Abou Simbel Ouattara is the founder and CEO of the giant egg producer called Moablaou in Burkina Faso. When, in 2002, he wanted to switch to a modern large-scale company, he received a loan of 700,000 euros from The Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO). He shares the story of how he became a successful entrepreneur in Africa.
My company Moablaou now produces over 150,000 eggs per day. This wasn't something that just happened. My journey was an unusual one, as I started with just a simple certificate: the Brevet d'Études du Premier Cycle (BEPC). This allows you to do a basic job with the government. That’s how I became a warehouse assistant at the National Cereals Office.
In 1986, thanks to the support of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), I completed a food security training course in Gembloux. This trip to Belgium made me feel rather rebellious. I witnessed for myself how big the gap was between Belgium and Burkina Faso. In Belgium, people were ambitious and disciplined, but not where I came from. When I returned I said to my wife: ‘I want to be self-employed within one year!’
Therefore, in 1987, I started with 500 laying hens. Indeed, as the son of a farmer, I adored agriculture. And I had learned from my parents how to breed poultry. Every little bit of profit I made, I injected back into my company. It was not until 2000 that I first asked for a loan of 1000 euros. In this way we gradually increased to 1000 laying hens, then 3000, and so on.
I witnessed for myself how big the gap was between Belgium and Burkina Faso. In Belgium, people were ambitious and disciplined, but not where I came from. When I returned I said to my wife: ‘I want to be self-employed within one year!’
Abou Simbel Ouattara
In 2002 and 2003, I borrowed a total of 700,000 euros from The Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO). This allowed me to become a large-scale company. 99% of all chicken farms in Burkina Faso operate from open buildings. However, the climate is very dry and warm in our country, and 42°C is no exception. Many chickens die during the hottest season (May-June). It is therefore better for your chickens to be kept in a closed building at a temperature of 25°C, and also for their welfare. The loan from BIO allowed us to build two modern buildings and double the number of laying hens from 55,000 to 110,000.
Our 150,000-180,000 eggs per day are all sold in the capital city of Ouagadougou. Our customers are mainly wholesalers and ‘resellers’. The latter includes over 600 people, 400 of which are young women, who come to collect eggs on their bike or moped. In total we indirectly create employment for 1200 people. I also have my own staff of 600 people. Thanks to my company we no longer need to import eggs to Burkina Faso. And the fact that eggs are rich in protein means we contribute to (affordable) food security.
Our eggs are of equivalent quality to those from the West. We also work a lot with Belgian companies. This means that our chicks come from Belgabroed. We also receive technical assistance from Intraco in order to be able to provide balanced chicken feed.
Even so, farming is the future. Food will never go out of fashion. Everyone needs to eat and our population continues to grow.
An important obstacle to starting a company is the lack of decently trained staff. Existing agricultural schools only provide general training. Even today, vets are unable to specialise in poultry in our country. Therefore, if you want to start up a company in this field you need to be well trained yourself. And that is currently only possible abroad. This led me to study in places like Israel.
I also notice that farming is not particularly popular with young people. Those that are currently still at school dream most of becoming a civil servant. The elite – public service, banks… - don't tend to promote agriculture either. Even so, farming is the future. Food will never go out of fashion. Everyone needs to eat and our population continues to grow. So the market is guaranteed in any case. Not everyone can become a doctor or ICT expert.
You need to be prepared for some tough times as an entrepreneur. You must enjoy working hard. So if you prefer to have plenty of holidays and like working in an air-conditioned office, don't even think about it.
Minister De Croo
But you do need to be a fan of farming. You also need to be prepared for some tough times as an entrepreneur. You must enjoy working hard. So if you prefer to have plenty of holidays and like working in an air-conditioned office, don't even think about it. You need to be good at organising and work in a disciplined manner. It is best to start small. It is also really useful to do an apprenticeship. Only approach a bank for a loan if you can run your small company successfully. There is no point in rushing things.
As an entrepreneur you should not be discouraged by setbacks. After all, in the poultry sector you often have to deal with disease. But you can learn from every crisis. It makes you stronger. There's no such thing as a life without risk. My most recent big crisis was in March 2015 when the bird flu took hold. Well, since then I have become more organised, and this is partly thanks to a report from FAO about bio security. Less than a year later we were up and running again. In January 2016, the Belgian minister of Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, even came to visit my company. That makes me so proud, you know. People do not live by bread alone!