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“Hard work and Determination are the Hallmark of Successful Entrepreneurship” Azieb Tsegay

Habtom Tesfamichael

Azieb Tsegay has been striving to be self-reliant since she was young. By adding knowledge and education to her efforts, she successfully opened her own dairy products processing factory and is one of the successful women entrepreneurs in Eritrea.

Let’s start with your background…

My name is Azieb Tsegay. I was born and raised in Asmara. I completed 12th grade in Asmara and then I went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and got married with Eng. Michael Tsegay. I started my university education there but had to quit for some reasons. One of the main reasons was that I started to focus on raising my children.

Earlier you started a business in poultry farming. When and how did you start it?

When I started a family in Addis Ababa, I didn’t want to stay at home. So, I learned about fashion and clothing design. This enabled me to produce different kinds of outfits and had helped me in supporting my family financially. But I was not satisfied with it. I wanted to do more. I had the feeling that my peers were learning and I was lagging behind. Therefore, I learned handcrafting. But still the money I was earning was not enough, and this prompted me to engage in poultry farming. I started it with some 600 chicken in my neighborhood. When Eritrea became independent, we moved to Eritrea and I was given a parcel of land in Dubarwa. I started poultry farming again in 2004 with around 2000 chicken.

Did you find the poultry farming rewarding?

The house I built for the purpose of poultry farming in Dubarwa was conducive for the chicken. And the passion I had for poultry helped me to take the job seriously. Encouraged by this, in Feb 2005, I imported around 20,000 chicken called “first generation” from the Netherlands with all the necessary poultry feeds and vaccinations. I kept four thousand chicken for myself and sold the rest at the local market because I believed that other people should also engage in this business and improve their livelihoods. Again, in May 2005, I imported 20 thousand chicken to lay eggs and six thousand chicken intended for meat production. I kept four thousand chicken for myself and sold the rest at the local market. The broiler chicken grow fast and I sold them to hotels and restaurants. That was lucrative for me at the time, and I believe it had a modest contribution in stabilizing the market.

In October 2005, however, I encountered a huge problem because of the outbreak of a global bird flu. I was told to eliminate around eight thousand chicken. This was a challenge for me at that time as I was expecting to import as many chicken from the Netherlands. In consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, I managed to isolate the chicken from any contact with the outside world and managed to avoid the problem unharmed. At the same time, a rumor that the “eggs from the ‘Holland chicken’ is infected” was spread, which caused me to dump around 180 thousand eggs. Though this was not confirmed by experts, it did affect my business. But I didn’t lose hope. I was determined to make progress and brought chicken called “second generation” from Keren. But from this time onwards the poultry business didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, so to compensate for this I started a dairy farm alongside. In 2009, I quit poultry farming altogether when scarcity of poultry feed was added to the challenges I had already encountered.

Do you think that other women can empower themselves by engaging in poultry farming?

Poultry farming is not an easy job. Chicken require utmost care. If you can take care of them properly, it is beneficial. Families can improve their nutritious food by raising chicken. But chicken are also vulnerable to disease, and if they get infected, they can have pernicious effects on your economy. So it’s a business that requires a very painstaking undertaking. Chicken are not the kind of animals that can be watched from afar but are to be handled with care. You need to be careful about the feeding, hygiene and vaccination. Although poultry farming can be beneficial it requires very meticulous effort and dedication.

How did you start the dairy production business?

When the poultry farming proved to be not profitable any more, I started to shift to cattle breeding in 2007. I was encouraged by the outcome and increased the number of milk cows I had. The milk I was producing was more than the demand of the local market in Dubarwa. I was forced to sell it in Asmara, 30 km away. It wasn’t profitable. Therefore, I came up with the idea of starting manufacturing dairy products. In consultation with Dutch experts, I learned the process of producing cheese and mozzarella. I started production and made progress but had shortage of packaging materials. When the plant was in its initial steps, my son, Abraham, went to Italy and the Netherlands to learn about the process of cheese making. With his help and the machines we imported, we were able to manufacture milk products and avoided the post-harvest loss we had been encountering.

On average, we buy around 3000 liters of milk per day and during the fasting season, we buy around 65 thousand liters of milk per day from the local milk cooperatives and other suppliers. Our factory produces yogurt, different types of cheese, buttermilk, butter, cream and ricotta. Our products are sold to a wide range of customers, including mining companies, the local market and hotels and restaurants. The prices of our products are reasonable in light of the price we pay for the milk we buy from our suppliers.

In my journey, I came across a lot of frustrating challenges. But, thanks to the encouragement and support of my husband, my sons and relatives, I was able to carry on unconstrained by the problems I faced. Losing hope is the worst enemy. You shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by challenges because there is no shortcut to success. It is always good to grow step by step. It can sometimes be frustrating, but at the end of the day, it is those who are tested by challenges who become experienced and successful.

What would your answer be to those who think that women are unable to lead and manage businesses?

I don’t think that women are incapable of leading and managing if they have the necessary knowledge and education. But the traditional thinking that emanates partly from the fact that our patriarchal society doesn’t acknowledge the potential of women is one of the obstacles to women’s development. However, if women are given equal education and opportunities, there is no way they could be any short of achieving what they aspire. I believe that, there is no difference between men and women in their ability to acquire knowledge and skill except in their physical strength. In any case, we both complement one another.

How do you think should women prioritize work and education?

If they have the opportunity they should first focus on education. Education is key to transforming women and can help them in making the right choices in their life. In its narrowest sense, it helps them to be equipped with more knowledge and skills, preparing them for better job opportunities.

We have an association called Eritrean Women’s Agro-business Association (EWAA). The purpose of the association is to help grow members by providing education and training. Currently, there are 63 members in the association. Within the association, we are provided with various kinds of training in the fields of poultry, cattle breeding, dairy products, bee keeping, breeding rabbits, mushroom farming, floriculture, horticulture and others. And at SMAP Institute, the association provides training on accounting, finance and management. This has helped us a lot to excel in our work.

What is the role of your sons and your husband in your success?

First off, my husband understands me and encourages me in all the efforts I make. In addition to that, he is educated and contributes a lot. His attitude towards women is very positive. He believes if women are educated and dedicated to their goal they can achieve what they want. And my son, Abraham, has been key to my success in our dairy production enterprise. He leads the marketing of our products and the provision of supplies.

What do you think is the secret to your success?

The secret to my success is the dedication to my goal and working hard. When I was overwhelmed with challenges I didn’t give up – I always strove to overcome them. I will continue to do so in the future till I achieve my goals and dreams.

What are your future plans?

I have a lot of projects. But, my biggest aim is to grow the factory by adding machineries and the necessary skilled laborers.

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