15 years ago I was working in the London ad industry, promoting products I didn’t believe in for clients who didn’t appreciate it. I ended up asking myself ‘What am I doing with my life?’ The lack of any true sense of meaning or purpose in my life lead me into a downward spiral and, when I was just 25, I had a complete nervous breakdown.

At my lowest ebb, I was looking at the different objects in my flat, and I thought to myself: “The table is useful because you can put things on it. The sofa is useful because you can sit on it.  The TV is useful because it can entertain you. I am the only thing in this room that has no purpose or use whatsoever.”  It was devastating.

I tried everything to get myself out of it, ranging from antidepressants to faith healing, but nothing made any difference. Then one morning I received a random phone call from a family friend, offering me the opportunity to volunteer my marketing skills to a farming project in The Gambia. “No thank you very much”, I thought, having never been to Africa before, “If I’m going to be suicidal, I’d rather do it from the comfort of my own home”. Thankfully my friends and family had other ideas and I soon found myself stepping off a plane in “The Smiling Coast of Africa”; ironically, clinically depressed.

After just a few weeks in the warm embrace of The Gambia I experienced something of a personal miracle: I came back to life. Instead of going home as planned I ended up staying for four years, running a social enterprise that worked with small-scale farmers of fruits and vegetables.

During my time in The Gambia, I witnessed first-hand the abject failure of the aid model for agricultural development in Africa. Every year millions of dollars are “invested” in time-bound “development projects”, whereby thousands of women are trained – to grow X, Y or Z cash crop, which some highly-paid consultant says is the next big thing.

Tragically – and amazingly – little to no thought is given to who is actually going to buy these crops. In fact there is a myopic obsession with supply at the expense of demand. Inevitably, the project expires and the women have little choice but to uproot the crops, go back to their traditional subsistence activities, and wait for the next aid project to come along. And the downward spiral of aid dependency continues.

Meanwhile, at the very same time as all this wasteful production is taking place, Africa’s rural landscape has an abundance of existing and high potential indigenous crops – which go completely overlooked. In fact, more than 25% of the world’s botanical species originate from Africa, but less than 1% of what we see on the shelf in the $1tn+ global health and wellness market. This statistic tells its own story. The very most extraordinary example of this dynamic is what we have come to call ‘The Inspiring Possibility of Baobab’.

Baobab is the nutrient-dense fruit of Africa’s “Tree of Life”; a sacred and iconic species made famous by the Lion King. The fruit is rich in vitamin C, prebiotic fibre and antioxidants and has a delicious zingy sherbet flavour: if there is such a thing as a superfood then this is it. It also happens to be the only fruit in the world that dries naturally on the branch, meaning it does not require refrigeration, and just needs to be harvested and sieved to produce an organic superfood powder. It gets better.

There is no such thing as a baobab plantation; every tree is community-owned and wild-harvested. Growing in the driest, remotest regions of 32 African countries, up to 10 million rural households can supply baobab fruit from a crop that is so abundant it goes mainly to waste. National Geographic estimated that if there were a global demand for baobab this existing crop could be worth a billion dollars to rural Africa.

The only problem is that 95% of people have never heard of it.

So what would need to happen for this inspiring possibility to become a reality? We would need to manifest a market. To move the demand curve. Or, in other words, we need to Make Baobab Famous.

The company I co-founded, Aduna, is an Africa-inspired superfood brand and social business. Our mission is to do just that: to create an international market for under-utilised African natural products like baobab, thereby creating sustainable incomes for rural African households. We call it quite simply “demand creation”.

Through our #MakeBaobabFamous campaign we have catalysed the creation of a global market for baobab. Within this, and with the support of the UNCCD, we are now generating entirely additional and transformational incomes for over 1,100 women in 35 communities in Ghana and Burkina Faso, where our supply chain is based. And we are just getting started. In Northern Ghana alone there are more than 8,000 communities who can participate in the value chain – once the market has been created.

This is where we hope that you come in. The creation of a new billion-dollar industry for rural Africa requires the partnership of the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Together, we can create baobab as a by-word for “ethical, sustainable and healthy” – and as the new “must-have” ingredient for global food and beverage manufacturers. If you can see a way to partner with us and feel inspired to help us in create lasting transformation for millions of rural African households, please do get in touch. It’s amazing what we can achieve when we have a sense of purpose.

Editor’s Note:

Coming from an extremely challenging psychological space to find a renewed sense of purpose, it was a pleasure to welcome Andrew to Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019 as our closing keynote speaker, to share his story.

Budding social entrepreneur, investor, or forward-thinking company looking to build a resilient supply chain? Then Andrew’s keynote is one to watch! You can find out more about Aduna at www.aduna.com.

The post From Suicidal Depression to Social Entrepreneur: Creating a New $bn Industry for Rural Africa  appeared first on Business Fights Poverty.

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