Social Entrepreneur Index nominee: Biotree International
What does your social enterprise do?
It provides new ideas, new solution to cocoa farming communities in West Africa offering training and capacity building, technical advice, and extension services. (i.e. application of inputs, planting material, and crop protection products)
What made you start your business up? Generally farmers in Africa find the working conditions unbearably i.e. bad infrastructure, no access to finance and extension services which invariably leads to dire situations and poverty as they cannot invest in their farms. This affects their living standards, such not being able to educate their children and in most cases feed their families. I want to improve the social and economic conditions of cocoa farming communities in West Africa.
Cocoa farmers are living in extreme poverty, and majority of them are abandoning their cocoa fields to grow other viable crops that will benefit them economically by diversifying income. This will eventually lead to a global shortage of cocoa which will affect the production of chocolate. Reports estimate the average farmer income to be just $0.78 per day. My aim is to make a difference in their lives by changing the narrative and ensuring majority of the farming communities we work with are earning a minimum of $3.50 a day by 2025.
How do you measure your impact?
We measure impact using various indicators; increased productivity, increased level of annual income of farmers, higher yield and better-quality produce, better application of inputs (such as, fertilisers crop protection products, and planting materials) improved knowledge of cocoa production and an overall positive change in attitude towards cocoa production. An increase in career opportunities for women and youths within the cocoa communities, increase in conservation of forests and maintenance of ecosystems.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise? I started this by just visiting cocoa farmers on my own whenever I went on holiday to the southwestern part of Nigeria, an area known for its cocoa growing for many years. I also had some support from the state Government.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
I used a lawyer to seek advice before making a decision
What is the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
The opportunity to help people and change lives by offering my service to humanity and to help improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers in Nigeria
What have been the three biggest challenges that you have overcome (or that you’re still working on)?
1- We are still in the process of changing the work culture of cocoa farmers in order to improve their farming practice, this extremely difficult when people have followed a particular way for so many years.
2- We are still trying to convince the farmers to keep growing cocoa and not abandon it for other crops. Instead we are training them on diversification, on how they can combine growing cocoa with other cash crops that would support their income.
3- We are still trying to eliminate child labour and promote the rights of children.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
To be in the change they are trying to effect, continue to persevere and never give up until it is achieved.
Why do you think social enterprise is important?
I think it is very important because it brings the self-sufficiency of for-profit businesses and the incentives of market forces to bear on global social problems in a way that neither pure capitalism nor pure charity has been able to match.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as a social entrepreneur?
To put a smile on people’s faces from knowing that I have being able to implement widespread improvements within the communities I serve and address the issues faced by these communities, such as their standard of living improvement in education, health facilities, and income.
What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
I found the books I read encouraged and inspired my path: How to change the world, do the kind thing and social entrepreneurs’ playbook.
What’s been the most surprising thing about creating a social enterprise?
I gave up things and went out on my own to become an entrepreneur: job security and a predictable pay check just so that I could pursue my desire for greater freedom and happiness. Early enough as an entrepreneur I discovered a surprise: It wasn’t enough to focus only on my own happiness.
Then I figured out that success was a group enterprise that, as a social creature, I could not be truly happy without caring about other people's freedom. I discovered social enterprise. Then I made a second surprising discovery: Starting a social enterprise is not about making sacrifices or doing something extra. Social enterprise is about doing things better in the interest of being more successful.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
To educate as many of the 10,000 cocoa farmers on best agricultural practices in growing organic cocoa so that they can become self-sustainable, increase productivity and increase their annual income by 2025.
This will involve developing our 50 Hectares of land growing organic cocoa and then through demonstration plots, videos and intensive training, transfer the technology of organic practices to farmers under our farmer field school. These farmers are then able to implement the knowledge and skill acquired from the training to rehabilitate their cocoa farms etc.
What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?
To eliminate poverty globally, eradication of child labour, to see green energy replace fossil fuels and to stop deforestation of the amazon forest
What have been your three proudest moments as a social entrepreneur?
Trusting myself even when others wouldn’t share my vision was one of the toughest experiences. Now, I look back and feel proud of having a team that trusts and moves toward the same goal. Getting positive results out of an idea that once was nothing was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Seeing the reality of what I want to implement coming together. It really makes you realise how you are helping people when you can see it with your own eyes in real life
Making a difference in the lives of the people and communities I serve
What would you say to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider the social impact of their businesses?
I would say their drive should be geared towards adding value to the lives of the people they serve and this invariably makes them valuable to society, rather than focusing on how they can make a profit. True joy and satisfaction in what one does comes from the impact you make in changing people’s lives, their communities, and making the world a better place for all.