The country’s first fruit processing business, run by two Brits, is already a welcome, integral member of the community
Ever dream of moving to a warm, tropical country and setting up a business that would not only bring in plenty of money to live on, but also support hundreds or even thousands of locals, be environmentally-friendly, and pioneer an entire new industry?
That is exactly what Craig Hardie, former strategic market manager for blue chip companies in the UK, and his business partner Jonathan Jacobs did. After two busy years of research, feasibility studies and fundraising, they launched Malawi Mangoes in late 2011.
“The idea came to me in 2008 when I was in the north of Malawi in a small district assembly meeting,” recalls Mr. Hardie. “Some guy stood up and said that 80% to 85% of mangoes go to waste. I was always interested in Innocent Drinks in the UK and I wrote an email to them, just asking if they would like some mangoes ethically. I met with them, found out the size and potential of the market and it has literally snowballed from there.”
Even though there is plenty of interest from companies such as Innocent Drinks, Malawi Mangoes has yet to sign any contracts, as it is still not processing any pulp yet. However, it has the land, the fruit trees and ample local collaboration, and Mr. Hardie expects to undertake commercial trials by the end of the year.
“We have a 126 hectare farm, which has got 20 hectares of mangoes and 60 hectares of bananas. We have 2,000 smallholder farms registered that work with around 20,000 trees. We have planted 40,000 with them and will be planting around 300,000 more this year on our farms and with smallholders,” explains the Co-Managing Director.
Malawi Mangoes is the first major international standard fruit processor in the country, but its vision goes beyond pioneering the industry by introducing value addition – it seeks to build local skills, introduce better irrigation techniques and provide smallholders with steady business.
“We are not in a business where we have corporate social responsibility; we do not agree with that. We believe that business success and community investment are not mutually exclusive and that by actually putting the community at the heart of what we do, the business will be even more successful,” says Mr. Hardie.
Working with ImagiNations, Malawi Mangoes will focus on training, establishing schools, introducing proven models of agriculture, improving access to water, and developing leadership skills.
“We have a phrase – training, time and trust,” states Mr. Hardie. “If you train your people over time, you will develop trust, which is a massive thing. People are willing your company to do well and are seeing the bigger picture.”
Malawi Mangoes goes even further, ensuring its energy comes from renewable sources. In processing large volumes of fruit, it will be producing large volumes of waste, which the company founders plan to use to create biogas. This, in turn, will be used to power its processing plants.
The entire model upon which Malawi Mangoes is based is not only fair, it’s also smart. “Our product will not be sold at a premium because it is ethical – the whole point is that there is a market price and we are going to deliver to that,” says Mr. Hardie.
Investing in Malawi hasn’t been altogether easy, he adds, saying that although the government has good intentions and has been quite supportive, it lacks the organization to expedite investment. Mr. Hardie goes on to say that the government ought to “build its confidence” and demand only “socially responsible and environmentally friendly businesses” who will benefit the country and the people over the long term.
As for the agricultural sector, Malawi could very well become the hub of the future Sub-Saharan breadbasket. “It has a prefect climate, fantastic land, abundant fresh water and a culture of agriculture,” claims Mr. Hardie.
“Malawi is one of the friendliest countries and probably one of the safest I have ever been to. In Africa, Malawi has for good reason the nickname of the ‘warm heart of Africa’,” he concludes.