July 3, 2014

Wild about Agricultural Innovation in Botswana

By CaSandra Carter, Senior Program Officer, Global Agriculture and Food, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Wild Fruits founder and CEO Frank Taylor (first on left) with his staff and the case study research team (Image/CaSandra Carter)

As senior program officer at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Agricultural Development Initiative and former student in the fields of plant science, international agriculture, and rural development, I’m intrigued and delighted by innovative approaches to improving rural livelihoods through agriculture.  Recently, I coauthored a new paper, “Wild Fruits of Africa: Commercializing Natural Products to Improve Rural Livelihoods in Southern Africa,” (PDF) along with colleagues from my alma mater, Cornell University.  Published in a special June issue of International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, the paper is a case study on Wild Fruits of Africa (Pty) Ltd, which we conducted through the Emerging Markets Program of Cornell’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Wild Fruits of Africa, based outside of Gaborone, Botswana, is an innovative agribusiness that mobilizes and employs local subsistence farmers as suppliers of indigenous fruits used to produce natural food products. Wild Fruits collects wild fruits, such as marula fruit, Kalahari melon, Kalahari desert truffle, and wild cucumber, which are harvested by rural villagers who face limited income-generating opportunities. Wild Fruits then processes the fruit to make healthy snacks, specifically targeting consumers within Botswana’s growing tourism industry. Hundreds of local rural people, primarily women, have harvested for Wild Fruits. Many of the harvesters use the income to pay for their children’s healthcare and other pressing needs they were previously unable to afford.

My team and I spent valuable time in Botswana with Wild Fruits founder and CEO, Frank Taylor. We also devoted our time and energy to meeting with members of the rural communities, evaluating the Wild Fruits processing plant, conducting market research, and developing a company profile and marketing strategy. We were impressed by Frank’s vision and passion for finding market solutions to help local communities, and by the members of the local communities themselves, whose tireless efforts greatly contribute to Wild Fruits’ success.

In our analysis, we describe some of the unique challenges and opportunities of start-up agro-enterprises which seek to access local and international markets while improving rural livelihoods. The paper provides a brief overview of this small but growing business, and offers an important example of the entrepreneurial potential that lies within local African markets. The company is currently marketing and distributing its products to airlines, supermarkets, and safari lodges in Botswana, and seeks to expand into regional markets. My team and I are simply happy to get the word out about this innovative agribusiness that found a niche market and continues to invest in its local community.

To learn more about Wild Fruits of Africa, visit their website.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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