Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa

Agribusiness

SOAFIARY: the case of a socially responsible company in Madagascar

A company can be much more than just an economic player. It can play a significant societal role, as demonstrated by the Malagasy company Soafiary. Since its creation in 2006,…

A company can be much more than just an economic player. It can play a significant societal role, as demonstrated by the Malagasy company Soafiary. Since its creation in 2006, this agrobusiness company has integrated its social commitment at the heart of its business model.

 

Founded in 2006 by the Malagasy promoter Malala Rabenoro, SOAFIARY is specialized in the sourcing, processing and commercialization of cereals and leguminous plants on local and international markets. The company begins to diversify its activities in 2017. The company sets up a feed mill unit and launches the SOADIO project, a contract farming project run in collaboration with the diocese of the Vakinankaratra region, located in the highlands of Madagascar. The company’s operating site is located in this rural area, known as “the farmer” of Madagascar.

The Vakinankaratra region is not spared by the precarious situation that prevails in the country, with an extremely low literacy rate, an infrastructure deficit and a high poverty rate. As an actor committed to the development of its region and its country, Soafiary aim to address these social and economic challenges.

 

Promoting employment among an underprivileged and undereducated population

The local population lives mainly from subsistence agriculture or livestock farming. They often find it difficult to produce enough to ensure self-sufficiency, let alone to develop their activity. Due to a lack of education, they are not eligible for qualified positions in the business world.

Soafiary is committed to facilitating the professional integration of this population. The company employs nearly 200 people, most of whom are locals. They are engaged in field work, manual sorting of legumes and packaging of products. The company has made the choice to do the sorting and packaging activities manually, even if automation is possible. This choice makes it possible to create more jobs.

Soafiary’s contribution also takes the form of financial assistance in the form of loans granted to employees, to help them develop another income-generating activity. Doing so, Soafiary provides the surrounding community with the opportunity to improve their economic condition through access to dual employment.

Soafiary is committed to facilitating the professional integration of a local population that lives mainly from subsistence agriculture or livestock farming.

Accompanying employees on literacy and hygiene issues

Soafiary’s employees include 21% who are illiterate, 46% who have completed primary school and 25% who have completed lower secondary education. Hiring poorly educated people from the rural world is a real commitment on the part of the company, which has put in place extensive support to enable them to assimilate key production techniques, learn hygiene measures and basic skills such as reading and writing.

Soafiary regularly conducts awareness sessions on hygiene issues for its employees, including the correct use of the sanitary block and water hygiene. Regarding literacy, the company focuses on teaching employees to read and write so that they can check their pay slips, by identifying and validating information concerning them, in particular their first and last names, and then signing it if the slip is satisfactory to them. This has created a climate of trust and exchange within the company.

These measures may seem basic but their implementation is not easy and can be time consuming. The production director, Ms. Agnès Randrianampizafy, plays a key role in their implementation thanks to her background as a teacher. As she explains, “It takes good teaching skills, patience, and discipline”.

 

Supporting and training small producers trough the Soadio project

The agribusiness sector is at the crossroads of several serious issues: the integration of small producers, environmental protection, product quality and price competitiveness, all this in a highly competitive international market.

Soafiary is trying to respond to these challenges through its Soadio project, a model of responsible contract farming that consists of training small producers and providing them with the agricultural equipment and inputs needed to farm the 4,100 Ha of land belonging to the Diocese of the Vakinankaratra region. Since the project launch in 2017, 380 Ha have been exploited and the entire production is purchased by Soafiary.

The project represents an important socio-economic driving force for the region. It aims at improving the living conditions of small producers in Morarano, a rural commune located 200 km from the Soafiary exploitation site, where the Diocese’s lands are located. It also allows for the inclusion of small producers in Soafiary’s value chain, who now ensure the company’s supply.

This inclusive partnership between Soafiary and the Diocese is a step towards greater social and humanitarian cohesion. This is a prerequisite for launching various projects: setting up an irrigation system, strengthening the fields to combat erosion, strengthening the basic health center by providing medical equipment, improving the village’s only school by extending classrooms, supporting agricultural training centers, to name but a few.

 

Soafiary demonstrates that integrating social commitments at the heart of its business model can be beneficial for the company. This approach has generated greater commitment from its employees, but also enabled the company to build a sustainable model of contract farming that secures its supply volume while meeting the challenges of product quality and traceability.

 

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A conversation with Bachir Rockya Lahilaba, founder of Sahel Délices

The covid-19 pandemic has led to the implementation of lockdown measures in many African countries. These had a deep impact on economic activities, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises. In…

The covid-19 pandemic has led to the implementation of lockdown measures in many African countries. These had a deep impact on economic activities, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises.

