Cracking the nut industry: how Kenya adopted the world’s most valuable nut, with Charles Muigai


Do you know what the world’s most expensive nut is?

It’s the macadamia nut.

Similar in shape and colour to a chickpea, but up to twice the size, it’s originally from Australia and is now grown in several tropical locations around the world.

In Kenya, the first trees were grafted and planted in the 1970s with a few disparate growers and aggregators each individually trying to generate a market.

Ten years ago Charles Muigai founded Nutpak an industry body for nut processors in Kenya.

They deal with peanuts and cashews too, but the real business in macadamias where they represent Kenyan producers both at a national government level and internationally.

Charles and I chat about all angles of how this industry is growing in Kenya including the minimum “farm gate” price set for macadamia farmers, the process by which they are packaged and ultimately exported, and lessons other burgeoning industries can take for their role on global stage.


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Sam:                                      00:08                     Intro

Sam:                                      01:58                     Cool. So we’re here today with Charles from nut pack, Charles welcome to the show.

Charles:                                02:03                     Nice. Thank you Sam.

Sam:                                      02:06                     And so to get started, can you tell us a bit about you and a bit about Nut Pak?

Charles:                                02:10                     My name is Charles Muigai. I’m the chief executive officer of Nut processors association of Kenya. The association that is the umbrella body for industries that are processing macadamia, cashew peanuts and also adding value to the same for the end market. The industry is as old as, say 45 years old. But the initial years it was a more of a monopolistic industry. But towards the year 2005 more players came into place and the industry from then started to expand. By 2009, there were four processors and based on the competition and the competitive lobby of the industry, there was need to consolidate. And this is when, now we founded Nut Pak or nut processing association of Kenya, in 2009. And the main thing was to create a platform that one will back, will support production and make the industry more sustainable in terms of what it produces and through our smallholder farmers and also to interact globally. So it was now back and forward from production to the marketing and also placing the Kenyan product at the global level as a competitive product that can compete alongside South African or Australia. The major driver of the industry in Kenya is macadamia, however, peanuts and cashew nuts are still allied to the same because most of these processes are composite and, they do these three nuts. So this platform has, over the years, engaged the government about policy influence also advocacy. And in 2009, we managed to lobby the government to put a ban on export of unprocessed macadamia nuts and cashew nuts. And that has seen the industry grow five fold because at that point the industry was producing around 10,000 metric tons of macadamia. But right now we are towards 45 to 50,000 metric tons. So, and the plantings across the small holder farmers in Kenya is growing by leaps, then it’s growing very fast.

Sam:                                      04:48                     Very good.

Charles:                                04:49                     So what you can say, that the consolidation of the industry and this platform has done a lot to bring the industry to the limelight because hitherto the registration of this organization, not to many people knew about macadamia. Right now as we speak, we have 27 licensed processors. So you can see from 2009 from 4 to 27, that tells you a story that many people came to understand the industry, found it attractive. They have come in. But now the next challenge is how to create a sustainable industry.

Sam:                                      05:25                     Yeah. So we’ll perhaps go into some of those a bit later in the interview. So just to be clear, Nut pack is a, like an industry body like you said. Yeah. So you basically represents the process but not processes that exist. And whereas before it might be difficult for one individual company to go and lobby the government, when they, when they come as part of a group, you then have much more power.

Charles:                                05:49                     Have legitimacy and the voice.

Sam:                                      05:51                     Exactly. Is it, out of interest, is your, is your background in nuts?

Charles:                                05:56                     No.

Sam:                                      05:56                     Alright. How did you, how did you come into it?

Charles:                                05:59                     I would call myself an agribusiness you know, consultant.

Sam:                                      06:04                     Okay. Alright.

Charles:                                06:04                     I’m an exert in trade and also agribusiness.

Sam:                                      06:07                     Sure.

Charles:                                06:07                     So, and I think that at that point, that’s where I came to organize a workshop for the industry. And…

Sam:                                      06:14                     Why did you choose nuts?

Charles:                                06:17                     Well, it just happened by chance. I was facilitating a workshop on sustainability of the industry, sponsored by their ministry of agriculture as a consultant. And then the thing we discussed then was that why should we look at it as a hostile competition arena? But I said it can be complimentary again. So it’s a question of how you look at it. And I think the wisdom that revealed then was that we can bake a bigger cake and then we would get a healthy slice of it.

Sam:                                      06:47                     Yeah.

Charles :                               06:47                     So and that is how, now they, want called the focys of NUT pak is, create a more sustainable industry, stimulate more plantings, stimulate more production, and then everybody gets a share of a sizable amount of produce.

Sam:                                      07:05                     So basically you said you should do this. And they said, go on the Charles, you do.

Charles:                                07:12                     And here I am, 10 years down the line, I’m still doing it.

Sam:                                      07:14                     Very good. Okay. So for people who are perhaps unaware could you give like just a brief overview of, of like the Kenyan, Kenya’s’s history with nuts. So you mentioned macadamia cashew and peanuts. So those are the three. Historically, those always grown here or have they been a recent recently like…

Charles :                               07:35                     Macadamia was first introduced in Kenya by an Australian, Bob Harris early seventies, in Thika.

Sam:                                      07:46                     Thika is like an hour from Nairobi?

Charles:                                07:48                     Yes, an hour from Nairobi. And from there the first plantings were not commercial but eventually the commercial production started, by around 1974. That’s when the fast company, the Kenya nut company started processing macadamia.

Sam:                                      08:05                     Okay. And what does it look like? So nuts are grown on trees or are they not plants, is they, how are they when you say that the first macadamia nut were brought here…

Charles :                               08:17                     It was brought as a seed, a seed nut.

Sam:                                      08:19                     Brought as a seed, and then…

Charles:                                08:20                     Then it was planted. And then multiplication through propagation and grafting, that now gives, multiplies the seedlings. So macadamia is a tree.

Sam:                                      08:32                     A tree, Okay.

Charles:                                08:33                     Right.

Sam:                                      08:33                     Is it a big tree?

Charles:                                08:34                     It’s a big tree yes. Is a sizeable tree. So medium, medium sized tree.

Sam:                                      08:38                     Okay.

Charles:                                08:38                     Yeah. That can produce even up to 50, 60, 70 kilos depending on how you feed the tree. Is a tree that has a lot of longevity.

Sam:                                      08:47                     Okay.

Charles:                                08:48                     In terms of the tree can span 50, 60 years still in production. So once you farm the siblings, it takes around five, six years for optimal production.

Sam:                                      08:58                     Okay.

Charles:                                08:58                     You’ll get enough produce from the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10 year, all the way to maybe another 50 years the tree will still productive.

Sam:                                      09:05                     Okay. So the first macadamia trees were planted when Bob, was it Bob Harris, when he came, they are still producing.

Charles:                                09:14                     They’re still producing.

Sam:                                      09:15                     Yes.

Charles:                                09:15                     Yes. And they’re still okay. And what’s sort of, and then eventually the tree will die?

Charles:                                09:19                     Eventually the tree will die, yes as…

Sam:                                      09:20                     As altruistic.

Charles:                                09:23                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      09:24                     Okay. And so what does it with the macadamia nuts, is it like a pod? How does, I’m trying to visualize whether or not it’s all on the tree.

Charles:                                09:32                     No, they’re not. It’s a fruit. Let’s say it’s a fruit.

Sam:                                      09:35                     So basically, so you’ve got a macadamia tree. It has these, so imagine that it’s a fruit that’s growing on it. And then within that fruit, when you crack it open, they’re really, they’re nuts. Similar thing with cashews?

Charles:                                09:45                     Yes, similar thing with cashews. Cashew is an apple, is an apple like, but with an offshoot of a nut also that you you crack again to get the kind of insight. Yeah.

Sam:                                      10:01                     Yes. And then what do you do with the Apple?

Charles :                               10:03                     Well, in other places in the world, especially West Africa, I have seen they’re making apple, you know, cashew apple juice.

Sam:                                      10:10                     Cashew apple juice?

Charles:                                10:11                     Yes. Making that they are also making cashew wine…

Sam:                                      10:15                     Really?

Charles:                                10:15                     From the apple, yes. So…

Sam:                                      10:17                     Do you do that here?

Charles:                                10:18                     No, we don’t do it here.

Sam:                                      10:19                     Why not?

Charles:                                10:20                     We are not doing it because we don’t produce enough cashew. There are challenges that are particular to where it grows, especially at the costs. They think…

Sam:                                      10:29                     Cashews grow at the coast?

Charles:                                10:29                     Yes, majorly grows at the coast. Although we have some belts in the Eastern province in Tharaka Nithi county where we also growing some cashew nuts.

Sam:                                      10:40                     What is a reason why they grew at the coast?

Charles :                               10:43                     I would say because of the Sandy soil. It’s also a coast base crop, I think that’s the ecological zone for it? Yes. So are there other parts in East Africa or Africa where…

Sam:                                      10:54                     It’s still growing at the coastline?

Charles:                                10:56                     If you come from Kenya, Tanzania all the way to Mozambique, you will find, yes. If you go to the coast of West Africa from Cameroon there you will goal the way to Senegal, are not native to…

Sam:                                      11:16                     So macadamia is not native to Kenya. It’s native to Australia.

Charles:                                11:19                     Australia.

Sam:                                      11:20                     So they’ve come, are there any…

Charles:                                11:21                     And Kenya is a first African country to start macadamia production.

Sam:                                      11:26                     Are there others that have now followed.

Charles:                                11:28                     Then South Africa followed and then other smaller countries. Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda have now started and Uganda is coming up also.

Sam:                                      11:42                     Yeah.

Charles:                                11:42                     But Kenya is the third major producer of macadamia in the world.

Sam:                                      11:48                     So Australia…

Charles:                                11:48                     Australia number one, South Africa number two or thereabout, Kenya number three. Then we have other countries like Guatemala, we have Brazil, we have Vietnam. They also grow macadamia.

Sam:                                      12:00                     And so they’ve all taken this, this seed from Australia and taking it and began their own production in other parts

Charles:                                12:08                     In other parts of the world, yes. Yes.

Sam:                                      12:10                     Okay. So it takes about, so from the, it’s quite interesting. So 1970, this is when the first macadamia nut came and since then it’s been sort of flourishing who, who is growing the macadamia nuts?

Charles :                               12:24                     Right Macadamia in Kenya as opposed to the rest of the world, especially the big two South Africa and Australia. They grew macadamia through plantation, large scale plantations. But in Kenya we are majorly on smallholder scale and these small holders, you’re talking of a farmer with 10 20 trees, whoever is doing it more is maybe putting one Hector or two hectares, but majority you you’ll see it’s a number of trees that is a main denominator here as in we have 10, 50, 30, 40 or something like that.

Sam:                                      13:02                     Yeah.

Charles:                                13:03                     And macadamia grows within the central Mount Kenya region.

Sam:                                      13:06                     Okay.

Charles:                                13:07                     That is the home of macadamia.

Sam:                                      13:09                     And so what happens, so the, the farmer, smallholder farmer, they will buy some macadamia seedlings and develop a tree and then five years later it begins to…

Charles :                               13:22                     Yeah. What happens is that most of the processors in their own interests propagate seedlings.

Sam:                                      13:28                     Okay. So the process. Got it, so it’s not the farmer that starts the process. It starts the cycle…

Charles :                               13:35                     It is the processor who propagates the seedlings and then they avail the seedlings to the farmer at some price. Then the farmers, now plant the trees take care of the trees. Then the processors of take the produce from the farms process package.

Sam:                                      13:51                     Yeah.

Charles:                                13:52                     Export.

Sam:                                      13:52                     Export.

Charles:                                13:53                     Yes. The main export destinations being Europe and the US.

Sam:                                      13:58                     Got it.

Charles:                                13:59                     Though, also, Japan is also a buyer.

Sam:                                      14:01                     Really?

Charles:                                14:01                     Yes.

Sam:                                      14:02                     Japan. Is that a recent thing? Japan wanting to buy macadamia nuts?

Charles :                               14:07                     Yes, it’s a traditional buyer of macadamia since macadamia processing started in Kenya.

Sam:                                      14:11                     Okay.

Charles:                                14:11                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      14:12                     Okay, so the main agents to sort of the main person to get this thing going is macadamia nut processing plant. Nobody said, right, we’re going to set us up and then right. In order for us to process, we need to get some macadamia so we’re going to go out into the local community and give people these trees to them.

Charles:                                14:33                     Yeah. I would call macadamia processors the epicenter or the business as in the business both ways oscillates or revolves around them. In terms of, as I said, the production, they reach down or upstream, whichever you want to call it. And they go down, shoot to the market after they process. So they are in between.

Sam:                                      14:56                     Got it.

Charles:                                14:56                     Meaning that there needs to be, and this is what the association is up for, to make sure that the farmer and the processor are tied to the hip. They must collaborate because the processor doesn’t have his own orchard. He’s relying on what the smallholder farmers producing. The smallholder farmer doesn’t have his factory to process so the two must work together. Right. So it’s a partnership of win-win and that is why now the processors find it in their interest to propagate the seedlings, supply the farmers, create some intimacy with the farmer to make sure that the farmer is supported on production and best practices. And then the processor will off take the produce right from the farmer through different buying stations across the farmlands. And then after that they will bring to the factory process and then forward the processed material now to the end markets in the US Europe or wherever.

Sam:                                      15:59                     Very good. Okay. What does, in what state do the processes by the macadamia nuts, as in are they still shelled? They still in their shell?

Charles:                                16:11                     Yes. They macadamia. Macadamia is ideally supposed to drop on the ground when it’s ready for harvesting.

Sam:                                      16:17                     Okay.

Charles:                                16:18                     Yes.

Sam:                                      16:18                     The farmer just goes around and collects.

Charles:                                16:20                     Yes. They’re supposed to drop.

Sam:                                      16:21                     How many seasons does it have exactly once a year? Does it happen all year around?

Charles:                                16:26                     There are trees that are all year round, but there is a peak and the peak season for macadamia is between April, June, July and August. Then we have a short crop. November, December. Yes. So, but basically what happens is that the farmers now will consolidate the produce, they will remove the outer casing. We call the, the outer casing, the green outer casing, so that now they, they, they can now produce the nut itself, right. Once they get the nut, the nut itself is what the processor will buy.

Sam:                                      17:03                     So the farmer will remove the outer pack. The outer casing?

Charles:                                17:06                     Yes.

Sam:                                      17:07                     Okay. And then take a, take a bag and go to the processor.

Charles:                                17:12                     They will go to different buying centers that are located within the villages.

Sam:                                      17:19                     Okay.

Charles:                                17:19                     Who watch are sponsored by respective buying companies.

Sam:                                      17:24                     The smallholder farmers, they can choose which processor…

Charles:                                17:27                     Which processor to sell to, they’re at liberty to sell to any, they are not bound by one. However, they are processors who have contract farming arrangements with particular farmers, especially those farmers who are producing organic macadamia. So they have a pact between the two.

Sam:                                      17:48                     And if they were to do contract farming, the processor would say I promised so long as they meet certain quality,

Charles:                                17:55                     Yes,

Sam:                                      17:55                     I promise…

Charles:                                17:57                     They’ll put the parameters in.

Sam:                                      17:58                     Yeah.

Charles:                                17:59                     And then they’ll put the price index for it and then the processor will go for the nuts probably the nearest point. Where the farmer is.

Sam:                                      18:10                     Okay roughly how much does it cost for, let’s say, kilo of unprocessed macadamia?

Charles :                               18:17                     We call it farm-gate price for the clients, and farm-gate price for macadamia in Kenya is, I think the closing price for the season 2018, 2019 was $2

Sam:                                      18:32                     $2? So $2 per kilogram?

Charles:                                18:35                     $2 Per kilogram.

Sam:                                      18:35                     Is the Farm-gate price. Okay. So the, the processes there, if they want to buy a hundred kilograms, they’ll pay $200 and they got up cooked

Charles :                               18:47                     And that makes macadamia the most lucrative crop in this country. Yes.

Sam:                                      18:52                     It’s a pair of kg, basis,

Charles:                                18:54                     On per Kg business, is the most lucrative.

Sam:                                      18:56                     And why. Is that? Just because it’s…

Charles :                               18:59                     It’s just purely an export. Next port. It’s 97% export. Okay. So what I can tell you is that the global production of macadamia, is under 220,000 metric tones.

Sam:                                      19:12                     Okay.

Charles:                                19:13                     Yeah. And it represents 2% to 3% of the tree nut or the tree nut family.

Sam:                                      19:24                     What do you mean the tree nut family them.

Charles:                                19:25                     Any nut that grows on the tree cashew included, peanutnut, walnut yeah.

Charles:                                19:32                     So it’s 2%, 3%. Okay. So the farm is Ivanka is $2. What are the main things that the processor is doing?

Charles:                                19:41                     The main thing is that because the farmers don’t have that technology to, to preserve macadamia at the farm level because macadamia is sensitive, you need to dehydrate.

Sam:                                      19:53                     Okay.

Charles:                                19:54                     To remove moisture from it. So the first of the first thing that we need to do is to remove the moisture. Most of the times that farmers will give their produce at 20 to 30% moisture content and the processor has to drive that down to 1.5.

Sam:                                      20:09                     And how do do that?

Charles:                                20:11                     They do it through dryers , there are dryers that are blowing out. I could be the first year with a fund years on boilers and all that to kind of expel the excess moisture in the nut to around 1.5.

Sam:                                      20:23                     But what happens then? So they’ve be en dried out. What’s the next step.

Charles:                                20:26                     Then? The next step is a cracking crack.

Sam:                                      20:30                     Cracking?

Charles:                                20:30                     Cracking. Yes. Cracking is now. Shelling, removing moving the shell.

Sam:                                      20:34                     Okay, so you drive them whilst they’re still in their shell.

Charles:                                20:36                     Yes. You dry while the’re still in shell.

Sam:                                      20:39                     I would’ve thought it makes sense to do it.

Charles :                               20:42                     No, no, no. It will change its biochemistry if you are to break it and then you’ll be roasting it and the roasting is the last stage.

Sam:                                      20:49                     Okay. I’m getting ahead of myself. Alright, so then you crack the shell.

Charles:                                20:54                     Yes. You crack the shell and then from there you start the grading process. Yes. Remember you have bought from everywhere, macadamia is graded according to sizes, they are like seven or so grades from stair zero to stair seven.

Sam:                                      21:13                     Okay.

Charles:                                21:13                     Yeah. Well that is Kenyan, but the other origins that have different classification for it.

Sam:                                      21:19                     And the basic thing they’re looking for is like size.

Charles:                                21:23                     Size is the basic premium size.

Sam:                                      21:26                     The bigger, the more expensive?

Charles:                                21:27                     The bigger, the more expensive.

Sam:                                      21:28                     Okay.

Charles:                                21:29                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      21:29                     So you get graded and then what happens? So then does that mean there’s like the all the grade seven going one bucket, all the grades…

Charles:                                21:36                     No. You see different customers require different sizes for different purposes. For instance, the small that pieces and all that may be required to go for the ingredients market. Well you want to make cakes using macadamia, you want to make cookies using macadamia as an ingredient?

Sam:                                      21:51                     Ingredients. Yes. Sorry. So they, yeah, they don’t care if it’s a really big executive, just what…

Charles:                                21:57                     You see now for the snacking sector of the market, you want to have that good appealing big nut.

Sam:                                      22:06                     And then they get roasted or was there…

Charles:                                22:08                     It gets roasted, salted and whatever people want to do with it up there.

Sam:                                      22:13                     This all happens in the same?

Charles:                                22:14                     No, it doesn’t happen basically in one factory because some of the buyers in the US would want to roast it near the end market so it will be sent to the US or the Europe in that intermediate form.

Sam:                                      22:26                     At which stage do they normally get sent off?

Charles:                                22:29                     At the kernel, we call it the kernel, kernel meaning you have removed the shell.

Sam:                                      22:36                     Okay.

Charles:                                22:36                     And you have graded based on size and then you can send it as such. Then it will go on the final step in the end market. We are by now the final value addition will be done.

Sam:                                      22:47                     Some so…

Charles:                                22:50                     But some are done here and that’s why you find their products in the supermarket, the finish products that you can, ready to eat.

Sam:                                      22:56                     Do you export to some countries when you have rest of it?

Charles:                                22:59                     Yes, there are some people who are sending their brands to Europe.

Sam:                                      23:04                     Okay.

Charles:                                23:04                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:05                     So that means that, so you, you basically said, you know, here it is. Did you package it for those European…

Charles:                                23:13                     Yes. You package for them. You will find them also in the airlines. You find British airways is using Kenyan macadamia product, go to Kenya airways, you’ll find they’re using Kenyan macadamia products.

Sam:                                      23:26                     But the branding is…

Charles:                                23:28                     Yes. The branding is, is a joint branding between the airline and the local company.

Sam:                                      23:33                     Yeah.

Charles:                                23:33                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:34                     Okay. There were four, there are now 27.

Charles:                                23:36                     27 players right now and counting.

Sam:                                      23:40                     And counting. Alright. Have you got some new ones?

Charles:                                23:42                     Well people get into the business every year. New people. We definitely have to get excited.

Sam:                                      23:48                     I mean, how attractive is it as a business, like what’s the sort of rough startup capital you’ll need? What are the sort of returns?

Charles:                                23:58                     I think that the major challenge to new entrants is what I can call “barrier to entry” because you have to buy the produce from farmers upfront.

Sam:                                      24:13                     Okay.

Charles:                                24:14                     You either have the cash or you don’t.

Sam:                                      24:16                     Yeah. And typically in order to make it, in order to do it properly, how many kilograms do you think you’re going to need to buy?

Charles :                               24:23                     I would say you will be sustainable, you’ll breakeven at around 300.

Sam:                                      24:29                     300 tons?

Charles:                                24:29                     300 tones.

Sam:                                      24:31                     Okay, so you need, you need to pay $600 of raw material if it’s 300?

Charles:                                24:36                     So what we’re saying is that you need 300 tons. The metric tons.

Sam:                                      24:40                     Tons not Not kilograms?

Charles:                                24:41                     No.

Sam:                                      24:42                     So three, so 300 times a thousand times two. Alright. So you need one that’s about 600 600 thousands?

Charles:                                24:50                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      24:50                     Six. Right? So in order to be valued…

Charles:                                24:52                     US dollars.

Sam:                                      24:54                     $600,000 dollars, that is what you call a barrier to entry. Yeah. Okay, so…

Charles:                                24:58                     You can see the figure is prohibitive.

Sam:                                      25:00                     Yes.

Charles:                                25:01                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      25:02                     And then how much would the equipment cost?

Charles:                                25:05                     Depending, you can go manual and crack with a ball pain hammer, which is now labour intensive again, that pushes the cost of labour high and they also, there is food handling and all that where you can go now for roller crackers that now are mechanical that you will now crack, crack bigger volumes at a time, you know, bigger batches at a time. It depends on the size that you’re buying, but I think at the processing point you will need to probably put $20,000.

Sam:                                      25:43                     Okay,

Charles:                                25:43                     $20,000. Maybe the infrastructure you need at the processes stage.

Sam:                                      25:49                     Okay.

Charles:                                25:49                     You will need to put down…

Sam:                                      25:50                     So looking at roughly $620,000 to get going, but what, what’s the upside? So how, let’s say you’ve got 300 tons, let’s say, so a kilogram costs $2 at the farm-gates. Once it’s processed, how much, how much might you be selling?

Charles:                                26:09                     You are starting to understand for you to process one kilo, you need 4 to 5 kilos.

Sam:                                      26:16                     Really, Oh there’s that much?

Charles:                                26:17                     Yes. There’s that difference because you see the shell is heavy also and you don’t need the shell. You need the inner.

Sam:                                      26:22                     Okay.

Charles:                                26:22                     Yeah. So it’s not kilo to kilo.

Sam:                                      26:25                     Okay.

Charles:                                26:25                     There’s a ratio between now the kernel you get that is now the consumable part and now the fruit, the farmer sales to the processor. And then remember you bought this macadamia at 20 to 30% moisture content. You’re going to dehydrate that to 1.5. So it’s not, as in corresponding, there are several processes that are here and that’s what I’m saying, a factor of four.

Sam:                                      26:52                     Okay, so…

Charles:                                26:53                     One to four.

Sam:                                      26:54                     So for every four kilograms of macadamia.

Charles:                                26:56                     In shells, in not form will yield.

Sam:                                      27:02                     Okay.

Charles:                                27:02                     Yes.

Sam:                                      27:03                     So when you say they need to buy 300 tons, they need to get 300 pounds…

Charles:                                27:07                     Divided by four.

Sam:                                      27:09                     Okay. So they’re going to end up with 75 tons making. So, okay. So how much does a kilogram of processed.

Charles:                                27:20                     It depends again on a good and a bad year, but I could put and again the grades that I could probably put per kilo at around $15.

Sam:                                      27:35                     Okay, so four to one. So basically you’re saying you need to pay roughly $8 at the farm-gate to gets $15. Okay. Is this what most companies, most procssors are doing? They’re basically playing the volume game.

Charles:                                27:52                     It’s a volume game. If you’ve seen the minimum is like 300 tones, what’s the maximum capacity that a processor has?

Charles:                                28:01                     The big processors are doing a 8,000,

Charles:                                28:05                     8,000 okay.

Charles:                                28:06                     8,000 metric tons. But then you will find that people who are doing 1000, 2000, 3000, 4,000, but the largest in Kenya is doing around 8,000.

Sam:                                      28:17                     You said that most of is going to exports.

Charles:                                28:21                     Yes, it’s 97%.

Sam:                                      28:24                     How’s that sort of like facilitated as in, is this, is this the sort of thing where you need to have trade ageements or is it? Buyer to buyer so to speak? As in, I’m there several buyers in the U S and commodity traders or brokers who are linking to the end users and supermarkets and such.

Sam:                                      28:48                     Okay. So it’s made me going through, it makes me a minute. So basically you’ve been treated as a commodity, so it’s going to say that…

Charles:                                28:56                     It goes as a commodity. So it’s not like distributed in different places. I see. So is that like the macadamia nut exchange? I’m sorry, is that like no,

Charles:                                29:05                     There’s no formal exchange like the coffee.

Sam:                                      29:08                     Okay. There’s not, there’s no auction.

Charles:                                29:10                     It’s not auction driven. What there is is that they are commodity brokers who collect and then sub end markets.

Sam:                                      29:18                     I see.

Charles:                                29:19                     Yeah. Or there are also directives to supermarkets. Big supermarkets that are, will go on value and even roasters, independent roasters who also will buy go and roast and then have their own, they’re a retail brands.

Sam:                                      29:32                     Okay.

Charles:                                29:32                     In the end markets.

Sam:                                      29:33                     Is it that the macadamia nut industry is still in its infancy and that one day it will get like an auction like there is with coffee and tea or is it that the dynamics are, or the characteristics different?

Charles :                               29:49                     I would say that maybe there would be an auction market for macadamia, but again, it must be voluminous for it to modify to be in an auction system.

Sam:                                      30:04                     Okay.

