According to FAO data, aqua farming in Tanzania still constitutes an irrelevant percentage of the economic development of the Country, corresponding to less than 0.5% of the average annual fish landings. Great part of aqua farmers – who for the 70% are women – conduct their activity in a subsistence way, dedicating at it only part-time efforts.
As every untapped sector, it may become a great opportunity of investment, as usual when we speak of food production and value addition in a Country with a fertility rate of 4.8% (2018), 44% of its population under 14 years (2018) and a more and more growing mid-class. Some months ago I met Juliana Nyato, a very young and determined lady, who decided to leave the easiest road of employment to become an acqua farmer and fight many gender biases, through her profession. The following my pleasant chat with her.
When I heard of you, I was immediately impressed, because of the profession you chose. How did you enter into the aquaculture world?
Well, it never was in my mind and, if I have to be really honest, it just happened. I didn’t choose it, but with time I have become completely passionate about it. When I had to decide what to study after high school I really wanted to become a midwife, but unfortunately I was not selected. I qualified, instead, for other faculties, among which aquaculture at Sokoine University of Agriculture. I found myself in the class, without even knowing what I was about to study and feeling confused about my future. I refused to study for the whole first semester, but then a friend of mine made me understand that I could mold my own future and that I could create an impact into society through becoming an aquaculture specialist. Those words clicked something in my mind and I started studying seriously.
Did you start your own business immediately after university?
No, as many people here in Tanzania I searched for employment, as the more secure way to get an income. I worked for different companies in the sector and this surely helped me to build the practical knowledge and skills of my profession. Then, with some savings, I bought a land, built some ponds and decided it was the right moment to become an entrepreneur. I resigned and started this new journey as an independent business woman.
Which goods or services do you offer to your customers?
In the beginning I was farming and selling fish, but soon I understood that my skills and knowledge of this sector were quite unique and could be used in a better way to make the difference. So, I currently am an aqua-farming consultant.
What is your added value to your clients?
I train, support and assist whoever wants to start (or already has) an aquaculture business throughout the whole process: from digging the ponds to maintaining the farm, from choosing the food to treating the main diseases. I also continue farming, with the aim of selling fish fingerlings, as an on-going support to my customers’ projects.
What are the main challenges you have encountered or still face as entrepreneur?
The sector I operate is very specific and technical and the skilled people working in this field are very few. So I definitively do not have problems of demand availability. My biggest challenge is being able to satisfy the demand: currently, the stage of development of my business allows me to serve small and middle size customers, but I am not developed enough to satisfy big size customers requiring continuous fish fingerlings supply. Everything I have done up to know has been self-financed, through savings in the beginning and, later, through income re-investment. At this point, though, finding funds for expanding has been difficult. Another challenge is finding reliable and committed workers, especially among youth. I have struggled a lot for that.
How many people do you employee currently?
I employee three people through my business.
Have you ever thought to give up, during these years?
Definitively yes. When I got pregnant I employed someone who could coordinate the activities at the farm during my maternity leaves from the last months of pregnancy to the first months of life of my child. It was a huge disaster: the farm was completely left apart, the food for fish got spoiled and many fish got stolen. In the moment I saw the conditions of everything I had patiently built, I really thought to give up. But then, the commitment and the passion for what I do gave me the strength to start over again.
How do you manage to be a mother and an entrepreneur at the same time?
Not only mother and entrepreneur, but also a wife. The Tanzanian society has well identified social roles, but I have a very supportive and understanding partner, who completely champion what I do, so in that sense I do not have to struggle. For me it’s just a matter of good planning of my timetable and my activities as wife, mother and manager. In general, however, I know that not all men encourage and support their partners to work, but I think this is something that they must change. You can’t leave your wife depend and rely on you for everything: if you work together as a team you truly start to support each other.
How do you advertise your business and through which channel(s) do you find new customers?
Mainly through social media: particularly Instagram and WhatsApp. I have also started paid on-line learning sessions through WhatsApp groups. Online learning and training is within my current goals, so I will also soon open a Facebook group with this specific objective.
If you could give a suggestion to other women who are starting or want to start a business, what would be?
Be passionate and committed to what you do, because those are the two ingredients that will make you pass over the struggles.