The business potentials that abound in the Small and Medium Entrepreneurship (SME) sector of Nigeria is being under-utilized, following the government’s oversight of the sector’s activities and economic benefits.
Chief Duro Kuteyi, President, Nigeria Association of Technology Incubation Entrepreneurs, who is also the Managing Director/Chief Executive of Spectra Industries Limited, manufacturers of Succo cocoa beverage, among other products, opened up on the hitches and prospects of the sector. He also harps on the need for government’s intervention to aid its growth and development in this interview with Patrick Aigbokhan. Excerpts:
Having been in the business of food processing, with this much experience, sir, what can you tell us about food security in Nigeria?
The food security thing is something that the private sector will have to do with the assistance of the government. Food security is about producing food on the farm and making the food shelves stable. For instance, producing yam on the farm and being able to preserve it for one year till another period of harvest. And so, that is where the private sector comes in, if government is able to assist the farmers with soft loans and infrastructure, just to make production of yam convenient.
The government should also extend it to the processors who will make their products stable, to prevent spoilage and turn it into pounded yam flour or whatever form it can take, so that the price will be stable. If for instance, yam flower is sold at the rate of N500 in January, the price should remain the same till the end of the year without any increase in the price during the period when yam is scarce. When you achieve a uniform price on a farm product throughout the year, that is what is called food security
The ability to make all farm products preserved for a longer period and consumable for that long period, is food security.
At least, we have carried out some of these experiments on mango fruit for instance, and the mango has a life span of at least, three years. So, how do we get those in authority to understand that this can be done? What they need to know is that all that we need to get it done is just the packaging materials. The rest is simple. And it is something that we can gather people, and train them to be able to start their own businesses.
What moves are you making towards drawing the attention of the government to this development?
Yes, we are doing that, but we are yet to get any positive response for now.
Sir, could you give us an insight into the background of Spectra Industries Limited?
Spectra Industries Limited was formally Spectra Nigeria Limited, incorporated in 1992, but we later changed the company name in 2008 to Spectra Industries Limited, when we discovered that some individuals were trying to register their company name as Spectra Nigeria Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission.
The company was set up to venture into food processing, and as such, we started with the processing of Succo cocoa drink product. We started business in Iju-Ishaga, before moving to Incubator centre in 1994.And from 1994 to 1998, we were within the business incubation centre in Agege, where we were awarded best tenant of the year for five years. After then, we moved to our present location, which we leased from the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture and the cooperative then, which is now Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Spectra has now incorporated other products.
We now have Spectra Cocoa, which is a Cocoa without milk and sugar. This is an ideal cocoa beverage for those who cannot tolerate sugar, the elderly, as well as for those who are diabetic. And as you know, diabetic patients have limited drinks that they can take, and this is being added to whatever they would be drinking. It has what it takes to help manage their health. It is also a good drink for those who are
We now have Spectra Cocoa, which is a Cocoa without milk and sugar. This is an ideal cocoa beverage for those who cannot tolerate sugar, the elderly, as well as for those who are diabetic. And as you know, diabetic patients have limited drinks that they can take, and this is being added to whatever they would be drinking. It has what it takes to help manage their health.
It is also a good drink for those who are hypertensive, because it has even been proven by doctors and by those who have been consuming it, that it actually lowers the blood pressure. It also works for those who have frequent malaria, and it has really been helping to reduce the frequency of malaria attacks on them.
So, from what we read and from what the people have done in the area of research about cocoa, we were able to bring out all the facts and started educating our people on how they can benefit from cocoa. And you know that, in the past, cocoa was being exported. None was being processed here, but it comes back into our country as foreign beverages. And when you hear about these beverages, they are painted as if they are all pure cocoa, whereas, they have less than ten percent cocoa. And at that range, it cannot do the work of cocoa, because it has been suppressed by the addition of milk. Milk suppresses the power of cocoa.
So, if you want to get the full benefit of cocoa, you must get the natural cocoa, which is without milk. Those who can tolerate sugar can get the benefit all the same. Those who cannot tolerate sugar, but believe so much in honey, can apply honey. But those who are using honey must be careful that they are using original honey. For those who are diabetic, it is better for them not to use honey or sugar, but to just drink it raw.
Can you tell us the number of products produced by your company?
We have two major lines of products, and they are the cocoa and soya lines.