Charles:                                30:04                     It must also attract enough players for, you know, enough players to, for it to qualify to be at that stage. So it’s a volume and players kind of dynamics that are critical here.

Sam:                                      30:16                     Okay.

Charles:                                30:16                     And again, it depends, will it be necessary? What solution will it be solving because if the market to market, business to business model still works, then maybe the need for an independent auction system, is not necessary, because price discovery between major buyers and sellers, the interacting one on one and still they’re finding it comfortable because the price points they get is agreeable. So again, that may not make the auction necessary.

Sam:                                      30:50                     Yeah. Okay. So the fact that there is enough transparency in the market.

Charles:                                30:54                     Yes.

Sam:                                      30:54                     Doesn’t, doesn’t probably make it necessary. Okay. Interesting. And when you say things like the supermarket, so we’re talking about like a US supermarket.

Charles :                               31:06                     Yes, you’re talking of the Costco.

Sam:                                      31:08                     Okay. And so they will say they will be wanting to do Costco own brand Macadamias. So I’m trying to think. So if I own Costco I’m like, but I’m the head of Costco and I say, right, we need to get our own in brand macadamia nuts and I’ll, I’ll then say, right go out and find a broker, someone who can go and source them. That broker will be speaking directly with the macadamia nut processes in Kenya.

Charles:                                31:36                     Yes.

Sam:                                      31:37                     Understood, understood. And then they’ll say, okay, well these are the conditions we’re going to buy. We’ve been engaged in a contract, we’ll buy this many tons for the next 12 months and where does Nut pak play in that sort of interaction that’s happening.

Charles :                               31:53                     What happens? You see we are, what we can call, we’re also are trade facilitator.

Sam:                                      31:57                     Okay.

Charles:                                31:58                     Right. Because as the association that, our interest is to make the business environment, local and international conducive and supportive of the entrepreneurs and the processors to do business.

Sam:                                      32:13                     Yeah.

Charles:                                32:14                     Right. And we also are the voice of the Kenya macadamia, Kenya nuts family with other origins because others associations, there’s SAMAC of South Africa, there is AMS of Australia and other others in different countries. You see all of us now form the international macadamia symposium, which is our biannual meeting point to share best practices in terms of production and, especially majorly on production.

Sam:                                      32:53                     Okay.

Charles:                                32:53                     Then we have the annual meeting that is under the auspices of the international, nut council.

Sam:                                      33:00                     International nut council?

Charles:                                33:01                     Yes. That now is what we can call the market benchmark.

Sam:                                      33:05                     Yes.

Charles:                                33:06                     Whereby now the buyers and sellers and all, you know, meet annually, kind of to share their experiences, the love innovations their statistics.

Sam:                                      33:15                     Where do they meet?

Charles:                                33:17                     We meet in different capitals of the world.

Sam:                                      33:19                     Okay. Where was the last one?

Charles:                                33:21                     The last one was in the US. We met in the United States in Miami, Florida.

Sam:                                      33:26                     Miami, okay.

Charles:                                33:26                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      33:26                     International nut council. That sounds quite a fun organization.

Charles:                                33:29                     Yes. It’s a huge organization that is based in Spain, Barcelona.

Sam:                                      33:34                     Based in Spain, okay. And so that’s basically any nut people, anybody in the nut industry would want to attend.

Charles:                                33:43                     Wow! That is the mega, you know, the Mecca of the nuts industry, everybody wants to do, to do that.

Sam:                                      33:53                     Did you go?

Charles:                                33:53                     Yes, I was in there.

Sam:                                      33:54                     I mean, was there, is there any sort of rivalry between nuts, if you meet someone and they’re like I’m a macademia nut farmer, and they’re like Oh, and I do cashews or, or someone’s like, I’m wondering purely of like, are there certain nuts which are seen as more prestigious?

Charles:                                34:14                     Definately. Macadamia is more prestigious than all the other nuts, it’s called the King nut.

Sam:                                      34:18                     So in, so when someone meets and you say, I do macadamia nuts, Oh my gosh, I only do walnuts like you’re not.

Charles:                                34:24                     Not necessarily to that extent. Because you see when you talk all the walnuts and you talk almands, you know the dynamics of how they grow is different from macademia. So they are voluminous like produce a lot.

Sam:                                      34:38                     Yeah.

Charles:                                34:38                     So it’s not a question of which is superior than the other.

Sam:                                      34:43                     Okay.

Charles:                                34:44                     Not necessarily, so.

Charles:                                34:45                     Okay. Alright. And there’ll be various people who are giving talks about best practices. What I’m interested, what are some of the innovations that are happening in the macademia nuts industry?

Charles:                                34:56                     You see the major innovation and especially at the international nuts and dried fruit council is looking at nutrition research, is looking at different ways and cuisines that can take macadamia. How many other ways can we consume the nuts in general?

Sam:                                      35:18                     Okay.

Charles:                                35:18                     Right. Do we go heavy on snacks? Do we go heavy as ingredients in other food items? So it’s a question of the versatility of consuming these nuts in different forms in different homes, in terms of also demographics, how your children find there nuts more palatable. So that’s a research point, right? If you’re talking about nutrition challenged people, in what form is it pulpy, how do you give it to them and all that. Again, that’s a research point? We’re talking about now that people want to eat more nutritious foods, we want to run away from issues of heart attack from issues of cholesterol, you see you got, that’s a research point again because we’ll say macadamia is cholesterol free. So you see, you need to disseminate that research needs to be done. So most of the things is about doing research across the board. Innovations in terms of processing what are the new machines that are more efficient, more cost effective and all that, that require. So what I can say is that the conference around international nut council is around the innovations, production, marketing, consumption, data sharing, statistics, what’s the market outlook. So it’s quite dynamic it’s full of information that is across the industry, that makes you now more prepared to do business.

Sam:                                      36:56                     Got it.

Charles:                                36:56                     If you’ve got now to the international macadamia symposium, it is majorly now on the production side, the agronomical post-harvest management systems around it just to see how can we produce the best nuts. What is the research on the best yielding varieties, what’s the best research on crop husbandry, best practices in crop post-harvest management and all that pest management. You know, there’s all those issues around production. How do we optimize production. So that is majorly the symposium issue.

Sam:                                      37:31                     Very cool. Okay. Has one of the, the themes recently been this trend of people eating less meat and nuts being a good source of protein?

Charles :                               37:44                     That’s the thing we’re talking about, it’s substitute. They’re saying macadamia oils or macadamia nuts themselves, it has unique nutritional parameters that are better than animal proteins or animal fat or something. Right. But anyway, that is the progress now of the medical nutrition research people. Yes.

Sam:                                      38:07                     Okay. Alright, cool. Okay. Is there a, is there scope, do you think that if and more, you know, if supply was able to increase…

Charles :                               38:19                     If supply was able to increase and the farm-gate prices what to go down, then the end market shelf, supermarket shelf price or retail price would go down.

Sam:                                      38:30                     What do you recon is a realistic farm-gate price?

Charles :                               38:34                     We did a gross margin on macadamia production at farm level and it cannot go beyond 0.4 of a dollar, right?

Sam:                                      38:46                     So currently it’s at $2 and they weren’t able to go below…

Charles:                                38:49                     It’s good. Their production costs can not go above 0.4 of a dollar.

Sam:                                      38:54                     I don’t quite understand when you say the production costs.

Charles:                                38:55                     You’re talking of, you see production cost means all the investment you put in place before you harvest or before you sell.

Sam:                                      39:06                     Before you sell. Okay.

Charles:                                39:07                     And I’m saying it cannot in any way be more than 20% of the sale price.

Sam:                                      39:17                     When you say it cannot…

Charles:                                39:19                     Because we have done the gross margin analysis for the crop, what does it take for you to produce a kilo of macadamia, and we’re saying in Kenya for you to produce a kilo of macademia, your investment cannot go beyond 0.4 of a dollar.

Sam:                                      39:37                     Okay.

Charles:                                39:37                     Yes.

Sam:                                      39:39                     What are some of the ways in which macademia nuts are being eaten?

Charles :                               39:42                     It’s majorly, the major market for it is snacking, the way you get a snack on the way, but the growing one is macadamia being incorporated in other speciality foods.

Sam:                                      39:58                     Okay.

Charles:                                39:58                     Yes. As an ingredient. Yes. And that is now the growing area.

Sam:                                      40:02                     Cause what is it about macadamia nuts which makes them, what do they have which other nuts don’t have?

Charles:                                40:08                     One, they have a very nice taste profile. Probably that’s why you like eating them, they have a superior taste profile, they are crunchy very palatable. They have quite a good character around it. And then as I say, the nutritional analysis for it, they are one cholesterol free, they will give you, I don’t know how they, all the nutritional parameters, but you will see…

Sam:                                      40:35                     It’s very good.

Charles:                                40:36                     It’s very good. Yeah. It’s recommended as a healthy snack, especially for weight, choolesterol lowering and all that. So it has a good position in the nutritional matrix.

Sam:                                      40:50                     Okay. So we’ll just do a few more questions if that’s all right. What I’m interested in is, as you said, 10 years ago, you were an outsider. You didn’t, you didn’t really know much about the industry and now your here sort of the head of the industry body. What have been some of the biggest insights you’ve had along that journey?

Charles:                                41:13                     I think the thick of the insight is that it’s looking at the sustainability factor for an industry and for you to make an industry competitive, you got to understand the issues of the denominator.

Sam:                                      41:31                     Of?

Charles:                                41:31                     Denominator issues.

Sam:                                      41:33                     Okay.

Charles:                                41:33                     Understanding that you must protect denominator issues and then fight above or compete above the denomination and denominator issues means the fundamental issues that you need to sort out first.

Sam:                                      41:46                     Okay.

Charles:                                41:46                     You need to sort the issues of production. You must produce enough in terms of good quality. You must produce enough also in terms of good pricing points, right? You must produce through smart agriculture so that, you know, whatever you’re doing is in tandem with best practices for it. You must also work within an environment, create the conducive environment for you to be able to acquire the raw materials. Remember most of the processors here don’t have their own farms. So they are relying on the farmer. So they must do production support and that’s what I’m calling the denominator issues first. Then you compete when you have sorted the fundamental issues. If you start fighting below the fundamentals, you collapse the industry. Right? So to create competitiveness, the word competitiveness is very important. Competitiveness at farm level, let the farmer earn their due margin then let the processor earn he’s due margin and let the customer get the best value for the product they buy. Yeah. So that trajectory is what will create a stable industry. Then again, the learning point is about the collaboration with government. Government requires to understand that for an industry to thrive, you got to provide the right policies for it. And as I have said, I have seen the ban on exporting unprocessed macadamia in Kenya has accelerated the growth of the industry from four to 27 from 10,000 metric tons to 45,000 metric tons in a span of 10 years. That tells you the growth factor is good.

Sam:                                      43:38                     And I mean, and I guess that also means that rather than selling produce at $2 a kilogram and selling it at $15 a kilogram.

Charles:                                43:46                     That’s the thing, value extraction is high.

Sam:                                      43:48                     And that all the extra $13 is kept.

Charles:                                43:52                     It’s captured here, it’s retained in the country.

Sam:                                      43:54                     Yeah.

Charles:                                43:54                     So value addition is important in my view because they retain the value to the origin country’s high. Why would you want to export dollars and jobs?

Sam:                                      44:07                     I mean was, was there any backlash?

Charles:                                44:09                     There was a backlash because you see people will have their own vested interests around every issue, but you see the bigger picture or the bigger agenda will always prevail.

Sam:                                      44:19                     I was about to say how did you overcome it?

Charles:                                44:21                     We lobbied the minister responsible for, for agriculture to really understand what is this value capture that we are fighting for? Because what you’re saying is that can we keep as many jobs local? Can we earn as many dollars and bring them to the country? That’s foreign exchange and such. How do we do that? We do that by manufacturing. There’s no country that develops by exporting raw materials.

Sam:                                      44:52                     And what, what do you think is next for Nut Pak, in the next…

Charles:                                44:55                     The next thing is now to consolidate the industry further.

Sam:                                      44:58                     Okay. We say consolidate, what do you mean?

Charles:                                45:00                     Consolidating means that we are looking at the success factors and how those success factors hinge on making the entrepreneurs and processors more profitable.

Sam:                                      45:12                     Okay.

Charles:                                45:13                     Right. We are looking at how rather than having it fragmented is a question of how do we bring everything together so that everybody benefits from the synergies that accrue from joint effort.

Sam:                                      45:26                     What does that look like in practice?

Charles:                                45:28                     In practice. What we mean is that we are looking at what are the issues that we need to address. We need to have early warning systems around the crop. Will there be a crop failure and next year we need to have an early warning system around it. We need to understand what are the agronomical challenges facing our farmers and address those issues including extension. How do we go and disseminate best practices across our farmers, crop quality, how do we manage the crop quality across these diverse farmers, what are the programmings that we need to put in place to make sure that we consolidate and standardize production across many farmers so that we can have a crop that is as good as what you find in Australia, as good as you find in South Africa because all of it is competing in the same marketplace. Yes.

Sam:                                      46:23                     And that’s something which nut pak will probably…

Charles:                                46:25                     Yes. That is a cutout for the association to make sure that synergies are brought together and people are achieving the grand picture or the strategic picture together.

Sam:                                      46:42                     How does nut pak make money?

Charles:                                46:44                     The association gets its money from subscriptions.

Sam:                                      46:48                     Because of the 27 processors.

Charles:                                46:49                     They each pay based on the size.

Sam:                                      46:54                     Okay. So you’re basically saying based on your production?

Charles:                                46:57                     Based on the, not production, processing, the amount of nuts you process.

Sam:                                      47:03                     Okay.

Charles:                                47:03                     So we have a formula.

Sam:                                      47:05                     And now they’ll pay an annual fee.

Charles:                                47:06                     They pay us at an annual fee. Yes.

Sam:                                      47:09                     And so just to sort of finish up, you know, fit people who are looking to learn more about what, nut pak does or looking to perhaps you know, buy some very nuts, buy nuts that grown in Kenya. What are some of the best ways that people can learn and learn more about what it is that you do and perhaps get in touch with some, some other producers?

Charles:                                47:28                     I think what do is that we have our learning platforms especially at the farm level. We do a lot of field days to educate farmers on the emerging best practices and giving them my expectations as processors on what we required them to do so they can produce the right quality material. We also disseminate the research, the new research that we get from our international partners that are doing macadamia and such. We also lobby and educate government, especially the county governments to really understand the position of the crop and how it can change and impact the lives of the common person, especially the farmers in the radius. As we have said, it’s one of the most lucrative crops on our farms. That means it’s an engine that can be very formidable in poverty eradication and such. So more resources needs to be put there naturally if something has the potential to change the lives of people. But you see that comes from awareness. We need to disseminate this picture, quote to the value proposition across to the counties so that they can see the value of the crop also. And then again to kind of support the environment around processing lobbying issues on energy, costs of power, cost of doing business across a country, licensing law that, you know, we will get involved where we feel that it’s adverserial to doing business.

Sam:                                      49:09                     And people who are listening at home, how can they learn more about some of these things, is there…

Charles:                                49:14                     We have radio programs that we do with vernacular radios that disseminate our information.

Sam:                                      49:19                     You have radio programs?

Charles:                                49:20                     Yes. Yeah.

Sam:                                      49:23                     You’ll go on the radio and talk about?

Charles:                                49:25                     Yes, we gone radio, we do announcements based on when we expect the crop to be ready and all that.

Sam:                                      49:31                     Okay.

Charles:                                49:31                     So we do announcement to say where we have some educational platforms, you know in collaboration with key stake holders. So the messaging to farmers. We also use mobile phone, a s ystem whereby we disseminate now SMSs based on different parameters or different information points that we feel are necessary to farmers.

Sam:                                      49:53                     And if people want, if people want to buy macadamia nuts in Kenya, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Charles:                                49:59                     The international buyers?

Sam:                                      50:00                     Yeah.

Charles:                                50:01                     The international buyers, as I said, we have a platform for the international nut council where the buyers and sellers mingle make their deals.

Sam:                                      50:10                     Okay.

Charles:                                50:11                     So yeah.

Sam:                                      50:12                     Fantastic. Very good. Cool. Well Charles, thanks so much.

Charles:                                50:14                     Thank you Sam, excellent.


(Chia) Seed Investors: the surprising story of how chia seeds came to be grown in Africa


In this episode, I speak with Sabina Karumba about how she and her husband started Chia Africa.

Most businesses have an interesting formation story, though this one is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

Sabina and her husband were watching TV one evening in 2012 when a doctor came on the show and explained the health benefits of chia seeds.

Compelled to learn more they undertake research and a few months later are planting their own chia plants in Western Uganda.

This is the first commercial plantation of chia seeds on the continent, and after going around with samples of what they grew they both quit their day jobs and go full time on the business.

A few years later and they are the premier producer in the region, trying to keep up with demand despite other people entering the market too.

Sabina and I talk about lots of interesting things such as how chia seeds should only be grown within 5 degrees of the equator, the genesis of becoming Africa’s first chia seed producers (despite never having farmed), and keeping up with the demand for the superfood.

One thing which Sabina downplays, but I thought was particularly impressive is her attitude to sales.

Two of the biggest breaks for the company came with being listed by a major supermarket, and then one of the region’s largest distributors.

In both cases, she just turned up unannounced at their offices, asked to see the owner and after sitting down with them, sold them on making big orders for Chia Africa in just one meeting.

The reason I think is that Sabina is clearly incredibly passionate about the power of chia seeds, and believes everyone should have them in their diet.

Her pitch is pretty simple: it has amazing health benefits that can change people’s lives,  people just don’t know about it yet, make sure you have some in stock.


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Pictures from the farm

Preparing to plant the chia seeds
Preparing to plant the chia seeds
Chia plants growing in Western Uganda
Chia plants growing in Western Uganda
Scouting for places on the Chia Africa chia seed farm
Scouting for places on the Chia Africa chia seed farm
Chia Africa's Dr Chia range
Chia Africa’s Dr Chia range

Social Media Links




Sam:                                      00:00:00               Intro.

Sam:                                      00:03:37               Cool. So we’re here today with Sabina from Chia Africa, Sabina welcome to the show. So just to get started, could you tell us a bit about you and a bit about Chia Africa.

Sabina:                                 00:03:48               Thank you so much Sam, as you’ve heard, my name is Sabina Wanjiru Karumba, I am a Kenyan. We do run Chia Africa with my husband who’s also my business partner. His name is David Kisembo and he’s based in Uganda. Chia Africa is registered in Kenya with offices in Kenya, but our farmlands are in Uganda. That’s where we do our farming since the 2012, that’s when we started, or that’s when we first heard about chia seeds. Amazingly, we heard about chia seeds from one program on TV called the 700 Club. There’s a gentleman who had been brought in, who is a medical doctor who was talking about chia seeds, and we were like, what wonder seed is this? We were so excited and were like, let’s find out more about this seed, what this seed is all about because it was so amazing. Whatever they talked about the chia seeds, it was so amazing, it was something like everybody must know about. So our journey began and the research began. Initially, we were calling it chai. Chai in Swahili or in East Africa is tea, that is tea. And we were like, we’re looking for this chai, chai, but we couldn’t find the chai.

Sam:                                      00:05:14               Looking for tea?

Sabina:                                 00:05:14               Yes. Yes. So we had to replay The 700 Club once again, and then we released it is chia.

Sam:                                      00:05:20               Okay. So a TV program?

Sabina:                                 00:05:23               Yes, The 700 Club.

Sam:                                      00:05:23               Why is it called the 700 club?

Sabina:                                 00:05:26               It has its membership probably, I believe its membership. They started with a membership of about 700 people who were supporting, it’s a Christian program.

Sam:                                      00:05:35               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:05:35               With somebody called Pat Robertson, yes.

Sam:                                      00:05:38               Okay. It’s a Tv program and Pat, he invites some guests?

Sabina:                                 00:05:44               Yes. They do talk about politics, they do talk about health, they do talk about business so amazingly on this particular day, besides the normal question they do and all that, they also discussed about the health, human health.

Sam:                                      00:05:57               What was the medical doctor, what was he saying about chia seeds?

Sabina:                                 00:06:01               He was talking about how amazing this chia seed is and what it does? What it is able to give the body from very small quantities of what you consume? The minerals in it, the vitamins, the proteins, the omega 3 in it. We were like from that one tablespoon or 20 grams that you consume in a day, and you’re able to get all this, it was amazing. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:06:22               Wow. Okay. So this is in 2012?

Sabina:                                 00:06:27               That was in 2010.

Sam:                                      00:06:28               And how long was it before you realized it was called chia and not chai?

Sabina:                                 00:06:31               Amazingly, at around that time, we were, me and my husband were discussing about career change and all that. He’s a mechanical engineer by profession. I am an accountant by profession. But we wanted to venture into something that we would be able to do and work on together? So actually at that time, we were thinking about the agribusiness and amazingly, this important information comes to us so immediately we didn’t take long. We started finding out what this chia seed is, so we went like three, four days. We were not able to find out what this chia seed is because we’re looking for chai and we’re like, the chai we know is the normal chai I take every morning. It has never given me, yes, of course, it has benefited me, but it hasn’t even given me these amazing benefits as what I heard from the 700 club, so eventually were able to find out that it is not chai, it is chia and the research went on and barely a month after that we’re able to even get contacts of some Americans who had come to East Africa. They had done a bit of groundwork, some research to try and find out if they can introduce this seed to the East African region.

Sam:                                      00:07:42               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:07:42               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:07:44               And what did they say?

Sabina:                                 00:07:44               They had just engaged the first group of farmers, of which sometimes because of probably the education background and all that, people up country in rural areas, they find it difficult to embrace new crops that they don’t understand about.

Sam:                                      00:08:02               Yes.

Sabina:                                 00:08:02               But amazingly because we had already heard about it and when we looked around and were able to talk to them, actually we talked to them, we were in Nairobi, they were somewhere in a place called Masinde, that is West of Uganda. They were there at that particular moment, this the same place that my husband, area. That’s exactly where he was born.

Sam:                                      00:08:19               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:08:19               Yes. So it was very easy for them to understand and to, for us to integrate and they were also excited because they were like, no, we’ve gotten people who are willing to, understand this whole project that we are getting into. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:08:34               Cool. Okay. Wow. So I mean there’s lots to sort of talk about but I think, sort of, let’s keep on the supply side of the business.

Sabina:                                 00:08:42               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:08:43               What does it, what does the chia plant, is it chia plant, chia seed from chia plant?

Sabina:                                 00:08:48               Yes, the chia seed comes from the chia plant, and, okay, chia seeds, it’s generally South American, basically Mexico, but its scientific name is salvia Hispanica.

Sam:                                      00:09:03               Salvia Hispanica?

Sabina:                                 00:09:03               Yes, that’s the scientific name.

Sam:                                      00:09:05               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:09:05               But the common name, which is known everywhere, and it’s embraced, if you go to North America, go to South America, go to Europe. It’s been called chia, come to Africa, we’re calling it chia and not chai anymore.

Sam:                                      00:09:15               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:09:15               Yeah, exactly.

Sam:                                      00:09:17               Okay. What does chia, what does a salvia Hispanica plant look like?

Sabina:                                 00:09:21               It’s just a plant that grows that with, let’s say not very big leaves, medium-sized leaves, which grows to about two to three meters in height.

Sam:                                      00:09:35               That’s quite tall.

Sabina:                                 00:09:35               Yes, yes, yes. And you achieve that if you having good weather, the soils are good, but if your weather is not good, the rains are not coming well, it will flower, even when it is like even one foot high, which is not good. Yes, it will flower, but if you put that in the labs, you are going to find that the nutritional content is very low. But in good environment, actually it can go even as high as a three meters.

Sam:                                      00:09:59               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:09:59               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:10:00               Cool. And how long does it take to grow to three meters?

Sabina:                                 00:10:02               It takes about three to four months on the higher side, four months. If you have some delay in the rains because we are using rain feder, it’s rain farming that we are doing, if you have a bit of delays, within four months, at most four months, you will have harvested. But if there’s no delay with the rains, even three and a half months. You’ll do your havesting.

Sam:                                      00:10:23               And can you do all year round or does it have to be, so can you do, if it’s four months, can you do three cycles a year?

Sabina:                                 00:10:34               Okay. First, let me take you a little bit back on the good conditions for the growth and germination of the chia seed. Basically the seed, the reason why it has gotten this high popularity, It is because of its nutritional content. It also has to be in an optimal area, where it can develop or manufacture these particular nutrients that you’re looking after and basically it needs about five degrees within the Equator, North or South of equator. Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:11:07               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:11:07               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:11:07               Not very many places are conducive?

Sabina:                                 00:11:09               And that is why you see, it’s around the Mexico area. The South America. That is where it does very well and that is why the group of first people who came to invest here, they came from North America and they came in the region of East Africa, reason why, East Africa generally lies between five degrees, North and South of Equator. That’s where you get the optimal.

Sam:                                      00:11:34               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:11:34               Exactly. So if you come here, you will find that even within the Equator, there’s Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, we are lying within the Equator, but in some regions, the rainfalls, they vary, for any seed basically to germinate, it needs some moderate reasonable amount of rainfall. Some regions they do get rainfall like twice, two good seasons in a year, although in as much as we’re falling within the Equator, so where we are farming it in Uganda, we are able to do it comfortably. We can do it twice. Although there’s another short season in the month of June, July in Masinde, but it’s quite unreliable. So basically we do opt to do it between February and then we harvest by end of April, May, latest by June. And then the next season we start it in October and we do our harvesting by December, January.

Sam:                                      00:12:25               Got it.

Sabina:                                 00:12:26               Yes. So two seasons in a year comfortably. Although when the rains are sufficient, we can do three seasons. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:12:34               If you could irrigate, could you definitely do three seasons?

Sabina:                                 00:12:38               You can do it all around. If you can do irrigation, you can do it all around because the sunshine within the Equator is more or less consistent throughout the whole year.

Sam:                                      00:12:49               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:12:50               Yes. Yeah. Now, unfortunately, the part that comes with farming chia, the productivity per acre. If you look at the product, the yields are not as high because when the rains are good under optimal weather, you get about 400 Kgs, 400 kilos per acre.

Sam:                                      00:13:08               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:13:09               People who do maize farming, that is corn. They’re able to do like 40 bags of a hundred that is like a 40 bags. You’re doing here four bags of chia, with the maize, you’re doing 40, you’re doing 10 times.

Sam:                                      00:13:26               I see.

Sabina:                                 00:13:26               Yeah. So, because the seed is equally very, very small. You have a look at it, it’s a very, very tiny seed. So the productivity is low. So what does it tell you? You need a very high acreage for you to be able to produce a lot. Likewise, when you do irrigation it means you’ll be irrigating a very vast area and investment on that will equally be very high.

Sam:                                      00:13:52               If the potential for it to yield, if it had a greater potential to have high yields, it would make more economical sense to do irrigation.

Sabina:                                 00:14:00               To do irrigation.

Sam:                                      00:14:01               So at the moment, it’s not quite a good investment?

