Using creative solutions overcome challenges in agro-business
By Patrica Opio
In second feature of the Design Hustle, we have Stella Njagi, a Kenyan entrepreneur based in Uganda who owns a horticultural start-up. In this interview, she gives us an insight into her agro-business Spills of Eden and tells us how her own creativity helped her overcome challenges during the Covid period.
Stella, please tell us about yourself and your company.
I am a horticulturist. I manage Spills of Eden, an agro-business that specializes in herbs and spices which I founded in 2013. It is called ‘Spills of Eden’ because spices are healing, and I wanted to depict how mother nature gives us spices and healing that keeps spilling from the Garden of Eden. At Spills of Eden, we supply 40 different herbs and spices like moringa, dried paw paws, soursop (Graviola), gotukola, peppermint, Echinacea, dandelion, yarrow, thyme, rosemary, marigold, oregano, hibiscus, stinging nettle, stevia, chia seeds, shea butter and many others. Most of these are processed or blended to make various products like herbal food supplements, herbal medicines, cooking spices, essential oils, cosmetics, natural oils and herbal teas. We have our own farm here in Wobulenzi (50km north of Kampala) where we cultivate and monitor the quality of our plants so that the final product that we sell is of high quality too.
What was the turning point to lead you to where you are now – this moment? What inspired you?
I was in the import and export business in Kenya before I started this company. When I saw how the business was being managed, I decided that I too could do the same. That inspired and encouraged me to start Spills of Eden with the knowledge I had gotten in my previous job.
How has the journey/ride been in building your company or career?
It was difficult starting because I needed to visit research institutions like Makerere and different herbalists in Uganda. It was a journey where people depart from you because they think you are crazy. I put all my money into it. I sold all my assets to start this. It was the hardest thing I had to go through. There would be times where I did not have fuel to go to the farm and one of my friends would lend me money to go there. It was a rollercoaster ride.
I attribute my success due to my perseverance and sticking to my original idea. It was difficult but I didn’t stop. Many times, as I said, I had to borrow from my friends so that I could buy fuel to go to the farm in Wobulenzi. But when I acquired the knowledge to run my business, that kept me going because I felt I had the expertise that would make sure that I would succeed. When you have the right knowledge, it is easier to go on despite of troubles that come up.
What do you think holds back creatives/entrepreneurs in the industry? What has been the formula for your success? Please share with us.
Around the time I started, we were about 50 people, but I am the only one still standing. Everyone else dropped out. Horticulture is an extremely hard industry. Patience is important: you have to wait and very few people are willing to wait. People want things chap chap (very fast). It also needs a lot of capital to start. Then you have to consider: Where is the market? Where do you sell? And the last is value addition. For example, if you are growing maize, you need to think of the next season for planting otherwise the brokers will make the money from you. One needs to think about more than just the original form of a product, but how to add value to the raw product.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to break through. How did you overcome this obstacle?
The biggest obstacle is the capital. You need a lot of capital to start and maintain a horticultural business. It is not easy getting that money, but I decided to take it cool and use the little I have. I would just keep adding in more capital as I got it. I decided to be patient in my entrepreneurial journey.
How do you motivate yourself to keep going even when things are tough?
I think this is my nature. I was in Kenya doing my sales and the lockdown was announced, this was the time just before COVID-19 hit hard. The farm was this side and I was stuck in Kenya, having gone to market my produce. From March to October 2020, I was away from the farm and family. After a month, I had to restart my life in Kenya because I didn’t have a choice. So, I started selling it from my house that I had turned into my office. People started coming for the herbs and spices, especially with the increased need for herbs in this time of COVID. I opened an outlet in Nairobi in the midst of that. I have excelled in Kenya, where I had to turn the obstacles into opportunities and was able to create my brand in Kenya. We are now certifying the brand there under Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). When the borders opened, then I was able to come back so now my husband runs the farm in Uganda and I run the business arm in Kenya.
Do you have any favorite quote/scripture that you live by?
Psalm 23 from the Bible, if my favorite scripture. It was what took me through 2020 when I was locked away from Uganda. The psalm gives me strength every time I read it. It talks about having no fear and self-confidence.
It’s 2026, I turn on the TV and there you are being interviewed, what are they saying about you and your business/brand?
After getting the KEBS certification, I hope to be supplying to major brands in Kenya, especially tea brands and then within five years, expanding to all over Africa and the world. That is the goal for the next five years.