- Say you visit a shop, you’ll definitely notice at least a couple of people asking for FT. What is FT? And why do people trust this brand so much? We will try to figure out the answers to these questions and many more as we speak to the owner of the brand.
- Mrs. Freweini Tesfayohanes is a successful entrepreneur. She is the owner and manager of her own milk processing enterprise, she is a modern farmer. An exemplary woman who constantly thinks of her community. She says one’s success is nothing if it means small to the people around her “the wellbeing of my society matters to me equally as my daughter’s”. Mrs. Freweini Tesfayohanes is an example of hard work and persistent strives. Q&A presents her to you.
- -Can we start by speaking of the brand FT and your enterprise?
With pleasure. FT is the brand of ‘Freweini Small Scale Milk Processing Plant’. It is a licensed enterprise that I founded more than 15 years ago. It started small and it got to where it is now over time; little by little, with small advancements at a time. FT is the official brand for our products that include yogurt, cheese, feta cheese, crème – panna, butter, traditional butter tesmi, ricotta and others extracted from milk. Of course the demand on the market dictates our focus of production but we still manage to satisfy our customers with all of our might.
- -The woman Entrepreneur
I am a farmer; a dairy breeder. I was born in early 1960s in Asmara and I joined the armed struggle for independence when I was 17. You know how things were in the field, right? Freedom fighters were not there just to shoot bullets. The armed struggle for independence was chiefly a humanitarian revolution. So, within the field, we had all sorts of schools and training centers. I learned and served as a nurse until 1996. I started a family of my own after independence, I was both a student and a mother. I got to med school and after that I worked in several hospitals including Orota Pediatric Hospital and overtime in different pharmacies. Some years later I suffered a skin problem that forced me to stay away from pharmaceutical elements and, so, I was officially released from work at the hospitals and pharmacies. Luckily, though, by some unexpected luck, I had previously started dairy breeding activities and I kept working on it. I eventually turned in to a farmer and then much later, when I gathered the basic equipment and knowledge, I stopped delivering milk to bigger companies and started producing dairy products on my own. In a journey of 20 years I can now proudly say that I have done quite well for myself.
- -Let’s go back to the beginning. How did your company start?
It started with very little. I told you earlier, in fact, that FT is how we perceive it now thanks to the millions of small steps we took over the years. My very first take-on was farming. I was born and raised in Asmara, I studied in Asmara and from Asmara I went to the field and joined the armed struggle for independence. I knew small about farming or dairy products. However on the 10th of October 1992, when I had my first daughter, I started to self-teach on dairy breeding and milk processing.
- -Why the sudden interest?
I had just returned from the field after so many years of warfare and I was studying in the nursing school so I constantly thought of how to raise my child to be healthy. She had some problems in her bones that were not medically clear yet and she was in pain. So all I thought as an immediate healing tool was to provide her all-inclusive healthy diet, chiefly basing it on tons of proteins and calcium.
I didn’t think I could afford to buy her milk every day. I rented a small room with a big yard and a small well. My older sister was then active in dairy farming, so she had good knowledge about dairy farming. I asked for her opinions, and jotted down some notes, gathered my savings and off I went to the market to buy a cow. A Holstein Friesian. I took her back home, I hired a man to help me milk it and that is how I was finally able to provide milk for my daughter. But I noticed that my daughter was not a big fan of milk. She had allergic reactions. So, once again I spent a couple of years in libraries and talking with dairy breeders aiming to know how to extract multiple dairy products from milk. I learned and researched a lot until I was finally confident enough to alter milk in to other dairy products in my kitchen for my daughter. She loves yogurt, cheese and crème and I was making all that in my kitchen.
- -How is she feeling now? Your daughter…
Oh, she is a fighter. She has a positive attitude towards her problems and she thinks of the pain as a motivator to live a good and honest life. She works extremely hard.
- -From the kitchen to the markets
It took me a while to think about putting my products out in the market. However, in 1996, I suffered from skin disease and I had to stop working in hospitals. I got a loan from MEWEL, a national project to assist small business, and I also added the fee I received for serving as a nurse. I took a risk to invest everything I had in trying out dairy breeding. I rented a barn outside Asmara and moved there with my first darling Holstein along some new ones. Every day was a new day for me at the barn. You learn a lot. I fell in love with these beautiful creatures. And the milk I gathered from them I delivered to big corporations of dairy products. I knew I wanted to start my own milk processing plant sooner or later but I was simply waiting for the right time.
I also knew that I would never be able to start big. So I focused on doing things, one thing at a time. When I finally got a license for processing my barn’s milk, I opened a stand in Daeropaulos and officially opened the enterprise. I produced small amounts of feta cheese, yogurt and panna. I started supplying dairy products to hotels and restaurants. In time the demand grew and my job got even bigger. At the moment we work 16 hours a day to answer the ever increasing market demand. FT is mainly known for yogurt. We specialized in yogurt making because we realized the health benefits of it and also because yogurt is a highly loved dietary base of our community. I dedicated a lot of time to learn and continuously upgrade FT yogurt because I thought if my daughter found it useful so can my community. The wellbeing of my daughter matters to me equally as my daughter’s. The brand is also known for its butter, traditional butter and panna.
- -Why is it that FT has become such a popular brand?
I don’t think it is my place to answer why people like our brand. But I am extremely grateful that FT is a trusted brand. FT is of the people. I hate labeling expensive prizes on my products. I am a former freedom fighter and being Eritrean I learned how to be grateful while sharing even the smallest you own. I do my best to personally control the quality of the products. We take extra caution as we provide alimentary supplements. We hate to brag nor advertise. I don’t mind if big supermarkets in rich neighborhoods don’t shelve FT. It is not my main concern. It gives me serenity to know I am capable of shelving affordable products to the majority. I want FT to be of my community. My society’s wellbeing matters to me equally as my daughter’s. I mean isn’t this what Eritrea is supposed to be all about? I work hard although I am almost 60 and tired, but I still work for the people. I have worked for my people since I was 17!
- -You have your own way of empowering women. Can you share it with us?
It is really not much, but three out of four of the employees in FT are women: students, part timers and mothers. I believe that world-wide there is an issue with matters related to women. What i benefit from including women in the plant is tidiness. Women are made for artistry, beauty and cleanliness. We communicate and understand eachother well when working togather. Many women have employment problems, oportunities are wider for men… a sort of modern women’s rights violation. In some states of the United States men get more salary than women for the same jobs! There is some sort of bullying directed to women. For istance diarybreeders men think I am not good enough. They bully my market. They go around spteading rumourse about my products. Doors of many offices are shut to women, the ears of many are deaf to women’s bussiness… But, that even motivates me to work harder.
I personally think women in dairy bussiness have done inicredibly well. Azieb, for example, owner of Azieb PLC, is a friend and a collegue who runs beautifully a dairy and poultry farm in the Southern Region! So my way is to make sure that the FT women find confidence in them selves so as to eventually do better when they find better job oportunities, or better still, when they open enterprises of their own! Who knows… I want to tell them that it is okay to try, toil and fail until you succeed.
- -Thank you Mrs. Freweini. We wish you and FT the best of luck. Is there anything you want to add at the end?
My message is directed at young Eritrean women. I want to tell them that so long as they search there is always something for them to do to become self reliant. Greetings to my dear EWA collegues. And my gratitude to the Ministry of Agriculture for all of its efforts to assit women in agribussiness.
- -Thank you!