Sabina:                                 00:14:04               Unless, let’s say, because for me I can say we as Chia Africa, we’ve had so many enquiries, especially from Europe. Europe is a very big consumer of the East African products. Like for Kenya we are doing a lot of horticulture and if you look at the flowers which are being done now in Europe, like almost I think four out of ten roses in Europe are from Kenya, actually basically in Kenya. So Europe is a good market for the East African agri-products. We’ve been having enquiries here and there and very, very positive, because we do send small quantities as they’re developing also their markets because they also need consistency, but I do believe in a very short time sooner than later because we are having very advanced discussions with quite a number of big time suppliers with some huge supply chains in Europe, we should be able to get to a point where we can say. We are not willing to invest so much into irrigation to harbour an all year round production.

Sam:                                      00:15:04               That’s very interesting so at the moment is Chia Africa exporting?

Sabina:                                 00:15:08               We do export. We do export small quantities. We’ve sent to Germany, we’ve sent to our clients who were still based in Nairobi, but has clients in Europe, but It’s a US company based here. They do oil, crude oil-pressing.

Sam:                                      00:15:25               Cool.

Sabina:                                 00:15:26               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:15:29               Are you selling it to them packaged in your packaging or are you selling it just as a commodity?

Sabina:                                 00:15:35               It depends on the preference of the customer. There are those who are ok with our packaging. There are those, because of also the regulations within their area, they need to have different kinds of packages and also language barriers. Like for clients who are coming from Arabic regions, we do translate our stickers and everything, even our own, the same, same branding, but we do translate it into their, into the commonly used language wherever they’re coming in, they’re coming from. Yes. And for that who are not willing to, to do, they want to develop their own brand because sometimes it’s also wise to develop your own brand. Yes. For those who are willing to develop their own brand, we do get them in bulk.

Sam:                                      00:16:16               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:16:16               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:16:17               I see. Is chia seeds, is there any real difference in chia seeds that are grown here versus in Mexico versus growing elsewhere or, like can you say that yours is a high one, chia seeds is a high quality than another? Or is it just really about the packaging or like that? Or the method of delivery?

Sabina:                                 00:16:44               Let me say this, the reason why I took you back to the optimal regions for growing the chia seed and why chia seed is becoming so popular. It is because of the nutritional content. They’ve said within the equator and it has been researched and they are these information out there, researched information about the most optimal area. Reason why actually when you do plant it within the five degrees North and South of the equator. You do get the nutritional levels being very, very high. It doesn’t mean pride elsewhere and that’s why I was saying the first group who introduced the chia farming here generally, basically in East Africa. They had come from the US. They had done a bit of research here and there and they, they had understood that if we do it. Within the Equateur you’re going to have the optimal, if you do it in other areas, they’re still going to get the chia seeds, but the nutritional levels, especially things like the Omega three it hasn’t been confirmed, the levels were very, very low. When the Americans came here, they did a comparison of the chia, the first habits we had with the chia seed in Masinde and generally in Uganda area, they compared to what they got from Mexico, I’m proud to say it came out six times better.

Sam:                                      00:18:00               Six times…

Sabina:                                 00:18:02               It was amazing. Yes, exactly. And then I knew you would ask me again, why do you want to do it in Uganda? We’re based here in Kenya. There’s a reason for that. If you look at the history Uganda, let’s go to the history of Uganda, there was a lot of civil unrest after they got their independence. So as a result, people never got to settle and do the farming as such. So their land was not very much over utilized. In Kenya, we’ve had basically and we thanks God for that. We’ve really enjoyed civil stability, especially after independence. That is in the early sixties. We’ve had stability, political stability, whereby, people able to do their farming, they all that and all that. So as a result, spaces here, have been quite over utilized. And again, if you look at the percentage of arable land in Kenya compared to that in Uganda, Uganda is a much smaller country than Kenya, but you can say 34% of the land in Uganda is arable. That’s quite a good percentage as opposed to here in Kenya we have a very, way much smaller percentage which is arable, so there are soils not over utilized. Secondly, most of the area you can do your farming, so it becomes quite an optimal place for us to do the farming.

Sam:                                      00:19:21               Ok, and also your husband is from there.

Sabina:                                 00:19:25               He’s there so it makes it even more convenient. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:19:29               So talk me through how it works, so you watched the 700 club in 2012.

Sabina:                                 00:19:33               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:19:34               You had the conversation with the Americans a month, two months later?

Sabina:                                 00:19:38               In fact, barely a month after that.

Sam:                                      00:19:41               And how long was it before you were planting your first chia plant?

Sabina:                                 00:19:44               In 2012 October.

Sam:                                      00:19:49               October of 2012?

Sabina:                                 00:19:50               October of 2012, we did our first trials. We had never farmed before.

Sam:                                      00:19:54               Oh.

Sabina:                                 00:19:57               We didn’t, actually even at that time, I was still employed somewhere, doing accounts for somebody. My husband was still doing he’s a technical things.

Sam:                                      00:20:06               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:20:07               There we go to the farm. We now think we’re equipped with all the knowledge that we need to do the farming. And we failed miserably the first time we did it. We harvested so little. But thank God, the little that we had enabled us to do the, at least the lab analysis and it gave us encouragement. Yeah. And besides we also knew now if we do it better and at the right time we’re going to get the yields that we expected, so the next season, there we were, we went full board and we also began to also try and sensitize it because the whites, the Americans, the Western world, they are aware, they were aware of what chia seeds were, they were beginning, a high population was aware of what chia seeds were. Here locally, you would talk of chia seeds and they would be like, what is that you’re talking about?

Sam:                                      00:20:50               Yes.

Sabina:                                 00:20:51               So just to impact on making people understand what chia seed is and all that. Because we were fully convinced this something that should be in everybody’s diet on a daily basis.

Sam:                                      00:21:00               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:21:00               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:21:01               Okay. And how much work is needed, is necessary on the farm? Do you have to engage with some of the population?

Sabina:                                 00:21:10               It is a lot of work. The first time we did, we did, we started with 30 acres, you know we were like no, this is the right thing to do…

Sam:                                      00:21:17               How did you get 30 acres?

Sabina:                                 00:21:17               In Uganda as I’m telling you, they are still having huge chunks of land. It’s possible to even get a hundred acres of land consolidated so you can run a farm of up to a hundred acres. Because what happens in Uganda with most of it being fertile, you’ll find people, even with two acres, they’re able to produce their own food sufficient for the family. So there’s also quite a lot of land laying up there. Still not being utilized. Yes. It makes it easier to be able to acquire that land.

Sam:                                      00:21:42               And the fact that you’re husband is Ugandan, that means you can, did you own the land or do you leas the land?

Sabina:                                 00:21:47               They do have land, fortunately, in his family, the grandfather had invested in a very huge piece of land because we have like 400 acres of land.

Sam:                                      00:21:56               Wow.

Sabina:                                 00:21:56               Yes, yes. So with 400 acres of land, there’s part of that land that has never been ploughed completely. So 30 acres ia a drop in the ocean, considering what is within the exposure.

Sam:                                      00:22:09               So you do that and then who, how many people could you have to sort of cultivate that?

Sabina:                                 00:22:16               We did mechanical farming, ploughing. There are certain things you just, we’ve got a tractor. We also had to do a lot of bush clearing. That entails a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. Then we did a plan. We got a tractor, two, three days, it does the ploughing. Yes. And the disking, that we do it mechanically, but now when it comes to the planting, we had a planter, we had acquired one planter from China. Yes, a planter, a simple handheld planter.

Sam:                                      00:22:49               Its a machine?

Sabina:                                 00:22:50               Yes. Yes. A planter because we’re looking at it and we’re saying, you know to do 30 acres, when are we ever going to finish this. Yes. we said, okay, let’s get a planter. So we had gotten a planter, which unfortunately didn’t work.

Sam:                                      00:23:07               Your husband being an engineer, he couldn’t fix it?

Sabina:                                 00:23:09               You know you fix it, these other part falls off tomorrow. So we gave up on that and we had done I think like at most four, five acres with the planter.

Sam:                                      00:23:19               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:23:19               And it wasn’t as effective as we had been made to believe it would be. We’d drop a seed here, the next one will be dropped there. So he had to go back again and… Exactly, yes. Yeah. And then after that it would drop a whole half a kg in one place. But we said it’s a learning experience and we were ready for it. We had, it was an exciting journey for us, we’re looking at the future, more of the future. So at that point we got people, a whole group of people, a whole village, just gather the whole village.

Sam:                                      00:23:59               You call like a village meeting?

Sabina:                                 00:24:01               That’s how they work, yes. That’s how they work. Actually they work in groups.

Sam:                                      00:24:05               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:24:05               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:24:05               And you said like 50 people?

Sabina:                                 00:24:07               Yes. We’ve got about a group of about 50 people and in like two or three days, we had done it.

Sam:                                      00:24:13               So did you have to pay them?

Sabina:                                 00:24:16               You negotiate in their groups. You know they come like a group of 50 people, but they’re not in one grouping. They have a leader, actually, they have someone who negotiates on their behalf because you see some of them, they’re not educated, they’re having so many challenges. So they prefer working in groups. They have like a chairman who comes and negotiates on their behalf. So for an acre they charge about Ugandan shillings, that’s about thirty thousand Ugandan shillings, which is about 3000, which is about $30, 30 US dollars.

Sam:                                      00:24:45               $30 per acre?

Sabina:                                 00:24:51               Per acre, yeah.

Sam:                                      00:24:52               And then once they’re planted the seeds…

Sabina:                                 00:24:54               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:24:56               Does there need to be continual watering?

Sabina:                                 00:24:58               No, good thing here now, we now, depend on their rain fed. We do rain fed.

Sam:                                      00:25:05               So once it’s planted?

Sabina:                                 00:25:05               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:25:05               Is there much more work to be done.

Sabina:                                 00:25:07               There’s a lot of work.

Sam:                                      00:25:08               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:25:09               The other major and challenging thing that comes on board, actually it is the weeding part and the weeding actually you cannot even do it mechanically, because you’re going to mess up a lot of your crops. So that one also has to be done manually. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:25:23               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:25:23               Yeah. Again, bringing the whole village, in groups, for about another one week and they’re able to do it, manually.

Sam:                                      00:25:31               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:25:31               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:25:32               Okay. And then, so that was sort of when you started, what does the operation look like now? Are you still at 30 acres?

Sabina:                                 00:25:39               Initially when we started, we did the 30 acres and from the experience we had we realized we can do even much more. And again, at that point we had done a lot of sensitization. We did a lot of, especially here in Nairobi and in Kenya, let’s say in Kenya because people are more exposed, there is more exposure here, the Kenyan market embraced the chia seed quite well, and quite fast. We did not even have first to go to the export market because we were still having challenges of volumes, we could not do the volumes. So for the Kenyan market, once it accepted we are able now to feel like we can project, we can do this number of acres. So the first time we did the 30 acres, we did at the wrong time because we had never farmed before we, we did plant when it was slightly late. Remember, we’re depending on rain-fed water, we did it a bit late, so our yields, were a bit, In fact, they were just very low, let’s be very honest, they were very low, so next season we got very ready for it. We did partner with somebody else who was also willing to come on board because we wanted also, remember we were having the challenges of building a market and also production. We got a partner, based in Uganda full time, to manage the operations of the farm and here we did the marketing and sensitization. Yes. And it worked quite well.

Sam:                                      00:27:02               How did you find that partner?

Sabina:                                 00:27:05               He was among the first few people who were also in touch with the first, with the Americans who came with the first seed. Yes. So when people started getting, feeling like, this is something I don’t want to do, these things, you know, because chia seed, unfortunately for up country, I don’t know whether you’ve been to any of these up country areas of East Africa or Kenya for that purpose. Basically, they depend on their farms. Whatever they produce on the farm, that’s what they sell. If they’re not able to tell it, they can feed their kids on it. Chia seed, you cannot cook this and give it to your kids.

Sam:                                      00:27:37               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:27:37               So they felt, Okay, this is too risky business, we are not going to do it, let them do it. Once they succeed, we’ll come on board. So we, the few of us who are courageous to continue with it. We did. That lady was among them so we went again did farming. This time, we put in a hundred acres, did the ploughing at the right time, just on season, as the season was starting, we did it and it went very well until harvest time. Yes. Chia seed is not like any other crop, you see like when we plant, when we do farm, let’s say like maize because that’s basically the main thing which is being farmed around here in East Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and it happens that it is raining during the last one week when we were anticipating to harvest. What you do, You don’t remove your crop on the farm. You just leave it until the sun comes out and then leave it there for about a week. It’ll dry up and you’ll be able to harvest it and it will be okay. Dried. It’s okay. Chia seed, once it comes into contact with water, It forms a gel.

Sam:                                      00:28:36               Yes.

Sabina:                                 00:28:36               It can not separate. Now, unfortunately, We just watched helplessly as it rained. The rains, It became a havoc in 2013. There were so much rains in East Africa, so much, actually it even brought down a few buildings here.

Sam:                                      00:28:50               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:28:51               Unfortunately it was harvest time. There’s nothing we could do. We cannot remove it. It’s not yet fully matured. It needed about a week and within that week it decides to rain and rain heavily, we just lost chia worth like 30,000 40,000 tons, metric tones.

Sam:                                      00:29:07               Just from that rain?

Sabina:                                 00:29:10               Yes, and that became another learning lesson for us. Now what we’ve done since then, we’ve still expanded our operations, but we’ve tried to see how we can reduce our risk. I’d rather lose 5 acres instead of losing a hundred acres. You’d also rather lose 5 acres instead of you, you lose a hundred I lose a hundred, another person also loses a hundred so what have we done? We’ve gotten farmers to come and invest. We’ve provided the land because the land is available, we still have about a hundred to a hundred and fifty acres available for chia farming. We bring farmers on board, we give them the seed, we facilitate them whenever they do not have finances because somebody made to come buy the seed, put it on the ground. But when it comes to the weeding point, this person doesn’t have the finances. We don’t just let the crop get, go to waste. We facilitate them to do the weeding then eventually, at the end of the harvest, we all come and sit down, I facilitated you with this and this and this, and we are going to buy this chia, in as much as we’ve given you the land, we facilitated you. We’re still going to buy it from you at this cost. Why? We’re trying to spread their risk. Yeah. And it’s beneficial for everyone because even the people now, the farmers who are not willing to come into cheer for me, they’ve seen us lose a hundred acres and they’re like these people are still going back. What is it about it?

Sam:                                      00:30:35               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:30:35               And again, now with the consumption of chia and the benefits they get out of it. They’re like, okay, I think it is still worth doing the chia seed. If you give somebody two acres, they’re able to manage two acres because with two acres they can do it. Even within the family members, the husband with their kids, they can manage two or three acres. So it means they’re the cost of input is reduced and then when they harvest, and able to get money or when they do not have any money for their school fees and we are facilitating them with the school fees, for us to be able to recover it when we harvest, we’re okay.

Sam:                                      00:31:05               Very good, so that’s sort of the main supply side of the business, you’ve got these sort of different farmers who are coming in and using the land.

Sabina:                                 00:31:18               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:31:25               Talk to me a bit about the demand side. So you’re saying that even if Kenya picked up quite fast, chia seeds are not something that’s really on many people’s radar. Even a few years ago. How have you seen the demand for chia seeds? What’s the story of the market of chia seeds in East Africa?

Sabina:                                 00:31:35               Okay when we started sensitizing, I would talk of chia seeds, even people would not listen to me, they would wonder now what is this person just wants to sell me the things? There are so many things that we keep hearing about health foods and all that and at that time actually the first harvest that we did, the majority of that went into sampling. The first 30 acres we did and we harvested so little. We decided fine, we’re going to take the full loss of this, but whatever we’ve harvested, we are going to use this as our Sampling, we give samples, actually, we give out a lot of samples. But thank God, chia seed is a very effective seed because in a short period as three days, you’re able to feel a difference in your body. So we were like so certain it is not a loss. We’re investing for the long term, not for them for the short term, but we knew in the long term, it was going to pay off because everybody who would use chia seeds, after three days would come back and tell us, my joint pains. I can tell you there’s a very big difference, I’m feeling much better. After a month, someone with arthritis will come and tell, you know me, I’m just a different person.

Sam:                                      00:32:41               It cures arthritis?

Sabina:                                 00:32:41               It does take care of arthritis very effectively, actually for somebody with arthritis, severe arthritis, after one week they tell you there’s a remarkable difference in the way they’re feeling.

Sam:                                      00:32:52               Wow.

Sabina:                                 00:32:52               Yeah. And actually even medical doctors, they’re now even telling people go and find chia seeds. At that time, these people, they don’t even know whether it is a plant, it is an animal, but they all go looking for chia because it is something which has been proven and now, good thing there is a lot of researched information on the effectiveness of chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:33:11               So who, who are the main people who are buying chia seeds?

Sabina:                                 00:33:15               Initially when we started basically the people with arthritis.

Sam:                                      00:33:21               So it’s mainly medicinal. Like people…

Sabina:                                 00:33:24               It has nutrients… Okay, let us address what is disease. Disease is, it comes as a result of the body lacking vital nutrients. So the moment the body gets the vital nutrients that it is required and in correct quantities, the body will feel eased, it will be okay.

Sam:                                      00:33:40               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:33:41               Yeah, exactly. And because chia seed does that, it provides the nutrients that are needed in the body. It makes the body feel like, now I was unwell, now I am well.

Sam:                                      00:33:50               Okay. And if you, do you like segment your customers or do you say, you know, we’ve got these, this type of customer, we’ve got this type of customer, that probably I think that the people who have got ailments, you’ve got the people who just want to be a bit healthier. We’ve got the mum’s who give it to their kids every day. Did you, do you sort of have different types of customers that you can talk about?

Sabina:                                 00:34:15               Initially when we started, we basically were going for people who are having conditions, so they wanted relief on.

Sam:                                      00:34:22               How did you find them?

Sabina:                                 00:34:24               We used to have conferences. We used to have like a workshop. We’d hear there’s a workshop going on, we would register for those workshops. We would go there, talk about it, like whatever it is that I do attend…

Sam:                                      00:34:36               When you say workshops, you mean like?

Sabina:                                 00:34:36               We do have organizations that do organize workshops, like women’s organizations. We have agricultural organizations that do organize workshops from time to time.

Sam:                                      00:34:50               What are they, like what’s a typical workshop? What might it be about?

Sabina:                                 00:34:51               It depends, us, we would go for any, because at the end of the day, it is their awareness that we want to create. Maybe there’s a women’s conference, we’re there, there’s an agribusiness discussion going on, business investment, we are there because this one will fall under business investment, under health. Anything, any workshop that they’ll allow us to go and have a discussion, we would go and talk about it. And as a result we’re able to reach out on so many people and in those workshops would give away actual samples. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:35:18               And you’d say, so the first day you go, wherever it was you know, people have got ailments…

Sabina:                                 00:35:25               Exactly, yeah.

Sam:                                      00:35:26               You’d give them samples to try out?

Sabina:                                 00:35:30               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:35:30               Yeah. Then how would people buy, if people had wanted to come back and buy them?

Sabina:                                 00:35:35               Thank God, the few people and the effectiveness of the chia seed, for every person who we would give a sample, they would definitely come back and buy for their own and they would know somebody else who has a similar condition or somebody else who has another condition that would benefit from it. So as a result initially we get, we got a lot of referrals. Very many referrals.

Sam:                                      00:35:57               What kind of referrals? Did they say call…

Sabina:                                 00:35:57               Yes, yes, yes. We would give out our business cards and in all of our packages, we do have our contacts. So they would call up. Yes.

Sam:                                      00:36:06               So at the beginning…

Sabina:                                 00:36:08               It was on a one,on one, at the beginning it was one on one.

Sam:                                      00:36:13               How are you packaging chia seeds?

Sabina:                                 00:36:16               This is how we’ve always packed our chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:36:19               This is like clear plastic?

Sabina:                                 00:36:20               Exactly. You can see exactly. You can see what it is. And we’ve also provided a lot of information that will, that is eye catching first of all. It’ll make you curious. What is this? Are you telling me that this will give me all these? You know that curiosity will just make you, okay, let me just give it a try to prove them wrong. Amazingly, as I’m telling you, being a very effective seed, in three days, this person is already…

Sam:                                      00:36:45               They’re like I want some more.

Sabina:                                 00:36:46               And then they get it. Most, most of them, they got it for their parents, elderly parents. People with arthritis, it helps manage diabetes type two. It helps manage hypertension and those are very common, common, common conditions that people are having. Actually statistics shows that out of every 10 people in Kenya, 3 people, they do have either diabetes, hypertension, arthritis or all of them.

Sam:                                      00:37:12               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:37:12               Yeah, so you can imagine for every 10 people you talk to around here, there are 3 people who would be willing to give it a try.

Sam:                                      00:37:18               I’m just reading the back of the packaging, two tablespoons is the recommended amount?

Sabina:                                 00:37:23               It is recommended and basically this is just food. You can take more than two tablespoons, but ideally, what the body does when you give it more than it needs, it discards so don’t take more than what you need. Just take what is sufficient and you’ll be ok.

Sam:                                      00:37:38               Eight times more omega 3 than salmon. When you say salmon, that’s a portion of salmon or two tablespoons of salmon?

Sabina:                                 00:37:46               Three table, two table spoons?

Sam:                                      00:37:49               So it says 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain eight times the amount of omega 3 in salmon.

Sabina:                                 00:37:50               Exactly. Omega 3.

Sam:                                      00:37:52               Is that like a proportion of salmon or is that like, how much salmon?

Sabina:                                 00:37:57               Yes. In a normal portion of salmon.

Sam:                                      00:37:59               Three times more higher than Spanish. 64% more potassium.

Sabina:                                 00:38:08               And good thing, you see, if you look at that information, you’d feel like it’s a bit exaggerated, you might feel like the information provided here is a bit exaggerated for marketing purposes. It is not because nowadays, we’re in the era of the internet.

Sam:                                      00:38:22               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:38:23               In fact, I used to tell people who are like curious about what we have indicated here, please do not go even into my website, can you go and check other research websites, which is totally independent, impartial. And they’d always come back.

Sam:                                      00:38:36               The branding here is Dr. Chia or Dr. Chia plus. Why is it not Chia Africa?

Sabina:                                 00:38:44               We are Chia Africa, the company is called Chia Africa, but we are calling it Dr. Chia Plus because after we had registered our chia here and our chia Africa, and Dr. Chia, we realized there’s another chia, Dr. Chia, I think somewhere in Australia.

Sam:                                      00:39:01               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:39:01               Yes, and you see that can bring about legal issues and not even that, we are developing a brand, we don’t have to develop a brand and then somewhere along the way we have to lose after working so hard. Yeah. Actually Dr. Chia Plus is patented here. Yes. We do have a patent for this.

Sam:                                      00:39:17               You have a patent for Dr. Chia Plus?

Sabina:                                 00:39:17               We do have a patent for this. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:39:20               The best way to do is to put two teaspoons of Dr. Chia Plus seeds in a glass of water or any other liquid and take after five minutes. Why do you have to wait five minutes?

Sabina:                                 00:39:31               Because what you’re trying to do is to allow it to form the gel. What this does, once it comes into contact with any fluid, it absorbs water and becomes larger.

Sam:                                      00:39:42               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:39:42               It does not dissolve.

Sam:                                      00:39:44               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:39:45               We do not want that whole process to happen within your body. Actually, you can even scoop it and put it in your mouth, but you can see now the process of it absorbing water and expanding will be happening in your body. It will be expanding using your body fluids, which is not dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re going to get so dehydrated. It means you’ll need to take a lot of water. Yeah, so the best way, just make it easier for yourself. Make the gel and then just drink. It has no flavor. It’s tasteless. It basically has no flavor. If you put it in water, it won’t alter the taste, you won’t get some other funny taste on your water. You can put it in your juice. There are people who are not able to take it in plain water. You can put it in your juice, it blends basically with almost anything. Your milk, your juice, yoghurt, soup, anything. It’s user friendly.

Sam:                                      00:40:33               The best thing is to get it to do it’s gel for me otherwise, it makes you thirsty?

Sabina:                                 00:40:40               Yeah. You know, actually this seed, when it gets into contact with any fluid, it can even become like even a 20 times its size. So you can imagine you’ve taken this…

Sabina:                                 00:40:55               20 times its size?

Sabina:                                 00:40:58               That is happening actually in your body, can you imagine the amount of water being absorbed from your, from your body, your fluids. Yeah. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:41:05               How much does, so this is 100 grams. How much does 100 grams cost?

Sabina:                                 00:41:10               Okay. I’m a wholesaler, basically, I don’t sell pieces.

Sam:                                      00:41:15               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:41:17               I think, I bet I’ll take you back now to how we got to where we are. Yes, yes.

Sam:                                      00:41:24               So the beginning when it was one on one?

Sabina:                                 00:41:24               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:41:27               So maybe just tell me the story, starting from one on one to where you are now.

Sabina:                                 00:41:27               Yes. So when we got to a point whereby we had created enough base of awareness, we realized we’re getting no phone calls. We would run up and down every single day. You deliver here, you deliver, it become too hectic. The supply chain…

Sam:                                      00:41:47               What year is this?

Sabina:                                 00:41:47               That was in 2013. Yes. Let’s say around mid 2013. Yes, we did 1st October…

Sam:                                      00:41:55               The first one you did samples, the second one failed because of the rains.

Sabina:                                 00:41:58               Yes, exactly.

Sam:                                      00:42:02               So you did another harvest?

Sabina:                                 00:42:02               Yes, yes.

Sam:                                      00:42:04               So after you’ve done that, and there was no problem with that one?

Sabina:                                 00:42:08               Okay. Of course, now, that’s when we decided we’re not going to do large scale farming again. We’d rather spread this risk. Come do your five acres here, we also do our minimum, every season, we do our minimum of 15 to 20 acres, now plus the other small scale farmers who come in and do three, five acres, like that, like that and we’re able to do our hundred metric tonnes every other, every other season. Now, having established awareness, we were getting phone calls here and there, give me five pieces, give me 20 pieces here and now we realized we can even develop the brand. Remember initially we didn’t have the brand.

Sam:                                      00:42:46               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:42:46               We’re just selling chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:42:49               In an empty packaging?

Sabina:                                 00:42:49               In a packaging without a brand. So we realized now we have to develop a brand because if you want to take it, probably in the supply chain, you must have, you must be a recognized brand, because now there’s enough awareness and we are running helter-skelter every day, supplying here and there. So we started approaching the retail owners, retail shops. We went to Chandarana. In fact…

Sam:                                      00:43:14               Chandarana is one of the biggest supermarkets.

Sabina:                                 00:43:17               We do have Tuskys and Naivas, they’re quite big, Chandarana, they’re also equally big, but not to, if you look at the outlets.

Sam:                                      00:43:25               For people who are not in Kenya, Chandarana is a big supermarket. So you went to Chandarana?

