Anciently enjoyed by royalty or during exciting cultural celebrations, fonio is a grain packed with nutrients and history. This is one of the West African staples specialty food brand Yolélé is bringing to the United States market. Recently, the supplier teamed up with Mali's leading shea butter manufacturer Mali Shi SA, to form a new venture called West African Ancient Grains (WAAG) to turn fonio into a cash crop to provide a source of income for farmers in the Sahel region.
With a co-investment grant of $1.98 million funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) West Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) through Prosper Africa, the joint venture is looking to optimize smallholder value chains.
"Efficient processing has always been the missing link preventing farmers from earning livelihoods from fonio," according to Pierre Thiam, Co-Founder of Yolélé. "Fonio is easy for smallholders to grow, but turning it into food is hard! There is no fonio processing facility in the world that can meet the volume and quality requirements of large global food companies looking for feasible ways to meet their U.N. SDG's. We devoted a lot of resources to find a technical solution to industrial-scale processing, and a strong local partner at the source. West African Ancient Grains can deliver GFSI-compliant fonio, millet, and sorghum flour for flexible applications to major food manufacturers. That changes the landscape in terms of farm income and traceable impact at scale."
According to a press release, the newly formed company aims to process thousands of tons of fonio to meet increasing global demand, contracting with thousands of smallholder farmers for production and helping them increase productivity by training in improved agronomic practices.
Through doing so, WAAG will build a supply chain that traceably connects smallholder farmers living in extreme poverty with local and global markets for biodiverse, climate-resilient crops through efficient processing.
"Providing multiple sources of income for the farmers in our growing network has a huge impact on family life and rural landscape," said Simballa Sylla, the Chief Executive Officer of Mali Shi. "It makes financial sense for farmers to engage in sustainable, biodiverse, multi-crop rotations only if they have customers for their harvests. West African Ancient Grains is that customer, an element that has been missing for smallholders in the Sahel."
WAAG's implementation of value chain improvements will increase cash income for families in its grower network by an estimated 85 percent, as the project will create 13,714 agricultural jobs in Mali and $4.5 million in collective smallholder sales in the next two years alone.
"Mali is ripe with opportunities to support economic growth through private investment, create long-term jobs for smallholder farmers, and increase exports of products such as fonio to the United States," said Frantz Tavares, Public-Private Partnership Manager for the Trade Hub. "I expect our project with Mali Shi and Yolélé will prove this and encourage more investment into Mali's high-potential businesses."
The Trade Hub's co-investment partnership with Mali Shi and Yolélé marks its first in Mali, as noted in the release. To read more about the innovative new venture, click here.
As this new venture looks to bring promising advancements to the supply chain, Deli Market News will be here to report on the next strategy put into play.