Gambian businesswomen are setting up a cluster that will bring businesses, particularly women businesses that are export-ready, to export to the international market, the American market in particular.
“This cluster will help us come together, put our resources and expertise together to access the international market,” said Amie Ceesay-Jaiteh, the proprietor and general manager of C J Enterprise, a company mainly involved in the business of exporting foodstuff (mostly fish) to the UK and America. She opined that when this cluster is ready there will be much foreign exchange coming into the country.
“Exports make the economy more viable,” she said, adding “the American Embassy in the Gambia is helping us in that regard; they are encouraging us to export more into the US market.”
With many years experience in exporting, Amie said the American market is huge, so when exporting there normally they will ask for about 4-5 containers, which is very difficult for individual businesses in The Gambia to provide but with such a cluster, “we can put together our resources and expertise to export in larger volume”, and take advantage of such a huge market.
Challenges of exporting
Amie recounts some challenges she encounter in exporting: “Actually there are challenges because we take fish abroad most of the time that it is difficult. Sometimes we take the fish to Europe, supply to the customers and some of them don’t pay on time. Sometimes you are there for a short period, say, two weeks. Some of them cannot gather your money and give it to you before you leave; they ask you to go, then they will transfer the money to you. You have to be calling them to send the money. That sometimes holds us back.”
Asked how easy it is be exporting, Amie said: “I would not say it is easy because before you venture into export you need to get the market, you need to go and find your customers to be able to sell your products. So if you don’t have the market it is difficult to venture into it. If you see me doing it and you think you can also do it as well, you should have it in mind that it involves a whole lot of things being put in place. You have to get customers who are ready to buy from you anywhere you want to export to.
“Before venturing into business you have to do research and market feasibility study to see what product you would be interested in selling. If you want to be an exporter it is even worth travelling abroad just to look for a market; you also have to go to the internet and search for wholesalers.”
The proprietor of CJ enterprise said exporting fish and agricultural products is something that she find “very interesting”. “I was running my own restaurant after I returned from UK where I studied Tourism and Hotel Management and Catering,” she said.
Mrs Ceesay-Jaiteh continued: “The time I was operating the restaurant I used to go to the market to buy fish and vegetables to sell in the restaurant; I used to meet fishmongers and vegetable sellers; I saw the constraints they were facing at that time. For instance, when you want to buy tomatoes in the market you discover there are abundant tomatoes at some point because they are all harvested together at a time, the same thing holds true of other vegetables. The market also used to be flooded with fish sometimes.
“So I use to think of ways of helping these people; incidentally when I went to UK, somebody approached me and said they needed fish in their shop, so I started buying fish and packing them in suitcases for export to the UK, until they made a law in Europe that we have to pack them properly. So we started air-freighting the fish, but we were doing it through establishments that had export permit. As the demand increased, we started exporting in containers. We started with 20-foot containers, but now we use 40-foot containers because the demand is increasing by the day.”
Advice to Gambians
At the moment “things are very hard”, businesses are experiencing very difficult times globally. When things are difficult, “I think Gambians should help each other; if a Gambian is in business, let’s support the person”. Amie opined that this is the only way the country can move forward and improve our lives.
She called on all and sundry to support Gambian businesses because Gambians are going into lots of businesses that would have been dominated by foreigners. Gambians are in supermarkets, minimarkets, import and export, so let us support each other. If a Gambian makes money, it stays in the country; it makes the economy more viable.
For example, she said, there is a Nigerian shop in London, Nigerians are so proud of going to that shop to buy instead of going to other shops; they will support their fellow Nigerians. So let’s do that - look at each other and support each other. That will take us from this level and probably it might reduce poverty because Gambians will be investing more in The Gambia and invest more in their families and that will lead to the growth of the economy. That is something that we are lacking, let’s give that support to each other.