Aduna – Making African Superfoods Famous

How do you successfully launch a completely unknown product in the already over saturated global consumer market? UK based company Aduna has successfully done just that with the African super fruit ‘baobab’ by creating a market share for themselves in the extremely competitive health foods segment.

Through their successful and very inspiring campaign to ‘Make Baobab Famous’, Aduna has contributed immensely to the wild harvested fruit sector in Africa, also known as African superfruits. A sector that has the potential to positively impact the lives of the poorest of the poor across rural Africa while challenging the traditional model for agricultural development favoured by the big development banks and agencies. A sector that has the potential to increase market shares of African products on the European market, as superfruits grow abundantly across Sub-Saharan Africa, and as sales increase, so will demand, creating further opportunities for suppliers across the continent for high quality raw materials.

A couple of weeks ago I met up with Andrew Hunt, co-founder of Aduna, and a man on a mission to create opportunities for millions of households across rural Africa by creating a market space for baobab and other African superfoods produced or cultivated by small producers. I took the opportunity to talk about among other things the potential of Africa’s wild harvested fruits, disrupting the traditional developmental model for agriculture, and not least the challenges of bringing a new product to the market. I left our meeting more convinced than ever of the potential positive impact of the African ‘superfruits’ on rural communities in Africa.

Andrew Hunt
Andrew Hunt, Aduna co-founder

What is your background?

After university I went into advertising, specialising in launching brands – big brands. While working in advertising I was learning a lot, but did not really feel that the products I was working with were interesting. So I began questioning what I was doing. I had a major crisis, which led to a nervous breakdown, and I was only 25.

Looking back it was the best thing that could have happened to me; a blessing in disguise. During a particularly dark period, a family friend, a farmer who worked in both the UK and South Africa, got in touch to ask if I would be interested in helping him out on a project in The Gambia. I wasn’t interested. I had a very negative perception of Africa based on the outdated cliché portrayal of the continent by Western press and charities – lots of scary images came to mind of war, poverty and famine. But family and friends got me to the plane, and then something extraordinary happened: after a few weeks I came back to life and what was supposed to have been a 3-week trip turned into 4 years. It was very inspiring. Normally when you go somewhere the brochure is better than then destination, but here it was the direct opposite.

I came to the realization that West Africa, and Africa in general, is badly misrepresented. Before going to Africa, I wasn’t interested in business, only advertising. Being in The Gambia made me really interested in connecting small producers to the market, and with time I became a bit of an expert in African horticulture.

In 2008 I came back to the UK to do an MBA at the University of Oxford Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

Where did the idea for Aduna come from and how did you get started?

It was while living in Africa that the idea for Aduna developed, combining commercial interests with social impact in rural Africa. It was also while working in rural Africa that I began to see that the traditional model for development wasn’t working as projects always seemed to be missing the most important element – linkages to the market. I wanted to turn the model on its head by creating a for-profit social enterprise that would provide the missing link for wild harvested products.

Aduna Baobab Producers

What makes Aduna different from other high impact agricultural investments that have been attempted on the African continent?

The existing development model for agriculture has failed. Hundreds of millions go into time bound projects every year. Whether they last 3, 5 or 7 years, the model is always the same; a consultant comes along, World Bank or the like, and I was one of those, who trains huge numbers of women in whatever cash crop is the next big thing. They take the women away from their daily activities, pay them per diems and host lots of workshops. The catch is that no one ever seems to have thought about who the final buyer will be. So inevitably, you end up with vast amounts of crops that can’t be sold and no income is generated for the women.

Aduna has turned that model around by focusing on creating demand in the market first. Further to this, the products we focus on do not take the women away from their daily chores. Wild harvested fruits grow freely in the communities and do not need to be farmed. They only need to be collected, thereby substantially reducing the workload of the women.

Why baobab?

