October 17, 2018 | By John Willard III

Featured Commentary - Catalyzing Change: How a Small Business Cracked into African Markets

This piece was originally posted on Agri-Pulse. 

By John Willard III.

Editor's Note: Agri-Pulse and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the US agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

In the early 1980s, my grandfather, Dr. John Willard, traveled to Kenya on an agriculture mission of hope. During the 1980s, many nations on the continent of Africa were experiencing extreme famine and economic instability. Twenty years earlier, he had invented a product called PlantCatalyst. An all-natural water additive that helps plants better absorb and utilize nutrients. A chemist, professor, and scientist who had worked on many illustrious projects, like the Manhattan Project, he understood the impact of increased efficiency for crops. Farmers are able to grow in a more sustainable way and increase profit-per-hectare. Like many of us, my grandfather was inspired to help break the continuous cycle of starvation and poverty. He believed that all people have a responsibility to assist others in times of great need.

While the product has been successful in the United States, my grandfather was ultimately unsuccessful in his efforts to gain traction in Africa before he passed. His dream lay dormant until I took over as CEO of his company seven years ago. To both honor my grandfather’s vision and enhance our business strategy, I decided to enter global markets. As a US-based small business, this seems to be the right time to maximize our success by leveraging regional partnerships and the U.S. government’s Feed the Future Initiative.

The potential market growth is obvious, particularly in developing nations. Additionally, I know, as my grandfather did, the good we could do in countries suffering from food insecurity, particularly on small scale farms that desperately need greater sustainable productivity to raise themselves out of poverty and grow more nutritious food. Our product has been proven to increase crop yield, and more importantly, to reduce the amount of expensive and environmentally damaging inputs. This means it is not just helping improve the lives of farmers globally, but also increasing sustainable practices. Reducing damaging inputs is particularly critical in Africa where sustainable agriculture techniques, such as crop rotation and fallow fields, have not been widely applied.

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One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

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Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.