Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa

Agribusiness

Financing African agriculture: how to break the deadlock?

Agriculture is at the heart of the issues of economic growth, political stability, and the fight against climate change in Africa, is an observation which is widely recognized. However, even…

Agriculture is at the heart of the issues of economic growth, political stability, and the fight against climate change in Africa, is an observation which is widely recognized. However, even today, the funds mobilized by African governments for food and agriculture fall short of the targets set. While the FAO estimates that 10% of African national budgets should be dedicated to these sectors in order to achieve economic and social development, in reality these sectors’ budgets are generally too low, poorly spent, and inefficient (FAO, 2021). The fact that such an essential sector remains a victim of chronic under-investment demonstrates the extreme complexity of the challenge facing Africa. The urgency of improving financing for African agriculture is widely recognized, but implementation has been stubbornly lacking.

So, the sector is still marked by the failure of the various state banks created in many African countries to finance the development of the agricultural sector. As for traditional banks, they are often reluctant to direct their financing products towards agricultural actors which are perceived as too risky, too informal, and too fragmented.

Yet, banks have an essential role to play in the future of African agriculture. How can we learn from the mistakes of the past and propose solutions adapted to the financing of African agriculture?

 

Participating in a learning and exchange process

The analysis of agricultural value chains makes it possible to understand the sectors in their entirety. Each flow can be analyzed at the different stages of the chain: production, collection, processing, transport, distribution, equipment, supply, etc, thus breaking the misconception that financing the agricultural sector means financing only the producers.

This value chain analysis approach is linked to necessary on-site visits to meet agricultural entrepreneurs, and deconstruct preconceived ideas. For example, one of the commonly accepted assumptions was that the main criterion for choosing a loan was its cost (price sensitivity of agricultural entrepreneurs). In interviews with entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector in Senegal, it was found that the main criterion for them was the responsiveness of the banking institution, rather than the interest rate, mainly because of seasonality constraints.

 

The importance of proximity and dedicated human resources

The first risk management lever is the training of human resources (business managers and credit managers): this involves putting the credit manager at the heart of the process of identifying the risks related to a sector or an actor.

In addition to this training, there must be closer geographic proximity to the agricultural production areas. A commercial presence in direct contact with the ecosystem of a sector allows a better assessment of the risks. For example, Cofina decided to open a branch in the Niayes region of Senegal in order to be close to the market gardening area: this allows both a better marketing approach and a better knowledge of the risks linked to the crops in the area.

 

Targeting actors better to “secure” funding

In order to manage risk, a financing institution may favor actors with the best quality image in the value chain. These are generally larger and more formal players: aggregators, traders, processors, etc. A bank can also “move down or up” the value chain towards actors perceived as riskier (less risky ??).

The bank can also identify financing instruments where the quality image of a dominant player acts as a security for the bank’ in order to finance the downstream or upstream part of the chain: for example via an advance on an invoice. In this “entry point approach,” risk management is embedded in different time phases: my customer’s business partners today are my customers tomorrow.

Finally, the mobilization of African banks towards the financing of local agriculture will be possible as long as they have access to long-term liquidity. In this context, international donors or impact funds have a key role to play in giving local banks the means to effectively finance agricultural sectors via “earmarked funds” for agriculture.

In addition to this catalytic role, donors can partly address the risks posed by weak collateral and poor-quality assets that characterize some actors in the agricultural value chains. This is made possible by mobilizing risk-sharing funds, concessional financing, or guarantee funds.

Through targeted grants, development agencies can also facilitate the process of analyzing value chains, identifying potential targets, and creating attractive pipelines.

 

Learning, proximity, and risk management

The hundreds of billions missing for the financing of African agriculture can be seen in two different ways: either it is a symptom of a sector that cannot be financed by banks, leaving this function to public programs, international donors or a few microfinance institutions… or it is a sign that there is a huge field of unexplored opportunities.

As committed supporters of the growth of African SMEs, Cofina and classM fully subscribe to the second option. We are convinced that an approach based on learning from past mistakes, proximity to the actors, and better risk management will allow the development of the potential of African agriculture.