Baobab trees grow in 32 countries in Africa. There is no such thing as a baobab plantation. They are entirely community or family-owned and wild-harvested. An estimated 10 million households across rural Africa can supply baobab from the existing crop which grows abundantly but currently goes majority to waste. National Geographic has estimated that if there were a global demand for baobab, this existing crop could be worth a billion dollars to rural Africa (Sep 2010, Vol. 218 Issue 3, p28). What’s more, rights for the use of the trees normally belong to the women as the trees have traditionally not been seen as having any value. Today the trees are underutilized. In Zimbabwe alone it is estimated that 20.000 tons of baobab go to waste every year.

Baobab tree, Madagascar

How many people are currently impacted by Aduna?

With baobab alone, we are working with 700 women in 13 communities in Upper East Ghana where our supply chain is based. We estimate that there are potentially 8000 communities in Northern Ghana alone that we could work with at scale. What is really uplifting about these 13 communities is that they are in the poorest and driest region of Ghana, a region that has been heavily impacted by climate change and is now experiencing a shorter and more unpredictable rainy season.

When speaking directly to some of the women, you get a much better understanding of the impact that Aduna sourcing baobab from the community has had. One of them, a lady called Weniamo, has had a safety net of 12 USD per year for emergencies, if the household ran out of food or the like. This year from wild harvesting her baobab fruit and selling it to Aduna she has a safety net of USD 177. The impact is immediate, as it means that all the children in the family can be sent to school. Weniamo knows that she is now able to feed her family, make improvements to their house etc. What we don’t know yet, is whether stories like Weniamo’s are representational, but we are aiming to carry out an impact assessment to find out.

In addition we also work with a number of women, who process the baobab into a powder. All processing is done in Africa.

 

Aduna Baobab Producer carrying fruits.jpg

What is you biggest achievement so far?

The biggest achievement has been that before Aduna came along, 95% of people didn’t know what baobab was, and sales were zero. Today baobab is an established superfood, both in the UK and globally. There were others that tried before us, but we were the ones that succeeded in creating the market and increasing the sale rates.

We have heard from a number of other suppliers of baobab across Africa that since we launched our “Make Baobab Famous” campaign that they have also experienced an increase in demand. They may be our competitors, but they are also our friends, for at the end of the day, we have the same purpose of positively impacting rural Africa. so getting this kind of feedback, only adds to our achievement.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is very much connected to our biggest achievement. Creating demand in a very competitive market is very difficult and has taken a lot longer than we thought it would. Getting our voice heard, when competing with all these brands that are spending millions on promoting their products and succeeding in getting a new ingredient onto the market, has been extremely challenging, but we succeeded. We have conquered the health food segment, now we need to expand to conquer the whole food market. That is the next goal.

What has been your biggest inspiration?

Africa, my family – in particular my mum and dad, and the investors in Aduna without which I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Do something you are really passionate about, and not just to make money, because getting started is so hard, you need the passion to keep you going.

And do something that will solve a problem, and a problem that needs to be solved and has a positive net impact on our world.                    

Aduna Baobab Superfruit Powder & Baobab Fruit

If you could change one thing for entrepreneurs in Africa, what would it be?

Availability of finance and networks. Angel networks don’t really exist. To some scale in South Africa, a little in Kenya and maybe in Ghana, but not anywhere else.

Entrepreneurs need support, advice and financing, a lot of the time it is just something as simple as having someone to give them advice on their business plan.

What are your future aspirations for Aduna? Where do you want to be in 5-10 years?

At Aduna, we actually have a 35 year plan with a vision to become the world’s first multinational lifestyle company that promotes and celebrates the vibrancy of Africa. A company that has a wide scope, not just superfoods.

Producer holding sign

To learn more about Aduna and their products – checkout their website, find them on Facebook or twitter.

All photos courtesy of Aduna

You can find other stories from my blog featuring African superfruits here and here

 

The path for Mozambique – an inclusive economy?

This post is an English translation of a previously published Opinion piece in Portuguese, I wrote for Mozambican newspaper ‘Folha de Maputo’ in June 2016.

A country cannot have sustainable economy in the long-term, if a large part of the economically active population is not included in a constructive manner in the economy.

