Sometime last year, I stumbled on some maize products labeled ‘NACORN’ on social media, produced and sold by a young Cameroonian. Impressed by the initiative and packaging coming from a youth, I planned to patronize this initiative by getting supplies of these products whenever I have a means of transportation, or even recommend these products to people travelling to Cameroon for holidays -“Bush Fallers”. A couple of weeks ago, having found a means of transportation, I decided to get in touch with this young entrepreneur to place an order for some of her products. With some reluctance and evidence of pain, she started up by saying, “I am sorry, business was not moving so I stopped”. Our discussion that afternoon made me spend a couple of minutes soliloquizing in disappointment. She reminded me of the harsh realities young entrepreneurs in Cameroon face while setting up business ventures. From a place of empathy, I decided to find out what killed such a brilliant initiative even before it could go pass the toddler stage. The paragraphs below are a vivid transcription of our chat.
Question- Can you tell me a little about you?
“I am Nadege Ngala Muyu, Cameroonian by nationality and 24 years of age. I am presently doing a Masters in Agribusiness Management at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. I also have a Masters in Agricultural Economics from the University of Dschang, Cameroon and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Buea, Cameroon”.
Question- Why did you start NACORN?
“I wanted to materialize what I had learnt from school by starting up an agribusiness enterprise which I called NACORN. Basically, it was the transformation of primarily maize products since maize is one of the most consumed food crop in Cameroon. Also, I had finished my Master’s degree and had no job. I applied for voluntary services, jobs and even attended interviews but none was successful. This spurred the zeal to start something on my own .I equally thought of coming up with products that could save time by making semi cooked products like corn for corn chaff and soy beans powder”.
Question- How did you start?
“After conceiving the idea, I shared it with so many people of whom only few actually saw potential in it. Others laughed at the idea but it didn’t stop me. After sometime, I finally decided to start with little or no franc. I begged a bucket of maize from my mom which I started up with. I also had some money … very insignificant amount, which I used in printing labels for branding and packaging -something which is not very common with maize products, at least in Cameroon. I made some sample products from this bucket of maize given to me by my mother. At the beginning sales were very slow but as time went on demand started rising gradually. It was also very difficult for me to produce, package and do the sales myself”.
Question- What were the products you produced and sold?
For maize products, I had; corn flour, peeled boiled corn ready for corn chaff and dry corn pap. For my Soybeans product, I had soy bean powder .At the time, I had just these products but with the intention of diversifying the products if need be.
Question- At what stage are you now with the business?
I can’t really say for real what I am up to regarding the business. Due to financial difficulties and the fact that I had no job that could sustain me, I had to put the business on hold. I used the little money I made from it to take care of my personal needs since I had no other source of finance. My financial background isn’t that strong. I didn’t have an account or collateral which I could use to get funds on credit. With these ups and downs, I applied for a 6 months scholarship program in Kenya hoping that, the course can help me increase my agribusiness skills and equally expose me to other means of raising finances for the expansion of my business. Before leaving for Kenya, I had no body I could entrust the business to, given that it had not yet made firm roots, and I had no capital for its sustenance. The business is on break for now. I hope to take it up again when I get more finances. Before traveling I told my customers I will be back in February 2016 with NACORN in ‘grand style’. People often say it’s good to start a business no matter how small. However, I will also want to say here that, from my experience, if you don’t have a reasonable sum it’s not really going to be sustainable”.
The Doing Business report (2015) ranks Cameroon 158 on 189 countries in terms of favorable business climate. Despite the general challenges which cut across developing countries such as poor infrastructure, high information asymmetry, insufficient power, high taxes, access to credit and bureaucracy amongst others, it seems to be much more complex to set up a business in Cameroon, than in most African nations. In a nutshell, when talking business in Cameroon, reputable business models may be far from feasible since what works for Peter’s business may not work for Paul’s. The implementation of policies governing businesses vary from person to person depending on how ‘connected’ an individual is.
Looking at Nadage’s situation, two main questions came to my mind. Would she have gone back to school for a second Masters if her business was thriving? What does she really have to do differently to survive in business the second time? Not that it is the case with Nadege but the rate at which African youths keep acquiring one degree to the other without applying their knowledge to improve their living standards is quite pathetic. Most often than not, these youths can’t be blamed as their willingness alone is not sufficient to enable them realize their dreams. Simply put, several factors don’t favor youthful entrepreneurship in Cameroon.
DC Communications has as objective to connect human and financial resources in the diaspora back to the African continent. In this vain, while we wish NACORN an aggressive comeback, we beckon on any honest investors in or out of the continent to consider such moves.