 

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Innovative Investments Empower Women

This article was co-written by Ksapa and Investisseurs & Partenaires, and is also published on their website. The gender question is at the heart of the international debate. The eradication…

This article was co-written by Ksapa and Investisseurs & Partenaires, and is also published on their website.

The gender question is at the heart of the international debate. The eradication of discrimination against women and girls, the women’s empowerment and the parity between women and men are considered as key factors of development, respect of human rights, peace and world security. The Sustainable Development Goals have reaffirmed the key role of women’s empowerment in the democratic process, in order to take the necessary decisions on all aspects of sustainable development.

As such, Ksapa approached Investisseurs & Partenaires, a specialist in impact investing across the African continent, to discuss the implications of gender empowerment for the private sector. Together, we examine key figures on the challenges of gender empowerment, demonstrating its prevalence in rural areas of the African continent. Under the current conditions, how they can businesses and investors embed a solid gender perspective as part of their impact strategies to better address the challenges of the gender empowerment. Based on different initiatives led by Ksapa and I&P, we infer practical recommendations for mobilizing capital in favor of gender empowerment.

1. Key Issues in Gender Empowerment 

Gender empowerment implies, in essence, the equitable distribution of resources between men and women – as well as girls and boys. That is, in principle. In practice, gender empowerment may clash with deeply entrenched social attitudes – themselves translating into equally structural social, economic and cultural decisions.

  • Structural Disparities Between Men And Women

Men and women just like boys and girls are indeed not equal in the face of poverty and in their access to opportunities. Even less so in the context of interwoven climate, health and socioeconomic crises. Women account for less than a third of available human capital wealth in low and lower-middle-income countries. In South Asia, losses due to gender inequality are estimated at $9.1 trillion, compared to $6.7 trillion in Latin America and the Caribbean and $3.1 trillion in the Middle East and North Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, they amount to $2.5 trillion. As such, the OECD publishes the social institutions and gender equality index, designed to measure, discrimination against women in social institutions at the international level. For example, in 2019, this index was 37.0 in Senegal, 42.8 in Côte d’Ivoire and 34.5 in Ghana.

  • Socio-Economic Impacts of Gender Empowerment

Despite heavy stigma, women now control 32% of the world’s wealth and generate an additional $5 trillion each year – at a much faster rate than in the past. In addition, for every dollar of investment raised, women-owned startups generate $0.78 in revenue, compared to $0.31 for male-led companies. As a result, gender parity in the workforce could generate a 26% increase in annual global GDP by 2025.

  • Zeroing in on Women in the African Agricultural Sector

Agriculture accounts for nearly 25% of Africa’s gross domestic product. In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, women make up nearly half of the workforce in this sector.

Across the continent, agriculture is the largest employer of women, accounting for 62% of the female workforce. In certain countries like Rwanda, Malawi and Burkina Faso, more than 90% of women work the land.

Female farmers’ work in Africa as elsewhere is subject to critical disparities – notably in terms of the division of labor and prevalence of informal work. In African agriculture, women tend to opt for specific crops and techniques and their work is not equally rewarded. When their work is in fact subject to a formal contract, the latter does not necessarily bear their name, often in favor of their husbands. Similarly, female farmers tend to be involved in local markets and retail trade, where men are generally more involved in wholesale trade, with a region-wide scope.

2. Embedding a Strong Robust Gender Perspective in Impact Investment Strategies 

Poverty alleviation and food security depend directly on the development of systematic solutions for gender empowerment. The African agricultural sector’s capacity to nurture stable livelihoods hinges on innovative measures designed to foster farmers’ access to land, capital and means of production – especially where women are concerned.

That is precisely why the World Bank developed a gender strategy for international project developers. The document lists 4 key levers to reduce gender gaps:

  • Awareness-Raising: Improve gender gaps by reducing access differentials in health, education and social protection (e.g. school/work transitions, gender stereotypes in the workplace, sexual and reproductive health rights…).
  • Opportunity: Remove barriers to further and better employment, boosting women’s participation, their opportunities to generate their own income and access to productive assets (keeping in mind key considerations of the burden of care, access to mobility and formal employment…).
  • Empowerment: Strengthen women’s voice and empower them by encouraging men and boys to share decision-making processes around delivering services, reducing gender-based violence and managing potentially conflictual situations.
  • Property: Remove barriers to women’s ownership and control of property, effectively improving their access to land, housing and technology.

