Oluwasikemi Olabisi is the director of The FarmLady Aquatics Limited, a consulting company that helps prospective and existing catfish farmers through training, mentoring and production of healthy catfish juveniles
It all started when I joined an agricultural company in 2018 as a graduate trainee. After the exams and getting selected, the then manager had to assign everyone to different departments and, fortunately, I was posted to the fishery department.
My journey started in the grow-out unit. I was then assigned to manage five earthen ponds, each with a capacity for 1,000 fish. My routine then was to observe them every morning, take note of any signs or symptoms of disease, check if there was a need to change the water, weed round the pond, feed them and send my report to my team lead. It was quite demanding, but I was able to learn the system fast.
In 2019, I was transferred to the hatchery sector. My then team lead wanted someone who was gentle enough to manage the juveniles. The hatchery aspect was a totally different experience for me and I enjoyed seeing them grow from fertilised egg to fry. In 2019, I was promoted to the assistant head of the fishery unit. I kept on learning and growing and, in 2020, I was promoted to the managerial position. My role included creating workplans for all sub-units and supervision of daily activities. I was given a motorcycle then and had to learn how to ride it because before that I had to jog from the hatchery, to the grow-out and then down to the processing unit, which was a full workout routine. It was quite demanding but there was always something new to learn from the fish and my team members.
The major challenge was overcoming the fear of failure, but I was able to overcome that fear. My venture started online with posting aquaculture-related topics on YouTube in May 2020. It was so amazing seeing people engage with my content and that was very encouraging.
The experience so far has been inspiring, because looking back how I started and where I am currently, I can say I have really evolved. In times when I feel down or unmotivated, I remind myself how I started and that just fires me up the more. I am not where I want to be yet, but I am not where I used to be.
A major challenge is not being able to use technology like recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) due to our irregular power supply, the cost of running one and the cost of setting one up. I believe RAS would improve our productivity.
A typical day for me starts at the hatchery at 7 am, observing my catfish fry, siphoning their waste and changing their water. This whole process ends at 10 am. After that I give them some time to rest before feeding. Next, I proceed to work online, check my mail, post on Instagram – as we have to keep building the community. I also check in with my clients.
On days I need to record videos for my subscribers on YouTube, I do that. Get the video edited and take a nap, or relax with a movie after eating. One has to create a work and life balance, so I also try to chill out.
Later in the evening I feed the fry and then do other personal things. On days I need to sort, I sort. On some specific dates, I visit my clients’ farms for physical evaluation of their production processes and then the cycle continues.
I have had so many interesting experiences and I love being able to help people who are facing various challenges in their farms. It also gives me so much happiness and fulfillment when I get feedback from my clients and subscribers on how my videos helped them improve their farming practices.
Training other people in catfish hatchery techniques – an initiative which started in January, when I had students from different parts of the country who came in for three days to learn. The feedback has been amazing.
Every fish farmer I come across inspires me, because I understand that being in this line of business is quite demanding, especially here in Nigeria.
Being a lady in this sector, I face a lot of gender-related issues. Some people feel a woman should not be in this line of business. Some men try to woo you while you are trying to do your job. Some men see you as not fit enough to handle their projects just because you are a lady and then they start trying to tell you how to run your business. I am grateful for every single client I have worked with who was able to see beyond my gender and focus on my capability.
If I could solve one problem, it would be the pricing of live catfish. Some farmers don’t keep good enough records or budgets to understand if they are making profits or not and will mistakenly sell their fish at very low prices. This has made it difficult for serious fish farmers to make a profit.
I would like to own one of the top fish farming training academies where I could train over 1,000 fish farmers each year on good aquaculture practices and contribute to a significant part of the growth of the aquaculture sector in Nigeria.
My advice to women who want to join the aquaculture sector is to be very open-minded and be willing to learn and to believe in themselves. Working in a male-dominated industry can be intimidating. So, focus more on the values you are bringing to the table. Believe that whatever you do or say is valuable. Your voice deserves to be heard.
We have to start from the grass roots. The educational system has to be changed so that a student who goes to college to study fisheries and aquaculture gains more hands-on experience and doesn’t graduate with only theoretical knowledge.
Also, we need more institutes that can train people in good aquaculture practices. This is because a lot of people really do not know how to properly manage their fish, and a high percentage of farmers do not take biosecurity seriously because they don’t even know what it means