This week, we catch up with Ilham Amin. She has a science degree behind her name, but in the end followed in her father’s agricultural footsteps. Amin is among the 15 women entrepreneurs hand-picked for a training initiative presented by Corteva Agriscience and Strathmore University.
Despite growing up in a family that owned an agribusiness, Ilham Amin had no interest in agriculture. In fact, she graduated with a BSc degree in clothing, textile and interior design from Egerton University, Kenya’s oldest higher learning institution.
However, a time came when she had to fill her father’s shoes at Bungoma Chemist Ltd, the family enterprise based in Bungoma County, Kenya.
“I am second generation,” she tells FoodForAfrika.com. “My parents are the ones who started the business. So, when my dad wanted to retire I had to take over. Taking over from my dad was just a way of me giving back to my parents.”
It was never really a passion to get into agriculture, Amin admits. “I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to end up in agriculture in any form. It just sort of happened. I just found myself in it.”
The family business started off 30 years ago; first as a pharmacy, which then branched out to an agrovet and other businesses as well. It supplies and distributes inputs, machinery equipment and tools to both stockists and directly to farmers. It boasts itself as a leading pharmaceuticals and input distributor within the county.
Amin’s orientation began in 2016 and she officially took over in 2018. She is now the managing director and in charge of the agrovet department. So how did she manage to wear this hat without being driven by passion?
“Once I got into it and I really started learning about agriculture and business, the farmers, the whole industry basically, it became a very beautiful experience and I really enjoy myself and I find myself wanting to do more and more. Right now I’m passionate about it.
“What gets me up in the morning is knowing that I am making a difference in a farmer’s life somewhere because when you look at the food chain, farmers are below. They are the people feeding the entire country and at the same time people getting the least support. So just being there for the farmer and trying to do something for the sake of them is something that I live for.”
The sweet and the sour
Even as the passion bloomed, her journey is of course not without setbacks. The major one being lack of experience in business and agriculture. Amin admits to having lost a lot of money due to lack of knowledge and information.
“It is a tough business, honestly. The ups and downs have been plenty. I have never done business before. I had no background in business so this was a learning experience and I am really appreciative of that. It is stressful, sometimes you don’t know what you are doing, sometimes you don’t feel like doing it but you just have to.”
But she refused to throw in the towel. Not only did her resilience come from the newfound love for farming but also helping her parents who handed her with the responsibility of keeping the family business up to par.
“If it isn’t for the passion that I developed I wouldn’t be here. I would have closed the business and moved on to what I studied,” she giggles.
Amin is one of the extraordinary women who participated in the 2021 edition of the Corteva Women Agripreur Programme with Strathmore University.
“Majority of us are not business trained. We just found ourselves in the sector. So, providing that background for us is really empowering and beneficial to us. There are so many things I did not know, so many things that I have been doing wrong, some I have been doing right but after a lot of trial and errors.
“So, finally having somebody to tell you this is how and what you need to do in terms of managing finances, taxes, returning investments, laws to be aware of… is a much welcome shortcut. You save a lot of time, energy and money that you would have wasted doing something wrong.”
Amin describes this programme as a vital step in advancing her entrepreneurial expertise. “I have been thinking of becoming a business coach and with this kind of course it gives me footing and hope that I can actually pursue business and end up doing business coaching as well,” she says.
Tips for aspiring agripreneurs
Amin’s advice to other agripreneurs is to “never say never!”
Growing up, she never imagined herself being a farmer, but years later here she is heavily invested in agriculture.
“Watch our for opportunities and be ready to take on the world and make a difference. Make sure that whatever you are doing, you are loving it and making a difference not just for your business. If you can make money and at the same time change somebody’s life, that is the best experience of life you are ever going to have.”