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A young entrepreneur is carrying out ground-breaking work with... tomato powder in Niger!

March 30, 2016

The Youth Agribusiness, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Summit on Innovation (YALESI) is taking place in Dakar this week. The event, which promotes discussion on the most effective strategies fostering youth employment in agribusiness, is also a shop window for entrepreneurs who have launched innovative products and services for the agricultural sector. It is in this spirit that the CTA has organised a number of workshops and released a new publication ("Innovate for Agriculture"), and is now offering a blog on the path followed by Yacouba Alfari, a young agricultural engineer from Niger who has invented a coal-fired dryer to make tomato powder.

You only have to think about it… When fresh tomatoes are in season and flooding the markets in Niger, why not transform the tomatoes into powder? To do this, Yacouba Alfari invented a coal-fired dryer. An invention that has already taken him a long way as he took part in COP 21 in Paris, where he presented it as one of around a hundred other hand-picked "climate solutions". He is currently showing his invention at the Youth Agribusiness, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship Summit on Innovation (YALESI). During a workshop organised by the CTA at YALESI, he gave a presentation entitled "Combating poverty through the processing and marketing of tomato powder in Niger".

At the end of 2013, Yacouba Alfari Bonkano won a prize for the best young inventor in Niger for his invention, a dryer that makes it possible to process and preserve tomatoes. Once they have been sliced, dried and ground, the tomatoes are packed in small 10 g sachets and sold on the market for 40 CFA F (approximately 0.06 Euros). Yacouba was one of the winners of the business plan competition held by the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) and the government of Niger, working together with the CTA within the framework of the International Francophone Forum on Youth and Green Jobs" (FIJEV 2014). At that time, he received 5,000 Euros from the CTA and entrepreneurship education. In addition to his invention, he decided to implement his business project, and this is starting to bring success for him, in spite of the difficulties. CTA's support has helped him to build on this initiative. To date, his company, Yabe Production, has processed 15 tonnes of fresh tomatoes. It works with a local market garden cooperative and has already hired four people, two on a full-time basis.

His path has not always been easy: he has encountered problems and even now, every day, he has to understand how to adapt and how to modify his project, as is the inventor’s lot. For example, the powder originally produced from 100% fresh tomatoes did not sell, as it was too pale in colour. He added a few spices, which created the required colour, and now the product is more accepted. All the more so because it is locally produced from untreated - and therefore virtually organic - tomatoes, which is not the case with most tomato concentrates on the market. One difficulty remains - the need for a relatively substantial investment to buy a bagging machine: the manual work needed for bagging large quantities is terribly slow.

The selection of his invention for the exhibition held in Paris at the Grand Palais within the framework of COP 21 in December 2015 was another major boost. Being selected by the French National Institute of Intellectual Property for his invention also inspires confidence. "I've had the opportunity to discuss and exchange views and that has enabled me to believe in myself" he said. In Paris, he was also able to meet other inventors and young innovative entrepreneurs who, like him, want to change things. One of the inventors he met had discovered how to turn poultry feathers into fertiliser, an innovation that, like his, seeks to optimise existing resources and avoid waste. Since his return home at the end of December, he has stayed in contact with many of those he met in Paris, confirming the strength of the network he is building.

Now sure of his project, the young engineer-entrepreneur is approaching the banks so that he can invest and purchase the machine that will enable him to bag his product in large quantities. This machine comes from China and should cost him around 5,000 Euros. He is confident that the banks will agree to this loan and he is continuing to take part in business competitions to consolidate his project.

Yacouba's story is not an isolated case, however. More and more young people are actively involved in the agrifood business, establishing innovative ways to guarantee the stability of food security in their countries and find a sustainable and profitable future for agriculture. Watch this space...

Contact Yacouba Alfari Bonkano
Manager of YABE-production
Tel : +227 9735 72 62
Email : yalfaribonkano@yahoo.fr
Niamey/Niger