Imagine Africa at the center of our plates: Preserving, profiting and healing our roots through food

 

What does food, nutrition, and gender equity have in common for Africa and its diaspora?

Together they have the ability to transform the future of Africa’s food system by empowering women and girls who represent the vital engine of the economy.

Africa and its diaspora have a key opportunity to address the double burden of nutrition from diabetes, heart disease to malnutrition by promoting the health and beauty of African foods from teff, millet, moringa, baobab and hibiscus which can unlock economic potential and grow an emerging consumer market with the right policy, resources, infrastructure, packaging and promotion in place.

The World Economic Forum projected double-digit growth of Africa’s economy over the next 50 years. Like Asia and Latin America, the food and agricultural sectors will follow these projected trends.

Currently, a rise in Western fast-food chains has proliferated across the Continent in the name of job creation. Furthermore, the World Health Organization(WHO) reports heart disease and diabetes will outpace killing Africans more than AIDS.

Without a proper health care infrastructure to combat NCD, the economic returns from job creation in the fast food system will have to pay for the health of Africa’s people.  

What shift can happen on the continent to ensure that public health and economic growth are not in conflict?

Academic researchers have documented the positive role of the African heritage diet; therefore economic opportunities are prime for investment in the indigenous foodways while preserving the heritage and supporting a climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive agricultural landscape.

In addition, scholarly works and visionary leadership matched with the public will can ensure that Africa is truly at the center of the plate for Africa and not just on the menu.

How have I come to this belief?

After attending the 2014 African Union Summit which has a theme on ‘food security,’ I was inspired and challenged with how to contribute to the AU Agenda 2063 to address youth opportunities.

Traversing across the continent, I had the esteemed pleasure to tour and speak to colleagues in the health care systems, nutrition systems, and academic institutions along with parents and students about diet and non-communicable diseases.

That’s why I created WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition Dietetics and Agriculture, to inspire a new generation of women and girls to lead in improving the food system for healthier, sustainable economies and communities in Africa and the Diaspora.

And our children’s generational icon is Little WANDA, a new girl character from the Diaspora, who uses her superpower of African foods to heal her communities with the help of women farmers, food producers, and nutritionists which we call them Big WANDAs.

By visiting the local markets in Ghana, I enjoyed the sights, sounds and buying from the entrepreneurial women selling their farm-fresh produce and packaged goods while I also concerned how the big box grocery stores may displace these micro food enterprises if we don’t see their value in our local food economy and tourism industry.

How can we build a food system that ensures local food entrepreneurs have equitable footing while multinational corporations join the food supply chain?

And what about Africa’s youth?

While giving a nutrition workshop with at a primary school in Nigeria, I saw the eagerness of the students to learn nutrition education after reading “Where’s WANDA?” bilingual book series.

One parent shared how her daughter shared healthy tips to help her Nana prevent diabetes; in a nutshell, she wanted to become food ‘shero’ like Little WANDA in the “Where’s WANDA?” series to help their Nana who has diabetes.

Over the last few decades, fast food chains with subsidized corn syrup, refined wheat and salts have become mainstay fixtures in urban diasporan communities with little healthy food access known as a ‘foodapartheidd,’ the same effect may happen in urban centers across Africa without intervention.

Proper comprehensive nutrition-centered agriculture policy preserving local foodways combined with nutrition edutainment, standardized food labeling, and promotional campaigns are key to keep at bay the unintended consequences particularly in middle-income countries with non-communicable diseases like hypertension while lowering health care costs.

If the African American experience is the ‘canary in the mine’ for Africa, what early intervention and visionary leadership can change the direction of this path? 

In creating WANDA, it was clear that investing in women and girls will be fundamental for Africa’s future!

And men’s role as gate openers of opportunity is key to unlock the resources to build workforce and leadership and combat the historical nutrition inequities and the stigma in the food system.

For too long the world publicly shunned the nutritional value of Africa’s indigenous foodways while using Africa’s food and labor to build their economy. Training more women and youth in nutrition and agribusiness is critical in improving health and economic opportunities for all.

Decolonizing our diet is not only good for the economy but our local food ways.

And agriculture needs an image makeover to inspire a new generation of food leaders with characters like Little WANDA to set course on a proper pathway for a healthy and wealthy Africa.


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7 investments that may make it easier for you to trade across Africa

Africa could be the largest free trade area in the world but there are significant barriers to be removed Click To Tweet

Africa could soon be the largest free-trade area in the world. This is if the African Union’s Continental Free Trade Area (CTFA) stays on track to be operational by the end of this year. Once up and running, the continent-wide free trade zone could lead to a 52 percent ($35 billion) increase in intra-African trade within the next 5 years, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

The UNECA’s Stephen Karingi, who heads their Regional Integration and Trade Division, says “boosting intra-African trade is the most effective way to speed up Africa’s economic transformation.” Speaking at the recent Africa Session of the Aid for Trade Global Review 2017, Karingi added that “trade contributes towards industrialization and structural transformation.”