Based on this strategy, investors – and development teams in particular – are encouraged to consider the means to engage with their potentially impacted stakeholders. That way, they may indeed better identify and assess concrete gender gaps; a series of efforts ultimately encompassed in a gender action plan.

3. Practical Examples of Capital Mobilization in Favour of Gender Empowerment 

  • Introducing 3 Agricultural Businesses Supported By I&P

For the last two decades, Investisseurs & Partenaires has committed to financing and supporting the emergence of African entrepreneurship champions. As an impact investor, I&P seeks a positive social and/or environmental return in addition to a significant financial performance, the impact of which is measured through a continuous evaluation process.

This approach is applied both in selecting potential investees and in the support afforded to the selected companies. It is also characterized by the Group’s emphasis on measuring investees’ social and/or environmental impact, based on priority objectives and progress monitoring methods against the projected positive impacts.

As part of its gender strategy in particular, I&P actively seeks to develop a pipeline of small and medium enterprises, either managed by women or with a major impact for women. I&P therefore systematically includes gender-specific action plans in its portfolio companies’ ESG action plans (with increase targets on the number of female employees, access to management positions, specific training, etc.). As such, 33% of the companies supported by I&P are managed by women.

Similarly, 79% of I&P’s portfolio meets at least one of the criteria of the 2X Challenge, an initiative of development banks to define what would be considered a women-friendly investment.

Within the I&P portfolio, the three following companies illustrate how a gender perspective can be developed and adapted to the agriculture sector:

    • Soafiary (Madagascar): Founded in 2006 by Malagasy promoter Malala Rabenoro, Soafiary specializes in the collection, processing and sale of cereals (corn, rice) and legumes (beans, cape peas, lentils, soybeans) on the local and international market.
    • Citrine (Côte d’Ivoire): Citrine Corporation processes and transforms cassava into fresh attiéké (cassava semolina) and placali (cassava paste) in southern Côte d’Ivoire and more specifically in Grand-Bassam.
    • Rose Eclat (Burkina Faso): Rose Eclat is a family business launched in 1999 by Rosemonde Touré. A fruit and vegetable processing company, the company markets nationally and internationally processed and/or dried fruits and vegetables. It produces mainly mango but also bananas, okra, strawberries and onions – which are certified organic and comply with the food safety management system (HACCP).
  • Commonalities and specificities of I&P Investees

Emblematic of I&P’s work on gender empowerment in the agriculture sector, all three companies are committed gender equality and empowerment. Soafiary in particular translated this policy into a roadmap that encapsulates its commitments to gender equality and empowerment. This written document indeed outlines the company’s gender policy, as a concrete tool to monitor– both internally and externally – progress made and measures implemented by the company to foster gender equality.

All three companies prioritize the recruitment of women for seasonal jobs and do not apply any form of gender discrimination in recruiting for permanent jobs. Women are also involved in the corporate decision-making processes and hold various positions of responsibility. As a result, men and women have equal opportunities for career advancement, either by tapping into permanent or seasonal employment – all of this with comparable pay. Women also benefit from on-the-job training. Rose Eclat additionally gives women the opportunity to train outside the company for career advancement or to become self-employed.

The three companies also emphasize women’s physical and moral integrity in and outside of the workplace, ensuring they can access healthcare and social protection. Soafiary also set up a financial inclusion and banking system specific to women. Access to financial products and services allows women to anticipate the financing of their long and medium-term goals or to face unexpected events. Moreover, savings begets credit and vice versa.

  • Shared Perspectives with Ksapa’s SUTTI Initiative

Echoing I&P’s focus on training, Ksapa launched the Scale-up Training, Traceability, Impact initiative (SUTTI) for the development of responsible agricultural supply chains. Through this new platform, smallholders can access technical and operational training and education. The goal is optimize their crop and agricultural economic production, improve the quality of their livelihoods by increasing their income, diversifying activities and reducing poverty. Not only does this foster gender parity, it is also key to retain young farmers in rural areas.

