Africa’s Restoration Entrepreneurs Aid in COVID-19 Response

Originally published by WRI.

David Foli Ayivor, an entrepreneur from Ghana, has seen the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on farmers and people in cities. As the pandemic shuts down supply chains, unharvested or unsold produce is rotting at farms while people in villages face food shortages at local markets. Africa’s food systems are under pressure, putting producers and consumers alike in difficult circumstances.

Ayivor and other entrepreneurs know that their businesses make a difference and can help build more resilient, food-secure landscapes. As companies around the globe struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, many entrepreneurs like Ayivor are adapting to new markets and helping people through troubled times.

These pioneers in Africa’s restoration economy — whose companies directly heal degraded land by growing trees or helping farmers produce food more sustainably — are providing essential services in this time of crisis. Their unique supply chains connect rural landscapes to urban centers, allowing them to improve the health and productivity of agricultural land, stay strong in times of adversity and sustainably meet demand.

Here are four entrepreneurs whose businesses are improving the health or productivity of vital landscapes, while also serving their communities during the coronavirus pandemic:  

Foli Ayivor: Putting a Freeze on Food Waste

<p>Foli Ayivor (middle) sells dried fruits and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste. Photo by Foli Ayivor</p>

Foli Ayivor (middle) sells dried fruits and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste. Photo by Foli Ayivor

Ayivor is the founder of Agromyx, an instant-food company in Accra that purchases and processes excess produce from farmers that would otherwise rot, then freeze dries the fruits and vegetables. Recently, COVID-19 caused significantly more post-harvest losses. The government’s shelter-in-place policy disrupted traditional supply chains. Many farmers are finding it more difficult to find buyers for their produce, leaving their entire harvest — and income — rotting in their fields.

At the same time, consumers and businesses that can’t access fresh food daily are demanding more of the nutritious, freeze-dried food that Agromyx produces. Ayivor is buying as much as he can from his network of 12 farmers, but he is operating at capacity and needs more investment to meet the demand.

Ayivor participated in WRI’s Land Accelerator in 2019, a training program for entrepreneurs like him “to create a new strategy and also a better understanding of my customer segment,” he said. The program prepared him to quickly adapt to serve the market and help more farmers.

At the Land Accelerator, Aviyor began forming his plan to purchase more machinery to meet demand. Now, with the crisis, he has scaled up those plans. He continues to work with mentors he met there to adapt his pitch and financial model to this new scenario. Ultimately, Ayivor believes he is closer to his fundraising goal now because of his new market position.

Lorna Omuodo: Creating Cleaner Air and Surfaces

<p>In addition to creating biofuel, Lorna Omuodo (right) recently started producing hand sanitizer and disinfectant from leftover sugarcane. Photo by Lorna Omuodo</p>

In addition to creating biofuel, Lorna Omuodo (right) recently started producing hand sanitizer and disinfectant from leftover sugarcane. Photo by Lorna Omuodo

In Kenya, Lorna Omuodo’s company E-Moto helps low-income customers transition from cooking with firewood to clean-burning biofuel. Unlike most biofuels that use crops, Omuodo uses leftover sugarcane stalks that would otherwise go to waste. E-moto protects households from indoor air pollution, which kills 600,000 people annually in Africa, while also protecting Kenya’s forests by reducing demand for firewood. Omuodo, also a Land Accelerator alum, began her company in August 2019 by supplying 500 families per month, mostly in Kabaa, a town outside of Nairobi.

When COVID-19 arrived in Africa, Omuodo saw that many people did not have access to sanitizers that can kill the virus. She created a line of bio-ethanol hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants with the very same sugarcane waste she uses to make biofuel. After receiving the third-party laboratory results that her sanitizer was safe and permission from the Kenyan government to operate, she is now distributing her products to vendors nationwide. E-moto now sends up to 28,800 bottles of disinfectant each day to cities around Kenya, earning her company around $5,000 a day in revenue.

Omuodo is now ramping up supply by training families in Kabaa to run their own community distillery using the sorghum they already grow. She is also partnering with isopropyl alcohol and methanol producers, allowing her to make custom blends for cooking and disinfectant so that E-Moto can continue to meet intense demand.

Said Twahir: Cooking a Solution to Deforestation

<p>Said Twahir’s company makes deforestation- and smoke-free briquettes that allows people to safely cook at home. Photo by Peter Irungu/WRI</p>

Said Twahir’s company makes deforestation- and smoke-free briquettes that allows people to safely cook at home. Photo by Peter Irungu/WRI

Other Land Accelerator companies are deemed essential to the economy. Said Twahir runs Kencoco, a company in coastal Kenya that turns discarded coconut husks into deforestation-free, smoke-free charcoal briquettes for cooking. Twahir has shifted his focus from providing briquettes to hotels and restaurants to serving higher demand from households.

Twahir observed that “people have already cut down most of the trees in the neighborhood” because of the high demand for charcoal. With everyone eating at home, deforestation could have soared to meet that demand. But just one week after Nairobi was shut down, the government granted Kencoco permission to distribute sustainable briquettes to homes in neighboring districts, protecting trees and providing an essential service.

Edwin Kamau: Keeping the Fertilizer Coming

<p>Edwin Kamau is providing an essential service to his community by turning waste into fertilizer pellets for local farmers. Photo by Peter Irungu/WRI</p>

Edwin Kamau is providing an essential service to his community by turning waste into fertilizer pellets for local farmers. Photo by Peter Irungu/WRI

Edwin Kamau is the founder of EcoH Holdings, a Kenyan company that converts organic waste into fertilizer pellets to help farmers enhance soil health and increase food production. He has received the government’s permission, as an essential service, to collect organic waste once a month to continue manufacturing and distributing fertilizer to local farmers.

“The demand for fertilizer has gone down since the farmers are also participating in the shutdown,” Kamau said. “However, we are in communication with various farmer cooperatives to provide them with bulk orders.” At the same time, he noted that farmers still need fertilizer during the shutdown to protect their crop yields, and his company is actively collaborating with communities to meet demand.

Building Vital Landscapes in Africa

These four entrepreneurs are all taking different approaches to tackling the COVID-19 crisis in Africa, but they have embraced one central principal: Protecting and restoring nature builds stronger, healthier food systems that work better for farmers and city dwellers, especially during a crisis. By connecting the rural and urban together, African entrepreneurs are building vital landscapes that work well for farmers, their families and people living in cities. And ultimately, Africa’s restoration entrepreneurs can play a role in helping the continent build back better after the COVID-19 crisis.

Are you a restoration entrepreneur or do you know one? Did these stories inspire you? The Land Accelerator is expanding to South Asia and Latin America this year. Apply here!

You can also sign up for updates on the Land Accelerator here.