One Small Question Leads an Entrepreneur to Solve one Big Problem

 

Most things made sense to Elia; however, this one thing did not.

 

Growing up in Tanzania, Elia Timotheo remembers his uncle, a banana farmer giving him a banana every day as he passed on his way home from school. Young Elia grew from a child, to a teen, and into a young man. But one thing he could not understand was why his uncle, after years of selling bananas on the side of the road, had not been able to improve his economic status.

Elia wondered, “Why would a hard-working farmer like my uncle still be selling by the side of the road?”

This question propelled Elia to find answers: for his beloved uncle and for the countless other smallholder farmers like him in Tanzania. Elia found the answer in EA Fruits, which he founded in 2013.

In 2015, EA Fruits was a winner in the African Entrepreneurship Award’s Environment category. With this $150,000 of seed funding, and with mentoring along the journey, Elia is now helping farmers, like his uncle, improve their lives by improving their bottom line.

Impacting Farmers, One Banana at a Time

In Tanzania alone, 4.6 million tons of produce is lost annually, due to poor transportation and storage. When a farmer harvests bananas, or any other crop, as much as 40% of these bananas will be lost, post-harvest. This loss has ripple down effects on farmers and consumers. EA Fruits is beginning to put a dent, not in the fruit, but in the problem.

 

From 1,200 tons to 180,000 tons

Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award accelerated the impact of EA Fruits and provided the funding for Elia to quickly scale. Elia says, “We were very focused when we started the journey with AEA;” however, he admits that without seed funding the growth they are experiencing now “probably would have taken 15 years.” Funding from AEA helped Elia immediately build one of the largest cold storage facilities in Tanzania.

Elia says their capacity was at about 1,200 tons of produce, annually, before the Award. The new cold storage facility can now handle a whopping 180,000 tons, annually. To fill the warehouse with produce, EA Fruits now owns a fleet of trucks that travel to farms, and properly package and deliver the produce to the warehouse. The complete process decreases food loss.

 

“That has lived with me until now, whenever I pitch…”

During the Award’s free, online round mentoring, one mentor advised Elia to “plan to communicate results to key influencers/stakeholders who can help propel your idea.” Communicating the potential impact of EA Fruits is precisely where Elia still needed to improve. The soft-spoken, humble Tanzanian did not lack passion or vision, but packaging.

 

The Sweetest Fruit…Working Capital

Some of the sweetest lessons of all, for Elia, have come since winning the Award in October of 2015. Elia says that an Award mentor told him that, “if we could invest in working capital, our business could grow very quickly.” After three years of positive growth, this investment in working capital helped EA Fruits increase their growth even further, and ensures they stay out of the red, and into the fresh.

Measuring Growth, Increasing Impact

For EA Fruits, growth is measured not only by revenue, but in impact. EA Fruits has grown from 150 to 368 farmers. By the end of the year, Elia projects this number will grow to 500 farmers as the full 180,000 ton facility reaches its peak capacity. This is the first level of impact.

EA Fruits have dramatically increased hiring. Since winning the Award the company has grown to 18 full time, permanent staff, and another 45 temporary laborers contracted to load and off-load trucks.

 

“Just the beginning of our journey”

As a grown man with a growing business, Elia now knows the answer for his uncle, and other smallholder farmers like him. Reduce waste and increase profit. The ripple effect for a farmer is great. Farmers scale their farms and scale their buying power and increase their livelihood.

Now when Elia returns to his uncle’s banana farm for his customary snack, he sees a provider who has built a brick and mortar home. He sees a father who is able to provide more for his children. And, he sees a farmer who has multiplied his production to over 30 tons a month. Elia proudly states, “When I see him, I feel very proud and honored to help him understand the potential he had and how he has been able to improve his life.”

 

Since winning the Award in 2015, the number of farmers working with EA Fruits Farm increased from 150 to over 360. Elia is estimating that EA Fruits are already reducing post-harvest losses by 4% on a national level.