Updated: Dec 23, 2020
A year ago, Forget Shareka, Bintu Bangura, Abdul Gafaru, Kennedy Okello, and Patrick Osafo-Agyei had never met. Now, the five students are united by their passion for economic and social justice and Imperishable—their start-up that aims to provide food security and economic empowerment to people across Sub-Saharan Africa.
While they’ve still never met face-to-face, these founders are using the $10,000 they won as runners-up in the first Fishbowl Challenge to make their mission to decrease post-harvest loss a reality, and combining their backgrounds growing up in four different countries to do it.
How to save $12B of wasted crops
In 2018, over 10% of produce harvested in Sub-Saharan Africa, worth $12B, was lost post-harvest (FAO, 2018). This food could feed five countries (Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Malawi and Angola) for a year, but due to poor handling of produce, inadequate storage, and poor access to markets, it rotted. Post-harvest loss negatively impacts hundreds of millions of people each year by contributing to food insecurity, malnutrition, and significantly decreasing farmers’ income, even after a great season.
This is where Team Imperishables saw their opportunity—to empower farmers and improve nutrition one dried mango at a time.
They knew the shelf life of produce in these regions needed to be extended and farmers needed to be connected with buyers. By establishing produce collection centers to serve as farmer cooperatives, equipped with solar dryers to preserve harvested crops, and creating connections to domestic distributors, retailers, and wholesalers, the team created a path toward decreasing post-harvest loss and increasing farmers’ income.
Groups of farmers bring their harvests to Imperishable’s farmer cooperatives
Their eco-friendly solar dryers dry crops, increasing shelf life and reducing losses by 95%
The team’s business partnerships help get farmers’ products on the shelf
First stop: Sierra Leone
With mangos as a pilot crop, the team’s collectives will start in Sierra Leone and expand across the continent. Mangos are ideal because of their prevalence (grown by 127M Sub-Saharan farmers) and high post-harvest loss rate (over 45%).
Despite a global pandemic, the team acquired solar dryers and are starting the first farmer collective now. They plan to be operational in January, starting production with a different crop before switching to mangos for the spring harvest.
Why dried mangos mean hope for the future
Despite growing up in different countries, Team Imperishable’ experiences led them to the same drive to solve the problems around them.
For Abdul, it was volunteering and working in his home region of Northern Ghana, where he saw first-hand how simple interventions could create employment that empowered and changed the lives of women and the youth. For Forget, it was a winding path that a degree in agriculture, a masters in entrepreneurship, and many impactful experiences later, left her convicted that you have to be the change you want to see in the world. When speaking about the long-term vision of the team, Forget described their powerful goals:
“To achieve zero hunger, we are a part of that mission. To eradicate poverty, we are part of that mission. We are ensuring that we create jobs in our communities. To make a positive impact both economically and environmentally. We want the youth and women around us to see it’s doable. We can dream it, and we can do it. We can achieve it.”
As young entrepreneurs balancing school, jobs, and personal commitments, on top of starting a globally focused social enterprise with a founding team that has never even met face-to-face, they have a lot to share.
For many navigating remote working, building professional relationships over Zoom, and feeling called to contribute to today’s global challenges, the past year has been uncertain, unstable, and uncomfortable. But the Imperishable story is a reminder that those things don’t have to be negative. They can give rise to innovative, inspiring, and impactful solutions that can be executed even in the middle of a global pandemic.