Mira Mehta’ Startup Takes On The Tomato Industry

By odogwu | Podcast

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

While on a routine business trip, on behalf of the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Northern Nigeria, Mira Mehta observed that there were tremendous amounts of tomatoes wasting away on the side of the highway. Ever inquisitive, she asked around and soon learned that there were several easily mitigated factors that caused the current waste. She also learned that Nigeria was the number one importer of tomato paste in the world (spending over $400 million a year on this product- enough to fill the Empire State building twice).  She then had an idea to create a factory to produce tomato paste domestically in Nigeria.

However, the idea remained at the back of her mind for four years until a serendipitous conversation with a friend at the Harvard Business School (HBS) enlightened her that Alhaji Aliko Dangote (the wealthiest man in Africa) was building a tomato paste factory in Nigeria. Feeling that her idea was validated by one of the shrewdest businessmen on the planet, she and her co-founder, Shane Kiernan, decided to pursue this dream. They began extensive research and put a team together for the Social Enterprise Track at the HBS New Venture Competition. The team placed second in the competition, and secured a $25,000 grant to launch the business. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of research, meetings with government officials, visiting potential sites, forging relationships, incorporating in the U.S. and Nigeria, trademarking their brand name “Tomato Jos,” and modifying and testing their business model. Along the way they’ve had to overcome numerous obstacles, and faced difficult and dangerous situations. That notwithstanding, this intrepid duo have also managed to make a lot fans along the way They are currently running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to raise $50,000 to purchase equipment for their factory.

This is the start of their bulletproof entrepreneurial journey. Donate to their Kickstarter fund and help make “Tomato Jos” a reality.

 

More on Mira and Shane

Mira Mehta, CEO: Two years’ investment management experience, four years at Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) solving HIV-related operational and supply chain problems in Nigeria. Mira brings extensive operational experience in Africa to the management team. She lived and worked in Nigeria for four years, where she managed the country’s supply chain for pediatric HIV products ($20 million worth of drugs and commodities), and helped to set up and operate a national logistics system for infant HIV testing (operating between 600 clinics and 6 testing laboratories). She holds an Masters in Business Administration from Harvard University.

Shane Kiernan, COO: Three years’ investment banking and investment management experience, two years at CHAI assisting multiple African governments to secure financial resources for national health systems. Shane brings entrepreneurial experience to the team – he spent two years operating a Dublin-based logistics business that he established which enabled consumers in Southern Ireland to buy products from Northern Ireland more cheaply. He has lived and worked in multiple African countries during his time at CHAI. He holds a Masters in Finance and Real Estate Investment from Cass Business School.

Mira and Shane worked together on multiple projects during their tenure at the Clinton Health Access Initiative. We both have private sector experience in finance, non-profit experience trying to make a difference in the world, and experience working and living in sub-Saharan Africa. We have experience in tough environments, and we know that there are limits to what we can do as outsiders without local partners and advisors. In order to bulk up our operational expertise and bring additional agricultural experience to the team, we recently hired 1) a consultant agronomist with many years of operational experience growing tomatoes on highly productive farms in California; and 2) a local farm manager from Jos, Nigeria who has experience managing both seedling nurseries and fruit orchards in Nigeria.

MORE ON TOMATO JOS

The Problem: Nigeria is the largest country in Africa, both in terms of population (170 Million) and GDP ($488 Billion). And Nigerians love tomatoes – tomatoes and tomato paste are both essential ingredients in almost every Nigerian dish, from Red Stew to Jollof Rice. Each year, the country imports $400 Million of tomato paste, and rural farmers grow another $2 Billion worth of fresh tomatoes. However, half of the fresh tomatoes rot before they can reach the market due to poor infrastructure and the delicate nature of tomatoes.

The Opportunity: We see an opportunity to bring efficiency to the market and help smallholder farmers capture some of this lost $1 Billion. A well-located, commercial tomato processing operation focused on sustained production rather than absorbing seasonal harvest gluts can provide attractive returns to investors while simultaneously increasing incomes over five times for participating smallholder farmers, who are among the country’s most vulnerable population.

Our Model: Tomato Jos is an agricultural production company that believes in the power of farming and processing local food products for local consumption. Our mission is to make tomato production a sustainable, profitable business for Nigerian farmers. We give farmers the tools and the incentive to sell a greater proportion of an increased tomato yield at a consistent, fair price. At the same time, we provide consumers with access to domestic tomato paste that matches the cost of imported products with a much higher quality product.

We operate across the full value chain for tomatoes, with three main business lines:

  1. Farming: growing tomatoes on a nucleus farm and through a large out-grower network.
  2. Logistics: getting the best inputs out to smallholder farmers, and transporting tomatoesfrom the farms to the processing facility.
  3. P r o c e s s i n g : making delicious, local tomato paste for Nigerian consumers and eventuallybuilding a brand around this proudly Nigerian product.

Social Return on Investment: We believe that we can help smallholder farmers increase their incomes through:

• Increased Yield – advanced farming practices, high quality seeds and inputs, and individualized hands-on support will help the farmers in our network to achieve yields of 55MT per hectare, from a national baseline average of 7MTper hectare.

• Decreased Post-Harvest Losses – estimates suggest that 40-60% of tomatoes are “lost” after harvest. By improving post-harvest transport and providing a steady market, we will substantially decrease the percentage of tomatoes lost after harvest.

Progress to Date: In October, we commenced operations in Nasarawa State with a proof- of-concept project that aims to pilot the fully integrated model in small-scale. We have started sowing seeds in our greenhouse and clearing land for a 2Ha nucleus farm, and have identified two local farmers farming 1Ha to work with in the first year. Tomato Jos is currently seeking angel investment to support this pilot and allow us to operate through the full growing and harvesting season so that we can scale operations in subsequent years.

www.tomatojos.net

 

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