The focus in the last couple of years in Mozambique has been mega projects. The first in Tete with coal and since then in Pemba with natural gas; projects that were sold as a magic bullet for economic growth. The fact of the matter is that upon till now, neither of these projects have created the expected benefits. And certainly, didn’t create a sustainable and inclusive economy  with ample benefits for the entire population.

“ Forget oil and focus on organic agriculture” these were the words of Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Commerce, Dr. Koh Poh Koon when he visited Uganda in May 2016 (Read the full story here). For me, there couldn’t have been a better recommendation for a country, where the vast majority of the population are small-holder farmers.

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Another 10 great funding opportunities for African entrepreneurs

Judging by the number of visitors to my two previous blogs on funding opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa, I came to the conclusion that there is further need for information about existing opportunities. So I have put together another list of opportunities for funding either through awards or foundations. Please feel free to provide me with feedback as to whether you think the information provided is useful, and whether there are any that should be added or removed from the list.

Hope you find the list useful and Good luck! Continue reading

Tomato Jos – a local food processing start up is creating opportunities for local farmers in Nigeria

On the African continent more than 70% of the population is employed in agriculture, the vast majority of them as small-holder farmers. In spite of this, the continent is a net importer of food with small-holders that are trapped in perpetual cycles of poverty with their produce often soiled unable to reach markets, due to a number of inter-related causes – lack of innovation, low yields, lack of investment and access to markets.

The reasons for this are many, lack of investments in the agriculture sector, weak agricultural policy, poor infrastructure and lack of confidence in the African brand. The misperception is that imported goods are of higher quality than locally produced ones.

Nigeria is an example of a net food importer, a country that imports the vast majority of its tomato paste while at same time being responsible for 60% of tomatoes grown in West Africa. Recent government import restrictions on staple foods such as tomato paste, as created opportunities for businesses in the food processing area, such as Tomato Jos in northern Nigeria. Continue reading

Raquel Wilson – creating a space for emerging entrepreneurs in Senegal

Senegal, a French-speaking country with a tropical climate in Western Africa, a population of roughly 13 million, a significant coastline and with borders to Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia. The capital Dakar, sits on the coast with a population of 2.5 million people and has for centuries been an important trade hub.

Archaeological findings suggest that the area that today makes up Senegal has been inhabited by various kingdoms and ethnic groups since the 7th century. This long history has also given rise to a rich cultural heritage that persists until today. An example of which are the luxurious hand-woven textiles of Aissa Dione Tissus featured in my last post.

Senegal is a country that I have become increasingly intrigued with through following Moira Welch’s Palm Tree Tea blog, a blog that features the rich and dynamic and diverse cultural fabric of Senegal. It was also through the Palm Tree Tea blog that I was introduced to the Lou Bess? Farmers Market. Intrigued by its very simple business model of combining a farmers market with business advisory services, a combination I hadn’t come across before. I decided I wanted to learn more about the women behind it and at the same time try to better understand more about the entrepreneurship environment in Senegal. Continue reading

Aissa Dione: The Grand Dame of the West African Textile Industry

Writing our first Palm Tree Tea and Afterblixen blogs collaboration on the eve of March 8th, International Women’s Day, it’s very fitting that our chosen subject is Aissa Dione, the grand dame of the West African Textile industry.

Almost thirty years ago, Dione started her textile workshop with the last remaining master weavers of the Mandjaque peoples in Senegal. Since then, she has grown her business, Aissa Dione Tissus, into an internationally recognised luxury brand, provided over a hundred jobs, and preserved precious skills that were on the brink of being lost.

Her textiles have been used to produce home décor and fashion accessories by some of the finest design brands around the world such as Hermés, Fendi, Christian Lacroix and Peter Marino to name a few.

Dione, born to a Senegalese father and a French mother, spent the early part of her life in France, moving to Senegal in her twenties to pursue a career as an artist. After receiving commissions to decorate homes and offices around Dakar, news of her talents quickly spread and she grew a large local and international client base.

