republic , so I at tiger nut that it will be of tremendous benefit to the society, so the first time I introduced tiger- nut was by making swallow out of it, because a lot of people if they don’t want me to eat Semo vita, wheat or pounded yam, eba, what then should they swallow, so after fonio, I had to introduce tiger- nut just to give them a glutton free food , you know the fibre content in tiger nut is so high that it does not store in the body, it is something that enhances your body metabolism and you will be able to absorb what ever you needed to absorb and pass out what you needed to pass out , so the high fibre content in tiger nut and fonio helps to regulate the body metabolism .So that was what led me to introduce tiger nut and fonio,but along the line, we also looked at it that the tiger nut can be accessed in powdered form , for those who are lactose intolerant, those who can’t take milk to have a plant base milk.
: We also have fonio in powdered form, the grains of fonio has multiple usages e.g you can use it smoothies, Pete which is portage and you can also use it for cuscus and also turn swallow with it. So we have fonio in powdered form for easy usage. We have Seseme seed which I can not say is healthier than egusi because of the oil content, the omega has in it seseme seed helps our body not to store cholesterol, it also helps the heart to function very effectively, and it is also high in fibre, any food you take that has fibre is very good for the body, it also helps to regulate your body weight For those who are fund of tiger nut milk , you know you will go through the process of slacking it for almost 24hours , getting a better machine , mill it up and drink, but the powder makes it more easier , you can just come back from work, and then take your powder you can decide to spice it up with another thing , you can take your powder into the blender , add water then add anything you need to spice it up with and you have your milk ready to drink, you can also decide to make smoothies out of it , you can also add tiger nut powder to your pap , the powder is sweetened on its own , you can also make cookies from it or protein free bread for those who are protein intolerant . So, that was how we graduated from one product to another. So as you reach out to people , we also try to expand the reach of those products we have in the North, especially in Nigeria , so what you eat is very important , what so ever we consume into your body can enhance your mood , and if you don’t eat right, it will affect your health and mood negatively.
We do ginseng which is a root that is in the classes of ginger , we grow it in the Northern part of Nigeria as well, while it is generally known to be grown in China and Japan etc.We also have ginseng power in powdered form in its raw state, people can access it for tea, it has a wide health benefits and some times, it is called the king of all spices , the reason being that it can be used for a lot of purposes , you can make it as tea, some add it to their smoothies to give it a flavour, there are times you buy sweets or ginseng flavour sweet, while some people buy it because of the flavour in it ,ginseng actually has a lot of inflammatory properties in it.
So that was why we go from one product to another , we have about 27 interactive spices , they are spices that reacts to each other , we advice people to use them their meals, those spices have numerous health benefits e.g they use it in there pepper soup , jollof rice and stew etc it makes your food more healthier . earlier on, I said in the North we make use of a lot of spices like ginger which helps to cleanse our body, most times, we take these spices without us knowing the health benefits it gives to our body . we also realised that tiger nut powder can not go with deit it is another sweeten but that we have , most times during fasting we use deit a lot , it has a lot of health benefits . the sweetness in it is what we absorb in the body , is not something you store , it also have fibre in it , so we decided to pish further to have the powder , which makes it easier for people to have any healthy drink they want. You can just pour it in a glass of water, add a little of powdered ginger whish you know we also process here , you don’t need any sophisticated blender , any small blender can serve , anything that can whisk and miss it an serve the purpose , you can add cocoa nut for those that like coconut , you chop your coconut in small sizes and pour it into the blender and blend it together , if you want you can filter it or if you don’t want you van take it like that because of the fibre content in it . some people filter it just to get the smooth taste of it , you can also decide to add ice block to give it a little chilling , so you can also serve your guests, friends and family members with it .
HOW AFFORDABLE ARE YOUR PRODUCTS?
