27 June 2020
By Saiyad Hussain, Acting Chief Executive Office, Fiji Development Bank
Thanks to innovative thinking and financial literacy skills of entrepreneur Meena Gounden, award-winning Gopal’s Poultry Farm in Coqeloa, Labasa is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic crisis by staying open for business.
Meena is already thinking of ways to improve her business resilience by making plans for the “new economy,” and recover from the crisis.
“Because I have seen tough times, I was already in the habit of planning, budgeting, tracking my income and expenses to avoid risky situations. My financial literacy training also included skills on marketing, which has been helpful during this pandemic crisis,” said Meena.
Nine years ago, Meena started a poultry farming business with no knowledge on how to run a company, how to manage money and how to manage risks. This was when the Fiji Development Bank (FDB) stepped in to equip her with business acumen and all the necessary skills needed to give her the best opportunities to succeed.
Financial literacy prepares business owners to face challenges and plan for their sustainability. Financial education also improves the ability of businesses to identity risks and strategize mitigation options.
“I started ‘blank.’ I had no idea on how to do business, or banking or tracking expenses. But I have always raised chickens in our backyard and so it made sense to do this as a business,” said Meena. With a grant assistance through the Northern Development Programme and financing from the FDB in 2011, Meena began establishing a market for herself with 150 birds, competing against large poultry businesses.
In 2015, Meena was awarded the Best Microfinance Entrepreneur – Individual at the National Microfinance Awards organized by the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce. She was recognized for her outstanding progress as a micro business.
Three years later, as her business grew to a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME), Meena was awarded the FDB’s 2018 National SME of the Year award and the Best Risk Managed SME award.
In 2019, she installed a piping system conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease for her birds. Unlike others, her farm’s piping system has no stopper and therefore allows free flow of clean water from the water tanks so that the chickens are not subject to drinking stagnant water.
Today, Meena’s business has flourished and she now has over 2,000 birds housed in two sheds.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 posed a unique business challenge for Meena.
“Before COVID19, I would sell eggs in the market and would successfully sell all the trays before day-end. But business is no longer normal,” she said.
Meena said that her business was harshly affected when her competitor dropped the price of eggs in response to measures put in place due to the pandemic. As a result, some days, her income is slashed by up to 50 percent.
“I had to reduce my price as well – but I am a small business and I sell only fresh eggs. So, I am affected more than the bigger competitors who have storage facilities,” she explained.
“With that change, I had to find other ways of staying open for business,” said Meena. She pivoted her business and started delivering eggs directly to families and friends in the town area instead of selling them at markets.
“I now make deliveries even though the order is for as little as only two trays, whereas previously I would only make deliveries when there would be orders for at least five or more trays,” she explained. She also made trips to neighbouring villages and even sold the eggs by the roadsides to gain a competitive edge.
Meena said that her tough times during the initial days of starting up the business prepared her well for identifying risks and finding solutions for it.
“I have struggled previously so I knew that I needed to find other means of generating income when COVID-19 hit and am still able to pay for my workers,” she said.
Meena has also started to diversify her business. Apart from selling eggs, Gopal’s Poultry Farm also now sells vegetables and manure.
“I did not want to layoff my workers, as these women have families to support as well. So, we decided we would all work hard and ensure we have enough sales to pay their wages,” explained Meena.
Adapting to the new economy comes with new challenges. Nevertheless, instead of admitting defeat, but Meena is already strategizing her next move. Meena said that her reduced income has affected her monthly instalment schedule for the payment of the bird’s feed from her supplier.
“I used my entire surplus to pay my loan in advance so now I am planning on how I will pay for the feeds if the sales continue to be low like this,” she said.
Equipped with financial literacy and management skills, as well as knowledge on managing the health of the birds, their environment, lighting, food and water supply, Meena is able to generate innovative options to keep Gopal’s Poultry Farm open for business despite the ongoing pandemic.
Meena’s entrepreneurship journey demonstrates exemplary spirit with high potential to contribute positively to the economy by alleviating poverty, creating employment and empowering youths and women.
The Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is partially financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.