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Aissa Dione – Image @ Aissa Dione Tissus

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Tugende – creating opportunity through ownership for Uganda’s urban male youths

The share of Africans living in urban areas is projected to grow from 36 percent in 2010 to 50 percent by 2030 (World Bank ). Urbanization offers both opportunities and challenges. With the right investments it can lead to increased economic growth, but without the proper investments in infrastructure and attention to urban planning the chances are high that it will lead to increased inequality, urban poverty, and the proliferation of slums.

Increased urbanization in Africa, including Uganda, is led by rural unskilled male youths going to the bigger cities in pursuit of better opportunities and, not least, jobs. In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, being a motorcycle taxi driver or a boda driver as they are locally called, is one of the main sources of employment for unskilled young men. In Kampala alone there are roughly 80,000 bodas to service, out of 400,000 motorcycle taxis in the country as a whole, and more than 800.000 across East Africa. Eighty percent of the drivers do not own their own motorcycle, but are renting it on a daily or weekly basis without any form of contract, which means their source of income can be withdrawn without notice. Take home earnings for a boda driver average USD 5/day in a country, where 65% of the population lives on less than USD 2/day. For drivers who do not own their own boda, roughly half of their daily earnings go towards renting the motorbike (Tugende). Continue reading

Katavi Botanicals – traditional African super fruits in the growing natural skincare market

Since first moving to Southern Africa I have been fascinated by the majestic Baobab trees, Kigelia trees or otherwise known as African sausage tree, and the other indigenous trees of the region that bore very different fruits than what I was accustomed. Later I learnt some of their names and the different uses they have had in African life for generations.

African fruits such as Kigelia, Marula, Baobab, Moringa and Mongongo, the big five as they are called by Katavi Botanicals or superfruits, are an important part of the regions cultural heritage, and have long been used as a source of food (see my previous post with Mzungu), but also as medicine for various ailments by local healers.

With the process of urbanization and westernization of consumption these fruits have lost their cultural importance. Companies like Katavi Botanicals hope to change this by creating high-quality products that can compete internationally as the market for natural organic products continues to grow, thereby highlighting natural qualities and benefits that the fruits have. Katavi Botanicals is a commercial undertaking, but the environmental and social benefits are multiple. Continue reading

Rent to Own boosting agricultural growth with smallholder farmers in Zambia

Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia to the south and Angola to the west, has a population of roughly 15.5 million and ranks a 139 out of 188 in the recently published Human Development Index for 2015 (UNDP).

The country was for many years the world’s largest producer of copper, which brought considerable income to the country and pushed its GDP to lower middle-income status (World Bank). However, the Zambian economy became very one-sided and dependent on the copper mining industry. This dependence also made the country vulnerable to unstable copper prices on the world market and the resulting shocks of these on the country’s economy. Shocks that have also brought about the realization that the country needs to diversify its economy.

Agriculture is one of the focus areas of this diversification. Seventy percent of the population is employed in the agricultural sector, mainly as smallholder subsistence farmers, in spite of the prominent role of the mining sector. The sad reality is also that despite the large income generated from the copper mines, poverty is still widespread as 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and 42% are considered to be in extreme poverty (World Bank).  Continue reading

Great initiatives that support and finance women entrepreneurs in Africa

Being an entrepreneur is not easy and it is hard work regardless of where you live. Being an entrepreneur in most African countries is even harder due to among others the excessive regulations on the business environment and the cost involved of starting and running a business. As a female entrepreneur, you can be further challenged by discriminatory and non-equalitarian laws and legislation. In Swaziland for example, women require the permission of husbands or fathers to open a bank account or a business, obtain a passport or enforce a contract. And in Cameroon, although women are now legally allowed to start a business without their husband’s consent, under the Civil status Registration Ordinance of 1981 a husband may still formally object to his wife’s exercise of a trade or profession, if he judges it is not in the interest of their marriage or children (World Bank 2008). Continue reading

10 great funding opportunities for African entrepreneurs

When interviewing entrepreneurs in Africa for my blog, one of the recurring challenges mentioned is access to finance.

So I have compiled a list of 10 different foundations and entrepreneurship awards that are open to African start-ups, and that can offer a much needed boost of capital and/or business support/advisory. In the list below I have provided a little information about each foundation/award, the requirements for applying and what the benefits of each are.