They are affordable, just like I said earlier on, it is actually expensive getting organic foods e.g a bowl of burger goes for one dollar while a bowl of vegetable salad goes five dollars , so it is quite expensive for you to eat right . so leaving with chemical based food is cheaper than most of the things we get from the farm , the reason being that our farmers face a lot of challenges and we also face challenges processing these products , so as a result, it affects the prices of these products, but not withstanding, they are still affordable for every body. We actually have packages that NAFDAC has approved for us now , each stage of pack size we have to get approval from them, we also hope to get approval for smaller pack sizes so that every body can afford it, so for now, I will say that our prices are affordable
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THIS LINE OF BUSINESS?
I will say on officially three years and after being fully registered , we have also spent three years , so in all, we have operated for six years.: You can also use siseme for soup just the way you make egusi and you can make candy with it too, you can as well roast it the way you roast your groundnut etc just put a pinch of sugar or salt into it as you roast it, and when it is done, you can eat it as snacks , it is quite healthier than most of the snacks we consume .
And it is very effective to absorb to the body when you consume it , so I feel instead of making it in a tea bag form , we made it in a raw powdered form so people can easily access it for use in which ever way they Preferred, so these and much more that we are researching on to ensure that can bring gold out of our farm produce , and making them easily accessible by people , so they can have it in their shelves in the kitchen , whether you are a farmer or not , whether you are in the village or in the city , you can be able to access our products. So our products are organic treat which implies that we don’t apply any chemical in the process , so they are strictly natural and raw.
HOW DO YOU ACCESS FUND FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
Like I said earlier, before I ventured into natural food business, I was doing other business by the side,, which was another way for me trying to raise fund , I actually saved money towards this business and I also got some family support and support from friends to run this show to this point , I have not actually taken a bolder step to approach the bank yet for loan or for anything , though there were times they invited me and asked me to come and take , but I felt I need to get this businesses grounded , so one will know what one is actually doing , so money from our savings , from friends and families has brought where we are today , though we hve applied for some international grants before now.
HOW CAN ANY ONE OUT THERE ACCESS YOUR PRODUCTS?
We have our online shop and you can also visit website www.laurelsnature.com.ng/shop, you will see varieties of our producers and spices there that we have not packaged yet , they are on display in our e- shop, we also have supper markets that we supply to both on the island and mainland , aside these, we also have WhatsApp orders and deliveries etc so those are the places we do our sales for now .
AS A WOMAN , HOW CONDUCIVE IS IT DOING BUSINESS IN NIGERIA?
It has not actually been conducive but yet we can’t stop , we keep pushing forward, I had some program with some women, and a man walked up to me and said he wants his wife to start business and he and the wife don’t have any business idea , he asked for my advice and asked what area of business interest was , what problem she can see and solve in her environment, because there is need for her to identify a problem that she can solve, so it is challenging , because as a woman, their are lots of responsibilities attached to womanhood , you have the home to run, you have your husband to maneged,have the children to take care of and so many other things .
So, if you are venturing into business, which is time consuming, you need to balance the time for all your responsibilities, though it is quite challengingly because you will get frustrated at some point , but the society is trying women are now being prioritized, so we now have women that are being trained in various business like HAWE trained me and I was glad to be part of that training.,it has helped me to no that women are not prioritized as to what they can offer to the society, everybody is working to give them helping hands.
: WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG MOTHERS ASPIRING TO DO BUSINESS LIKE YOU ?
My advice is that all of us can not do business, just know what you are meant to do, know where you are suppose to stand and make the difference , it could be in the kitchen , at home , it could be in the office and it could also be in business place , so what so ever you are found to do, you keep pushing despite the challenges , nobody that is smiling today that did not cry yesterday, spit doesn’t mean that because you cried yesterday, you will not smile today. Keep pushing until you get to where light shines on every one around you . so I will advice that every young lady out there aspiring to venture into business, to go ahead , know the problems you are meant to solve and the solution you are meant to give to the society . when I started, it was a little bit easier for me then because of where I was coming from, these products are products that we where already using at home , my children use them,, my husband and my friends also use them also, I had people that buy in cartons to keep in there house for their use, so I was happy seeing these people around me patronize my products , so I keep improving every day and am not stopping until we achieve our purpose.