On the soya line, we have Sobake Flower, which is a product that helps bakers to produce the best of bread. We also have Hyfiba, Fast O Meal, and then the Chewie Sugar. The other line consists of the Cocoa and Succo products. As a matter of fact, if you can tolerate sugar, you can go for Succo, because it does what cocoa does. Just like infants, they take Succo after six months and it develops their brains because cocoa has the ability to enhance mental alertness. As an adult, if you start drinking Succo, it will begin to boost your memory capacity.
Sir, we know you to be involved in the activities of the Nigeria Association of Technology Incubation Entrepreneurs, what is your relationship with the association?
I serve as the president of the association. At the moment, there are over 36 incubation centres in Nigeria, which amounts to about average of one in each state in the country. These centres are supposed to produce good industries and products for the Nigeria economy. And looking at 36, even if we have an average of 20 entrepreneurs in each centre, then you now multiply it, if they pass out of the incubator centres, then you know the number of industries that we have and the number of people that will be employed.
So, this is why government should pay attention to these centres and encourage the members with favorable loans at less than five percent interest rate, so that they can use it to develop their projects and make the best out of it.
Are there any ways that the government policies are affecting this category of business in the country?
With the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari coming in with the policy that discourages importation of finished goods into the country, I think it is a better way to manage a country, because with this, whatever is produced by these entrepreneurs will find its market. And already, we are getting away from the era where anything is being dumped in Nigeria because we know the market is there, which is what has been killing the ingenuity of Nigerians.
With the way things are now, I know that the shops where only imported items are sold are already finding things hard now. And then, you know that Nigerian entrepreneurs find it difficult to get their products on the shelves, because this people believe more in selling imported products to Nigerians.
And when they buy from Nigerians and display, they ask them to supply and come for the money later. After forty five days, they will not pay. Whereas, what they are bringing from other countries, they pay in advance. So, I think the present government of the country has done very well.
And again, when you look at the issue of this imported apple, for instance, why should we be buying it when we have our own African apple, mango, oranges and every other thing in Nigeria? Why should we devote our money to importing apple?
But, now that government has banned the use of foreign exchange to importing goods like apple, the apples are still coming in. How are they coming in; who is funding the foreign exchange? These are issues the government also needs to look into.
Spectra has come this far with about 24 years in operation now, where do we hope to see the company in at least a decade to come; to what extent is the company expected to have impacted the Nigeria economy and consumers of your products as a whole?
We have taken the past years to prepare ourselves for a better growth, and in the next five years, we would be among the top ten in West Africa. In 20 years, we should have gone very far in Africa as the top five.
In the course of your business over the years, what have been your likely challenges, and how have you been able to surmount those challenges?
One of them is the issue of epileptic electric power supply, and up till now, we have not been able to surmount that one. The former NEPA was giving us estimated bills with faulty meters. And when the company became PHCN, after being taken over by the private investors, they replaced the meter, but still didn’t do anything about the crazy bills. And when the PHCN brought a new meter, they were not charging us based on the bills, but they just kept giving us crazy bills. When I complained to them and told them that if their charges were based on the fact that I bought my own electricity transformer in the company, then they should disconnect me from the transformer, they said so long as it is a manufacturing company, that is what the charge would be, whether I use my own transformer or not.
So, you can now see how this people have been crippling SMEs in Nigeria.
Then the issue of funding is another thing. When you have a bank that is crazy, that bank can keep you below your desired level, which results in stunting your growth. The issue of raw materials is also another challenge that is confronting our business operations.
But we now see things looking better with the new developments in the country. With this, we are certain that this year would bring a difference.
Sir, as an entrepreneur of repute, and a man of many parts, how do you manage your daily schedule?
What I simply do is to delegate authorities and also make sure I manage my engagements such that I don’t deprive one activity for another. And you know, your ability to manage several things together at the same time, and getting the right results all together is what makes you a successful manager.
No doubt, you are a successful entrepreneur, what is your word of admonition to upcoming entrepreneurs in the country?
The upcoming ones vary. There are upcoming SMEs in information technologies that don’t need any advice. All they need is to go to their computer and access information and fly. Where as those in the agro-allied need a lot of advice and mentoring. And in this area, all they need to give more concentration is the packaging issue. And these are areas where we are assisting to see how we can help them. We are working with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council to establish packaging centers that can assist SMEs. With this, more people will get involved in the agro-allied sector.
We actually try to assist entrepreneurs who are in the line of producing plantain chips or snacks. We have put up a common facility centre in our company here where they can come in with their plantains and do their products, and then just go out to sell. We put people there who can assist them to do it.
All they only pay for is the facility, so that they won’t have to go to the bank again to get loans if the facility that is already here can serve them. We call it common facility centre or cluster.