Through the development of our own digital application, we combine analysis and evaluation, coalition structuring and pilot calibration, program implementation and impact monitoring. That is indeed how Ksapa measures SUTTI impacts and its contributions to gender empowerment in particular, in the form of their inclusion into the program. Through training, SUTTI supports gender empowerment, opening up the conventional division of labor and women’s potential to sell and manage the product of their labor and operate diversified income activities.

Because women bear the brunt of lacking financial inclusion, literacy and digital literacy, the SUTTI solution targets optimal accessibility for women. The program indeed focuses on diversifying smallholders’ income, thereby developing additional leverage for gender empowerment in agricultural areas.

In short, this approach aims to unlock the following 4 key challenges:

CORE ISSUES  RELEVANT SOLUTIONS
Low productivity tied to lacking access to information and services as well as climate change, major weather variability and pest and disease outbreaks  Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Awareness: Deliver face-to-face and digital sessions to support smallholders’ income generation through crop diversification, water efficiency and perhaps carbon credits. Through a digital application, videos and tutorials can indeed be shared that support practical tests and the direct implementation of GAPs across the farm. Decision support tools: digital apps can include a community chat feature that allows smallholders to share questions and decide how best to implement GAP. A marketplace function offers smallholders the opportunity to share price/volume information and decide just where and when to sell. Overcoming language and digital literacy barriers: Tailoring solutions to the needs of smallholders involves translating content into local languages and perhaps including a text-to-speech feature for the benefit of less literate farmers.
Lack of access  to appropriate financial/insurance products Develop financial solutions for smallholders, paid for example with tokens issued through a carbon offset system.
Women’s lacking access to digital services  Organize women-specific training groups (e.g., recruit 1 all-female cohort for every 3) to identify and meet the particular needs of female farmers. Adapt content accordingly (e.g., including gender perspectives, especially targeting on-farm health and safety training content).
Smallholders lacking access and ability to select markets and sales methods  Structure a supply of inputs to smallholders, paid for instance via  carbon offsets and revenue from a gamification tool – encouraging them to regularly fill-out impact monitoring questionnaires. Boost market access by supporting year-round crop diversification outside the production cycle of farmers’ main crop. Strengthen decision support tools – allowing smallholders to identify new marketing channels, track their transactions and identify the best options for buying/selling their crops

Conclusion

At the helm of their respective impact programs, I&P and Ksapa outline the following commonalities in their integration of a robust strong gender perspective as part of the impact investment strategies:

  • Prioritize gender empowerment in designing agricultural development projects; 
  • Identify the agricultural sector’s direct and indirect contributions to gender dynamics;  
  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities in developing a robust gender perspective; 
  • Allocate specific resources to empowering female farmers; 
  • Develop stakeholder engagement and grievance mechanisms specific to female farmers. 
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Acceleration programs: a miracle solution for early-stage companies? (2/2)

In recent years, “acceleration” programs have proliferated on the African continent. What lies behind this trendy concept? What does an acceleration program bring to a company? After having explored the…

In recent years, “acceleration” programs have proliferated on the African continent. What lies behind this trendy concept? What does an acceleration program bring to a company?

After having explored the different facets of acceleration programs currently deployed on the African continent in a first article (available here), we will focus here with a practical case study of a company benefiting from an acceleration program, with a joint-interview of Mohamed Diaby and Ybrahim Traoré, CEO and co-director, respectively, of Citrine.

Founded in 2014, Citrine Corporation is a company based in Grand-Bassam, southern Côte d’Ivoire, specializing in the production and marketing of Zatwa brand agricultural products in the sub-region, Europe and the United States.

Like many young African companies, Citrine has had great difficulty accessing “traditional” financing (bank loans, equity investments, etc.). However, since 2020, the company has benefited from the I&P Acceleration program in the Sahel (IPAS), which has provided financial resources (seed funding in the form of a repayable advance to meet operating expenses, pilot phases, market testing, research & development, equipment purchases), as well as technical support to strengthen the team’s skills in various areas.

 

What is your business plan ?

Mohamed Diaby : From the very beginning, our intention was to promote the local dishes and cultures from the southern region of Côte d’Ivoire, where we both come from.

