Kevin Ekwenwa

Ashoka Fellow
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Nigeria
Fellow since 2013
The Fisher Project
This description of Kevin Ekwenwa's work was prepared when Kevin Ekwenwa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013 .

Introduction

Kevin Ekwenwa is reducing the high startup costs associated with fish farming and providing group financing solutions and training to empower young people to be successful aquaculture entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Through this model, young people can create employment opportunities for themselves while meeting local consumption demand for fish through local production.

The New Idea

Kevin is empowering young people to become successful fish farmers in Nigeria. He envisions a dynamic and competitive aquaculture sector that produces enough fish to feed the local population while remaining an attractive and viable source of employment for young people. Despite Nigeria’s natural competitive advantage in fish production and the importance of fish as a protein source for Nigerians, the country only produces enough fish to meet a third of local demand. Kevin has designed a collapsible fishpond that can easily be set up in a backyard with access to a water supply. This fishpond eliminates 70 percent of the cost of a concrete pond. In addition, he has organized young farmers into groups in order to provide a feasible financing option for those who cannot afford the cost on their own.

Alongside this design innovation, Kevin’s organization works closely with communities to identify young people and marginalized groups to work with. He provides extensive training on modern fish farming methods as well as basic training on entrepreneurship and fish farm management. Kevin has formed partnerships with local government agencies to leverage existing extension services and facilities. Kevin’s comprehensive strategy recognizes the government’s initiatives to boost fish production and complements where they fall short.

The Strategy

Kevin envisions a time when the regional production of fish yields enough to meet local consumption. In 2009, Kevin began this work by promoting fish farming to young people and training them on modern methods. He engaged communities through meetings with community leaders, youth, women’s organizations, and developed training curricula on the basics of fish farming, hygienic practices, and the use of organic feeds and products used in fish farming production. Kevin designed a collapsible fish pond that costs 70 percent less than the concrete ponds and eliminates the cost of purchasing or leasing land because it can be set up in a backyard or land with access to a water supply. The collapsible fish pond combines the shear strength, toughness and impermeability of a tarpaulin polymer with the tensile strength and corrosion resistance of stainless steel, to form the intricate design of a low-cost and portable pond. Kevin has also designed a financing solution for farmers who cannot afford the costs on their own. These farmer’s form groups and their combined resources are pooled to cover the down payment for the first fish pond. Then, they purchase fingerlings and operate the pond together. They complete payment on the fish pond with the profits from their yields.

Kevin promotes fish farming as a viable employment opportunity that can bring in an income and feed a family. He provides extensive training to the fish farmers who join and continues to devise new methods for increasing their return. For example, Kevin is demonstrating how fish farmers can participate in the government’s strategy relating to integrated crop and fish farming by training young new fish farmers to use the leftover fish pond water as organic fertilizer for their vegetable farms. In this way, Kevin encourages both fish and crop farming, which diversifies farmers’ profits. Farmers could also sell this water to others as fertilizer. Kevin has also responded to the notion that Nigerian fisheries sell raw products without capitalizing on the gains that could be found higher in the value chain. He has incorporated value addition into his training program to teach farmers how to produce and market their fish in different ways (fresh, dried and canned). With the recent government attention to fish farming, Kevin has created partnerships with local government agencies to capitalize on their training facilities and programs. In this manner, he has built his strategy around the areas where the government’s interventions fall short—reducing the costs of access by decreasing the cost of the pond, designing group financing methods, and providing specialized training on how to maximize the returns on fish farming by recycling waste products and adding value to raw fish.

Kevin began this work in 2009 and by late 2010 had trained about 3,000 young people and existing farmers on the techniques of modern fish farming. By the end of 2012, Kevin was working in 15 different communities and had organized just over 100 groups of fish farmers using the collapsible fish ponds.

At this point, Kevin is working in two states and is spreading south into the Niger Delta region, which has fisheries that were particularly hard hit when oil production boomed and oil spillages and pollution began infiltrating their water sources. Kevin is excited to reach beyond state boarders in his quest to make fish protein available and affordable especially for the rural poor.

In the next year, Kevin plans to standardize his product, build capacity for production and establish his training program through farmers’ associations, youth groups, online, trade fairs, women’s organizations, and community leaders. Within three years, he projects the creation of over 1,000 employment opportunities (direct and indirect) and a collective savings of about $662,408 on frozen fish importation. Kevin wants to secure 20 percent of the market and close the supply gap of fish in Nigeria by 40 percent.

The Person

Kevin’s humble family made their living in the fish business and he always wondered about the high price of fish. He helped his mother (a fish seller) carry her products to the market and learned much about the fish industry in Nigeria from her.

Kevin developed a habit of problem-solving through entrepreneurship, a characteristic that has remained with him ever since. At university he started ECO DRIVE, a club formed from the need to keep a clean and healthy environment for students. The club involved stakeholders within and outside the school and they succeeded in recycling the school’s trash.

While Kevin was a student, he went to the market to buy fish but could not afford it. This prompted him to explore how to make fish more accessible to the poor. In his search for solutions, Kevin joined SIFE an entrepreneurial action organization where he met like-minded young people. He acted on his entrepreneurial impulse and began theoretical and practical courses on fish farming. Kevin wanted to share this knowledge with others. Upon completing his university studies he began training and empowering 70 young people on practical fish farming and watched their lives transform. This was his “eureka moment” as an entrepreneur. As a result of this and other similar entrepreneurial feats, Kevin and nine members of his SIFE team were selected to represent Nigeria at the prestigious SIFE world business contest in Los Angeles, California, US (2010). Kevin and his team also emerged as regional finalists in the 2012 Global Social Venture Competition (Asia-Africa) at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad (2012), where they placed among the top six finalists. He was a finalist in the MTN Budding Entrepreneur Business Grant competition and at the INDIAFRICA Business Venture Competition (Sept. 2012). Kevin recently won a YouWiN! Award, a competition of the Nigerian government to reward and incentivize young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas.