Cashew lovers, did you know that African farmers produce nearly half of the world’s supply? And, how about this? Until recently, a whopping 95 percent of Africa’s cashews were sent to Asia and Brazil for processing and export—leaving Africans out of the more lucrative, job-creating cashew-processing industry.
That’s changing, and Togolese social entrepreneur Francois Locoh-Donou is at the forefront of efforts to build the capacity for nut processing within West Africa— along with other key players like the African Cashew Alliance, Technoserve and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates began supporting the Africa cashew sector in 2009. Dana Boggess, Gates program officer, told me the effort emphasizes support to African processors because it believes that the local value addition benefits smallholder farmers. I couldn’t agree more.
Francois and his partner, Maurice Edorh, director of the Institute for Finance at the University of Lome, founded Cajou Espoir in 2004, Togo’s first cashew-processor that now employs 500 people, 80 percent of whom are women, and exports more than 400 tons of cashew kernels to European and U.S. buyers.
Cajou Espoir means “cashew hope” in French and that’s precisely what Francois and Maurice dreamed of bringing to rural Togo, where unemployment is endemic and the majority lives on less than a day.
Root Capital has financed Cajou Espoir since 2010, and I find Francois to be the real deal when it comes to social entrepreneurs. He’s driven by impact. “We want to be a social company that’s tied into the community, where we’re giving back and can measure the development of the community that’s coming from our company, ” he says.
For Forbes readers, here’s a Q&A with Francois I recently shared with investors and donors about why he started Cajou Espoir, the challenges he has faced, and his company’s impact on the lives of rural Tongolese.
Q: What inspired you to start Cajou Espoir?
A: I grew up in Togo and left when I was 15 to study in France. I started working in Research and Development in the field of optical telecommunications, and from the moment I started working, I wanted to do something in my country to create employment. The first opportunity I took was to create a chicken farm with Maurice who is my partner in the cashew factory. We started in 1998, but it wasn’t creating as many jobs as we had hoped. We were making $200 to $300 thousand in revenues but were only employing about 20 people and I was getting frustrated because the money we were spending was not going into food or calories for people but into food for chicken.
Carsten Reisinger Illustrations - Flag of Togo on a flag pole over white Togolese - 12 Greeting Cards with envelopes (gc_157285_2)
Office Product (3dRose LLC)
InspirationzStore Flags - Flag of Togo - green and yellow stripes red square with white star - Togolese Republic West Africa - 12 Greeting Cards with envelopes (gc_159813_2)
Office Product (3dRose LLC)