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Agrofield Business: Promoting “Made in Congo” products

BRAZZAVILLE, May 29, 2024 – Agrofield Business is an agribusiness cooperative whose mission is to make chips from local fruit. As its president, Edith Nanette Diba, a 34-year-old Congolese entrepreneur with a career path like none other, proudly stated: “Congolese people should be proud to consume homegrown products.”

An advanced civil engineering technician by training, Diba started working in the aviation industry in 2011, “out of sheer curiosity,” she said. Five years later, she joined the slim ranks of Congolese female commercial pilots after completing accelerated training that took her to Brazzaville, Brussels, and then the United States.

Between 2019 and 2021, she worked for a local airline, but was already entertaining the idea of entering the world of agribusiness. Her exasperation was clear: “I couldn’t understand why there were so few Congolese processed fruit-based products on the market when we have all the resources to manufacture these types of products.”

Edith Nanette Diba, president of Agrofield Business cooperative, proudly showcasing Kitoko coconut chips (Courtesy photo).

An overlooked fruit with multiple benefits

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Republic of Congo in early 2020 pushed Diba to take the plunge. Lockdowns, border closures, and disruptions to air travel left her with time to focus on her project. She formally established the cooperative with a handful of like-minded friends. They started by making chips from coconuts. As the cooperative’s young president explained: “The coconut is often overlooked, and yet it can be processed into so many products, and it has tremendous economic potential.” Between 2021 and 2022, the Agrofield Business team poured CFAF 10 million of its own funds into purchasing the equipment and raw materials needed to start the project.

And that is how Kitoko coconut chips, “the crunchy delight,” were created. Available in vanilla and ginger flavors, the product quickly caught on with consumers. The small blue and green packets were a hit with customers, and the tasty, crunchy chips won over even the most reluctant palates. Plus, the attractive price tag of CFAF 250 for a 35-gram packet of chips was within reach of most budgets. Several shops and supermarkets in Brazzaville stocked the product and carried it on their shelves.

Buoyed by the success of its product, Agrofield Business made plans to ramp up production and expand distribution. At the recommendation of an expert from the Ministry of Agriculture, the cooperative, which had been looking for partners, took part in the World Bank-financed PDAC in 2022. “We had no doubt that since these young people had been able to implement this project on their own, they could do more if they had financial and technical backing,” the expert noted.

PDAC support

The PDAC helped the Agrofield Business team get training and devise its business plan, and then provided it with CFAF 50 million in financing. The cooperative used the financing to purchase semi-industrial equipment, which increased daily chip production from 5,000 bags to 30,000 packets of chips and boosted monthly sales from CFAF 500,000 to CFAF 3n. Theml chips are now being sold outside Brazzaville in the country’s largest cities, including Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Ouesso, and Ewo.

Marketing the coconut chips internationally is definitely one of Agrofield’s medium- to long-term objectives. However, according to its president, “flooding the local market is our priority.” In addition, the cooperative is trying to expand its product line by taking advantage of the wide range of fruits available in the Republic of Congo. The prototype for banana and sweet potato chips is already available. With this in mind, Agrofield Business, which still operates on leased premises, has acquired a 1,600-square meter plot of land in Kintele, in the northern suburbs of Brazzaville, where it plans to build an agribusiness complex with a view to modernising its production chain and meeting growing consumer demand.

Agrofield Business currently has seven members – four women and three men – with dreams of becoming a model startup that will fan the flames of entrepreneurship in Congolese youth. As Ms. Diba put it: “Young people need to get involved in agribusiness. The market is open to everyone. All it takes is a little boldness and perseverance to succeed. And let’s not forget about promoting the ‘made in Congo’ brand,” she added with a smile.

To build on the results achieved with the PDAC that ended in December 2023, the government has begun implementing the US$ 132mln Climate-Resilient and Inclusive Livelihoods Project [ProClimat Congo; P177786]. This project aims to strengthen landscape management, increase the use of improved livelihood activities, and reduce food insecurity in targeted communities in the Republic of Congo. Like the PDAC, it will support producer groups at different stages of professionalization, and will focus in particular on “climate-smart” agroecological agricultural practices.

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