Netherlands

Agro-business in Ivory Coast: from production, processing to distribution of cassava

The OC programme has helped me to gain more visibility due to the marketing workshops, articles, social media publications and other forms of publicity done by Orange Corners and their private partners.

Gislain Kouakou never thought of showcasing his own products in several convenience stores, supermarkets and small shops. But only three years after he launched his start-up Miensah Group, whose mission is to provide training to producers and employees in good and innovative agricultural practices, he was able to say that one of his professional ambitions was already achieved. One other start-up followed after this start-up success, known as Ivoire Cassave with the 3 in 1 product line known as Agbafê. Hailing from Abidjan, Gislain graduated from the Higher School of Agronomy INPHB in Yamoussoukro as an agricultural engineer and continued his education in Bouaflé, the hinterland of Ivory Coast. OCHQ asked Gislain more about his avid interest in entrepreneurship and agriculture.

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I have always remained focused and persistent in order to achieve my goal, bouncing back from any minor disappointments and mistakes made.

Why entrepreneurship?

“Being able to have my own company and creating direct impact for small communities in Ivory Coast, have always been a dream for me. The desire to be an entrepreneur spiked during my studies. After obtaining my degree as engineer and having several salaried jobs which allowed me to acquire experiences and skills, I founded Miensah Group in the latter half of 2017. In 2019, I co-founded Ivoire cassave, a cassava production and processing company, from which the Agbafê Gari 3 in 1 (gari, sugar and milk) product line was born. Gari is a creamy flour made from cassava tubers and used for our local soups, stews and snacks. Our products quickly became extremely popular among consumers due to effective marketing and can at-present be bought in more than 15 convenience stores, shops and supermarkets in eight different cities in Ivory Coast.”

Whole cassave tubers. Credit: David Monniaux.

Kan een afbeelding zijn van de tekst 'SUPERETTE A్ంStore AgriStor Epiceries, Fruits et Légumes,Alimentation Légumes, générale'
One example of the supermarket where the product Agbafê is available
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When and how did you get into the Orange Corners Programme? To what extent did it to improve your business and helped to reach your business goals?

“I participated in the Orange Corners Programme in May 2020 for a period of six months. Before the programme, only three employees worked for Agbafê. But now, we are a team of five. By the end of this year, I will have 10 people working for the start-up (from sales, marketing, accountancy to purchasing). Also our turnover per month tripled as an aftereffect of the participating in the Orange Corners programme. The team behind Ivoire Cassava, one the other hand is composed of a team of seven employees, whom three of them are women.

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I joined the Orange Corners programme in May 2019 during which we prepared for a selection of projects and a pitch deck presentation. Beyond financial support, Orange Corners provided me with operational structuring and contributed to the implementation of an innovative commercial approach aiming to further developing of my business. But what helped me the most was constructing my business, bolstering my prototype model and giving access to seed funding. My product was not ready to be sold yet whilst being in the middle of the programme, so were continuously ameliorating our products, increasing productivity by identifying and solving bottlenecks. This whole process of finalising the version of a prototype only made our foundations stronger as a start-up.

The OC programme has helped me to gain more visibility, due to the marketing workshops, articles, social media publishing and other forms of publicity done by Orange Corners and their private partners.”

Being able to have my own company and creating direct impact for small communities in Ivory Coast, have always been a dream for me.

Milk product of Agbafê

How does your start-up impact its direct surroundings/economy/employment? Does the start-up has a social mission?

“Agbafê is an inclusive and social brand. Through training in sustainable agriculture and financial management, Agbafê enables young producers and women processors in the cassava sector in rural areas to make a decent living from their activity. Our goal is to promote cassava by transforming it into healthy, natural and accessible by-products while working with more than 100 young people and 150 women in rural areas.

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Our products quickly became extremely popular among consumers due to effective marketing and can currently be bought in more than 15 convenience stores, shops and supermarkets across 8 different cities in Ivory Coast.

What are in your opinion the company’s strengths in relation to other companies?

“Agbafê has several strenghts that are worth mentioning; we work closely with our producers; we contribute to innovation and promotion of our local products; we are improving the well-being of our consumers by offering them healthy and natural product. Lastly, we are an energetic and dynamic young team.”

How did you choose the names of your start-ups? What does it stand for?

“I choose Miensah Group, as Miensah is the first name I decided to give to all my children. Miensah means hand of God in the Baoulé language in central and southern Ivory Coast, as He is my partner above all.”

“Ivoire Cassave because we want to create a high-standard company for cassava products in Ivory Coast.”

“Agbafê simply means sweet cassava in the Baoulé language, or Baule as we say it.”

What struggles did you encounter with starting your own business and how did you overcome it?

“The biggest difficulty I faced was starting the start-up by myself: leaving my comfort and embarking on the adventure of entrepreneurship. I started with my own funds only and it was hard to make ends meet. I have always remained focused and persistent in order to achieve my goal, bouncing back from any minor disappointments and mistakes made.”

Where do you see the start-up in five years? Where would you like to see it?  

“We wish to become the leading company in processing and distribution cassava in Ivory Coast by the end of 2025, working together with more than 20.000 young people and 350.000 women in rural areas across the country. Moreover, we hope to build more successful business partnerships in order to keep creating and providing innovative and sustainable solutions in the agricultural value chains, so that the actors involved are informed on the choices we make, from policy makers, sustainable development donors to our buyers.”

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What other advice would you give to aspiring or current entrepreneurs?

“The advice I can give to budding entrepreneurs is to have a vision in mind, to be persevering and to build resilience on the way. Always continue to educate yourself and above all, do not to abandon your faith, whatever the situation might be. Difficulties shall pass and overcoming adversity can be achieved.”

We hope to keep creating and providing innovative and sustainable solutions in the agricultural value chains.

How can we learn more about your company? Do you use social media?

Facebook          https://www.facebook.com/miensahgroup/  

Twitter              https://twitter.com/login/errorGroupMiensah/ 

Linkedin            https://www.linkedin.com/company/11253051/admin/ 

Youtube           https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKByfm8vJAWLBsKgFyE2J-Q 

Ivoire Cassava: https://www.facebook.com/Agbaf%C3%AA-100323008459114

Gislain Kouakou on location
Kingdom of the Netherlands