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Finding a market for Tanzania’s cashew nuts in Canada

From selling t-shirts, Fahad Awadh has mastered entrepreneurial tips and now finds joy in operating a cashew nuts business across two continents

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By Ben Oduor

“I am able to provide solutions and think long term. I am an avid reader and I look to learn from everyone- from books and from other great leaders. I have learnt to practice patience in pursuit of my goals and think long term…. I see challenges and setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow and become better because of them.”

This is a testament from Fahad Awadh, a young Tanzanian businessman who has faced business-related and life challenges to grow enterprises in Canada and Zanzibar. He has gathered lessons from Hermann Hesse’s popular novel, Siddhartha (published in 1922), to adopt the mantra: ‘I can think. I can wait. I can fast’, to journey through the business and life challenges.

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Born in 1987, Fahad spent his early childhood period in Bahrain. During the eight years his family stayed in the Asian country, he attended St. Christopher’s, a British private school. And at the age of 10, his family moved to Canada, where he was admitted for an International Business and Technology program in one of the country’s learning centers the following year.

By the age of 12, the young boy was already fidgeting his fingers on cash; thanks to returns from a business he’d created selling products at the District school Board.

Years later, he joined York University, Canada’s third largest research university, where he studied Business Marketing. Here, he continued redefining his entrepreneurial traits, juggling between books and business.

“I started making t-shirts with two friends- Lavado Stubbs and Momarr Taal. We called it Malyka Clothing, meaning angel in Swahili. It was all about positive, powerful messages and it became popular in Toronto,” Fahad says.

“We were distributing in Canada, The Bahamas and Gambia. I travelled to Bangladesh and secured a manufacturing contract to produce our pieces from the cut & sew stage. This gave us more creative control over the product and allowed us to expand our line.”

Later after graduation, his friends went about doing great things separately. But Fahad’s entrepreneurial focus was more inclined to his home country- Tanzania, a place he’d long missed. Late 2012, he flew into the East African country and explored opportunities in processing and value-addition.

Fahad realized Tanzania a very resource rich country. But like her many African peers, it lacked local value addition. He sought to seize this wealth of opportunity, spending most of his time travelling rural parts of the country to meet and discuss with farmers. The lengthy research rested his eyes on cashew nuts as the product to invest on.

According to the country’s investment regulator, Tanzaniainvest, Tanzania produces premium quality cashew nuts fetching higher prices in the world markets compared to cashew nuts from other countries in Africa.

Despite this, however, ‘production of cashew nuts in Tanzania is characterized by smallholder farmers operating at subsistence level. And the product is exported without being shelled to countries such as India, where they are either shelled for export or used internally, a situation that deprives Tanzania of processing and value addition.

The Cashew nuts Board of Tanzania (CBT), on the other hand, indicates that “Tanzania is endowed with huge fertile and arable land where large plantations can be established to feed into processing factories and export markets. This opportunity is open to both local and foreign investors looking for areas to develop viable business ventures in agriculture.”

Founding YYTZ Zanzibar and Ontario, Canada

To seize this opportunity, Fahad partnered with his father, who was retiring after a career as a commercial pilot, to develop a comprehensive business plan. They decided to invest in a modern processing plant, as this would make operations more efficient and offer economies of scale.

They then visited one of the leading cashew factories in Vietnam- the largest cashew export country in the world- to study their operations and learn their best practices, before later purchasing ‘our cashew- specific equipment from reputable Vietnamese manufacturers.’

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Fahad says they wanted to add value to a commodity that has export demand, as the top traditional exports at the time were Tobacco, Cotton, Coffee and Cashews.

They settled on cashews, setting up YYTZ Agroprocessing Company Limited at Amaan Industrial Park in Zanzibar to process the product. The company’s acronyms, he says, were carefully selected to represent important locations that have been home to him; YY as the airport code for Toronto Canada and TZ for Tanzania.

“YYTZ is where our flagship processing facility is located while YYTZ Ontario, Canada is a marketing and distribution company for our products. Our goal is to export finished products from Tanzania. And we would like to create as much value as we can and ensure that value comes back to Africa. YYTZ Canada will give us access to the North American market,” Fahad says.

“Africa produces 60% of the world’s cashew nuts, but processes less than 5%. 90% is exported raw-in-shell to Vietnam and India; the processed ones are re-exported to the U.S and Europe. We’re building an inclusive value chain that will include farmers and create wealth in rural Tanzania.”

By doing this, he explains, YYTZ Company will provide in-depth trace-ability and give answers to customers who’re demanding to know origin and sustainability of their food.

The entrepreneur says they’re currently running a farmer program in Singida region, one of the poorest regions in Tanzania, to empower rural smallholder farmers to start growing cashews.

Impact to farmers and economy

In August 2017, they took a group of farmers from the region for training at the Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), where they learn about cashew production and management.

Later in November, the Company supported the farmers to establish a cashew nursery to distribute cashew seedlings to farmers in the community, being part of a project to help the Tanzanian government meet its target of planting 10 million trees in three years.

“The Cashew Board of Tanzania provided us with hybrid seeds from NARI. After distributing the seedlings to farmers, the government pays the nursery 350tshs per seedling, making it an income generating venture to the farmers. Our farmer nursery was able to distribute 35000 seedlings to farmers for planting in their fields within two weeks,” Fahad says.

From the $500,000 YYTZ Company won from AGRA’s Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund in 2016, Fahad says they are building a Cashew Farmer Processing Centre in Mtwara, South-Eastern Tanzania, where farmers will have access to storage units to store their raw cashews. There’ll be semi-automatic shelling machines to remove the shell in the rooms, as well as training rooms for the farmers.

Insights and accolades

Other than his mission to add value on agricultural products and create jobs in Tanzania and Canada,Fahad is motivating African youths through talks delivered at various functions in Africa and across the world.

He was invited to speak at the International Tropical Agriculture Conference in Brisbane, Australia in 2017. And was also a panelist at the African Union-UN Nations dialogue on “Fast-tracking Youth Entrepreneurial Development in Africa’ hosted in New York during the same year.

“My biggest advice to young people is to go out and build! Create value! There are always going to be challenges but see them as opportunities and you’ll be better because of them. I like to share Marcus Aurelius quote, “The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way,” he says.

It’s from this burning entrepreneurial spirit that Fahad was nominated to the African Leadership Award’s ‘Young person of the Year’ 2017. He was also listed among Forbes’ 30 Under 30 inspiring entrepreneurs for the year 2017, among other accolades.

The young entrepreneur says their main focus now is to add more value to the cashew, create more job opportunities and increase the facility’s processing capacity from the current 2500 Tons per annum to 10,000 Tons per annum by 2021.

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