How Harvard Business School graduate made a succesful business on tomatoes in Nigeria? Find out her story right now!
Tomato Jos is a huge for-profit social activity, which has created the first domestic Nigerian trademark of tomato paste. We work with the full tomato price chain (agriculture, logistics, and also processing). The source of our raw materials comes from the smallholder farmers.
Despite all the difficulties, Mira Mehta, who is 31-year-old graduate from Harvard Business School, did her researches and made the plunge launch of her new start-up, which is called Tomato Jos.
The US businesswoman, who had worked on some Nigerian health projects before (it was in the Clinton Foundation), told that she began thinking about different farming projects after she was driving by something that looked like strange crimson carpets. The farmers had to dry their unsold gatherings on the hot runway. Such picture of the red pools made her think that Nigerian agriculture where were plenty of gaps, became something like a big waste. That’s how Ms Mehta expressed her opinion, speaking about farming in her converted chicken coop the farm.
With the use of $ 300,000 she has raised in the start-up capital of six investors and Kickstarter campaign, Ms. Mehta wants to test her idea that a profitable agribusiness, which also gives profit to the local farmers and please the consumers can really work in Nigeria. In Nasarawa she rented three hectares from only one white Zimbabwean farmer, who is still working there with 20 people. They had received that land from the state authorities a decade ago.
Then in the first year poor irrigation and overuse of different fertilizers forced the group to begin everything once again with all new seedlings. The rest were destroyed by poor infrastructure, extremely confusing bureaucracy and complexity of import of basic inputs, as, for example, machinery. Tomato Jos encountered plenty of problems and difficulties in its first planting season, which was last year.
By applying a couple of the lessons they have learned from the first gathering, a target for the second crop next year is to squeeze 10 times the national average yield from the land. The boss says that it is possible, because she deploys much more intensive fertilizer program than the local farmers do. Also they’ve decided to use better quality seeds and nursery tougher conditions.
In addition to her own harvest, she is planning to buy some tomatoes from a dozen farmers from the local areas. Fresh food is then delivered to the facility of processing in Zaria city, which is on the north of this farm. The equipment has not been used for any commercial purposes yet (however it was assembled back in 2013). The reason is that it is owned by NARICT, which is the National Research Institute of Chemical Technology. It’s some kind of a parastatal, which has no mandate and not is allowed to sell their final product. Although Ms. Mehta has to test the supply chain, she has found a ready market for her new paste. The head of the Olam packaged foods, Ram Mahadevan, the famous seller of Tasty Tom and even De Rica, which are the most popular trademarks in Nigeria, says that he is completely ready ‘to purchase one kilo of tomato paste’, which is produced by Tomato Jos.
Olam wishes to support the new domestic supply and tomato farming in general, so he has suggested to the authorities that carry out a feasibility study on how to build and scale the processing industry. ‘This is a very laborious and long-term process,’ says Mr. Mahadevan. ‘We’ve told the authorities, we want to work with you and also support you, so we’ll try to do it’.
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