Sabina:                                 00:43:31               Yes. We went to Chandarana, and amazingly some of these entrepreneurs, they always have a gut for this is it. It’s something new. We went there and we spoke to the owner, Mr. Amir. He had never seen chia seed, he had not heard about it and he was like. He orders all his branches. Supply each dozen, dozen, dozen across the board across the different sizes, taking a risk, that much risk, it is in December, towards the Christmas season. And you know what we supplied by 22nd, 23rd, by the time we were coming back in January around 15th, he had sold off everything. Yeah. And then there’s also another one lady, her name is Shanice. Shanice runs a shop called Elixir at the village market. She’s also another person who said, even before the branding, she would just buy and put in small packages and put in her shop. So she was like we’ve branded it, and she just took the leap with us. Yes. And from there, there was no going back.

Sam:                                      00:44:34               Okay, great. So to sell it to Chandarana, that would’ve been the end of 2013?

Sabina:                                 00:44:42               2013 December, yes.

Sam:                                      00:44:42               Okay. And then what’s it, what was the next big win after that? What was the next like thing which came after Chandarana?

Sabina:                                 00:44:49               We do have so many outlets and you see, like even for Chandarana, they do have many outlets. It’s not only one outlet. So you supply here today. Tomorrow there. We started moving to other retails. Big retailers, it became quite a challenge. One, first and foremost, they view you as a very small supplier. They’re dealing with food suppliers and not just Chandarana, we also had so many other local shops, like even out here, there’s a small supermarket, just before the Uchumi, I also do supply them, so many small, small outlets. So every day we were supplying everywhere. We are running down, up and down everywhere. We’re having now trouble with credit control, your supplying.

Sam:                                      00:45:33               But that would mean you delivered, but they paid thirty days late.

Sabina:                                 00:45:36               Yeah. There are those who are paying cash. There are those who are, they just don’t want trouble. They just pay you cash and they’re managing their finances very well, they don’t want to believe they’re having money yet it’s other people’s money because once you supply on credit and you’ve sold, that’s not your money. That’s somebody else’s money, so they don’t want to get caught up in that. So for them, they, there are those who pay cash, it will keep us going, but there are those who are also big, big time buyers, credit, credit, thirty days. So you can imagine by the time you’re getting money for the first supply, you’ve supplied somewhere in between another like four, five supplies.

Sam:                                      00:46:08               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:46:08               So we began to have trouble with our cashflow. We realized if we go on like this, it’s going to be so difficult for us. And again at that time, remember we are still small players in the supply chain because we’re not, these supermarkets are not only selling chia seeds. They’re selling sugar, they are selling floor, they’re selling all sorts of things.

Sam:                                      00:46:25               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:46:25               No, you are coming here, maybe you want your 200,000. They are owing somebody 20 million. They don’t even want to hear about you. So we realized nowhere, we are having trouble with our cashflow and we decide now we must have a solution for this. As we used to go round, there’s one major distributor that we would find, everyday you go supplying, you’d just find them. You go here today, he’s there. We realize this is a big muscle in the market, we did approach him, another very interesting person. Mr. Raju and his brother Asmok, and we appreciate them a lot. He had also not heard about this. He looked at it.

Sam:                                      00:47:05               So he’s a distributor?

Sabina:                                 00:47:05               He’s a distributor. Big time distributor, but he was a very receptive person.

Sam:                                      00:47:10               Okay. And how did you get a meeting?

Sabina:                                 00:47:13               We walked in, you know we looked around. We saw, we came, googled, realized it’s somewhere in Babadogo. We walked in there and imagine the first thing you walk in there, we had no prior appointment. We were just going there to ask around. We find the brother, he tells us no, today my brother is not in. Come on this day, we are going to give you a call. They called, we just went, discussed and he was very receptive, he said this is it. I’m going to give it, a shot on it. He said go do this. There are a few modifications we’ve done along the way, since we started the first packaging and all that but it hasn’t been so far away from from this. We just did that, he made his first order, first month he moved things around second month before we knew it. Sometimes he overwhelms us and we appreciate a lot, we’re so thankful to him because even the credit period that we agreed with him, he keeps to it. Today if I ran out of cash flow and they found it’s harvesting, he will not fail to give me the cheque. He’ll give me the check and tell me to go do your harvesting, it will not wait for the 30, 60 days, no, he’ll give me the cheque. So that resolved our cashflow issue.

Sam:                                      00:48:22               Wow. All because of you…

Sabina:                                 00:48:22               We just picked on the right person. He’s a big, big-time supplier. He’s a very smart and intelligent person. I like the approach of, he’s approach of doing things, he’s a risk-taker.

Sam:                                      00:48:37               I think you need to give yourself more credit for how good you are at the chia seeds. You got to two very senior people, one of the biggest supermarkets, one of the biggest distributors and one meeting. You convinced them to…

Sabina:                                 00:48:50               Let me tell you they also, they’ve been in the business for long. They can smell business. They had realized there’s a niche for superfoods because like the chia seed was just coming up, and they had not, and because they’ve been in the business for long, they just knew this the right time for this.

Sam:                                      00:49:09               Were they importing chia seeds from anywhere else?

Sabina:                                 00:49:12               There was no chia seed in the market? There’s only one supplier helping. I used to supply her in bulk and she would pack in her, because she has her own brand. It’s only Healthy U you who was importing it actually they were importing it I think from somewhere in Europe and they were exporting it at a very high price.

Sam:                                      00:49:33               Importing from Europe?

Sabina:                                 00:49:33               Yes

Sam:                                      00:49:33               That person has imported from somewhere else.

Sabina:                                 00:49:36               South America, it was coming from South America that time, yes, exactly. Yes. The logistics, it was becoming very expensive. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:49:43               Cool. So how much, you now just sell wholesale?

Sabina:                                 00:49:51               Yes, we give the distributor and then he takes, actually even to these neighbours. If you go to these neighbours, you’re going to find chia seeds, there’s another shop here, if you gp, you go to Naivas country-wide, you’re going to find my chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:50:01               And do you have an account with Naivas or you do it through the distributor?

Sabina:                                 00:50:05               I do it through the distributor. Even with the Aneal and all that, we all channeled them to Raju. The amazing thing is that Raju and Aneal, they had worked before, together before. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:50:17               So what’s the exact numbers? I’m just interested like what’s rough figures, like how much does it cost to produce? How much does it cost for you to get it in the packet, how much you, what margin are you giving to the distributor, what margin is then gauged to the consumer, roughly what are we looking at?

Sabina:                                 00:50:37               I think I better talk, we do have our recommended retail prices, which we do expect people around to be sticking to, but there’s certain things if you look at very well, they might not work as you would want them to because today you might have your shop here. I know these neighbors will not pay rent the same as they’re their rent maybe in Hurlingham. Might probably be a bit higher, but we do have a certain percentage. We do play around within about 15 to 20% along the chain. I keep my 15% somebody else keeps their 15% and they don’t keep their and everybody feels it’s a fair deal.

Sam:                                      00:51:17               So that means, so how much does a pack of 100 grams cost in a regular Naivas, like what would…

Sabina:                                 00:51:23               This one we’ve recommended 195 shillings. These are a hundred grams? It’s about a 195, that’s the recommended retail price.

Sam:                                      00:51:34               $1.85?

Sabina:                                 00:51:35               Exactly. It’s about $1, 2 dollars, let’s give it $2, yeah.

Sam:                                      00:51:40               And we’re saying the supermarket…

Sabina:                                 00:51:43               They do have their margin there.

Sam:                                      00:51:46               So they’ll take about 15% to 20%?

Sabina:                                 00:51:46               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:51:47               The distributor another 15%?

Sabina:                                 00:51:47               Exactly. And I also keep my 15%.

Sam:                                      00:51:52               So then it’s like, is, that what it costs for manufacturing?

Sabina:                                 00:51:58               Exactly. For the production and all that.

Sam:                                      00:52:00               Got it, I knew in terms of the supply chain, you know everything from the plants all the way up to putting it in this package, so there’s no other people involved?

Sabina:                                 00:52:11               No.

Sam:                                      00:52:11               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:52:12               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:52:12               Right. Okay. Did you think this will continue? This would be the main, if you look at how you’re going to expand the business will you continue to use this channel, you’re going to keep producing. Sell it to the distributor, or will you look for other channels?

Sabina:                                 00:52:29               Let me say for now, we’ve had a bit of good working relationship with DB and Herman Fear, and they have a Countrywide coverage and being a distributor because he does nothing else but distribution, what all these big companies, people who are doing biscuits, people were doing jams, people who are doing pasta and all that. They’re channeling their products to him. And again, having been in the market, he has reasonable muscle to be able to manage the credit part of it, because in the recent past we’ve seen supermarkets that have gone down with people’s finances, he has a muscle to manage that and to cushion you, to cushion basically people. Because for me, I’ll go and get my money from him, whatever business he’s having with the retail chain, he is, he’s able to handle that and because we’ve had very good relationship with him so far, I’m not planning of… And again, I am, the only other way would be I do it myself, it’s a big challenge in investment, I’d need to have a whole logistics center set up for the vehicles, the staff, and all that. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:53:45               So if you look at kike how you might look to grow the business. What are the, what are the main, how are you thinking about, what are the main areas that you should focus on?

Sabina:                                 00:53:52               I would want to do much more than just the basic product, because the chia seed as it is, there’s nothing added to it. We just harvest, clean it, get it packed. I’d rather want to, I’d want to add even more value to it.

Sam:                                      00:54:06               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:54:07               That is why we’ve tried to do high energy biscuits, this is what you call high energy biscuits. Yes, yes, yes.

Sam:                                      00:54:16               How does this work?

Sabina:                                 00:54:16               This one, we wanted it to work in such a way that it has lots of chia seeds, such that for people who were not able to consume it the way it is, they can still have the benefits of chia seed probably in their breakfast with a biscuit with reduced sugar because at the end of the day, we don’t want to give you a health product and then we dilute it. Yes, yes. So reduced sugar or we go natural and do it, do use stevia or something like natural honey.

Sam:                                      00:54:41               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:54:41               Plus the chia seeds. Even the kids would enjoy that even as a snack.

Sam:                                      00:54:46               Fantastic.

Sabina:                                 00:54:46               Yeah, we do have, we’re working on morning serials. We want to do morning serials that are friendly with our chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:54:54               What’s this going to look like? So chia morning serial. How is, what’s the value addition that happened to it?? Is it like cornflakes with…

Sabina:                                 00:55:02               Exactly we are saying, the way you have cornflakes, which is also good for you, you can have some twist of a bit of chia seeds in it. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:55:13               Okay. That sounds good. Currently, most of the, most of the business is happening in East Africa, but you’re beginning to look at exports. You’re doing some export at the moment.

Sabina:                                 00:55:28               We do get those inquiries. People will take like half a ton, one ton, actually, the American took a whole container of 6 tones. Yes. We cannot fail to do any export business. Besides that, there’s one challenge that has been affecting us, especially when it comes to the first one, the market, they prefer the organic. This is, we call it conventional.

Sam:                                      00:55:54               Conventional.

Sabina:                                 00:55:55               But ideally there’s no fertilizer. We basically, it’s a very, chia seed is a very resistant seed. You plant it, as long as you’ve weeded the place very well, you do weeding at the right time, it will grow and germinate without much trouble.

Sam:                                      00:56:10               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:56:10               It repels actually some insects and diseases by itself. So ideally, when you’re farming this, we do a put any fertilizers, we do not use any pesticides, herbicides, we don’t do that. But I the end of day for something to be recognized as organic, it has, it must have a certificate from recognized organizations.

Sam:                                      00:56:31               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:56:31               Yes. Again, it’s quite an intensive, cost-intensive exercise.

Sam:                                      00:56:38               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:56:38               Yes, it is. Because for you to get that, you’d invest almost like 30,000 USD.

Sam:                                      00:56:45               30,000 USD?

Sabina:                                 00:56:46               Yes. For that season, for you to be able to get actually that certification and you know you have to keep doing that for every other season because you see it might be organic, this time does not necessarily mean I have done it organically. And that is just for the certification. Besides the cost of the farming. Now, they want the Organica certified seed which is very much okay. But even, in fact now this coming season, October you also want to do it organic and keep it, whether somebody has ordered for it or not, because previous what we’ve done is get somebody who’s willing to get the organic and then we do specifically production for them.

Sam:                                      00:57:26               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:57:26               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:57:27               Okay. So maybe just a few more questions. So when it comes to sort of the supply chain, so you’ve got this farm in Western Uganda, does the packaging, what is the packaging format? How is the logistics of physically getting the product from Masinde in Western Uganda through to the distributors in Nairobi? Where is some of the processing?

Sabina:                                 00:58:06               From the farm? The only thing we do is grow, harvest it. We just do the basic cleaning at the farm. This thing. By the time it looks this, there’s a lot of work that has been done to it.

Sam:                                      00:58:16               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:58:17               There’s no single husk here. Initially, when we started the farming, we had trouble with the sun because during the dry season, when it is harvest time, it’s windy and there’s dust being blown all over.

Sam:                                      00:58:30               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:58:30               So it used to have a lot of small sands, particles of sand. We do have a machine which is based here in Nairobi. That is why we have to bring it, farm clean, get it properly and thoroughly cleaned here before the packaging. There’s a machine also in Uganda, but the person uses it also for other things like sim-sim to, They are also farming a lot of sim-sim, sesame seeds.

Sam:                                      00:58:51               Sesame?

Sabina:                                 00:58:54               Yes. We call it sim-sim here.

Sam:                                      00:58:56               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:58:56               They’re also doing large scale farming there. So they use that machine basically to do that so it’s perpetually busy. You can almost have no time to have your chia cleaned there, but because we have a facility, there’s somebody who has invested about a hundred million Kenyan shillings in that equipment, so we’re able to do our cleaning.

Sam:                                      00:59:14               How do you know him, a hundred million dollars.

Sabina:                                 00:59:16               It’s a lot of money. We’re just here depending on that one machine. Yeah, it’s a huge investment, and we appreciate and whenever we walk in there, he’s always ready to do the cleaning for us, yeah, we walked that journey with him. He knew he wanted to invest in that. So as he was shopping around, we did provide him with a lot of the chia seed, for them to do their trials and eventually decide this is the machine they’re going to do their cleaning with.

Sam:                                      00:59:42               Yea.

Sabina:                                 00:59:42               Yeah, and we appreciate a lot.

Sam:                                      00:59:44               Very good.

Sabina:                                 00:59:44               Yeah. So basically after the cleaning, we do the cleaning here in Nairobi, packaging is done here in Nairobi.

Sam:                                      00:59:51               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:59:52               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:59:53               I mean, do you have a warehouse or do you go straight from the packaging?

Sabina:                                 00:59:56               What you do is, because it’s bulky, chia is bulky. Yeah. The same facility where we do our cleaning, once we come with it from Uganda, he, he rents a space. We keep it there, do the cleaning, we keep it there. Then we just pick what he needs to pack. And again, because we are doing bulk packing and giving it to the distributor, we do the packing a week or so. And we do bulk supply to the supplier and he keeps, he has a warehouse, big warehouse, so we do have where we can put our raw materials. After the packing, we take it to the warehouse distributor’s warehouse.

Sam:                                      01:00:30               Have other people started farming chia seed?

Sabina:                                 01:00:34               Yes. Yes. We do have, we do have, actually most of them are Kentans. There’s also another Kenyan who’s doing farming in Uganda.

Sam:                                      01:00:40               Yeah,

Sabina:                                 01:00:41               They’ve also taken up land there, here in Kenya, we also didn’t want, we had already lost so much initially by doing the trials we arm, we lose, we knew the Americans had done quite extensive research on the farming in Uganda. Even in Rwanda, they opted for Uganda, they opted for Rwanda because of the Congo forests, it gives them very good climates. Yeah, so we decided we also don’t have the finances now to go and start researching and see how much omega 3 is going to be in my, when I do it here in Kenya, but as we speak we do know the people who are, who have done trials done trials and then funding it here and there.

Sam:                                      01:01:16               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 01:01:16               Yeah. It is good for business because you can see, when I said, even today, I know there’s somebody who has never heard about chia. Even today as I speak, even I’ve done this for so many years now, but they know even right now I speak. There’s somebody who has never had a boat chia. Go and reach out to that person. There’s somebody, somebody has to reach out. It might not be me.

Sam:                                      01:01:41               Yeah, it could be somebody else. Yeah. What do you think is you about your journey so far? What do you think the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Sabina:                                 01:01:49               Farming is a very risky business, but it’s also fulfilling.

Sam:                                      01:01:54               Okay.

Sabina:                                 01:01:55               Once you’re able to understand the dynamics of about of activities the farming activities. It’s very fulfilling and more so, the chia seed. Basically, I want to be known for super foods, as we speak, I’d be soon doing black seed. It’s also very nutritional. We do have pumpkin seed. We have things like moringa. These are beneficial to the human body. Today as we speak. We’re dealing with many, many health issues. We have cancer small kids are getting cancer. You find a nine year old with diabetes, you wonder how did this happen when you give them this at times it comes from, you know what, I’m not limping anymore. My arthritis is good. It brings some kind of fulfillment. It gives me Joy and happiness and keeps me going. And honestly I’m passionate about farming. I’m an accountant by professional. But when it comes to, even when I talk about chia, somebody had told me that I go and work for them and, I’m not a marketer but i’m very very passionate about the chia seeds, so I’m able to talk about each with lots of passion. Yes. And the outcome is that chia seeds dance of disappoints never disappoints. Yeah.

Sam:                                      01:02:58               People who are listening at home,. What were the best ways that they can learn more about what you do?

Sabina:                                 01:03:04               Cheia Africa. We do have our website, 2013 [Inaudible]. We are also available. Our products are available on all super markets or all retail shoes, go to naivas, go to tuskys, go to chandaana, go to zucchini, go to Elixir, you’re going to find us there, even you’re locals now shop around you. You’re going to find chia, Dr. Chia seed products.

Sam:                                      01:03:26               Did you menton, should they just contact you about…

Sabina:                                 01:03:30               You can also contact, If you are internationally out there and you’d want to reach us, we do have a Africa, and we also do have our contacts there. We do have our telephone numbers for David Kisembo and also for Sabina Karumba.

Sam:                                      01:03:44               Fantastic.

Sabina:                                 01:03:44               Yes.

Sam:                                      01:03:46               Perfect. Cool. I’ll put a link to those in the show notes.

Sabina:                                 01:03:50               Thank you.

Sam:                                      01:03:50               Well Sabina, thanks so much.

Sabina:                                 01:03:52               Thank you so much and I’m glad about this. Yeah.


Why Zamgoat believes goats are the next big meat in Zambia (and the world), with Paul Nyambe


In this second episode from Zambia, I speak with an entrepreneur who has found his niche and is fully focused on it.

Paul Nyambe grew up farming goats in rural Zambia. He and his family were unable to earn money from the animals which always struck Paul as frustrating.

Years later he built a career in food sales, specifically ice cream, which meant had relationships with large supermarkets and restaurants.

One noticeable thing missing from the menus and shelves was goat meat.

In 2012, Paul quit his job and started Zamgoat.

The vision is simple: to sell high-quality goat meat to the public.

In our conversation, we talk through various parts of the business such as the profit margin on a goat, the barriers to entry for getting a goat in supermarket aisles, and the reasons why Paul is so positive that goat products are the next big thing for consumers around the world.

We also chat about the potential for more value creation in goat products, such as making rugs from goat skins and various other products.

If, on the off chance, you happen to know someone who’d be interested in advising Paul in this regard, please let me know via the contact form.


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Social Media Links



Twitter: @zamgoat



Sam:                                      00:07                     Intro.

Sam:                                      02:35                     Cool. So we’re here today with Paul from Zamgoat. Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul:                                      02:40                     Thank you so much. Sam

Sam:                                      02:42                     So to get started, can you tell us a little bit about you and a bit about Zamgoat?

Paul:                                      02:46                     Okay, so like Sam you’ve put it, I’m Paul Nyambe and I’m the founder and CEO of Zamgoat. I was born in the Southern part of Zambian, I currently live in Lusaka and I started Zamgoat in 2012 and I’ve been actively running it since since then.

Sam:                                      03:02                     Very cool. And we should note that you’ve got a bit, you’re recovering from a flu at the moment, so your voice is not…

Paul:                                      03:08                     So my voice is a bit, a little bit Husky.

Sam:                                      03:11                     And from the name. So I mean Zamgoat, you’re in the business of goats in Zambia.

Paul:                                      03:18                     Exactly, exactly. Yeah. So we’re in the business of goat processing and distribution. Essentially what we do is we aggregate goats, we do not keep our own goats. So we buy goats largely from small holder farmers. We then process and distribute goats to get the emerging urban consumer base in Zambia, initially starting out with the Lusaka urban market.

Paul:                                      03:41                     Very cool.

Paul:                                      03:42                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      03:42                     Great stuff. Okay. So you so I’m sure there are lots of things that we can talk about both on the sort of supply and the demand side. I’m interested though, how did you spot this opportunity? How did the business sort of, what’s the founding story of the business?

Paul:                                      03:56                     I guess so, it started from a combination of two realities of my life, one of which is my rural upbringing. Growing up in a village set up as a child and keeping goats, my family keeping goats, with no economic impact whatsoever on our lives, you know, but just for village prestige, like any other villager would do at the time. Reason being or why there was no economic baring, more or less through our good keeping activities was because of lack of access to a readily available market. So later on, growing up in the city and working the city as a country sales person for, you know, a food company in Lusaka. You know, my experience with that, working experience, exposed me to a gap in the market. I used to do mostly with supermarkets, restaurants and hotels in supplying out food orders at the time for the company that I used to work with. But then I observed there was no goat meat sold in those supermarkets. And goat was also a rare feature in most restaurants. I mean most restaurants and hotels in Lusaka, whereas on the other hand, again, I’m an ardent consumer of goat. I love goat meat. So that, you know, opened up my eyes to the opportunity and that’s how Zamgoat started in July, 2012.

Sam:                                      05:18                     Very cool. What was the other food you were selling?

Paul:                                      05:21                     So my last job before I started Zamgoat, we used to, I used to work for a company that used to deal in ice cream.

Sam:                                      05:28                     Okay.

Paul:                                      05:28                     So yeah, I’m a former ice cream sales person. I used to sell ice cream.

Sam:                                      05:35                     At times, did you get paid to try out new ice cream? I mentioned that when there was, when you were selling ice cream, you had, you were given free samples and things?

Paul:                                      05:45                     Yeah, sure. So yeah, we would give out free samples to try to our customers during our field sales.

Sam:                                      05:53                     Okay. So basically you went from ice cream to goat?

Paul:                                      05:56                     I went from ice cream to goat cause that was my last job.

Sam:                                      05:58                     Yeah. Very cool. Okay. Right. So what should, so let’s start on the let’s start on the demand side.

Paul:                                      06:04                     Yup.

Sam:                                      06:04                     Okay. So the, you were saying that the supermarkets, restaurants, hotels weren’t selling goats. Is that because the consumer, the end consumer wasn’t demanding it or was, was it because they just didn’t have a reliable way to get on, to get it on the menu?

Paul:                                      06:22                     At that time there was a gap in the supply side. There was no company that was processing and you know, making goat available in those…

Sam:                                      06:30                     So people were still wanting it.

Paul:                                      06:33                     People would still want goat but at that time, I think the only source where people could, consumers could get goat meat from was from the informal market setups and these mostly are open markets, you know, setups that have a lot of litter and hygiene issues with them.

Sam:                                      06:51                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      06:51                     So that to a large extent tended to, you know, limit the uptake of goat among consumers.

Sam:                                      06:57                     Got it. Is goat quite, is it something which is eaten across Zambia or is it just particular regions that sort of eat it?

Paul:                                      07:06                     Goat meat is eaten right across Zambia and now, more consumers ought to actually love to eat goat more than any other meat products. And this, I think can be attributed to the health and nutritional benefits and values that you know, are associated with goat meat as compared to other red meat.

Sam:                                      07:26                     Such as what?

Paul:                                      07:29                     One of which, I think the key health benefit for goat is it’s lean, you know, it’s leanness, It’s a lean meat and that means it poses less challenges that associated with that cholesterol, you know, cholesterol levels in in mid, in mid consumption.

Sam:                                      07:50                     Okay. What are some traditional ways that goat is eaten?

Paul:                                      07:53                     Traditionally the goat is mostly eaten in a stew form, but that stew, normally people don’t add, you don’t add any other ingredients apart from salt. So just boil the goat and then add your salt and then they take it as a goat soup, which sometimes they also eat with the local staple, which sima.

Sam:                                      08:13                     Sima?

Paul:                                      08:13                     Yeah. The other common way that goat has eaten traditionally in Zambia is through Bryce.

Sam:                                      08:19                     Like a barbecue?

Paul:                                      08:21                     A barbecue, yeah. Most people eat it in barbecue foam, but that is mostly, again, common in social joints, drinking places, stuff like that. Yeah.

Sam:                                      08:33                     Okay. And so when, we’ll sort of get to a bit about how you’ve done it, but you’ve basically been able to say, go to supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and say I’ve now got a high quality supply of goat. What’s been the, what’s been your sales pitch when you’ve been going to, have you found it an easy pitch or have you found that they’ve said, Oh, well I’m not sure if people are actually going to eat it?

Paul:                                      08:58                     Sure. Our pitch in trying to upscale the goat, you know, the distribution of goat meat in Zambia is our emphasis on one wanting to transform the entire quotive value chain through value addition and improved of distribution of goat meat, which in turn would then also create a sustainable market opportunity for smallholder farmers. So our pitch out there is unlocking the availability of goat in convenient places where consumers would easily find goat meat, at the same time also creating a sustainable market for small holder farmers. So most of our customers engage with us on those two fronts. Wanting to make goat available conveniently to the growing consumer base of goat meat, but also wanting to contribute to the greater good out here, by creating a sustainable market opportunity for the small holder farmers who are the main producers of goats in Zambia.

Sam:                                      10:10                     Got it. Okay. So when you’re going to, I don’t know, the Radisson hotel for example or you know, like one of your big suppliers or one of the, one of your big customers you’re partly saying by putting goat on the menu, you can tell your customers that they are supporting small holder farmers.

Paul:                                      10:28                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      10:28                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      10:29                     Yeah, sure.

Sam:                                      10:29                     Does that resonate?

Paul:                                      10:30                     Yeah, sure. That’s what we do and most of our customers actually buy into that. Okay. So they buy into making goat available for their consumers but also stocking it as a way of supporting small holder farmers out here.

Sam:                                      10:46                     Yeah. When you go to your sales pitch, you bring along some goat for people to try?

Paul:                                      10:52                     We do so, especially like when we introduce a new product range, cause we have quite a number of goat products that we supply. So besides the fresh, ordinary goat meat as in it’s fresh or frozen state, we also do smoked goat meat. We do goat buton. We do goat burgers as well.

Sam:                                      11:17                     Oh, burgers.

Paul:                                      11:17                     Yeah, sure. So like in terms of, when I introduce a new, we just introduced a new product line we normally go with the samples, you know, for our customers to try out.

