In 1997, Yemisi Iranloye obtained her first degree in biochemistry from the Federal University of Technology Minna. By 2000, she had obtained a master’s in biochemistry and nutrition from the University of Ibadan.
Iranloye started her entrepreneurial journey when she started formulating food for diabetic patients using wheat and making natural drinks. She then moved to Ekha Agro Processing Ltd, a company that uses cassava to produce glucose syrup.
While at Ekha Agro Processing, she fell in love with the numerous commercial benefits of the cassava plant. After 10 years with the company, Iranloye left to start her own company called Psaltry International Limited in 2015. She started by acquiring farmland in Oye State with six other staff to begin cassava cultivation.
“We cultivated the land and worked with smallholder farmers in the community. We engaged with them to change their thinking from farming only for fufu (a West African food made out of cassava) or garri (granulated cassava) to farming for industrial purposes,” Iranloye told howwemadeitinafrica.
“I already knew my success parameters: raw materials and proximity to the raw materials. Not the proximity to market because I can easily move my finished goods but my raw materials are not as simple. I also knew quality was going to open doors to the various buyers.”
Psaltry claims to be the first cassava-based sorbitol factory in Nigeria. It produces food-grade starch and high-quality cassava flour. It grows the majority of the cassava and also purchases from local smallholder farmers.
The company’s clients include global brands such as Unilever, Nestlé, Nigerian Breweries, and Promasidor. Nestlé was Psaltry’s first client, according to Iranloye.
“They had witnessed our journey and already knew the kind of quality we were going to produce. Not many people in Nigeria were producing good quality starch at the time and Nestlé certified us within two or three weeks. Nigerian Breweries followed and from there our business grew.”
Currently, the company has more than 5,000 farmers in its network and has now grown, within 10 years, from $1 million to about $12 million in revenue per annum.
Starting Psaltry International was not easy for Iranloye as all she had from scratch was land. Funding was a major challenge but was fortunate to receive funding from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) called the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) after submitting a business proposal. She used the funds to construct the first factory.
“The following year, we accessed more funding through the CBN’s Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (ACGSF),” she said.
Lack of stable power was another challenge as Iranloye and her staff had to depend on generators. “Our only water source was a small stream that dried up in the dry season; however, there was a dam 15km away, which we could pipe to our factory eventually,” she said.
To overcome the water challenges, she built boreholes for the community and the factory. “The farmers realized we meant business once we built boreholes in the rocky environment. They were delighted and welcomed us with so much warmth,” she added.
According to her, the current challenge of her factory remains raw materials and funding. She explained that banks do not lend to her because they do not understand the way the funding cycle of her business works.
“For example, every year, you must plan for the next year because it’s a 12-month crop. You need a budget to support the crops you’ll cultivate this year, which you will only harvest next year.
“When buying the inputs you need for farming, you have to pay within 24 hours but when you sell the finished product, you don’t get paid for 60 days. There is a constant outflow of cash with a very slow return rate. These are things you need to explain to the financial institutions. This industry needs heavy working capital,” she said.