At the Africa 2017 summit at Sharm El Sheik – Egypt, I gave a speech on “the art of storytelling” a guide ‘of sorts’ on how entrepreneurs could inspire investors to fund their projects by telling stories about themselves, their businesses and brands.
After my speech, a tall and excited Fahad Awadh walked up to me.
He had a quick smile and a breadth of knowledge and ideas. There were brief flashes of intensity of the sort that a man with an urgent purpose might carry.
Awadh also believed that telling stories about Africa’s brands could give them extra value on international markets. This was the exact path he had decided to walk.
He would tell the story of Tanzanian Cashew. But first let’s tell his story.
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Meet Fahad Awadh
Fahad Awadh grew up in Canada after his family relocated first from Tanzania, then Bahrain.
Canada is where he would grow into an entrepreneur.
In Canada, Awadh enrolled in a special business education programme at age 11 that taught him about starting a business, marketing, sales and accounting.
For his first business, Awadh and his business partner had to create a product to sell at his school district board’s fair.
Their candles were a hit and sold out at that fair.
Awadh was “the” cool kid in high school.
As socialisation minister (entertainment prefect), his primary job was to plan and execute events, like parties. In addition to providing entertainment for his fellow students, his entertainment events also made money for his school – as a ‘business’ of sorts.
It was at the York University, though, that Awadh and two other colleagues started a proper business with a t-shirt brand called Malyka Clothing that made prints of positive messages that drew immediate interest among the student population.
They were soon placing orders to shirt printers in Bangladesh and Vietnam, with the shirts selling in Canada, The Gambia and the Bahamas.
But this was only meant to pass the time, and so the business fizzled out after school when everyone went their own way.
After university, Awadh took a job in the commodities trade which brought him to West Africa.
He immediately realised that the system was setup to milk the most value out of farmers’ labour but pay them as little as possible, something he would later seek to fix in his business.
After a few years learning about commodity value chains, international markets, sourcing quality commodities, etc.
Awadh decided to go back into commodities in 2012 and to find something that “Tanzania produces in large quantities” to invest in.
This decision cut his options down to cotton, coffee, cashew and tobacco, all of which Tanzania is an exporter of on the African continent.
He decided, “tobacco is bad news”. Cotton would demand a huge investment and coffee was already a highly competitive business with established players.
It was clear to Awadh that cashew would be his ticket to success in Tanzania.
YYTZ & the Story of Tanzanian Cashew
Some quick research showed Awadh that Tanzania, the 4th largest cashew producer in Africa was exporting 90 per cent of its cashew nuts still in the shell with no processing – almost like selling cocoabeans in their pod.
While this fetched much lower prices for the Tanzanian economy and farmers, countries such as Vietnam made fortunes off processing most of Africa’s cashew, and passing on the finished high-value products to markets in Europe and the US.
The situation didn’t make sense to Awadh, particularly when he had learned firsthand from a Vietnamese cashew processor that Tanzanian cashew was highly sought after for its quality.
Awadh determined that more value could be derived from the cashew for everyone, from the farmers to the government, if more cashew were processed in Tanzania.
Awadh decided that to succeed at a global scale, he’d have to outperform the best performers in his field. So he decided he would use Vietnamese processing technology, which was fully automated and produced the best quality processed nuts.
If only he could find $350,000
Awadh drew up a business plan, having done his desk research, been to the cashew farming region of Mtwara, talked to farmers and then to processors in Vietnam.
With demand for cashew on the world market rising, any investment in cashew processing exports would be a good one.
Yet Awadh couldn’t find the capital he required to exploit this opportunity, even after he even found buyers in the Netherlands who awarded him a processed cashew supply contract, and presented collateral too.
All that got him nowhere.
It was his father who finally came to his rescue. After Awadh pitched the business to his dad, he decided to return Tanzania to partner him YYTZ.
Since then Awadh has gone on to build a processing centre that processes 2,500 tonnes of cashew in a year, working with 1,500 farmers and women’s groups who use a YYTZ Agro cashew community processing centre with 30 shelling machines to help them increase their output from 40kg to 600kg per day so they can earn much more.
Awadh’s agronomists are helping to train farmers in other parts of Tanzania (Singida Region) to improve the country’s production and he has further plans to begin to make use of cashew by-products like paint and diesel additives.
In 2016, Awadh won the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund and with it received an additional US$500,000 to expand his operations.
Later in 2019, Awadh is going on trade shows to begin marketing his brand of roasted and flavoured cashew, which is of premium quality, single-sourced and traceable.
In other words, the cashew can be traced all the way to the farmers that grew them through blockchain technology, and consumers can learn about these farmers.
The best part is that the increase in value (228%, according to Awadh) is redistributed among the farmers and women’s groups as increased earning power.
Fahad Awadh has a huge vision for which he has received the Best Young SME in Agriculture Award at the AfDB investment forum, recognition in Forbes’ 30 under 30 entrepreneurs and a couple of notable speakerships as high profile as the Africa Union and the United Nations.
On the journey to realising this vision, he will likely bring along all of Tanzania by creating employment and economic empowerment to thousands of Tanzanians and start a shift in Tanzania’s cashew economy. A good story about Tanzanian Cashew, don’t you think?