Ybrahim Traoré : Our ambition was also to show young Africans that you don’t need to leave the country to succeed. Starting a business and creating jobs is a way to deal with the problem of clandestine migration, which is occurring in several African countries. This is why our business is not limited to import-export: we ensure not only the marketing phase but also the production phase of cereals, fruits and vegetables, such as placali and attiéké, which are produced in the Grand-Bassam region and widely consumed by Ivorians in Côte d’Ivoire and abroad. We have also created our own brand, Zatwa Impex.

 

How did you come up with this idea?

M. D. : We met at the university during our graduation cycle. To complete our degree, we needed to find a work-study program, but we chose to go directly into entrepreneurship.

We thus started this project based on the following observation: the entire distribution circuit of African products and foodstuffs (attiéké, smoked fish, etc.) was run by non-African communities. In France, for example, these grocery stores are owned by the Asian community. We thought this was a shame… and that’s how the journey started.

Y. T. : We didn’t intend to only produce and sell attiéké but also to guarantee the quality of the products put on the market. The company is doing well. When we started, we had about ten employees, 90% of whom were women. Today, we have about 60 permanent jobs and we employ up to 100 people during the production period.

 

Your company has been supported since 2020 by the I&P Acceleration in the Sahel program. What does this partnership bring you ?

M. D. : I would say many things! We had approached the Ivorian fund Comoé Capital a few years ago, but we were not quite ready yet. The opportunity for partnership arose thanks to the launch of the I&P Acceleration in the Sahel program, led by Investisseurs & Partenaires and financed by the European Union.

Today we owe a lot to the team that follows up and gives us very useful advice. I&P and Comoé Capital helped us to carry out our market study on cassava products (such as attiéké and placali mentioned previously) which allowed us to confirm their sales potential, in Côte d’Ivoire and with the African diaspora (from Congo, Niger, Ghana, Benin…), who also consume a lot of cassava. Then, the program allowed us to increase our production capacity with the help of production equipment (ovens, machines, packaging, a crusher, raw materials).

Y. T. : The program’s support also allows us to lighten the workload of our staff. Our employees work full time but produce much more. They can now produce two containers in a month, instead of one. The workload is less tiring but they earn a lot more because it gives us the opportunity to increase their wages. They rely heavily on us and on their job because it helps them support their family needs.

Thanks to the I&P Acceleration program, we have been able to expand our production capacity with a lighter, less tiring workload for our employees and a higher salary to boot.

 

What’s next ?

Y. T. : The program’s support will help us tackle environmental issues. For example, we are going to benefit from a technical assistance mission* for the recycling of waste. We will be able to recover and transform cassava skins and starch into bio-gas.

M. D. : In the medium term, we’d like to consolidate Citrine’s position on the local market. It is important for us to strengthen the sale of our products in markets and supermarkets and contribute to food security in Côte d’Ivoire.

L’appui du programme nous permet de nous attaquer aux questions environnementales. Nous bénéficions d’une mission d’assistance technique pour mesurer l’efficacité de toute notre chaîne de production.The program’s support allows us to address environmental issues. We have a technical assistance mission to measure the efficiency of our entire production chain.

 

 

Keywords

Acceleration: Mentoring, financing or networking services provided by private actors (investment funds, incubators, etc.) and financial backers to small businesses to support them in their start-up phase.

Seed: All the resources granted to a company to meet the expenses related to its start-up (working capital, operating expenses, research and development, purchase of equipment and technologies) and to prepare it for fund-raising.

Technical assistance: All non-financial resources granted to the managerial and/or operational teams of a company to strengthen their skills in several areas (strategy, financial and/or fiscal management, marketing, production, etc.). Generally, technical assistance takes the form of training (individual or collective) or support missions carried out by an expert

 


[1] I&P Acceleration in the Sahel, launched in 2020, is a program deployed by the Investisseurs & Partenaires group and funded by the European Union. The program targets 13 countries in the Sahel sub-region and provides start-ups with access to the financing and skills necessary to enable their development and thus promote the creation of decent jobs.

[2] HACCP (Hazard analysis Critical Control Point) is the main platform of international legislation concerning manufacturing for all actors of the food industry. The HACCP aims to validate the implementation of the food safety system.

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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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