Sam:                                      11:29                     Very good. Okay. So company’s been going for about, like seven years, seven years now?

Paul:                                      11:35                     Yeah, about seven years.

Sam:                                      11:37                     What sort of scale are you at now?

Paul:                                      11:39                     We are quite at a good scale right now, starting out with just one goat in 2012, with under $200 in startup capital. We have at least to date, you know, done over 5,000 goats. Okay. And generating revenues, you know, slightly above $400,000 now. So for us, I think that’s a good traction, but we would have loved to do more than that. Would have loved to do more than that.

Sam:                                      12:08                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      12:08                     But we understand, you know, the Strata of our industry as a whole, they goat industry. Historically it has been underdeveloped. But, you know, we are still satisfied, I think with the strides that we’ve made so far, though we feel, I think we should have gone more, more than that.

Sam:                                      12:28                     Okay. So let’s sort of talk about the, the process that you have. So you’ve, sort of stage one is going and collecting live goats?

Paul:                                      12:38                     Live goes from small holder farmers. Yes.

Sam:                                      12:40                     Yeah. And then maybe just sort of, can you sort of walk me through the whole process from receiving a goat, all the way through to it being sold as a goat burger.

Paul:                                      12:51                     Okay. So it all starts from first engaging with small holder farmers whom we mostly organize in supplier groups and cooperatives. And then from there on we agree on the terms of business with them, we offer them a good buying price. Good in the sense that our price is actually better than the prices that most of the informal traders do, you know, of our farmers out here, and then from there on after we buy those goats from the smaller farmers. We take them to our processing facility in Lusaka, currently operating out of market. From there we do process goat, which we sell in two, or rather through two main ways, through the butchery set up where we, sell, you know, goat meat in its fresh frozen state as well as other value added products, that includes smoked goat, buton and goat burgers. And then we also have another sales channel which is a take away. This is a recently added sales channel where we are doing ready to eat goat products. Okay.

Sam:                                      14:05                     So within your processing plant you will be cooking?

Paul:                                      14:10                     Yeah, so currently we are trying to optimize the space that we have at our store, which also serves as, you know, a processing facility at the back end of it.

Sam:                                      14:20                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      14:21                     So we have, on the other side of the store, adjacent to the butchery section, we’ve recently opened up a take away offering, and the brand, we are calling Zamgoat express, so that offers good goat amd chips. We do smoked goat and chips, we do goat burgers. We do goat sausage and chips. Yeah. And those, we do an upscaled vision of goat soup, which is different from the traditional goat soup that, you know, has been common on the Zambian market.

Sam:                                      14:59                     Very cool, Okay what, in terms of the, sort of the economics of it, how much do you buy it? How much roughly do you buy goat for, roughly what ptice?

Paul:                                      15:10                     So roughly we buy our goats at about $30 from a small order farmer, $30 per goat.

Sam:                                      15:17                     Okay.

Paul:                                      15:17                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:17                     And how much, what’s the process to value of that goat?

Paul:                                      15:22                     On average, the minimum processing value of the goat that we sell is around $45.

Sam:                                      15:30                     $45, okay. So you;re making about $15.

Sam:                                      15:32                     Okay. And so what’s been the cost? What’s been the total cost to sort of set up the processing plant? I’m just trying to work out how…

Paul:                                      15:42                     So to date I would say we haven’t really had a formidable processing plant, so we’ve kind of you know, been bootstrapping our processes whereby we are doing everything that we do using very limited that means so far we’ve invested over $40,000 into our current, into our current processing facility, but we are actually current working on setting up an ideal processing facility,which is estimated to cost around $400,000. So we’re currently actually active in the market trying to raise the capital to set up an ideal processing facility so that we could then supply more good products out there. So satisfy our market as well as also increase our impact in working with smolder farmers.

Sam:                                      16:41                     Yeah. Okay. So $400,000. And you’re making about $15 per goats, so you’re gonna have to do like 250,000 goats, is that right? No, no, 25,000 goats.

Paul:                                      16:52                     About 1200.

Sam:                                      16:53                     25,000 goats?

Paul:                                      16:55                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      16:56                     Is there demand for that? 25, like at the moment you, you’re sort of production’s about, you’ve done about 5,000 goats. I mean that’s increasing the capacity of your operation by five times.?

Paul:                                      17:12                     Yeah. So actually our target increase in capacity is about 10 times more than what we’re currently doing.

Sam:                                      17:20                     Okay.

Paul:                                      17:21                     Sure. So we’ve done about yeah, you’re right. So it’s close to about 10 times more in terms of production output.

Sam:                                      17:32                     And I mean, I don’t, I know nothing about the goat industry, but I’m just thinking if you’re making $15 per goat and there’s, it seems like there’s a lot of, you’d like, you’re adding a lot of value. You’d be processing it, you’re packaging it, you’re distributing. I was wondering if like, do you need to get a certain scale before it’s become, before you make money off this, like, or is it already profitable? Like?

Paul:                                      18:00                     It is already profitable, except that the current state of profitability is limited by scale by our current scale. So we can only do so much for now, given our limited capacities. We Believe that once we grow capacities, then even our profitability should also be able to.

Sam:                                      18:24                     So that means that out of that $15 per goat that you’re making your, costs would you reduce?

Paul:                                      18:30                     Exactly, the cost will reduce because of optimize…

Sam:                                      18:32                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      18:34                     You know, our processes.

Sam:                                      18:35                     Okay,

Paul:                                      18:35                     Sure.

Sam:                                      18:37                     Do you think that you’d ever pay less for a goat? Ket’s say at the moment, if you’re going to a small holder farmer and you’re buying 10 goats off them for $30 each, would you ever get to a place where you’ll say, right, I’ll buy 50 goats off you for $25?

Paul:                                      18:54                     Exactly. So with increased the capacity operating capacity on our side, there is the possibility of us incresing our costs

Sam:                                      19:01                     But do the, do these kind of small holder farmers sell 50 goats for $25?

Paul:                                      19:10                     They would sell.

Sam:                                      19:11                     They would.

Paul:                                      19:12                     Yeah, they would sell, they would sell. Again, it all gets back or it all borders on our capacity at any given time. So with capacity at any give timeit is a fault to negotiate with our suppliers to look, we are buying so many at a go, so we’ll then negotiate for a bulk discount.

Sam:                                      19:34                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      19:34                     Okay. And then also that would make sense for the farmer because instead of just selling 10 goats, you know, they’ll sell at least more and make more money at a go than to make the same amount of, say in my photo.

Sam:                                      19:48                     Exactly. Like, yeah. And they get, Just sent a lot of cash, which they can then use to invest in…

Paul:                                      19:53                     To invest in that, in other activities that also, in enhancing their livelihood. Yeah.

Sam:                                      19:59                     How do you transport the goats? You said, I’m forgetting…

Paul:                                      20:02                     Yeah, so for now we outsource transport. We hire delivery trucks, we hire open trucks that move our life goods from the farmers to…

Sam:                                      20:14                     Do you have to take a Zamgoat representative to like tick off this number of goats have gone on.

Paul:                                      20:19                     Yeah. So we normally have people on the ground.

Sam:                                      20:21                     Okay,

Paul:                                      20:21                     Sure.

Sam:                                      20:22                     How many people are employed?

Paul:                                      20:24                     Currently, our establishment is still small. We have a total of four staff when I was that, I’m sure.

Sam:                                      20:31                     So there’s you and three other people.

Paul:                                      20:33                     Yeah. There’s me and three other people.

Sam:                                      20:35                     Each time that you go and buy goats, one of the four of you has gone.

Paul:                                      20:40                     Yeah, it has to be. Yeah.

Sam:                                      20:42                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      20:42                     But then we also have times when farmers bring themselves, so they come through to Lusaka. So we’ve made ourselves so popular among the small holder farmers, such that every farmer out there who’s living in the outskirts, whoever wants to sell goat, they know that there is Zamgoat. So they give us a call and then we make arrangements for the delivery. And sometimes, you know, there are those that you’ll be dealing with for some time, we know that they’ll bring us the right quality of goats. So we give them a go ahead. Okay. How many are you ready to supply this time around? They give us their number and then we give them a go ahead. Okay.

Sam:                                      21:26                     Yep.

Paul:                                      21:27                     Move them over to Lusaka, show.

Sam:                                      21:29                     Nice. What’s your quality assurance process when you see a goat? Do you, do you like how do you…

Paul:                                      21:38                     Yeah, so we look, we look at quite a number of things. One of which include the general wellness wellbeing, the physical stature of the goat. Okay. It has to appear to be in its, you know, perfect state. Okay. To go out to guarantee us quality meat, then two, it’s the age. We look at the age.

Sam:                                      21:58                     How do you tell the age?

Paul:                                      21:59                     There are a number of ways to tell the age. It’s the general appearance of the goat. You can tell this goat, I think. You know.

Sam:                                      22:05                     Okay.

Paul:                                      22:05                     Yeah, ths goat is too old. Then the other technique we use is looking at the teeth for measure, yeah.

Sam:                                      22:15                     The teeth, is that a good gauge for the size, the age of the Goat?

Paul:                                      22:21                     Yeah. To some extent it, it is to some extent, yes.

Sam:                                      22:26                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      22:26                     Sure. I think the best technique is just the general physical state of the goat in its appearance has to appeal to you as a buyer.

Sam:                                      22:37                     It’s gotta be…

Paul:                                      22:38                     It has to be safe. Okay. And not, you know, you’re looking at a goat, you’re able to see the ribs exposing, you know, protruding from out. So that it will give you an indicator. No this might not be, I think, in order to give us good quality meat. So it has to be well rounded.

Sam:                                      22:59                     Yeah. What’s the best age for a goat?

Paul:                                      23:03                     So we’re prefer goats that are not more than three years in age for meat production. Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:09                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      23:10                     I’d say between one and a half years and three years there about.

Sam:                                      23:15                     Okay.

Paul:                                      23:15                     Sure.

Sam:                                      23:16                     And then goats enter your processing plant. And at the other end, we’ve got goat meat like in between, what happens to, so obviously like the goat is killed. What happens to like the other parts of the goat that aren’t used for meat?

Paul:                                      23:34                     Yeah. So you’ll be shocked to learn that to date nothing much happens to, except for the offers. We sell the offers in our butcher section, then we use some also for the takeaway section, but then for the other parts of the goat like the skin to date, nothing that much has been done, you know, in terms of adding value to the goat skins.

Sam:                                      24:00                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      24:01                     So mostly goatskins in Zambia are just thrown about. But, you know, being pioneers in this industry as Zamgoat, we’ve taken it upon ourselves or seen an opportunity in that area as well to start adding value to goat skills.

Sam:                                      24:16                     What could be done?

Paul:                                      24:20                     So one of the things we’re looking at is adding value to, you know, to, to goatskins to save the local market coming up with finished products like belts you know, device poaches you know wristbands and stuff like that.

Sam:                                      24:36                     Can you make rugs?

Paul:                                      24:37                     Yeah. You can also make rugs, you can make bags.

Sam:                                      24:40                     Okay.

Paul:                                      24:41                     You can make shoes like the final leathershoes, most of them are actually made out of goat skins. The other opportunities doing maybe just basic processing and then exporting the semi processed goat skins.

Sam:                                      24:55                     Okay.

Paul:                                      24:55                     To the other parts of the world.

Sam:                                      24:59                     So if there are any goat skin artisans listening to the podcast, they should get in touch with you?

Paul:                                      25:05                     You’re right.

Sam:                                      25:05                     They would be able to come sort of help with the, making nice things.

Paul:                                      25:10                     Excellent.

Sam:                                      25:10                     Okay, cool. How long does it take between goat enters and like processed meat at the end?

Paul:                                      25:20                     Okay. On average takes about 15 minutes. Let me say 15 minutes.

Sam:                                      25:28                     Yeah. Okay.

Sam:                                      25:29                     You do one at a time?

Paul:                                      25:31                     Yeah. So we do, slaughtering, given our current limited capacities, we do slaughter them one at a time.

Sam:                                      25:37                     Is it by hand?

Paul:                                      25:38                     By hand. Yeah. Currently slaughtering is done by hand and then flailing also by hand.

Sam:                                      25:43                     Flailing?

Paul:                                      25:43                     Yeah. Removing of the skin is manually done for now because of our limited capacities.

Sam:                                      25:49                     But this $400,000 investment.

Paul:                                      25:51                     So this $400,000 investment, we are looking at investing in some, at least close to state of the art, you know, kind of facility that would enable us to, you know, to process our goat in a much commercial like manner unlike, you know, how we are currently doing it.

Sam:                                      26:13                     And would that be like a machine?

Paul:                                      26:15                     Yeah. So we are looking at, you know the slaughtering line where you have some conveyor belts that, you know, that electronically move the goat from the slaughtering stage, the flaring stage. Yeah. Up to the, you know.

Sam:                                      26:34                     Where do you, where do you buy that machine from?

Paul:                                      26:36                     So for now it has to be imported from outside the country.

Sam:                                      26:43                     Made in China, India?

Paul:                                      26:44                     Made in China. China will always be the cheapest, you know, the cheapest source, I’ve had some discussion with a number of our suppliers of slaughter house equipment in China. Yeah, sure.

Sam:                                      27:01                     Purely out of interest, do they eat goat in China?

Paul:                                      27:05                     They do, yeah.

Sam:                                      27:07                     Okay. So they probably got it. They’ve got these machines that would be that would be perfect, got it.

Paul:                                      27:14                     And they do slaughter goats there as well.

Sam:                                      27:16                     Yeah. Okay. Because you’re going to get one of these machines and then you’re going to be able to, once you’ve got that, your capacity and then you can just go out and buy more goats. What’s like, if you’re saying that you buy at $30 and you sell at $45, roughly how many days does it take for you to keep the money?

Paul:                                      27:37                     Ideally, it doesn’t take, sort of like through our, our butchery section. So we have a two revenue model, which is retail and wholesale. So wholesale, I mean retail is cash sales.

Sam:                                      27:52                     The cash.

Paul:                                      27:52                     So you slaughter the goat then within a day or two you have, you know, you recoup your money.

Sam:                                      27:59                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      27:59                     And then we also have another revenue model, which is wholesale supplies to these other intermediaries that include supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels. So that in most cases comes with credit, you know hotels. And at most for now, we, we, we accept at least two weeks.

Sam:                                      28:18                     Okay.

Paul:                                      28:18                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      28:19                     So 14 days is your max?

Paul:                                      28:22                     Sure.

Sam:                                      28:22                     So it’s not 30 days?

Paul:                                      28:24                     For now, it’s not 30 days, given our current, you know capacities we can’t do 30 days because then that would wipe out the much needed cash that we need to manage the operation.

Sam:                                      28:35                     Okay. So let’s say you’ve got an, and how does it work? Does it, have you kind of got like a constant flow of buying goats, processing them, selling them? Or is it kind of like up and down?

Paul:                                      28:51                     So it’s up and down. And it mostly depends on two factors, one of which is the demand on our markets marketing side. Okay. And the demand of products from our customers who we’ve signed up with, then two, it is our capacity in terms of you know, working capital, to procure at any given time.

Sam:                                      29:15                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      29:15                     Yeah. So it depends, again, it fluctuates Nothing.

Sam:                                      29:19                     Yeah. But there’s, okay, so there’s demand. So what might cause a fluctuation in demand?

Paul:                                      29:26                     A fluctuation in demand is caused by a number of factors. One of which is the marketing of goat in the manner that we’ve been trained to do it is still relatively a new thing on the market. So a lot of you know, customers and partners through which we sell our products are still getting, you know, acclimatized to our concept and distribution.

Sam:                                      29:59                     Are they still sort of saying, okay, we’ll buy a hundred goat burgers and see how it goes as opposed to we’ll have 200, so they’re still in that sort of testing.

Paul:                                      30:09                     So there’s still a bit of market development activities, you know, going on.

Sam:                                      30:13                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      30:13                     On our end here.

Sam:                                      30:14                     How do you, do you go around with leaflets, how do you sort of…

Paul:                                      30:18                     Yeah, so we, yeah, we do leaflets and then we also do online marketing through you knowplatforms like social media, useing Facebook, Twitter our website as well as just, you know,physical visits to targeted clients.

Sam:                                      30:42                     Okay. So let’s say, are you in shoprite?

Paul:                                      30:46                     Not yet. So for some reason we are yet to start dealing with most of these big retail chains. And the major limiting factor for now is our luck luck over the right, I do, operating scope in terms of processing as well as distribution capacity in terms of…

Sam:                                      31:13                     As in, they’ll only deal with you if you can do a thousand goats.

Paul:                                      31:16                     Yeah. So you need to have a certain level of capacity, you know, we don’t want to engage with you and then tomorrow you’re unable to supply. They need to, again most of these large retail chains are very particular in terms of hygiene and sanitary requirements. So your products, your processes must meet certain, you knowcriteria?

Sam:                                      31:43                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      31:44                     Like how you go about slaughtering, processing and also delivering your goods to market, you need to meet a criteria, which to date I think,e’re still working on and that’s the more reason why we’re also trying to raise money, so that we can scale up our operation and move, you know, our business from this state of,you know, proof of concept like. I think we’ve overstayed at this stage and now we need to grow our capacity and just,ou know, flood the market with…

Sam:                                      32:19                     Flood the market with goat meat. Yeah. I mean you’re right. I mean it seems like you’ve been going for seven years now. You’ve kind of worked out visa the basic functions, you’re going to go off, buy goats, process them, sell them. Okay. Well you go…

Paul:                                      32:37                     So now I think the only missing link is just, you know, aligning our capacities with the, the process that we’ll develop so far. So I do get to fully take advantage of, you know, the market opportunities.

Sam:                                      32:51                     Do you think that there’ll be any resistance or any hesitation from let’s say Shoprite, so one of the biggest supermarkets here, will they perhaps say, okay, well, we’re going to buy this goat from you, but we don’t think people will buy it. Like, do you think you’ll have to do some?

Paul:                                      33:10                     No.

Sam:                                      33:11                     No?

Paul:                                      33:11                     There’s no that hesitation, right now we have actually we have an active conversation with another large retail chain, Choppies. Okay. So they are ready to engage with us.

Sam:                                      33:24                     Okay.

Paul:                                      33:24                     By the end, they’re just waiting on us to be ready in terms of capacity setting up a formidable slaughtering facility, processing facility and also having the right distribution you know.

Sam:                                      33:38                     Set up in cold, you’d have to have some cold chain.

Paul:                                      33:41                     You need a cold truck cause you can’t deliver meat, you know, at the back of a cab. So you need, you need the right distribution tools, you need a cold truck, you need cold storage, sufficient cold storage so that you keep your meat, you know, in the perfect state at all times.

Sam:                                      33:59                     How similar is, how similar is that process to beef and pork?

Paul:                                      34:05                     It is very much similar.

Sam:                                      34:07                     Okay.

Paul:                                      34:07                     What process are similar.

Sam:                                      34:09                     What’s stopping an existing beef producer or pork producer just saying, okay, we’re going to go out and buy some goats and put on and just,

Paul:                                      34:20                     Yeah. I think until recently what was stopping them is really lack of the edge to try out new things or getting used to what they’ve been used to over time. And then two, I think most of these other general meat processors, you know, because of their size, scope. Again, at least most of them reached, a level where they, you know, they’ve gotten used to their routine, the products and the processes and, cause the goat, the goat industry really, you know, is one area that has been overlooked. So there’s never been a, you know,

Sam:                                      35:08                     Did he run, considered it? They haven’t really been thinking about that. Right. If I’m just saying like, are you worried at all that one day, one of these pork producers or cow producers, or beef producers just says, just thinks, Hm, maybe we should try goat and they’ll suddenly be able to do at a really big scale. And does that worry you at all or are there are other reasons why…

Paul:                                      35:33                     It doesn’t, it doesn’t worry me at all. Ourselves, we have an upper edge in the goat industry given our dedication to the, to the industry. So we’ve given ourselves our full focus to the goat value chain, that gives us an edge in terms of supply engagement. Then two also in terms of you know, the room to innovate within the industry. Okay. So we are not preoccupied with you know, many, you know product lines. So we are preoccupied with perfecting, our core product is the goat offering itself. So that gives us an edge as it enables us to, to be more innovative in our product offering. You know, than the general meat processors except to say perhaps the only worry like right now is or as regard to, you know, economic meat processor wanting to add goat, you know, to their offering. The only aspect in which that worries me is yeah, mainly, given their scale, they may get to market much more faster than us. So the only worry is maybe our lack of timely access to scale our lack of timely access to resources to scale up the business. I think that’s the magic. Once we have the right operating scope, I do not see anyone outdoing. Then two, the other thing, again that gives us an edge is our brand. Okay. Zamgoat is a…

Sam:                                      37:14                     I mean there’s no escaping what you do is there?

Paul:                                      37:16                     Exactly, so Zamgoat, I think is already growing into a very popular brand out there it’s growing into a household brand. Everyone who want to eat goat, they would think of Zamgoat.

Sam:                                      37:29                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      37:29                     Okay. So that’s another yeah.

Sam:                                      37:33                     This might sound like a strange question, but is there any issue with you using Zam in your name? So like, isn’t it that there’s a telco company called Zam? Yeah, I did, It is the, does the government have any sort of rights to organizations that have Zam in the name? Do you know what I mean?

Paul:                                      37:57                     No.

Sam:                                      37:58                     It’s not like, cause I don’t, when I, you know, when I see Zamgoat, I might think, Oh that’s like the national Institute for goats. Awesome. So it’s like, it’s a great, it’s a great industry you’ve got, I was just wondering if there are any any issues you have with naming

Paul:                                      38:11                     Yeah, no issues at all. We don’t have any issues. Even that’s, there are number of businesses out there that have got the Zam prefix to their names. Yeah. So for us we chose Zam prefix to own it, to make it Zamgoat, because we wanted to be really the leader of the goat industry in Zambia. Okay. And not only in Zambia, we wanted to be the company here in Zambia to be identified within the region, around the world, you know, as the company that is the pioneer of you know, activity in the goat industry.

Sam:                                      38:53                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      38:54                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      38:54                     I guess if you wanted to go across the border, you’re going to have to know Zamgoat.

Paul:                                      38:58                     Yeah. So if we want to go across the boarder, yeah. So again, depends on, on the, on the particular markets. There are markets that will be comfortable to go trade as Zamgoat, but for some markets we’re also looking at you know, coming up with other brands that are targeting particular international markets to make us more relevant and appealing to those local markets. Yeah, sure.

Sam:                                      39:20                     What are some names you’ve thought of?

Paul:                                      39:22                     So currently there is another food service outfit that we’re working on, which we know we are calling Pizzagoat Africa and this is pizzagoat.

Sam:                                      39:32                     Pizza?

Paul:                                      39:32                     Goat, pizzagot.

Sam:                                      39:34                     P pizza. Have do you spell.

Paul:                                      39:37                     Pizza as in pizza? P I Z Z A.

Sam:                                      39:44                     Got it.

Sam:                                      39:44                     As one word.

Sam:                                      39:45                     Okay.

Paul:                                      39:46                     So this is a brand that we want to use for our international market penetration on the food service side. Yeah. So we are calling it pizza goat Africa. Okay. So what, is what we want to use in growing, in penetrating or in having a physical presence in the, you know, African.

Sam:                                      40:07                     Why did you go with Pizza goat?

Paul:                                      40:08                     So pizzagoat, again it gets back to to our desire to value add and disrupt the distribution of goat meat or good products. So pizzagoat is a brand that is focused on providing exclusive goat pizza and pastries. Okay.

Sam:                                      40:28                     Goat pastries?

Paul:                                      40:29                     Yeah. Pastries. We’ll have goat pies, goat samosas, goat spring rolls.

Sam:                                      40:35                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      40:35                     Yeah. So, but the key product, you know, within that offering is goat pizza itself. Yeah. So we are currently doing a test run on the same, we’re yet to, you know, fully launch it out there. But so far we’re getting a lot of positive responses from our customers who get a lot of, you know, positive inquiries. People looking forward to, you know, to have goat Pizza.

Sam:                                      41:07                     How many goats are in Zambia?

Paul:                                      41:09                     Currently, the population of goats I think is slightly under 5 million.

Sam:                                      41:13                     How do you know that?

Paul:                                      41:16                     Livestock censuses that are normally conducted by the ministry of livestock and fisheries and their last update I think indicated, you know, somewhere around 4.8, 4.9 million goats.

Sam:                                      41:29                     How many people are there in Zambia?

Paul:                                      41:32                     Currently we’re around 17 to 18 million. The last census I think was around 16 million.

Sam:                                      41:38                     Okay. So it’s pretty thin. Basically one goat for every three humans. Just purely out of curiosity, I’m interested if there are, what the goats to human ratio is what, like goats per capita is in other countries. Do you know, do you have any, are there any other countries where there’s a higher goat per capita or is Zambia a particularly goat heavy country?

Paul:                                      42:05                     My recent discoveries, I think I’ve indicated that countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, and you know, Somalis in African countries Tanzania, Kenya do have quite a higher, you know, number of goats as well.

Sam:                                      42:19                     Is that because the…

Paul:                                      42:24                     Because of the religious, you know, factor.

Sam:                                      42:26                     Yeah, I think it’s with like nomadic tribes, looking after goats and so there’s more of a culture of…

Paul:                                      42:31                     Yeah, yeah. That’s another, another attribute. But, the other attribute is on the consumption patterns. You know, most of the mentioned countries, Somalia, Kenya, are Muslim countries. So they tend to prefer, you know, eating more goat than the other regions.

Sam:                                      42:52                     Yeah. Is Zambia more or less purely Christian? Or is there a Muslim population here?

Paul:                                      43:00                     There is a Muslim population. Yeah. But obviously Zambia is predominantly, you know, Christian in terms of population. But we do have quite a big number of Muslims as well here.

Sam:                                      43:15                     Is Zamgoat halal?

Paul:                                      43:17                     We are positioning ourselves to halal, but again, currently given our limited operating capacities, we have not yet reached that level, where we would be officially, you know, certified halal, but we are working on,

Sam:                                      43:30                     Okay.

Paul:                                      43:30                     On certifying, having Zamgoat certified as halal.

Sam:                                      43:34                     At the moment a Muslim customer wouldn’t be able to buy…

Paul:                                      43:38                     At the moment, yeah. That’s another market that we are currently missing out. So part of our plan actually in setting up the planned sloughter house facility is to be able to enable us, you know, qualify to meet that halal standard certification. Sure.

Sam:                                      43:57                     Okay. Do you ever think, would you ever deal with like goat milk, or is that like different?