I would of course love to hear whether you found the list useful, and whether you think there are any other foundations or competitions that should have been included in the list. Continue reading

Made in Africa for Africa – Two young Kenyans with innovative solutions for the agricultural sector

Roughly 70% of the African population are engaged in agriculture, the vast majority of which are small holder farmers. At the same time African farmers have very low yields when compared to farmers elsewhere, in fact agricultural yields have been stagnant since the 1980s (FAO). There are many reasons for this: lack of innovation, lack of technology, changing weather conditions, lack of investment in the agriculture sector by Government, and a lack of financing opportunities, to mention but a few.

Consequences of this has been a lack of food security and self-sustainability in many African countries, which has resulted in a dependence on food imports, which then in turn puts pressure on domestic producers in terms of prices, as it is difficult for a small-holder farmer to compete with large quantity importers. That said with all these challenges there is also enormous opportunity for entrepreneurial souls to create innovative solutions for the agricultural sector in Africa.

The award winning Illuminum Greenhouses startup have begun to tackle some of these challenges, such as over reliance on rain fed agriculture, outdated farming technologies and minimal youth inclusion by developing homegrown innovative technological solutions. They hope to contribute to increasing productivity and higher yields and thereby improve food security and increase incomes for small holder farmers. Continue reading

Meet George Mtemahanji – a 22 year old Tanzanian on a mission to ‘switch on’ Africa

SunSweet Solar, one of the new arrivals on the renewable energy scene in Tanzania, and its 22-year old, co-founder George Mtemahanji are on a mission to ‘switch on’ rural Africa and not only provide low cost clean energy to rural communities, but also rethink the African energy market by providing innovative solutions based on local market needs.

Many African countries have in recent years made great progress in combating poverty, and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Tanzania is one of these. School enrolment has increased, life expectancy has gone up, as has GNI per capita (World Bank World Development Indicators 2015).

Despite all the achievements there are still some hurdles to overcome, for example how to get more people connected to electricity. In Tanzania only 15.3% of people have access to electricity. Tanzania is a big country with a population of just under 52 million with 69% of the population living in rural areas (World Bank).   Continue reading

Piratas do Pau – thinking big yet staying local – an innovative model for manufacturing in Mozambique

Piratas do Pau (Pirates of Wood in English) is another business that I got to know during my time in Mozambique. A business focused on wooden furniture that in its own small way tries to positively contribute to some of the pressing challenges facing the African continent.

One of these challenges is a lack of manufacturing and self-sufficiency. The industrial revolution never happened on the African continent. The focus has always been on resource extraction, which plagues African countries till this day, as little capacity has been created for processing or manufacturing. There is thus a large dependence on imports, which leaves already fragile economies in a vulnerable situation. Resource extraction is as flourishing as ever, be it in mining, oil & gas, agriculture or timber sectors. In Mozambique hardwood is in high demand and forests are rapidly being depleted. This means that prices are going up on the domestic market for hardwood, which in turn means that carpenters are struggling to make a living. Continue reading

A A K S – using Ghana’s great weaving tradition to create luxury fashion accessories

Ghana is a country rich in history and culture. Deeply embedded in Ghanaian culture is a rich tradition of craftsmanship. Weaving and basket making is one of the crafts which forms an important part of Ghana’s cultural heritage, as it does in many other African countries. A craft that to this day is carried out by women in rural communities and passed on from generation to generation.

Then, there is the other side of Ghana, the modern Ghana of the 21st century, an emerging economy with a flourishing creative hub that is rebranding the country and the continent. I imagine that vast opportunities lie in the interface between past, present and future if contemporary designers across the continent are able to embrace their cultural heritage and shape it in a modern form. Opportunities not only for creative exploration and for reshaping contemporary discourse about the continent, but also for much needed job creation, both for urban creatives and rural craftsman and women. On a continent where 29 million jobs need to be created every year until 2030 to cater for the great number of youths entering the workforce. A continent where half of the population is under 30 (African Development Bank). Continue reading