Here’s another partner post for our Food Security in Focus series, this time from USAID’s West Africa Trade Hub. The West Africa Trade Hub works directly with West African companies, helping them become more competitive in the world market by linking them to buyers who assist in product development. The post below is from Paully Appea-Kubi , the founder of Ebenut, a company that produces dried fruit mixes in Accra, Ghana. With help from an American food distribution company, Ebenut will soon introduce dried jollof rice and dried gari foto dishes to U.S. supermarkets. Her story demonstrates the importance of market access and agricultural value chains in establishing food security.
I started Ebenut by myself in 1996. I have a food science background and I like to experiment with food. I asked a farmer if he could supply me with pineapples and it was a good match: he needed a market for the pineapples that he did not export or were rejected, but were still fine for drying. I had one dryer and I used my own money to start Ebenut. After six months, I added two people. Eight months later, I hired five more.
Today, I have 35 people. I’m getting mangoes from 15 farmers, pineapples from 12, papayas from 2 and I have four suppliers of coconuts. The farmers are expanding and their workers are better paid because they have a reliable market for their fruits—they know there’s a constant buyer.
Jollof rice is very common in Ghana—we use it at our parties, we eat it for lunch, we serve it at weddings and funerals. We use a spicy pepper, oil, tomato and local seasonings. We then mix it up with rice and cook it. I took the recipe from there, drying it in order to preserve it and make it easy to prepare. Gari foto is very much like jollof, but instead of rice we use gari, or cassava, that has been dried. It’s very convenient—you just add water and a prepared tomato sauce.
I’m working with a rice factory in the Volta Region. They buy from about 100 growers. So I work with those farmers indirectly, creating a market for their grain. I’m also working with rice growers in the north, where rice farming is done mostly by women.
Last year, I met Jim Thaller of Talier Trading Group. He told me that he wanted a locally prepared dish to go on to the U.S. market. I developed a dried jollof rice dish (reported in Tradewinds, the Trade Hub’s monthly newsletter) and a dried gari foto for supermarkets across the U.S. It was important to have Jim’s help. While we were telling his group about the local dish, they tasted it to see whether it would be suitable for the market. The names, the packaging design—these were all very important. He encouraged us. My fear was that we would spend all this money, invest all of this time and then it wouldn’t go very well. Jim had high hopes.
I know Americans like foods that are easy to prepare and are tasty. It’s very colorful and the fact that you can serve it with other foods makes it versatile. It takes about 5 minutes to make it and it’s very nutritious. I think they’ll really like it. It’s an exciting time for me.