Paul:                                      44:03                     So again, it gets back to the strata of the industry as a whole, totally under developed, no much activity in any specific area of it, be it milk, skin. So even with new products, nothing much has been done with, you know, goat milk in the country. But again, as a business, that’s something that becomes opportunity for us. So as we keep growing, we are actually seeing ourselves grow into a fully verticallly integrated business across the goat value chain, doing something, you know with everything about goats, including, you know milk products. So we are looking at getting into the nutritional market, you know segment with time, riding on, goat milk as a highly nutritional product as you know, which, you know, some people out there say goat milk is as good as a human milk. So with that…

Sam:                                      45:07                     Do some people give goat milk to babies or is that…

Paul:                                      45:09                     Yeah. I think some do but it’s not yet a popular trend but there’s a lot of positive vibes out there. This is another industry for the future within the, you know, goat value chain. So we are looking at with time we should be able to venture out in coming up with goat based nutrition, you know, products.

Sam:                                      45:36                     Yeah. Like internationally, are there other countries where there is a or other companies that have said we’re going to vertically integrate in just goats?

Paul:                                      45:52                     Yeah, there’s been a few countries where at least it’s recently beginning to be some activity.

Sam:                                      45:59                     There are sort of Zamgoat equivalents. Whereabouts in the world is it?

Paul:                                      46:04                     In Somalia, there are countries that just, yeah, I mean there are companies that just focus on goat processing and distribution.

Sam:                                      46:12                     Are they sort of, are they a similar stage as Zamgoat?

Paul:                                      46:16                     There could be some, I think I must have heard of, I’ve forgotten the name but is one company that is, that is doing pretty well in Somalia. So they’re quite an advanced, at an advanced stage in terms of their development as compared to Zamgoat.

Sam:                                      46:31                     I’m just curious cause it’s always useful, I find, when there’s a company, you know, a country another part of the world where they’re never gonna come and enter the Zambian market, but you can still learn some good lessons from them. I was just wondering if there were, I don’t know. Vietnam for example, you know, pick a country. If there were any companies where you can say, okay, well in five years time we want to be like, yeah, “Indonesia goats.”

Paul:                                      46:58                     I think there’s one common phenomenon across the world. The goat industry. I don’t know for some reason, somehow, it is an industry that has been overlooked. Okay. And for me, I think this is what, becomes the biggest opportunity. It’s a pretty, you know, under developed industry and that to me as an entrepreneur, you know, rings a lot more opportunity than most of these industries that are fully saturated. That the traditional, you know, meat industries, beef, pork and chicken. Then two, goat meat and the other assorted products are becoming the talk of the day, okay. Around the world. Goat meat is seen to be more healthier than these other meat products, goat milk, you know, is also seen to be a very healthy, you know, product, you know, with some data out there equating it to human milk, you know, to be as good as, you know, breast milk, you know, goat skins. Okay, that’s fine leather, it’s one of the most treasured you know, leather out there, but somehow again, to some extent, there’s still some slowness, you know, inactivity not to fully capitalize on these products.

Sam:                                      48:30                     Why do, why do you think that is?

Paul:                                      48:33                     The lack of innovation? Yeah, so this is, this is the time now innovative entrepreneurs, you know, prying their trade in the innovative age, like now to come up with innovations that add value to these products that have got a yearning market out there.

Sam:                                      48:51                     Are there any countries where the goats are not indigenous or the goat, or there’s not many goats? One thing here is like in let’s say one of the biggest meat producers in the world is the U S and they’ve got loads of pigs and loads of cows, so they probably developed all of their machines and factories just around that because there’ve been lots of meats, beef cows and pigs around and so they’ve really sort of like grown the beef and pork industry. I’m just wondering had, if by historical accident, there were goats in America and they, 50 years ago, you know, 80 years ago, started factory producing goats. Whether that would have, is it that the fact that goats aren’t in places where there’s currently been big areas of meat production? Is that why it’s not seen as a popular product

Paul:                                      49:48                     To some extent, yes. In fact you’ve just reminded me, one of the countries in the world that seems to have made headways in processing of goat products is Australia. Okay, there are companies in Australia that have made, you know, serious strides in adding value to goat meat and distributing it around the world. I was surprised during my stint in the US, I found, you know, Australian goat in some supermarkets in the US.

Sam:                                      50:18                     I can imagine.

Paul:                                      50:19                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      50:19                     Any country you go to, you go straight to the goat, to the meat section and you check out where all the goats come from, yeah.

Paul:                                      50:26                     Yeah. So they’ve made strides, and then yeah, their country, I think goats. Goats are there in most parts, but I don’t know. I think it’s just lack of there’s some stereotype perhaps that has been associated, you know, with goats.

Sam:                                      50:46                     I guess as well if, yeah, if you’re saying that most people consume, choose what food to consume by, let’s say going to the supermarkets and if the supermarkets have a barrier where they say you’ve got to hit a certain capacity before we can even enter, then lots of people might not realize that they’re missing out on goat because they go to the meat counter and there’s beef, chicken and pork. Suddenly if goat producers like Zamgoat are able to hit a certain capacity and making them looking at beef, pork, chicken, goats, Oh, actually I’ll try goat. And that introduces it to, and that generates the demand. I can see that. I can sort of see that logically being something.

Paul:                                      51:25                     Yeah, sure. So I think there’s just a general stereotype that is somehow you know underplaying or downplaying the efforts or the opportunities that exist within the goat industry like, you know, experience. Okay. One of the challenges that we have been facing, for instance, even in trying to access, you know, growth, financing opportunities out there is this seemingly unattractive, still unattractive state of the industry as a whole. Not for us as a business, but the Industry as a whole, you know, to attract financing from traditional financing sources that want to find us businesses, operating industries or in proven industries in other words, industries That have got a proven track record. Industries that have got a proven record for commercial viability. Whereas, you know, theygoat industry has never been exploited, fully exploited. So the financial markets out there are still a little bit skeptical, you know, especially the traditional sort of funding or finance.

Sam:                                      52:37                     So where, where do you get your financing from?

Paul:                                      52:39                     So given that reality, we’ve mostly be looking at non traditional financing sources, we’ll be looking at, like here in Zambia, the commercial, the most common source of financing for any start up business would be, you know, to go to the bank and ask for a bank loan. But then the banks look what industry dynamics, the goat industry, they have no experience with it so they don’t have that, or technically, you know, cuts you off their books. So we’ve been looking at nontraditional financing sources like, you know, venture capital, equity financing, we’ll be looking at impact financing and especially like in our case, especially given the impact, the social impact aspect of our business. We’ve been trying to take advantage of, you know, development, financing opportunities that exist out there.

Sam:                                      53:36                     As you say, you, are improving livelihoods of small holder farmers. And that must be…

Paul:                                      53:41                     Sure.

Sam:                                      53:42                     A really big impact push that people want to have.

Paul:                                      53:45                     That’s sort of what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been trying to ride on, you know, impact aspect as a business in accessing impact financing opportunities, which we hope we should then be able to use as catalytic, you know, financing that help us grow the business to reach a level where at least now the business and the industry as a whole should be able to prove a point and become more attractive to a traditional finances. Yeah.

Sam:                                      54:14                     Got it.

Paul:                                      54:15                     So it needs a lot, a great deal of catalytic financing from non traditional, yeah.

Sam:                                      54:22                     Get it in motion. Yeah.

Paul:                                      54:23                     Sure.

Sam:                                      54:24                     Okay. So we’ll just do a few more questions, that’s right. What have been some of the surprises in running the business? So if you were to say compare, what, how Zamgoat is today with what you thought it would look like today? How is it different? Maybe in a positive way, and in a negative way.

Paul:                                      54:46                     It’s not as easy as I thought it was going. Okay. Yeah, that’s one thing obviously. So running the business hasn’t been as easy as I thought it was going to be. It has been a lot tougher, stressful, and sometimes you know, tempting, you know, you just want to quit. But then again you look at, you know, the time invested and the beaconing opportunity ahead, okay. The fact that there’s no track record for commercial viability of the goat industry does not make it, you know, a bad industry as a whole. Okay. I think there are a lot of positive indicators that this is the next big thing in the meat industry, this is the next big meat industry in the world. The goat meat industry.

Sam:                                      55:42                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      55:42                     Okay. Yeah. So just getting back to your question, my experience has been that, I think still a lot more harder. I didn’t think it was going to take us this long, you know, to grow the business, by now, I was projecting that, we are now doing seven years, by now, my initial projections were that by now we should be able to at least saturate the local market and looking at export markets. But it’s been difficult because it’s been hard to raise, you know, growth financing. Yeah.

Sam:                                      56:18                     Okay. And, if you sort of fast forward, project maybe three years time, what do you think Zamgoat will look like?

Paul:                                      56:27                     So in three years time, especially if we manage to raise the initial $400,000 that we are looking at, one, Zamgoat should be able to fully become a household name on the Zambian market in terms of goat consumption. We’re also looking at changing the consumption patterns of goat among consumers. Okay. For instance, we’ve introduced these revolutionary products, goat burgers. Okay. These are products that have never existed in the Zambian market, but now have, they’re only on the Zambian market. People are getting hooked to our concept, goat pizza, pies and pastries, you know, so in three years from now, yeah, we should be able to really spread our footprint in terms of our distribution outlets across the Zambian market, by the fourth year, there about, who should be looking at exploiting the export market. We have a yearning regional export market, the Congo DR, Angola, is just one of them. Okay. Historically, Zambia has been supplying goats to these markets, but this has been done through informal trade, not through formal trade.

Sam:                                      57:44                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      57:44                     So there’s no really, you know, greater benefit that can be tracked down. And then, yeah. And also in four years we’re looking at increasing our capacity in, you know, engaging with smal holder farmers, in improving their economic wellbeing, giving them an alternative in terms of their livelihoods, especially in the wake of climate change where their traditional agricultural practices are failing. Rainfall has become more predictable. So we want small holder farmers to continue earning a living even at least through raising of goats, which are much more adaptable to the harsh, you know, climate conditions that we are currently experiencing.

Sam:                                      58:35                     That’s good. Okay. Yeah. Cool. And people who are listening, how can they learn more about that and Zamgoat?

Paul:                                      58:41                     So people can visit our website, We’re calling it because we envisage ourselves to grow into a group of companies. You know, it’s time. So zamgoatgroup.Com, people can visit that website and get more information. Alternatively, they can find us on Facebook. We have Zamgoat products limited on Facebook. They can, or simply key in Zamgoat online. There’s a whole lot of information and they’ll get links to sites that they can then, you know more about Zamgoat.

Sam:                                      59:15                     Fantastic. And I’ll put some links to these in the show notes.

Paul:                                      59:18                     Sure. That will be great

Sam:                                      59:19                     Cool. Well Paul, thanks so much.

Paul:                                      59:21                     Thank you so much Sam. Its been a pleasure talking to you.

Sam:                                      59:21                     You too.

Sam                                       59:22                     Much. So here’s a pleasure talking to you.


How many eggs can you fit in an Uber? A Nairobi egg dealer on overcoming micro-business challenges


One of the nice things about having a podcast is that it allows you to have conversations with people you wouldn’t otherwise get around to.

In this episode I sit down with John, the man who I buy my eggs from in Kenya.

In Swahili, “mayai” means “eggs” and so his customers know him as John Mayai.

John works from an apartment building in Nairobi, and stores thousands of eggs in the car park to then sell to individuals and small businesses wanting to buy them in multiples of 30.

We talk about how he started the business buying and selling 5 trays of eggs, and is now up to 80, how cold weather affects the price of eggs, and the main challenges that come from expanding the business.

Now, the big limiting factor John mentioned was the ability to buy more eggs and transport them back to the car park to then sell to local businesses.

“There’s always demand for eggs” as John put it, so it’s just a case of increasing the supply.

Immediately after recording this episode I went for lunch my friend Raaj and we got chatting about how we could help out John to expand his business.

Long story short, the next day we were in a car with him driving up to a large egg market on the outskirts of Nairobi, returning a few hours later with nearly 5000 eggs.

I made some recordings from the trip, and so who knows, perhaps one day it’ll get made into an episode.

Anyway for now, there’s lots of interesting insights from John and I’s conversation and so I hope you enjoy this episode.

John’s business is representative of how a lot of people in Kenya work and live – buying and selling products and at a low margin in order to fund other areas of their life, such as school fees for the children.

I hope you find it enlightening.


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Sam:                                      00:00                     Intro

Sam:                                      02:24                     Cool. So we’re here today with John. So yeah, John, we’re going to talk today a bit about your your work and your, your side business.

John:                                     02:33                     Okay. Side hustle.

Sam:                                      02:35                     Yeah. So John Perhaps the best way to sort of get started is, is if you could just sort of give us a brief overview of sort of what you’re, what you’re doing right now

John:                                     02:49                     In fact I started, sometime two years ago. I was impressed when I saw people buying eggs, others selling eggs and in the morning hours, I was, Idle.

Sam:                                      03:03                     Yeah. Cause what is your, what is your main job?

John:                                     03:07                     My main, I’m a chef.

Sam:                                      03:08                     You’re a chef.

John:                                     03:10                     I am a chef, employed here. But my business is my, it’s in my mind. I’ve been doing business throughout my life.

Sam:                                      03:19                     Okay.

John:                                     03:19                     But at the end of the day, my business came down and I was, I didn’t, I couldn’t go farther, so I had to look for alternatives. I was employed here.

Sam:                                      03:31                     Yeah.

John:                                     03:32                     So I have to work so that I can push my family and those who are in school, I push them. Now when I was here and business minded just going around, I saw people selling eggs, like I went closer and asked them how much are you selling these eggs? We’re are selling, by then they were selling Ksh 330, one tray. When I went to up country. I went to the market, I did my survey.

Sam:                                      04:04                     Yep.

John:                                     04:05                     I got there were people who were selling at Ksh 270, 280

Sam:                                      04:10                     So when you say a tray of eggs, that’s maybe, is that 30 eggs?

John:                                     04:16                     30 eggs, yeah.

Sam:                                      04:16                     Okay. So upcountry.

John:                                     04:17                     Upcountry they were selling Ksh 280, 270.

Sam:                                      04:23                     Yeah.

John:                                     04:23                     I bought five.

Sam:                                      04:25                     Okay. So you said you had five times 270, so you had 1300?

John:                                     04:30                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      04:31                     1400.

John:                                     04:34                     I had 14 cause I had fare, my fare.

Sam:                                      04:37                     Yeah.

John:                                     04:38                     I came with my five trays, not Knowing I would sell to who, but in my mind, even if he won’t to buy, I’ll go, I’ll look for somebody else.

Sam:                                      04:48                     Yeah.

John:                                     04:50                     And we went, I went, the first day I sold two trays. I was very happy.

Sam:                                      04:55                     Yeah.

John:                                     04:56                     Of course. Now the remaining are three, the next day I went, I looked for another option, another customer. He told me I want at least five. If you have three, still bring five. I told him I’ll bring three today, tomorrow I’ll bring five. It was a market day. I sold her three, I went to the market, I bought six.

Sam:                                      05:21                     So you went back, you went back to the same market, upcountry?

John:                                     05:24                     Yeah. Up Country.

Sam:                                      05:24                     Okay.

John:                                     05:25                     I bought six. I came, I sold, now this guy I sold him five. I went home with one. With that time, from then, I been, I didn’t have more money. I had only the little one and now I go, I try to buy 80.

Sam:                                      05:48                     80.

John:                                     05:51                     80, I deliver them now. They are used to me. They, we knew each other. They just take my phone, they ring me, bring bring, bring. And eventually, I saw I can make something. All the same, I have one child who is in, still in school and this child is doing nothing. So I have to push her. At least I push her until she gets whatever she wants. And the little money I get here working, they are not enough. So I have to strain myself. I feed the family I feed and the and the school fees. So I have to pull up my socks and I tried to, I don’t drink but I have a rule the little I have, I try to use it in an orderly manner.

Sam:                                      06:52                     Yeah. Okay. So all of the so the, this, the egg business that you have that’s already sort of funding other parts of your family.

John:                                     07:01                     Yeah, it is funding and pushing the, those who are in school, even now he’s at KMTC. He has finished, he has a certificate but he said a certificate is too low. He wants to advance.

Sam:                                      07:19                     So he needs to go get…

John:                                     07:19                     No, he’s now advancing. Still there. And since he’s determined, I said I’ll push him to the end. So we are there.

Sam:                                      07:28                     Makes Sense. Okay. So at the moment, so two years ago you, you went up country and you bought your five trays of eggs.

John:                                     07:37                     Yeah. From then, I’ve been going daily.

Sam:                                      07:40                     Daily?

John:                                     07:43                     No, weekly, weekly.

Sam:                                      07:43                     And so you’ve slowly been increasing and now you, now you do 80 trays of eggs. How do you, how do you transport 80 trays of eggs?

John:                                     07:53                     I put them in a big box like this one. I fold them with a rope, tightly.

Sam:                                      08:00                     Okay.

John:                                     08:01                     Then I put it in a ‘matatu.’

Sam:                                      08:03                     Okay. ‘Matatu’ Is the bus?

John:                                     08:06                     The bus. I pay as if it’s a customer. I pay the luggage and me.

Sam:                                      08:14                     I see. Oh, so you pay for two fares. One is for you to sit and one is for the eggs to sit.

John:                                     08:19                     Then when I come, to ‘Kawangware’ then I shift to another car. When it reaches here, now I get the trolley, I bring them here.

Sam:                                      08:30                     Yeah. Okay. Do they have a break?

John:                                     08:33                     No. They break. Yeah. Like do you see this one?

Sam:                                      08:37                     We’re looking at this tray now where they are some broken eggs.

John:                                     08:41                     They are broken, but they are not many. If you, they can be broken less 10. You won’t feel it. But if it’s more than a tray, it will cost you. You’ll cry, but all the same, I know they are perishable things.

Sam:                                      08:58                     Yeah.

John:                                     08:58                     And they list, they are not, I handle them with the care. When putting in the car, when offloading. You have to be very, very sensitive. Even whoever is helping you, he helps you in an orderly manner. You pull them down slowly. Then you tell him thank you he goes.

Sam:                                      09:22                     And where do you, why do you buy your eggs from?

John:                                     09:25                     From ‘Wangige,’ it’s a big market where people, about 1000 farmers go to that.

Sam:                                      09:35                     Whereabouts in Kenya is it?

John:                                     09:36                     It’s not far. It’s between Nairobi and Kiambu.

Sam:                                      09:42                     So it’s maybe 40 minutes?

John:                                     09:45                     If you have a personal car is half an hour.

Sam:                                      09:49                     Okay.

John:                                     09:49                     It’s not far. But now the cash, I don’t have a car so I have to…

Sam:                                      09:56                     Take a ‘matatu.’

John:                                     09:57                     I have to use a ‘matatu.’

Sam:                                      09:59                     So the, all the, poultry farmers, the egg farmers that are coming to this market.

John:                                     10:06                     Very many. Over a thousand farmers come, there is a market place. They bring their eggs. Customer know, they go buy their egg there. They go.

Sam:                                      10:16                     And so are you buying directly from the farmer?

John:                                     10:19                     Yeah, exactly. I have three, four farmers who they are, we are used to. Okay. When they, they come, they phone, we have arrived, OK, I’m on the way, when I reach there and I wanted these eggs. Okay. We just bargain and I transact, I pay.

Sam:                                      10:39                     And do you always pay cash or do you have like…

John:                                     10:41                     Always cash.

Sam:                                      10:42                     No they don’t give credit?

John:                                     10:43                     No they don’t give credit because now they are demanding the chicken want to eat. They don’t have money, they have to go and buy.

Sam:                                      10:50                     So they need to get it so you can more eggs Okay. And so you go there is the price still Ksh 270 for a tray?

John:                                     11:00                     No, it is not constant. Sometimes it’s low, sometimes it’s upper.

Sam:                                      11:05                     Why does it change?

John:                                     11:06                     Because of the climate. Like now it’s cold. So the eggs, the chicken are not hatching eggs. Why? Because of the weather. It’s cold. Some who, supposing you didn’t feed them properly? They won’t hatch.

Sam:                                      11:23                     Yeah.

John:                                     11:23                     But if you feed them proper, they will hatch. It goes with the weather and the type, of Type of food you are giving the chicken. There are chicken which, you can, you can have at least 500 chicken, but you are giving them bad, bad.

Sam:                                      11:45                     Bad food,

John:                                     11:45                     Bad food. So the production will be low. But if you give the, the quality, the best quality. They will still, they’ll hatch.

Sam:                                      11:53                     Okay, that’s good. And so you can always get, so normally though you’re always able to get eggs?

John:                                     12:00                     I tell you there are over 1000, 10,000 farmers, over

Sam:                                      12:06                     Okay. So there is no problem with getting eggs

John:                                     12:09                     Getting eggs, unless you don’t have money. Now that time, you can say you won’t get but when you have money you definitely have to get, even if it’s 1000 trays.

Sam:                                      12:20                     Yeah.

John:                                     12:21                     You get them, you pay, you get them, you put them in your car, back off, you go..

Sam:                                      12:27                     Okay. So that’s so it seems like you’ve got quite a good supply chain as in it’s quite simple. You can go, they’re all the…

John:                                     12:34                     But the problem here is only the available money cause I wanted to buy more than at least a hundred and but I reached 80, I’m squeezed, there are problems here and there. I push a portion, so I’m close that, I don’t want to do, I don’t want to go below 80. I want to stand at 80. The little I get, I can use that into the family, to school like that. Okay.

Sam:                                      13:04                     And on, on the, on the demand side, so in terms of who’s buying the eggs, so you, you sell them for Ksh 330, is it?

John:                                     13:13                     No, I sell them, the current is Ksh 300.

Sam:                                      13:16                     Ksh 300. OK.

John:                                     13:17                     So I make 10 shillings for transport. So I can, I know I normally get 10 shillings out of one tray. If I have 80, I have, Ksh 800.

Sam:                                      13:29                     Yeah.

John:                                     13:30                     If they are not broken, if they are broken, you might get Ksh 750, 700 like that.

Sam:                                      13:37                     Okay. So each each time you make a trip and you come back with 80 trays, you’re thinking I’m making about 750 shillings.

John:                                     13:47                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      13:47                     Roughly, which is about $7 50.

John:                                     13:50                     Yeah. That one easily I’ll get it.

Sam:                                      13:52                     You’ll get it.

John:                                     13:53                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      13:53                     Okay. So if you, if you go with that, you’ll come back with that.

John:                                     13:56                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      13:57                     Okay. And, I mean we’re, we’re currently sat in the, this is, this is your, your room?

John:                                     14:04                     Yeah. I’m given this room, after working, I sleep here.

Sam:                                      14:10                     This is an apartment.

John:                                     14:10                     Apartment.

Sam:                                      14:12                     And you keep the, store the eggs here?

John:                                     14:17                     No, I keep my eggs here.

Sam:                                      14:19                     So we’re just looking in the corner of the room is

John:                                     14:23                     Yeah, that’s four eggs.

Sam:                                      14:25                     Yeah. .

John:                                     14:26                     And you see when I, like today I want to finish the whole load. I finish the whole load, then I, I know tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, I’ll go for market.

Sam:                                      14:37                     You’ll go to the next. Okay. Who, so I’m one of your customers so I live a few minutes walk away and I will come to you and I’ll pay 300 shillings to get my tray of eggs. Who else is, who else is buying eggs from you? Yeah. Who else comes and buys.

John:                                     14:57                     There are people, a few apartments, like your apartment. I have three, four apartments. I deliver two, three, four, three, three eggs, four eggs, four trays, about, no five plus those two, six apartment. Usually I take, I deliver them there. Okay. There are others who come here, they take, take their, to their business. Small, others big, others, they’re different.

Sam:                                      15:27                     Sometimes it’s businesses?

John:                                     15:29                     They come here, and I leave at least 10 trays with the soldier. Even if I’m not around, they pay the soldier…

Sam:                                      15:36                     When you say the soldier, this is the guard whose at the gate. So this means if…

John:                                     15:41                     You are not around, I leave them there.

Sam:                                      15:44                     Sometimes I’e done that. I’ve come and I’ve asked for, asked for John, you’ve not been here and the guard has said, oh it’s okay, I’ve got the trays.

John:                                     15:52                     Because now the 10 is easy to calculate. I’ve sold four, so you have six. And they gave me a shot and by the end of the day I just push him something small, he’s happy and we call it a day.

Sam:                                      16:07                     Call it a day. Great, and so it’s, sometimes it’s small businesses, sort of like hotels, restaurants.

John:                                     16:13                     Hotels. They are very many. They are many. But now since my time is limited, It’s only morning when I can go out, I deliver, afternoon I’m occupied here. Now you see I can’t go in the afternoon cause I’m working here. But in the morning I utilize the little time I have, I make sure I have surveyed at least every corner and as I make calls then we communicate because I work from morning to noon, from noon I, business of eggs I finish.

Sam:                                      16:49                     Okay.

John:                                     16:50                     Now go back to my business.

Sam:                                      16:53                     Very good.

John:                                     16:56                     If I can get something like a van.

Sam:                                      17:01                     I was about to say, what are the main challenges.

John:                                     17:04                     The challenges are, now you see 800, wee need to transport them in a keen way, you know because in the, you can go to, you hire a car and that man, that taxi man, he’s been called somewhere else. So he’ll drive you faster. By driving you fast, at least, some things are delicate, will be broken. When he reaches, you tell him let’s move cause he want to go to their other costumer. But you have, if you can have, let’s say a personal car, I tell you me, I can’t do any other job. I can do only this. I know I have my 500 trays. I have sold 300, I’m remaining with, I can do now more, only this. Because now the suppliers I know where I’ll get them, beautiful fresh eggs. From there, I knew where to deliver to customers, but then the challenge is transportation

Sam:                                      18:10                     At the moment you have to take it on ‘matatus’ and so it’s, you have to be there and there’s only enough room for about 80 trays. But if you could get the transports, you know that that would be the, that would be the game changer.

John:                                     18:25                     I can, I can be the happiest man in this world cause I know my luggage will go safely, reach, I’ll keep it there.

Sam:                                      18:34                     And would you be able to sell 500 trays? Because at the moment you’re selling 80 trays. That’s like, 500, that’s like 500% that’s like five times as much.

John:                                     18:49                     No. I can sell even 500 but now that, that time I can tell now the boss, I’m a bit tired with the business, I concentrate on eggs only

Sam:                                      19:02                     So how do you, okay. So let’s sort of think, so who, who would buy, who would be your customers? So at the moment you’ve got some small hotels.

John:                                     19:12                     No, I saw I have a small, but others like my neighbor here, he was telling me when I can deliver 300 trays in one week.

Sam:                                      19:21                     And who is that? What did he do?

John:                                     19:24                     You know, he’s a, has a supermarket.

Sam:                                      19:27                     Okay.

John:                                     19:27                     But he’s a Chinese.

Sam:                                      19:29                     Okay.

John:                                     19:29                     Now I can deliver the 300 but financially, I am weak. Second thing, I don’t have something to carry and to bring and to…

Sam:                                      19:40                     You needed the transport.

John:                                     19:42                     Market is there. If I can go outside on a serious game, I can sell 500 trays a day.

Sam:                                      19:49                     500 a day.

John:                                     19:51                     A day, one day, 500.

Sam:                                      19:53                     No.

John:                                     19:54                     I can sell. I sell here three, the others I sell a hundred, I go another corner, a hundred, finished. I go home.