Increasing intra-African trade – which reportedly stands at 13 percent – will require the removal of certain barriers in order to improve connectivity, including improvement of custom procedures, reduction of transit and other trade costs, and, importantly, development of reliable transport infrastructure.

Here’s a look at some of the inroads that have already been made in the expansion of Africa’s rail, road, and port networks to connect the fragmented African market:

The Ethiopia-Djibouti Rail Link

This year saw the launch of the first fully electric cross-border railway in Africa. Linking Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa with Djibouti City – a stretch of more than 750 kilometres – the new line will incredibly cut travel time between the two countries. Running at 120km per hour, the rail journey, which lasts about three to four days by road, now only takes 12 hours. Each freight train reportedly transports the same cargo as 200 trucks, with the cost reduced by a third.

The line, which cost $4.2 billion, is a significant step towards elevating the poor levels of trade between African countries. Ethiopia plans to construct another 5,000 km-long network of rail by 2020, linking to Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan.

The Trans-African Highway

Envisaged more than 40 years ago by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Trans-African Highway is an ongoing network of highways intended to connect all corners of Africa from north to south, east and west. The ambitious plan, first proposed in 1971, is aimed at boosting internal trade on the continent by building nine roads linking major cities across Africa. Those networks would collectively measure nearly 60,000km.

While progress has been slow, the completion of this project will mark a new day for intra-African trade. One of the nine planned roads is already complete – the 4,400km Trans-Sahelian Highway which runs through seven countries, connecting Dakar, Senegal to Ndjamena, Chad. While more than half of the network has been paved, maintenance remains an issue. Conflicts in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Angola have led to both the destruction of some highways and hampering of construction.

Doraleh Multipurpose Port

Djibouti recently opened its new 690-hectare Doraleh Multipurpose Port after two years of construction. The $590 million project, one of the most advanced ports on the continent in terms of facilities, can handle almost nine million tonnes of cargo per year.

Despite its small size, Djibouti is one of the important trading hubs on the continent, thanks to its convenient geographic location of connecting Africa to Asia and Europe by sea. Ports in the tiny East African country of less than a million people receive the bulk of cargo from Asia, followed by Europe, and then Africa.

West Africa Regional Rail Integration

A group of West African countries and mines have poured significant investment into an ongoing extensive rail project which will boost trade in the region. When completed, the track will be 3,000 km long and connect Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. The network will add newly built tracks to existing ones which will be upgraded. This project will greatly benefit landlocked countries like Niger, which face constant transport problems. The country largely relies on its neighbors’ seaports and road infrastructure to carry its imports and exports.

The West African Regional Rail Integration project is a response to the need for better infrastructure and reliable transport to move minerals from one West African country to another, and from the mines to major ports.

Bagamoyo Port

With its Port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is among the major trading hubs in Africa. Now the East African country is aiming to take things up a notch with the development of Bagamoyo Port, which is set to cost $11 billion.

While the new Tanzanian government has paused construction to focus on revamping other ports, Bagamoyo is set to be the biggest port in East Africa when completed. It will handle 20 million containers a year, more than double the capacity of the Port of Dar es Salaam. If everything goes as planned, Bagamoyo will boost Tanzania’s reputation as a trading centre for its landlocked neighbors such as Zambia, Rwanda, Malawi, Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The East African Rail Masterplan

Billed as Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence, the first section of the $13.8 billion railway officially opened in June 2017, connecting the capital Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa. The train will shorten travel time between the two cities from 12 hours to four, with freight trains set to carry 25 million tonnes a year.

The East African Masterplan will eventually extend to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia – a move that will further strengthen trade relations between the East African neighbors.


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Lessons we can learn from Lynette Ntuli’s success

Lynette Ntuli

Many women in Africa and the world are making great strides in their respective industries. It’s also common that when you have someone you look up to, it’s usually someone in the field that you are in. Whether you’re in tech, construction, or engineering.

We tend to overlook other women in other industries because we have that perception that our role models should be within an industry we’re familiar with. This doesn’t have to be the case.

As a woman in the tech industry, my admiration for Lynette’s work ethic and passion was welcomed. I was introduced to Lynette Ntuli when I was previously at an incubator and accelerator and looking into which successful women we would approach to be a speaker at a conference.

I’ve followed her journey since then. Lynette is in property, asset management and infrastructure development. She is the CEO of Innate Investment Solutions based in Durban, South Africa. She also has a passion for youth development and leadership and is also the Founding Director and Chairman of IgniteSA.com. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with!

Here are a few lessons we can learn from Lynette’s success and how she keeps making a difference:

Be consistent

For the past 11 years, Lynette has been a powerhouse in the making. One thing about her is that she does not stop achieving her dreams. From being the first black woman at the age of 24, to become the General Manager of one of Durban’s regional shopping centers to being the Co-Founder and CEO of a property, asset management and infrastructure solutions company.

Tip: Lynette keeps consistent by focusing on not losing momentum. She believes that in anything you do, you will probably fall. Try and do things over again until you get it right. What is important is to keep your head high through all the trials.