In this context, I&P, FERDI and the Club Africain des Entrepreneurs are working together to produce a series of articles studying how African SMEs are coping with the health and economic crisis and the measures to be taken to help them overcome the crisis.

The first article in this series relates the story of Mrs. Bachir Rockya Lahilaba, founder of the Nigerien company Sahel Délices. Launched in 2015 Sahel Délices seeks to enhance the value of local agricultural resources. Juices based on local plants such as bissap or baobab are the flagship products of the company, which also produces herbal teas, spices and jams.

 

How did you get through the health and economic crisis of Covid-19 these last few months? What have been the impacts on Sahel Délices?

When the number of Covid-19 cases began to increase a few months ago, we quickly realized that this crisis would also directly affect the African continent. At first, everyone was afraid. We had to close Sahel Délices for a while to see how the situation would evolve. But gradually the fear was overcome, the shop opened again.  We decided to continue the activity, following the sanitary measures and all the instructions of the government.

Several difficulties emerged as the crisis unfolded:

The first difficulty was the supply of fresh ingredients. Niamey had been isolated from the rest of the country during lockdown, but all the fresh products come from rural areas. Women normally come from surrounding rural market to sell their products in the city, but they could no longer move around because there were no buses between the villages and the capital. This led to an increase in the price of commodities such as baobabs, tamarins, hibiscus, etc.

The supply of packaging was the second problem. The packaging we use comes from Nigeria, but the border was closed due to the pandemic, and the costs have risen sharply. Sahel Délices tried to adapt by buying bottles made here in Niger, but the local production does not have meet our usual quality standards, some customers were not satisfied.

Third problem: during the first two months (March, April), our deliverymen often forgot to wear masks and gloves. At the production level, there were no problems since masks and gloves were already mandatory, but we had to be very careful with the deliverymen because they were not used to it. Customers rejected the order if the deliverymen did not comply with these conditions.

In addition, Sahel Délices had to cope with a decline in sales. Our flagship products, the fruit juices, usually sell better during the hottest periods and during the month of Ramadan. The curfew, set at 7 pm, limited consumption time. Besides, most people had to cut back on their expenses, having spent so much in health supplies and provisions.

Gradually the fear was overcome, the shop opened again.  We decided to continue the activity, following the sanitary measures and all the instructions of the government.

 

Did you receive any support during the crisis?

Sahel Délices is financed by the fund Sinergi Niger since 2019, and this partnership has brought us a lot in terms of financing and support. We regularly hold management boards, which allow us to take full advantage of the team’s experience! These boards have always been maintained, even at the height of the crisis.

Sinergi helped us to acquire some new equipment. In 2015, our production was totally artisanal, but it is gradually being transformed into semi-industrial production. Before the arrival of the Covid, Sahel Délices had planned to launch a low-price range of juices to reach smaller consumers, but the crisis postponed the launch.

 

What kind of support do you need today, considering the context?

Sahel Délices is a company that started on equity capital thanks to our partners, Sinergi Niger and the French Embassy. Today, we would like to promote our products throughout the country and, in the medium term, in the surrounding countries. The solutions proposed by the government are not very adequate.

Financially speaking, we were able to benefit from subsidies and everything was fine in terms of loans and repayments before the covid-19 crisis. The government’s response to help the private sector mainly consists of granting credits to SMEs and large companies. But is credit a solution for SMEs? These companies are often already struggling to cope with prior debt. This option seems to deepen the problems rather than solve them.

As far as Sahel Délices is concerned, we are not really expecting subsidies or grants, but we need support to develop our sales and a marketing plan, including communication and marketing materials. This would really help the company get back on its feet!

 

A final word or concluding remark?

I would just say that this situation is difficult for everyone. 2020 is the hardest year experienced by Sahel Délices so far. We are well aware of the problems posed by this crisis. For the first time since its creation, Sahel Délices is unable to meet some of its commitments. But we should not give up. Solutions exist, we need to identify or create them. The most important is to put an end to the paralysis. The life of an entrepreneur is a constant struggle: the key is adaptation.

But we should not give up. Solutions exist, we need to identify or create them. The most important is to put an end to the paralysis.

 

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Voices of African women entrepreneurs (2/2): Sylvie Sagbo and Sokhna Ndiaye

On this International Women’s Rights Day, let’s continue our exploration of inspiring women’s entrepreneurial paths. In this second part, we interviewed two Senegalese women entrepreneurs: Sylvie Sagbo, who, after several…

On this International Women’s Rights Day, let’s continue our exploration of inspiring women’s entrepreneurial paths. In this second part, we interviewed two Senegalese women entrepreneurs: Sylvie Sagbo, who, after several international experiences, took over the Senegalese company founded by her mother, and Sokhna Ndiaye, involved in several associations and companies operating in the health sector.