Sam:                                      20:02                     So where did the, where did the, this Chinese supermarket. Where do they currently buy their eggs from?

John:                                     20:08                     You see the Chinese, they like these African eggs.

Sam:                                      20:12                     Okay.

John:                                     20:13                     Because they have looked at them, they saw they are good quality.

Sam:                                      20:19                     Great quality.

John:                                     20:20                     They enjoy them.

Sam:                                      20:22                     Yeah.

John:                                     20:22                     So they need them.

Sam:                                      20:24                     Okay.

John:                                     20:25                     Now they want a constant…

Sam:                                      20:27                     Constant supply.

John:                                     20:28                     Supplier.

Sam:                                      20:29                     Yeah.

John:                                     20:29                     Maybe I used to learn my, I know we know each other, but now me, I, they tell me of 300, I tell them I will see them, but I don’t go back and go another corner. Because they want too much, which I don’t have.

Sam:                                      20:45                     They want…

John:                                     20:45                     They want many.

Sam:                                      20:47                     Yeah, and it’s you can’t, so they want eggs, you don’t have the money to buy.

John:                                     20:51                     I don’t have the money to buy.

Sam:                                      20:53                     Yeah.

John:                                     20:53                     And I don’t, something to deliver, you see. I gave them, but if I can, if they can be, they tell me deliver 300 and I have a car and money, I deliver.

Sam:                                      21:08                     Yeah.

John:                                     21:10                     Okay. One week I can deliver 500, I go to another place, 500 only eggs.

Sam:                                      21:18                     Yeah.

John:                                     21:19                     Only Eggs. And I mix eggs. This grade and ‘Kienyeji.’ There are two types.

Sam:                                      21:25                     Say it again.

John:                                     21:27                     There are these grade.

Sam:                                      21:29                     Gray?

John:                                     21:30                     This grade, is normal.

Sam:                                      21:32                     Okay.

John:                                     21:33                     And the other one, local, local chicken which are, when they go to look for them, their food outside.

Sam:                                      21:41                     Okay. Which, which ones are better?

John:                                     21:44                     Those ones are, they are very rare. They are not many, they’re rare. Cause now you see this is, if you have two brothers you share the small portion you have, you fence yours and maybe he’s growing onion and ‘skuma,’ spinach.

Sam:                                      22:03                     Yeah.

John:                                     22:03                     You don’t need any chicken to go in the garden. So many people have, they have, they have fenced where they’re putting poultry.

Sam:                                      22:16                     Yeah.

John:                                     22:18                     But the others are better than these. They are very rich.

Sam:                                      22:22                     Why? Why are they better?

John:                                     22:23                     Because of the type, their type but honestly, they are good. They are good. But if I were told which, choose among the two, I would choose the other one and they are rich more than, but even these, they are good.

Sam:                                      22:40                     Even these are good.

John:                                     22:42                     Cause many people now. I don’t know, and also there’s no as this one.

Sam:                                      22:47                     Okay. How many do you, do you eat eggs? Do you have eggs to eat?

John:                                     22:54                     No. Let’s say when they are broken, that time I say you now at least, like yesterday I took four. Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:01                     Okay. So when they are, when there’s like some which are slightly broken.

John:                                     23:05                     When they are not broken me, I don’t eat, I sell, I sell. When they’re broken now I say these I don’t know, somebody to sell and I bought them. I bought yesterday.

Sam:                                      23:17                     Yeah. So John, we’ll sort of just finish up now. But basically it’s, I mean I’ve, this is just, it sounds very, very interesting. Like you’ve had the business for, is it two years now?

John:                                     23:35                     No, This is. Yeah. This is the second year.

Sam:                                      23:37                     Second year. Yeah. So you’ve gone from five, five trays.

John:                                     23:40                     Yeah. Now I’m at 80.

Sam:                                      23:42                     Now you’re kind of looking at, okay, how can we get to the…

John:                                     23:46                     If I can get something to boost me, I go instead of going for 80, after one day I go another 80…

Sam:                                      23:54                     At the moment, you’re saying the demand is there. So people want to buy,?

John:                                     24:00                     People want, I tell you my neighbor here, here, the Chinese supermarket, they know me. There’s a time I delivered them but I didn’t, we didn’t go far. They know me. I know they, they delay paying but they pay.

Sam:                                      24:20                     Yeah.

John:                                     24:21                     They are good.

Sam:                                      24:22                     Okay.

John:                                     24:23                     If he tells me bring, he will take them. He sees them. You Count, he writes you an invoice. That’s money. Even if you are not going to get that day, next two days.

Sam:                                      24:37                     Okay. And you recon that, in order to, the thing that you need to grow the business, it’s just the ability to do transport.

John:                                     24:43                     Yeah. If you can get the transport and at least with small capital to add the little you have, you’ll sell. You’ll sell.

Sam:                                      24:55                     Cool. Well, that sounds really good John. I’ll yeah, I’ll certainly be thinking about this and also I will talk to some, some friends.

John:                                     25:03                     Okay.

Sam:                                      25:04                     But yeah.

John:                                     25:05                     I can be very happy. At least somebody, if you can just boost me, small.

Sam:                                      25:10                     Yeah.

John:                                     25:11                     You’ll also see you cause now I won’t tell you of 80, I will tell you 200, 300.

Sam:                                      25:19                     Will you have enough space because at the moment this, at the moment the eggs are in the room but do you need a new place to store them?

John:                                     25:26                     No, I can now talk to the boss here.

Sam:                                      25:29                     Yeah.

John:                                     25:29                     We keep them outside.

Sam:                                      25:31                     It’s a big car-park.

John:                                     25:33                     There’s a small portion. I tell him I will utilize this, because he knows me. [Inaudible] Cause he knows me, I’m a bit hardworking and I don’t have anything else in my mind. I know his time. I know my time.

Sam:                                      25:57                     Yeah.

John:                                     25:59                     No, the place to put, there is. Even I can remove this thing, I put another hundred there, another hundred and another hundred here. The space is still on, yeah.

Sam:                                      26:13                     Awesome. Cool. Well John, thank you so much.

John:                                     26:16                     OK. Thank you Sam.

Sam:                                      26:18                     Asante sana

How a Kenyan couple captured the Japanese market in Kenya, with Wangari Wachira


Near to where I live in Nairobi is a Japanese cafe.

Whenever I’ve been the food has been delicious, and the small place is full of people from Japan, enjoying Ramen bowls and cold imported beer.

I thought it would be interesting to interview the owners to learn about how the business started.

It turns out that the owners Wangari (the other, her husband) have cornered down a niche market in the city.

Both were born and raised in Kenya, independently decided to learn Japanese as kids and ended up getting married after a mutual friend introduced them so they could connect on the shared love for Japan

Today they run a diverse portfolio of businesses to serve Japanese consumers in Kenya.

In the interview we discuss how their businesses came to be, the interplay of owning a safari company, supermarket, cafe and farm all geared towards the Japanese market, and practicalities of, for example, selling Bento boxes in Nairobi.

It’s a really interesting example of finding a business area that’s aligned with your personal interests and skill set, and then occupying that niche to very high standard.


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LinkedIn: Wangari Wachira


Sam:                                      00:00                     Intro

Sam:                                      01:43                     Cool. So we’re here today with Wangari from Jinya, Wangari, welcome to the show.

Wangari:                              01:49                     Thank you very much. Welcome to Jinya.

Sam:                                      01:50                     Thanks. So we’re currently sat drinking Japanese tea in your Japanese supermarkets. Did you call it Japanese supermarkets?

Wangari:                              01:58                     Yes, yes, we do.

Sam:                                      01:59                     Fantastic. And then there’s the cafe just around the corner as well. In the same sort of block.

Wangari:                              02:05                     Yes, that’s right.

Sam:                                      02:06                     Yeah. Just to get us started, can you tell us a bit about Jinya and a bit about yourself?

Wangari:                              02:12                     So Jinya is I started to run Jinya about five years ago after the original founder retired back to Japan. She had been doing this for around 10 years and she wanted to retire and go back to Japan. And so she was looking for people who would either take on, take it on and continue as a way of having continuity and also taking care of the Japanese community that was in Nairobi. At the same time I had sort of also established that I wanted to start a food business and through my husband who has interests in the Japanese community where he runs a safari company that handles Japanese tourists. He had known this lady Reiko for many years by giving her business of the Japanese Bento box. And so when they had known each other for a long time and she mentioned that, you know, she was going back to Japan and she needed to, to get somebody else to continue with the business. And at that point David knew that it will be very suitable for me first because of my love of Japanese culture, Japan, the Japanese people. And he knew that you know, this is something that I might want to try. And so he came and asked, would you be interested to do this? And and I jumped at it and I was like, this is a wonderful idea. Let’s, let me go and see what it is. So I went into her kitchen for around two months just to intern with her and learn about the cuisine and what she was doing. And spending time with her, you know, as I saw that, you know, I could do this I can challenge it and learn more. And and that’s how it started.

Sam:                                      04:15                     Very cool. Okay. So Reiko so she started maybe 15 years ago.

Wangari:                              04:21                     That’s right.

Sam:                                      04:22                     Yeah. So she was in, she was based in Nairobi as well?

Wangari:                              04:24                     That’s right. Yeah.

Sam:                                      04:26                     And did she have the same premises that we’re sat in now?

Wangari:                              04:29                     No. So she’s been in several premises. So the last premise that Jinya was, it was on Riverside drive.

Sam:                                      04:37                     Okay.

Wangari:                              04:38                     It was a house that was, she used it, a multipurpose, it was a geo house. She lived in it and downstairs was the shop. So when she left I also had the same, I didn’t have a premise to set it up in. So I sort of set it up also in my house for a short time as I tried to get a place to position it or a little store like this. In one afternoon when I was doing a delivery and I was on Lenana road I saw the sign of shops to let, and now I, I jumped at the, at the opportunity because in this area that’s where a lot of the Japanese people and Southeast Asians there’s a big number of them who live in this area. So it was the area that I was looking for. And so when this came up in 2015I jumped at it and then I got the space.

Sam:                                      05:37                     Very cool. Okay. Well there’s going to be lots of things sort of for us to talk about with the business, but I think, you know, the thing which I sort of struck with at the beginning was you said that you’ve always had an interest in the Japanese culture and where’s that, where’s that come from?

Wangari:                              05:52                     I’m not sure. Sometimes I say, I think in my past life I must have been Japanese, because I studied the Japanese language when I was studying for college. I was it was an added advantage to have an extra language. So I studied French and I thought to myself, I want to do something different from everybody else. And I think a crazy idea came to my mind. Why don’t I study Japanese? I often ask my mom, so when I said I want to study Japanese, why did you even respond? Because she responded instantly came to the Japanese embassy and asked, is there a place where if somebody is interested in learning Japanese language, they can get? And the funny story is that this I always try to think what an interesting story this is. My Japanese language teacher, the first person who told me about Japan and anything about it is actually was married to Reiko who ended, who I ended up 25 or 20 odd years later buying her business as, so I learned language and culture from Weda Sensei and I learned the food from Reiko Weda interesting cycle.

Sam:                                      07:16                     I know it’s a very influential family.

Wangari:                              07:17                     Yes, yes. They have had a very big influence on me. So back then I just studied the language, a bit of culture, then went into work as work happens, I really did not use…

Sam:                                      07:34                     What did you do?

Wangari:                              07:34                     So I was in the safari business. So I worked in a, I actually ended up in the hospitality section of the safari business where I worked for several camps in Maasai Mara. And a few years, maybe 13, 13 years ago, I left that to come and join my husband in his safari business. And we set up a camp in Maasai Mara also. But,,or everyday work, that does not, didn’t involve me every day. So for, I needed something that I would do something everyday. And being based in Nairobi, hat’s why the food business sounded like a good thing to do. But also, he safari business over the last couple of years has been facing a lot of challenges from terrorism to drop maybe I think a difference of interest in tourists around the world. Having more options to go to, aybe a little bit of under development of our tourist product. So the, the safari business changed and the numbers of tourists that we would receive several years ago really dropped. And so we were thinking that we needed to diversify because we were 100% in that. And that’s where we depended on. And we needed, we felt that we needed to diversify into something that’s not affected by terrorism, that’s not affected very much by political, different political incidences. Something that we could have a little bit more control or predictability to. So we needed to diversify into that area. But with our strengths being in the tourism and hospitality business, e still wanted to be, some way, in that sphere. And also, he investment that we could afford to put in felt, you know, the food business in Nairobi sounded, ooked like, you know, the low lying fruit that we could be able to harness. So we, yeah, so basically that’s how, how Jinya has evolved to where we are today.

Sam:                                      09:53                     Very cool. Okay. So you sort of always had this interest in, in Japanese culture and then various turns and luck, you’ve sort of ended up being here. Is, I mean, the businesses you’ve got, you’ve got the sort of supermarket, which we’re sat in now and the cafe as well. Who were the main customers at in both and did the base sort of differ as well?

Wangari:                              10:21                     So we, we started with, the first people who knew about Jinya was the Japanese customers. They depended on Jinya for certain things. A lot of the handmade foods. Before we did not have the fresh produce. And this is something that I started. Reiko did not have fresh produce. Being business people, we had also ventured into agriculture, agribusiness growing local vegetables, trying to grow flowers for the European market. So we have a farm that we’ve always said we are hobby farmers, but we wanted to end up being a commercial farm that actually works. And we tried various things that didn’t work. And so, the way Jinya was when I took it over, it was also facing challenges in its structure, because there was a lot of influx of supermarkets that were bringing a lot of things that, you know, the Japanese could depend on.

Sam:                                      11:27                     So previously, was it sort of a, a specialists store and so that it would import particular Japanese products?

Wangari:                              11:36                     Yes, there was a little bit of import and very targeted just to the Japanese community. But for it to survive, it needed us to go more beyond just the Japanese community and we needed also to give them more than what was being offered then. So, we still have pretty much a number of things that Reiko used to, used to supply, you know, the sliced meats, the miso, the miso paste and the tofu and various other things. But we then added the fresh produce. So I just went onto the internet and I asked myself, you know, do the Japanese eat other things, other vegetables that are not available in Nairobi. And I went to the Internet and I saw, wow, there was a whole list of other vegetables that I could grow.

Sam:                                      12:32                     Alright. So someone had made a list of these are the main vegetables eaten in Japanese cuisine?

Wangari:                              12:38                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      12:39                     And you could then sort of go through them and see if they were already being grown in Kenya?

Wangari:                              12:44                     Yes. So that’s what I did. And then we started to, to try, so growing different things.

Sam:                                      12:56                     What did you grow?

Wangari:                              12:56                     You know apparently the Japanese have their own radish, a particular radish that is predominantly used in Japanese cuisine. The Koreans have their own radish. So I started to grow the Japanese radish. I started to grow some of the, some bottle cruet. I started to grow some different salads that we have them here. But one of the things you know, the Japanese are very particular about what they eat and they prefer a lot of highly good quality, highly well grown food. So when, when I grow the food on my farm I’m able, they are able to get the traceability of what they eat and then they can trust what they eat because it’s all been grown on one farm. We use good. We are not, we’re not an organic farm, but we use good agricultural practices. You know, we do a lot of positive things like that are in organic farming, like using organic manure pesticide control through pest control, through plants like different plants that that keep away pests. There’s one Japanese vegetable, the Chrysanthemum greens, which is very, a very good pest controller. And so we now grow it on the farm as a vegetable and as a pest, pest control. So we adapt those kinds of things. We have a good water source, so we were able to offer them, we are able to offer our customers, good fresh vegetable, which we bring every once a week from the farm, and we sell on our Saturday vegetable market. And that changed immediately that changed the trajectory of the business. Just bringing in the vegetables because now the Japanese people who are in Nairobi and even others who came to hear about it and they, you know, once in a while they like to eat southeast Asian food or they change a little bit of their food. I mean, you can also get cabbage or lettuce, things that are in continental cuisine, but because of the freshness and the, where they come from and all those guarantees, we’ve grown outside of just the Japanese market. And then we have more.

Sam:                                      15:18                     Alright. So have you, have you always had this farm?

Wangari:                              15:20                     Yes. We’ve always had it.

Sam:                                      15:22                     And before you were saying you were just growing sort of local foods that…

Wangari:                              15:26                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:27                     But now you’ve, now you’ve got this shop that’s, yeah. That’s a great synergy where you’ve had this, this farm before and now you’ve got the supply on the and the vehicle to deliver it.

Wangari:                              15:39                     That’s right.

Sam:                                      15:39                     Yeah. You can now you’ve got this, this market’s delivering suit. Yes. Sounds really great,. Okay.

Wangari:                              15:44                     Yeah. So, it was a struggle to get a consistent market when we grew just for the local market because the local market has a lot of other external influences that you cannot be in control of. So for example, you can plant lots of cabbage and everybody else planted lots of cabbage, so when you come in the market, nobody needs your cabbage. So I started sort of stopped farming first to, to be able to understand which direction that I wanted to take it to. I tried various things like I had, I had had a little stall in one local market, but it was still very difficult to predict what to grow, when to grow it and all that. But then now when we created our own market here that had a specific kind of food that you would find I found that now that made sense and we have gone, we can continuously now plan based on that. And even our growth, we can easily plan based on that because we have seen the trends that has been said.

Sam:                                      16:51                     Alright. So, the Japanese community that was there before you, where they unable to get Japanese radish?

Wangari:                              17:01                     Yeah. You know.

Sam:                                      17:03                     How many people, roughly how many Japanese people are roughly living in…

Wangari:                              17:06                     I understand that about probably 800 of them families, many children and adults and children.

Sam:                                      17:14                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              17:14                     Not very many, but we expect you know them to increase because, you know, Japan is increasing its, position in Africa and interest in Africa and Kenya being it’s hub for a lot of this. I have seen you know, increase in Japanese companies, so I expect that the growth shall continue. Yeah.

Sam:                                      17:38                     Okay. So roughly 800, is it roughly 800 people?

Wangari:                              17:43                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              17:44                     Okay. Doesn’t sound very many, does it? No, no. It’s a very small number. How many have you, how many different Japanese people do you think have come to your cafe?

Wangari:                              17:58                     When we said the cafe, I have seen Japanese people who were never customers of the shop, the supermarket come to the cafe, which has been wonderful because they mainly, they were local. They know how to survive here with, without necessarily their Japanese favorite ingredients. They have figured a way to survive. But somehow the cafe has brought them out. And I’ve got to meet the new, new Japanese people that have been here. You know, some telling me they’ve been here for so long and I’m like, I’ve never met you before. How come? So I mean we, we’ve gotten a good number of them coming through. The goodness about the thing about the cafes that we are doing home home-style cooking and, and that’s very close to a lot of Japanese people’s heart,so.

Sam:                                      18:57                     What are some of the popular dishes? Yeah.

Wangari:                              19:00                     Some of the popular dishes they keep changing because I keep changing the menu but you know I have a lot of, a lot of Japanese people are our bachelors. They haven’t yet come with family. Some, some don’t have families. We are seeing also very many young, younger Japanese coming. And one of our most popular is Katsudon. So katsudon is a, dong is a bowl of rice with something on top. So this one has a cutlet, a pork Cutlet and it has an egg sauce. So that’s real home cooking and it’s comfort food. There’s also shogayaki. Shogayaki is pork in ginger. Also very easy to make at home. And probably eaten a lot. There’s a Japanese curry and we can have various twists to the curry. We can have a cutlet in it, we can have a curry soup. So there are many other options. And, and the good thing that I’ve also found out is that when I introduced them to non-Japanese people also, because one of the aims of creating the cafe was I realized that my store might not have a big influence or a big impact if I do not reach out to more of the local people and they would come to the store and, you know, they would look at all these strange things to them. And I would tell them, I know this, I mean, you could cook this at home, you can eat this at home. It’s not complicated. You can adopt a Japanese meal once a week in your menu, and they would look at me and say, well, okay. And they would walk out of the store. And so I thought to myself, you know, if I could only cook this food and get people to taste it then they would see the, you know, when I was talking about and so to take care of people who asked me for Bento boxes and, and food in general, and also to take care of growth for us. We thought, you know what, let’s put up a cafe. So when the space came available, just here, you know, it’s perfect to have it just here. So if somebody enjoyed something at the cafe, they could come and pick it up from the store and then they could try it at home.

Sam:                                      21:30                     So who does the, whose the chef, who does the cooking at the cafe.

Wangari:                              21:36                     I have a team. I have a main chef who, we, we searched for with our history, knowing there was a Japanese restaurant several years ago that was run by a Japanese chef. He was a chef and he ran the business. And so we, it was shut a few years ago. So we went out all the way to Kitengela, to go and look for some of the people that he had trained. And we had one, my husband had one.

Sam:                                      22:08                     What were they doing in Kitengela?

Wangari:                              22:08                     They, you know, they would, now they’re doing different things. So we tracked them down through one waiter that was in one of the Japanese restaurants and he was a colleague to one of their chefs and we asked him, so where is so and so, do you know where so and so he was there. He was their manager at the it was called Nihonjin club. Nihonjin club means a Japanese people club. And so he was the manager at Nihonjin Club. And we were told that you can find him in kitengela. That’s where he has a school.

Sam:                                      22:44                     Kitengela is like, maybe an hour drive from…

Wangari:                              22:46                     Yeah. Or towards Athi river. So, you know we got his contact and we met and we went and met him there. And, you know, so we asked him, you know, do you have contacts of the people who you worked with who could be young, who are younger then, who had been trained how to make Japanese food and where could they be and what are they doing? And he had the contact of two of them. Unfortunately one was not interested in coming back to Nairobi, he had already settled in his rural life. And I think we didn’t entice him enough. But his specialty was also making Sushi and we really were not geared to making Sushi because Sushi is not Japanese home food. It’s also for special occasions, even in Japan. So we were not very keen on having a Sushi, just a Sushi chef. We wanted somebody who was more, who wouldn’t be, who knew more about the Japanese traditional foods. And then, that’s how we ended up with the chef John. The other rest of the team was the junior team, so we used to do Bento boxes.

Sam:                                      24:00                     What was a bento box?

Wangari:                              24:01                     So a bento box is a traditional lunchbox in Japan. It’s very popular to have a boxed lunch for lunch. So it’s either from home or from the train station or from the convenience store. So when you go to Japan, you’ll see these lunch boxes all over the place and they are wholesome, very delicious. You know, it’s, it’s an everyday.

Sam:                                      24:24                     What’s in there?

Wangari:                              24:25                     It will have, there would be, they have a variety of them. And you know, in Japan they see four seasons where, which they use to even change their cuisines. So because, you know, in different seasons you get differentdifferent ingredients. So they change, they sometimes change based on the four seasons, but you get the regular karare, which is the fried chicken, the tonkatsu, which is the breaded pork. You get the shogayaki, you know, so you get the daily kind of food, but you know, emphasis is into food that is not soupy, that will not leak, that will still be enjoyable cold because it’s enjoyed at room temperature. So a lot of emphasis is based on that. You will find a rice ball in it or a, or just some rice some vegetables. So it will be a nicely balanced boxed lunch that you can enjoy in different places in Japan.

Sam:                                      25:23                     So do you sell bento boxes?

Wangari:                              25:26                     Yes, yes.

Sam:                                      25:29                     Do people bring their own box and then you fill it up or do they do…

Wangari:                              25:34                     There’s disposable. So there are disposable boxes and we arrange depending on, so you, what you do is that you choose the main, the main that you would want to have. So let’s say you want to have fried chicken and then we choose the other accompaniments to go with the fried chicken. So there’s, we balance the textures, the flavors, the colors, you know, we have to pay attention to lots of details in Japanese, when you’re making Japanese food. There’s the rule of five, five colors.

Sam:                                      26:06                     Five colors per meal?

Wangari:                              26:07                     Five tastes and five methods of cooking.

Sam:                                      26:10                     Really? So five methods of cooking for every meal?

Wangari:                              26:12                     For every meal. Yeah. But somehow they get it. I guess you can, you could have about four, but you know, you can try. The five colors sort of help you to know that you have a balanced meal and that you have taken care of all your nutritional requirements.

Sam:                                      26:31                     Did you do like a different lunch each day that people get?

Wangari:                              26:34                     So we have about, I think there are five, five different sets that we have made just to make it easier for lots of people to be able to order a bento box, and also coming from for the Japanese people they’re used to it. You know, whatever is in the Bento box, you look at it and they have a lot of variety in their convenience store. So you look at whatever you want. But here, because we don’t have already so many people, who are taking different, bento boxes, we tried to create about five. So you can get around five of them from our option, you just pick what you like.

Sam:                                      27:09                     Do people come into the store, coming to the cafe everyday and pick it up and then go, or do they do the pre-order?

Wangari:                              27:15                     So they pre-order, you know, a bento box needs to be pre-planned because there are little other things in it that take time to be prepped. So, you know, it’s it’s always we say that you have to order your bentobox before 10 o’clock. If it’s for lunch if it’s for dinner, you have to order it before three o’clock. So that we can be able to make it a complete bento box.

Sam:                                      27:41                     How much does it cost?

Wangari:                              27:41                     So they vary from I think our least bento box goes for 950. And the highest is about 1,500.

Sam:                                      27:49                     Okay. So between 10 and $15.

Wangari:                              27:51                     Yes.

Sam:                                      27:53                     Is that quite expensive?

Wangari:                              27:54                     Well, it I think it is, it’s reasonable.

Sam:                                      27:59                     OK.

Wangari:                              28:00                     In Nairobi, it’s reasonable. What we’ve also done is that we’ve also, one of the things that I keep challenging at the cafe is to be able to have reasonably priced food that’s well balanced, that you know, where you get value for, for what you’re paying for. So we’ve, it’s something that I have that we have worked very hard on to try and make sure that, you know, it’s, it’s something that you can afford for a daily lunch. You know, like when you go to the other cafes you, you spend about the same amount of money and, and you don’t even get the variety that you can get, that you get in a, in a bento box. So yeah, it’s great value.

Sam:                                      28:41                     Yeah. Cool. How does the, how do the businesses interplay with the safari business? You mentioned that you’ve diversified, but I think you said you still, you still kept the safari business. Is, is David having a lot of Japanese tourists?

Wangari:                              28:59                     So yeah, so we still maintain that. And that actually is David’s core business. The cafe and Jinya, he, he supports but his core business is the safari business and the comp in Maasai Mara and, and his business is still 95%, almost 100% Japanese clientele.

Sam:                                      29:24                     How did he get into that at the beginning?

Wangari:                              29:27                     So it’s a very interesting story also. I mean, he also out of we hadn’t met, I hadn’t met him and he also went to study Japanese.

Sam:                                      29:36                     Roughly how many people go to study Japanese in Kenya?

Wangari:                              29:43                     It’s not a big number, but it’s been growing. When we did it, we were very few.

Sam:                                      29:50                     Yeah,

Wangari:                              29:51                     I know about, to this day, I know about five people who we went to school with around the same time. But it’s been growing. The numbers grow, slightly.