Help others grow

In your pursuit of greatness and achieving your professional, personal and entrepreneurial goals, it is important to pay it forward. Some people make paying it forward their daily bread, and their passion. For others, you gain years of experience and want to share what you know. Sharing this knowledge will lead to making an impact in someone else’s life, whether the impact is big or small.

At the age of 25, Lynette and 3 of her friends wanted to continue empowering others. This is where IgniteSA.com, a youth-oriented digital media and programme platform, grew. They had already grown their skills, and networks and wanted to share them with young South Africans from all sorts of backgrounds.

From there onwards, they built an ecosystem in education, skills development and entrepreneurship. This initiative was to help change the future of South African youth.

Work hard

One may not work tirelessly, chase their goals and dreams, be successful and not have worked hard for it. Great work ethic and hard-work is what will get you where you want to be. This is evident in Lynette’s success and how she continuously pushes herself.

Tip: When what you do on a day-to-day basis is your passion, it definitely is a bonus. It makes the hard work seem effortless so keep pushing #MotherlandMoguls!

Stay true to yourself

It’s important to also stay true to yourself when looking into grow into your career or business. This is one lesson that all women should keep in mind when on the road to success.

Yes, we can look up to many people in our industries and in other industries. But staying true to who you are, and what YOU want to achieve will be key in continuing in your journey to success.

 

How one company defied the odds and is grossing almost $1 billion in revenue… in Nigeria 

[Editors Note: This post was originally published on Medium and is republished here with the permission of the author.]

Nigeria in 1988 — Not a premier investment destination

In 1988, Nigeria was not a premier investment destination. Life expectancy for the country’s 91 million people was 46 years; gross domestic product (GDP) was about $23 billion; GDP per capita was about $256; 78% of people lived on less than $2 per day; about 37% of people had access to sanitation while roughly 58% had access to improved water source; Nigeria had experienced six coups in its short 28 years of existence as a republic. It was also under military rule so technically and literally anything could happen.

Then in 1993 Nigerians woke up to the news that General Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators Nigeria would ever know, had become the military Head of State. If you were an investor, Nigeria was just not the place to go.

Yet, executives at Tolaram Group paid little to no attention to those statistics. Tolaram began importing instant noodles into Nigeria in 1988. Since then the company has vertically integrated in-country and grown their Indomie Noodle® instant noodle sales to a staggering $700 million a year. A packet of noodles cost about 18 cents.

They sell more than 4.5 billion packets of noodles per year. In 1988, Nigeria did not have an instant noodle market. How was Tolaram able to set up and sustain operations in one of the most difficult countries to do business? After assessing Tolaram’s strategy, I cannot help but highlight the following attributes and impacts of their business — business model targeting non-consumption, interdependence, patient capital, and job creation and tax revenue.

Business Model Targeting Non-consumption

Tolaram entered Nigeria with a mission to target non-consumption. The company’s vision is to “bring affordability and quality to the lower socio-economic segments” in the country. In order to execute that vision, Tolaram developed a business model that allowed it sell its product profitably for as little as ten cents (due to inflation and currency depreciation, Indomie instant noodles now sell for 18 cents).

Tolaram developed the necessary distribution infrastructure and relationships to get its product to as many Nigerians in virtually every corner of the country as possible. To target non-consumption in a country without the necessary infrastructure — roads, reliable electricity and water supply, etc. — Tolaram had to integrate across multiple components in its value chain.It had to build an interdependent architecture.

Most innovative companies, especially in emerging markets, have to build interdependent architectures because most of the components they need are usually not available.

Interdependence

Whenever a product* or the delivery of that product is not good enough**, the company providing the product has to create an interdependent system. In other words, the company has to integrate across multiple components in the value chain. It does this so that it can manage the interfaces across the different components in the system. Consider Tolaram.

The poor state of infrastructure in Nigeria necessitated Tolaram to integrate multiple components in its value chain. The company has had to provide its own electricity; manage a fleet of more than 2,000 trucks for its logistics; and build a palm oil factory (palm oil is one of the products needed to make instant noodles).

Creating an interdependent system can be expensive, especially when compared to a modular system. In modular systems, there are other players (either the government or private enterprises) that provide the necessary components to build or deliver a product.

For example, if Tolaram were set up in the United States, the company could leverage electricity, water supply, and logistics from existing companies or government entities. This would greatly reduce its cost of doing business.

Interdependence, while typically more expensive, is not all bad. The fact that Tolaram has had to develop these components has enabled it offer those products to other companies in Nigeria.

Tolaram now has 17 manufacturing plants in Nigeria (including noodles, flour, palm oil, seasoning, etc.); a packaging company; and a logistics company. Building an interdependent system enables companies to offer products to other companies once they satisfy their demand.

Stay tuned for part 2 to learn about how Tolaram used patient capital to build their company.


* product here refers to product or service

** not good enough here refers to products that don’t yet meet the performance standards of most customers