 

Sylvie Sagbo

 

Since 2015, Sylvie Sagbo has been managing SENAR Les Délices de Lysa, a Senegalese SME that processes peanuts and cashews. Since 2015, Sylvie Sagbo has been managing SENAR Les Délices de Lysa, a Senegalese SME that processes peanuts and cashews. She holds a master’s degree in finance and market management from the Ecole de Gestion de Paris, and worked for 18 years in market finance (asset management, portfolio management in banks, etc.). She then opened a restaurant of African cuisine in the Paris area. She finally returned to Dakar to join the company founded by my mother in 1982, at a time when she wanted to gradually withdraw from the company.

 

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I think I have always had this entrepreneurial spirit, and it shows through my career: when I was working as a self-employed consultant, when I started the African cuisine restaurant with my husband, and of course when I took over SENAR, the company founded by my mother. I grew up with this company, and I have always been involved in it, even though I was far away. So it was a logical step to take over the structure, and it was very motivating because I knew that we could make it a very successful company.

Have you experienced any difficulties because you are a woman?

It is possible that my funding application was refused in the past because I am a woman, but this has never been made clear to me. I have worked with two sales managers who have never accepted that I tell them what to do and I think this is was related to the fact I’m a woman.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

In ten years’ time I see myself at the head of a large Senegalese African company, a leader in the distribution of cashews in Africa and throughout the world. I think we are on the right track because we produce high- quality and healthy products. Recently we created a created a spread called Cajoutella, which has nothing to envy to its distant neighbour (laughs)!  And I have many other ideas for my company!

An advice to (future) women entrepreneurs?

You have to fight. An entrepreneur must fight in any case, but a woman entrepreneur will have to fight twice as hard because as a woman she has to manage many things at the same. When you want to start a business, you shouldn’t start just like that with an idea: you have to perfect your idea, conduct a market study, even a minimal one, to develop your business model. Why do I want to do it? Who am I targeting? What turnover do I hope to achieve? This thorough analysis is really necessary. Once it’s done, you will have to run your business with your guts, to be truly passionate about it! There is no reason, in these conditions, that a woman could not succeed. But it takes a lot of courage. It’s not a simple life, there are many ups and downs, especially in Africa. There are many women entrepreneurs today, and tomorrow there will be many more… New and inspiring role models will emerge!

 

Sokhna Diagne Ndiaye

 

Who are you?

I am Sokhna Ndiaye, I own a pharmacy in Dakar and I’m the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the company Duopharm. Duopharm has partnered with Investisseurs & Partenaires between 2010 and 2017, and it went really well. I also chair the board of directors of the University of Health Sciences, which trains pharmacists, doctors and dentists in Senegal. I am also a member of several foundations: Vice-President of the Senegalese League against Cancer, President of the Graduates Commission of the Cheick Antia Diop University Foundation, representative in Senegal of the Monaco Humanitarian Collective where I represent the Monegasque Red Cross and the Association Rencontres Africaines. In parallel I have a few social activities in the education sector…

How do you manage to balance your personal life with this very busy professional life?

Very good question! I guess it’s just a matter of organization. There are 25 employees in my pharmacy. It’s no easy task to manage, but we put in place a well-organized system.  Everyone one of them has specific tasks and missions to attend to. As for Duopharm, I am deeply involved but I don’t run the business myself, which allows me to have more time to dedicate myself to other social activities that are extremely important to me.

To be a woman, is that an asset or an obstacle in the professional environment?

Regarding my activities on social issues, notably my experience with the Senegalese League Against Cancer, I would say that being a woman gives a little more sensitivity. In Senegal, women play an important role. There have been significant advances.  Women in Senegal have practically taken over the social sector and I think that being a woman is an advantage in coordinating these activities and movements.

An advice to (future) women entrepreneurs?

Women should have more confidence in themselves and their capacities. In Africa, women could play a greater economic role, they are not second-zone citizens! I think it is up to women to keep fighting, to show that every time they are given a task, what they are able to do it and do it well. I think the results are visible on a global scale: every time a woman is entrusted with management in specific areas, the results, the performance are better than those of men. There is no reason to be afraid of being a woman. A woman must assert herself, fight, work and give more results than men.

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La Laiterie du Berger, the trajectory of a social enterprise in Senegal

Jérémy Hajdenberg reviews the history of the Senegalese company La Laiterie du Berger and its founder Bagoré-Xavier Bathily. Valuing local dairy production, the main objective pursued by La Laiterie du…

Jérémy Hajdenberg reviews the history of the Senegalese company La Laiterie du Berger and its founder Bagoré-Xavier Bathily. Valuing local dairy production, the main objective pursued by La Laiterie du Berger, has proved to be a difficult choice in the Senegalese context, but the company has been able to adapt and evolve, to become a major reference on certain agro-industrial issues in Senegal.

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