Sam:                                      30:04                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              30:04                     I think it will grow even more because of the plans that the Japanese government has. And it would be an advantage to learn the language because there are opportunities there are big opportunities with working for Japanese businesses or even working in Japan or even going to school in Japan. So, yeah. So expect that to.

Sam:                                      30:32                     You and David both, so I’ve got to ask, how did you guys meet and did you, and how soon did you realize that you both learnt Japanese?

Wangari:                              30:42                     I always, I think of our interest in Japan and Japanese culture is what brought us together because one of his friends or colleagues was talking to me on the phone and where I worked. And he’s, and you know, he told him, you know, there’s this girl that I know who also speaks Japanese. Like you. Yeah. Oh. And I think David, out of curiosity must’ve said I want to meet her. That’s, that’s unique. And I think our love and our passion for many things, Japanese brought us together. And the rest is history. So we’re, so it’s been a, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to be able to bring together that passion and it has brought us this business opportunity to also venture into.

Sam:                                      31:40                     So the fact that David could speak Japanese, that kind of meant that he was a natural fit for yeah. Being, run safaris for Japanese tourists.

Wangari:                              31:49                     That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So he was employed at the time. He worked for a safari company that had a lot of Japanese tourists but was not employed for very long because then he started his own company. And just last week, 1st of July, we celebrated 20 years.

Sam:                                      32:07                     Wow!

Wangari:                              32:08                     Of his, of that company of Great Land. And so we have continued, so we, we still make Bento, so now we make Bento boxes for Great Land.

Sam:                                      32:18                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              32:19                     And their customers, and other safari companies that have Japanese tourists. We still make the Bento boxes cause they, you know, when Japanese tourists come, sometimes they really miss their home food after being in in, out on holiday for maybe 10, 10 or so days. So it’s always a good opportunity for them to eat something that’s close to home.

Sam:                                      32:47                     Yeah, definitely. So did you make them in the cafe and then sort of distribute them? No, no.

Wangari:                              32:53                     Yeah. So we make them at the cafe and then when the, depending on what itinerary the customer has, they either come and pick it up from here or we drop them, it off to some convenient place to them. So it all depends on, on the nature of the, of the safari. Sometimes we do them when they’re departing to, to the airport, you know, they’re like, oh, I’m so tired of this continental food. I would love to have some Japanese food on my way back out. So,

Sam:                                      33:24                     Yeah. Okay. So you’ve got sort of like, you’ve got safari, you’ve got the farm, you’ve got the, the supermarket and the cafe, all sort of seem to have synergies with each other. Is there something which is missing? Is there, from doing this, are you like, oh, there’s an opportunity here. If we, I don’t know, started a tea company or your, or your something, is there anything that you can sort of, you can see how this trend might continue?

Wangari:                              33:53                     There’s lots of things, but we are also at a point where we, we want to focus our attention to developing the supermarket because there’s potential to develop that. The cafe we’ve just started and we can see the potential in that. So one of the, this, to take you back a little bit in 2016 as we were trying to, think we, you know, we could see the dangers and what was happening to the tourism industry and the way it was becoming unreliable and undependable. So we decided to take a trip to Japan to go and learn what were the Japanese trends for the safari business. We went basically for the safari business. And I also went on a, we also went on a culinary journey to try and get different tastes of the Japanese food and to understand the Japanese food better. But our main agenda was to try and go and understand where the Japanese tourists’ mind was. So that we could come back here and prepare ourselves for that. And but there had also been a lot of talk of diversify the tourists, the Kenyan tourist product, you know, that it was getting tired and same old, same old. So we weren’t, we constantly had this question, what does that mean? Diversify and different and because, you know, everybody was doing safari or a hotel or a safari company and now we could see where the challenges were. So we kept on asking ourselves, what can we do? We don’t have the kind of money to start an amusement park. That’s a diversification, that’s a product that can be put out here, but you know, that needs big money. So, so we went on this trip not knowing what we were gonna find. And so we went for Japan travel fair, one of the biggest in the world. And in that there was some side meetings and for love of food I picked one that had to do with gastronomic tourism. I was, I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t even know what it meant until I attended the meeting, but it, you know, had food and it had tourism. So I was like, you know, that’s a good mix. Then we also attended an outbound tourism one and an inbound tourism one. We wanted to understand everything. And the gastronomic tourism side meeting is what inspired the cafes. We’re gonna do this. We always played with the idea, but, you know, we didn’t not, maybe have the thing, the drive, the push, the reason, the confidence to go for it. And, and in that meeting, I went and learned that food in Japan is their tourist product is the product that they sell. So every, every tourist around the world going to Japan, goes for food. And I was like, oh, there’s diversification right there. So let’s go and diversify the product and let’s make a restaurant. And maybe we shall attract the tourists to our restaurants also. But more so attract the local people. And then this is not dependent on terrorism. It’s not, it doesn’t get hurt by terrorism much because the locals, once they know to the Japanese food, they will still come to the restaurant. And so that’s how we diversify the tourism product that needed diversification and improvement and our own having another business that we could rely on for ourselves. So at that meeting we learned a lot. Then we came to implement more confidently that, you know, we were not just targeting the Japanese who are living here and that this is something that we could grow into various, into various directions. So in Japan, there’s so much good food, different kinds of food small restaurants. So, you know, we came from a background of you have to have big restaurants to make economic sense to make business sense and you know, we went and so very small, tiny restaurants with six seats or nine seats or 15 seats. So that really was helped us to be able to bring down our, to set up you know, at a point where we were comfortable. I don’t like big, I never imagined having a very big restaurant, but when I went to Japan and so that, you know, what I have in my imagination can actually work. I’m always afraid of mass. I’m afraid of mass production of especially food. So I couldn’t do, I think if I saw 50 people I would shut, I’d have a mental shutdown. But when I see a few people and I can control the product and the quality, that’s very important for me. And that’s very much the way they do it in Japan. So I was able to see firsthand how I could actually actualize something that was just in my mind or just in our mind and how we could do it at our scale. So the restaurant is just a 25 seater. In Japanese numbers, it’s almost two restaurants. So we are happy with that.

Sam:                                      40:03                     Okay. Well, just a few more questions if that’s all right. I’m interested, since you’ve sort of started working on this full time what have been some of the surprises that you’ve had? So if you sort of compare what it was like when you started compared to what it is now, like what are some of the ways in which it’s different?

Wangari:                              40:25                     The surprises, can I think of some surprises some pleasant surprises from especially from our Japanese customers is they have said that our, in Nairobi, they think we are the most authentic. Even visiting Japanese people who will live in Japan most of the time and they’ll be just visiting, they’ve also made that comment and they’ve also made comments like some of the foods you get here is in Tokyo quality. So that’s, those are pleasant surprises. I don’t know. I don’t think that we expected too match that. I always wanted to do, my aim, I always aim for the best. So I always tell my staff we have to be the best Japanese restaurant. But that’s just saying it. Actualizing it is another thing and I didn’t know what that meant. And you know, the standards in Japan are so high that, you know, when the Japanese say that, then you know that you’ve started on the right footing. Other surprises is that not just Japanese people come to the restaurant.

Sam:                                      41:41                     Yeah, myself included.

Wangari:                              41:43                     Yourself included. You know, I did. I was, I have been surprised where did this people, where were this all this people, but I know from having attended that meeting in 2016 that the Japanese government or the Tourism Department of the Japanese government about 30 years ago made this policy to make Japanese food known around the world. And so when you go to America, if you go to Europe you go to Asia Japanese food is slowly becoming very, very popular among the people not just Sushi. Even other different things. At that meeting we were showing how Japanese food names that are in Japanese are found in some of the haute cuisine, French restaurants in France or…

Sam:                                      42:38                     What do you mean?

Wangari:                              42:38                     So, for example, maybe I remember one was hamachi, hamachi is a type of fish. So you would look at the menu in a French restaurant, fine dining French restaurant that is selling hamachi, but they don’t call it the French name or the English name, yellow tail. It is named in the French restaurant, whatever, hamachi something but in a French restaurant or different Japanese ingredients you would find being adopted in other cuisines. So they have successfully managed to get other people to adopt, other chefs around the world to adapt Japanese styling, Japanese ingredients into their restaurants. And so that’s the reason why everybody now they, they can attract around 2 million tourists into Japan and almost all those tourists are not going to see the temples and the old, and the other different cultures there. One of the biggest thing is that they want to go to all these ramen restaurants, tonkatsu restaurants, Japanese tea ceremony or the much longer kaiseki, which is a, you know, like the haute cuisine of Japanese food. So yeah.

Sam:                                      44:01                     Alright. Any challenges?

Wangari:                              44:04                     Yeah. I think the farm is the biggest challenge of all of them. Farming is, has a lot of enemies. I think from the sun, the African sun you know, the heat.

Sam:                                      44:22                     Is it too hot?

Wangari:                              44:24                     It’s too hot for some the vegetables. I have had to put infrastructure there to be able to help my veggies grow peacefully and happily. But slowly, we have overcome some of those, but I don’t think there’s anything like overcoming farming challenges because the different seasons present different challenges. Other challenges, just the strings of business, you know, when you have to, when you’re running the business yourself and you’re thinking everything and setting it up. So, you know, from start up of, I’m not Japanese so I have to read a lot, so that I do not make, any blunders or any obvious mistakes that would offend the Japanese people.

Sam:                                      45:18                     Have you done any of those? Have you made like a little blunder or like something in the menu?

Wangari:                              45:24                     I think so, but they’re very gentle with me.

Sam:                                      45:28                     They don’t take offense?

Wangari:                              45:30                     They don’t take offense, some are very nice. They come back and they tell me, you know, that’s not the way we do it. You could try this or the other. And so they if you go to the cafe, you will see, I have another second menu that I’ve never really printed on the proper menu. And that second menu has been developed by our customers and they came and suggested different things. And so they would come and say, what I did is when I launched the cafe, I sent a message to all of my customers from the store. And I told them there’s a Japanese drama series that I love to watch and it’s based on a little restaurant. It’s called midnight diner. And the story behind Midnight diner is that the chef does not have a menu. And what you do, you come in, requests whatever you want and provided he has the ingredients, he’ll make it. And so I told my customers I’m going to have a simple menu, but please come to the restaurant and if you see, if you want something just request it and if we have the ingredients, we’ll make it. And so the second menu has actually been developed out of that. Because I wanted to you know, when I opened the restaurant I wanted I was not very sure what to put in. You know, if you think about all the Japanese food that you could put in a menu, then you would not be able to run a restaurant. So I needed to start with some of the favorites, some home favorites and also some not so home favorites because people go to restaurants to eat some of the things that they can not enjoy at home that you know, are only made in restaurants or are best made in restaurants. Not necessarily that not made at home. And various other things. So my, I’ve been fortunate that the customers have come forward with different suggestions and they think about it, you know, they come and tell them, you know, you can make this, it’s not so difficult and everything is available and people love it. And then I’m also very responsive to my customers because that’s actually how we have grown the store. By listening to them and talking to them and asking them lots of questions about what’s, what don’t we have, what do you need and what can’t you find and we can provide it. And so we’ve developed the many that way.

Sam:                                      48:05                     Fantastic. Very cool. And people who are listening at home, how can they learn more about Jinya? How can they, where can they find you in Nairobi? What’s sort of the best way for people to try and sort of learn more?

Wangari:                              48:16                     We have online presence. You can find us on the social media. We are on Facebook, we are on Google maps. I have, I’m not very tech savvy, social media savvy. I have an Instagram that I don’t remember to upload photos on. My daughters tell me I don’t know how to do it. So I think I’ve lost the confidence to do it at all. So yeah, but we are here on Lenana road both the restaurant and the, and the shop. So you can easily find us there. I love to cook and I, and I want more people to adopt one or two Japanese recipes in their menu. It’s really it brings variety into your weekly dinners or weekly meals. If you could adapt a few Japanese tricks, you could be much more healthier and you would feel very good.

Sam:                                      49:16                     Well actually, I mean I’m, I need, I need to decide what I’m going to have for dinner tonight. So what, what would you recommend that I could bare in mind. I don’t eat meat, so what would you recommend? What’s a good Japanese which I can mate. I can make my sleeping.

Wangari:                              49:30                     Yeah you know, Japanese food is very, very healthy. Actually, you asked me about challenges at the cafe. Taking care of vegetarians in Japanese cuisine is a very big challenge because the Japanese are not vegetarian. They are, they have a very healthy cuisine that knows how to consume the red meats and the meats and all but they don’t have much emphasis on vegetarian. But you can get various vegetarian options. You know, tofu is very healthy and very nutritious. And you could do so many things with tofu. You can have it for a meal, you can have it for a snack you can have it with your salad. And it can be a very good source of your protein. If you stir fry with mushroom and then just add the teriyaki sauce or just soy sauce to it, you, have a good vegetarian, well balanced, delicious meal.

Sam:                                      50:34                     Right. It seems we stopped recording. I’ll go buy that.

Wangari:                              50:37                     Yeah,

Sam:                                      50:38                     Very cool and well Wangari, thanks so much.

Wangari:                              50:40                     Thank you very much for coming.

Sam:                                      50:41                     Cheers.

Big retail CEO Daniel Githua explains the role of supermarkets formalising the East African economy


Some of the biggest and most visible players in any country are the supermarkets.

They employ thousands of people, have a wide geographic presence and interact with many aspects of the economy through supply chains and products sold.

Tuskys is one of the biggest in Kenya, and East Africa, and in this episode I interview Daniel Githua the CEO.

The interview was pencilled in to take 30 minutes, but there ended up being so much interesting stuff that we continued recording, meaning it’s one of the longer episodes on the show to date.

I think part of the reason was the depth of insights that Daniel had, and the frankness with which he spoke about both opportunities and current downsides in running the business.

Some highlights from the interview include: the macro trends in formalising the retail sector in Kenya and how reaching new towns transforms the local economy, the biggest opportunities he sees for retail products across different categories, and how the market may change in the coming years, with the introduction of large international retailers like Carrefour and Shoprite

If you’re interested in other interviews about food and retail, look to episodes on Cooked BeansInvoice Financing and especially on Coconuts which talks a lot about the struggles manufacturers have with payment terms when selling to supermarkets, something Daniel recognised that the retail industry has to address.

At times there might be a bit of shuffling, and sips of tea (the Tuskys staff were very accommodating) and so please excuse and slurps or shuffles which exist at the beginning – or at least when the tea was still hot.


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Accountant by background

Daniel started as an auditor with Deloitte. He then wanted to look at entrepreneurship, and considered the two companies Nairobi Women’s Hospital and Tuskys.

Tuskys is a mass-market supermarket

Furniture, clothing, amenities and fresh food. Currently 63 stores in the region, looking to grow to Ethiopia and the east of DR Congo.

My Mum is a milk farmer

She sells her milk to a local processor which then has it appearing on the shelves in Tuskys. For this, you need advanced IT systems and processes.

Tuskys began with a small grocery store

A few hours from Nairobi in Nakuru. The focus was on training local people, his sons joined and they grew from there.

We open shops to empower communities

Many times Tuskys becomes the largest employer in town – it transforms the local economy.

What determines opening a new store?

1. settlement patterns 2. trade routes. A high volume of traffic is what makes a new site attractive. This was helped by Kenya’s devolution of power, which gave greater power to local government, such as with Narok.

How Tuskys transforms a town

By creating jobs for 300-400 employees there are ancillary services (such as housing) which need to be met.

Increasing demand through availability

In the case of Narok, there historically wasn’t the option for premium products such as, say, mouthwash. By Tuskys opening there is some simple switching from the informal sector (fruits) and others are products which previously only existed in the capital Nairobi.

We don’t have many own label products

This loses our focus. Our main objective is to create the market where consumers meet the manufacturers. Whilst the market is yet to be exploited we don’t wish to conflict with our suppliers. When you have your own product, you begin limiting what the consumer has.

Listing as a supplier

Quite simple really. Starts with having government approval. Then want clarity on the types of customers that you want. Can you show in your product that you’re going for. How does this compare with the competition? How do you match with them?

Gross margin on foodstuff

Is roughly 16-18%. The time it spends on the shelf differs by category. Fresh is for 2-3 days. Dry foods 14 days. Clothing 45 days.

“The best yoghurt in town”

This is how a Dutch Private Equity investor sold his vision of creating one of the leading brands of yoghurt in Kenya. He said it’s going to be expensive, but it’s going to be the best. He’s doing very well.

Other opportunities lie in…

Processed meats (bacon, sausages), cooking oils (premium olive oils are now on every table), premium pasta, fruit jam, personal care items (shampoos, lotions)

Human capital gap

It’s impossible to find a good buyer locally. The skills to negotiate with buyers are low. There isn’t the experience, and so Tuskys have decided to train them, often on projects abroad.


This is a big issue for retailers as there are no established processes in place. How inventory moves around is still quite informal.

International retailers are coming!

This brings a different kind of competition to the market. The biggest effect is that payment terms needs to be more disciplined. Manufacturers no longer tolerate the long payment terms and so retailers need to get better at paying on time.

Consolidation in Kenya retailers

There are likely to be “Tier 2” retailers in the sector who will merge to get better buying power with manufacturers.


Certain standards for being good retailers: payment terms, transparent payment terms, treatment of workers, CSR etc.

e-commerce opportunities

Electronics, personal brand items and textiles are moving quickly. Logistics isn’t an issue, as customers want to come by to the Tuskys store.

Lessons & Insights

Surprises: gaps in human capital and pilferage of stock

Biggest lesson: “It is shocking how much opportunity exists in food retailing in Kenya”

Biggest insight: only 30% of retail in East Africa is formal. This is increasing 2% each year which presents a big opportunity.


Overview of Food in East AfricaLessons from interviewing Food entrepreneurs in East Africa.

A “one for one” model delivering nutritious hot lunches for schoolchildren, with Wawira Njiru


Most people have somewhat underwhelming memories of school lunches.

Bland, uninteresting food which likely compelled you to go off at break time to the local shop and eat sugary doughnuts, a chocolate bar and a bag crisps. Or chips, for our American listeners.

This dynamic is somewhat similar in the Ruira county of Kenya, just outside the capital Nairobi.

The difference though, is that the option of meals at school is non-existent.


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That is until Wawira Njiru started Food 4 Education, an organisation that provides nutritious and affordable meals to 1,600 school kids every day.

She and I cover all parts of the operation including setting up relationships with schools,the economies of scale in their food production and how the school meal programme is funded by their for profit catering business, as well as (indirectly) from the Lonely Planet travel guide company.

This episode is a great example of a organisation stepping in to fill a market need, with the help of other interested parties.

Wawira and I talk about how she feels there is not a wholly sustainable business model in just providing affordable lunches in rural schools, but I think you’ll agree after listening that undertaking creative ways to make it sustainable, including lessons from India, is a good thing for the world.

In market economies, entrepreneurs are typically drawn to businesses that will yield the greatest profit.

If two options involve the same input of time and resource, traditional economics would suggest that the one that is most likely to give high returns is favourable.

Of course though, many entrepreneurs have other motives at play, and Wawira Njiru is one such person – pursuing the business of delivering affordable nutritious meals to low-income Kenyan school kids.

The facts around the importance of good nutrition are compelling on both an academic and anecdotal level.

Many studies point to the positive correlation of nutritious food and school attendance, and you also instinctively that if you don’t have a midday meal – your concentration wanes in the afternoon.

This episode is all about how Food 4 Education is bridging that gap, by taking a “for profit” mentality to tackling a societal problem where, under normal conditions, the market wouldn’t solve it.

We discuss the intricasies of their model, as well as plans to scale in line with a Public Private Partnership in India that serves 1,600,000 school meals each day.

Wawira’s recommendation to policymakers is that, because Indian law mandates Corporate Social Responsibility, programmes such as providing nutritious school meals have much more support, and can a greater impact.

It is, for me at least, a great example of co-ordinating multiple parties with similar needs to solve an issue that would otherwise be overlooked.

Lessons and Insights

Biggest insight: schoolkids don’t need shiny laptops, they need wholesome hot meals.

Biggest surprise: I need to be thinking waaaay bigger with what this can achieve.

Find them Online



Kenya’s first local producer of coconut goods. Kentaste’s hustle to get in supermarkets and more


One of the growing international product categories is goods made from coconuts.

The health, and taste, benefits of coconut oil and coconut milk have caused a rise in demand for these types of product

In Kenya, hundreds of thousands of coconuts are grown each year, and yet were not processed into these high value goods.

In this episode I talk with Sakina from Kentaste, Kenya’s first coconut good producer.

We discuss the process of making coconut products from their coastal factory, knocking on doors at supermarkets to get listed and then paid and how to use coconut oil with your dog

As a consumer of Kentaste products, which is part of why I wanted to go and interview them, I can also say that it’s really good stuff.

In any case, I hope you enjoy this packed interview with Sakina about all things coconuts


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“Oil, milk and cream”

These are the main coconut products that we produce since 2012. I head up the Sales & Marketing.

“Our farmers supply exclusively to us”

We collect coconuts from up and down the coast, bring them to our factory and then process them into products.

“2,000 farmers”

Supply to both of our companies. One is Kentaste, the other is just oil for export.

“There’s a different processes”

Milk and cream in one way, oil in another. We have to decide how we’ll use a coconut as you can’t do both.

“We choose based on demand”

The oil is a higher margin product, but we decide what to make based on orders that come in.

“Kentaste is in all major supermarkets”

Some buy huge volumes directly from us, though almost all of our customers buy through a supermarket in Kenya.

“The challenge is in getting paid”

Working with supermarkets is difficult. They say they’ll pay in 60 days, but it ends up being 120+ days. This makes running the business really difficult.

“Cash flow is so difficult in this industry”

We’re at the mercy of when supermarkets will pay us, and so we’re always seeking out investment options that can help with us getting cash in the business.

“It’s difficult to get listed in any supermarket”

The process is long-winded, requiring sending samples and price lists. They often forget about you and so it requires you to follow up incessantly.

“Every week we go to the supermarkets”

We go to the Head Offices of each supermarket on rotation, knocking on doors to make sure that they don’t forget about us.

“If sales start moving, orders keep coming”

Though if they’re not, then work needs to be done on markeing to get people buying more. They won’t tell you if sales are down, it’ll just be that the orders stop.

“Middle to upper class, mostly women”

Are the major demographic. A lot are using coconut oil for cosmetic reasons. We know this from supermarket data but also talking to customers at trade shows.

“We’re the only local producers of coconut products”

Compared to imported alternatives. Everything about Kentaste is local, all the way down to where we “source” our employees…

“It’s not an easy business to run…”

Which might be why we’re the only guys doing it. Sometimes there are no coconuts which farmers can bring to us, and there are issues with running a manufacturing business professionally.

“Coconuts grow best at the coast”

The climate is better grown here, rather than in Nairobi. In the rainy season, the farmers can’t climb the trees to bring them down which affects supply. Most is from just having coconuts on their plot of land rather than commercial farms.

“We can roll out products within a day”

If we get coconuts in the morning, then by the afternoon we have tins of coconut milk ready to go.

“Kentaste is ‘The Kenyan Taste’”

It’s not wholly associated with coconuts but with all-natural products, such as flour and other products. For coconuts, we’re also thinking scented baby oils and cosmetics.

“Use coconut oil with your animals”

Add it to their shampoo to give them a glossy coat of fur and remove fleas.

Social Media Follows etc.

Supermarkets: “you will find us everywhere”
Facebook: Kentaste Products Limited 
Instagram: Kentaste Products Limited

Why GetIt need to use Whatsapp to deliver food produce in Rwanda, with Lauren Russell


Fresh produce delivery has traditionally been an informal industry in Rwanda. Reliably ordering food isn’t really a thing and so after finishing a contract at the Nike Foundation, Lauren Russell decided to set up GetIt as a way for businesses and consumers to have an easy way of ordering food.

We go into how companies like GetIt are compensating for legacy infrastructure deficiencies, considerations in linking international brands to frontier markets, and how it’s now much easier for Rwandans to buy ingredients for a lasagne.


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“GetIt connects global brands with frontier markets”

It was set up with a view to solving the scaled retail market in Rwanda after Lauren saw a huge opportunity in helping to develop the region. Stores wouldn’t reliably have produce month in month out and so Lauren decided to take the plunge and start her company.

“Rwanda has 147,000 cars for 12 million people”

The country (especially in rural areas) isn’t set up for people to jump in their car and drive to the store to pick up their groceries. GetIt is designed to deliver produce despite this.

“You can’t just throw up a website”

There’s low internet usage (about 80% of the population don’t have access) and even then, people don’t have addresses. So you can’t simply get set up and start delivering to people’s houses when there’s nowhere fixed to deliver to.

“There was no B2B restaurant food delivery company”

Restaurants were ordering food on an ad hoc basis. A guy would go to the market each day to buy produce until some started using GetIt and getting a more reliable and consistent means of getting food delivered to a higher standard.

“Chefs now advise farmers on what they should grow”

A feedback loop now exists between the customers and the producers. Chefs and other consumers have been able to ask producers to modify their production and start introducing new lines which before they hadn’t considered.

“Challenges exist in how small producers operate”

Some producers struggle with the fundamentals of running a small operation in terms of business registration and other quality standards. GetIt look at training these producers and working with government to ensure production is kept to a high and hygenic level.

This is particularly important in terms of getting products ready for export.

“There are only a dozen cold storage facilities in the country”

GetIt are building a facility to store their produce and keep it fresh. It’s built to be powered via solar energy, which essentially creates a huge ice cube to keep things cold in their walk in fridge.

Many of their employees have never felt the experience of being in a cold environment before they step into the walk in the cold room.

“Last year I was delivering from my car, today we do 10,000 tonnes a week”

Since developing their operational system, GetIt have grown to 40 staff and now have a huge truck of deliveries each week. The challenges they are facing involve getting the culture right within the company as it scales across the country.

“No one used mobile money when we started”

GetIt adapted to accept cash because people pre-paying with mobile money was becoming a barrier to customers using the service. Cash is problematic, but at least for now, it is something they are accepting.

GetIt also needed to expand the product range so that customers could get all of their shopping from one place.

“We operate on Facebook because means it free to use”

The way of ordering is done predominantly through social media channels because people don’t eat into their data packages when using websites such as Facebook. More info here.

“There’s never been a need for addresses before”

Rwanda is still pretty community based. You would tell someone your “cell” (collection of 100 households) within an area of the city and then (because everyone knows everyone) you could get directed to the right place just by asking someone.

Before getting things delivered, someone would just go and get you something.

“Franchise businesses can’t get reliable supply to set up in Africa”

Subway, Pizza Hut and hotels need to have high standard supply chains to operate in a developing market. Currently they have a problem of not being able to say for certain that their produce meets international levels.

GetIt builds the supply chain to get international brands to operate in a frontier market.

Typically former English colonies (Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda) have more developed local infrastructure and so they are typically more advanced.

“We see opportunity in countries with less infrastructure”

GetIt believes there is greater opportunity to add value where the infrastructure is poorer than in more advanced places like Nairobi.

Social Media Follows

GetItRwanda: TwitterFacebook

Lauren Russell: