Building an East African Spirulina industry & the continent's first fair-trade, social-cause "superfood" brand

Building an East African Spirulina industry & the continent's first fair-trade, social-cause "superfood" brand

Tanzania
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In collaboration with farmers in East Africa, we are helping set up low-cost facilities for cultivating organic Spirulina, a very high-nutrition, high market-value aquatic plant indigenous to the Rift Valley. This Spirulina will be distributed locally to help fight severe malnutrition in the region and exported to markets in the US & EU as Africa's first fair-trade, social-cause "superfood" brand.

We will utilize 50% of our sales proceeds to fund a variety of NGOs, including our own. Terra Endeavors Foundation will help build integrated systems of algae growth ponds, biodigesters & ethanol production units capable of providing entire villages with renewable electricity, fresh drinking water, clean-burning cooking fuel, organic fertilizer & employment opportunities across East Africa.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In collaboration with our local NGO partners (East Africa Energy Technology Development Network (Tanzania), Tanzania Traditional Energy Development Organisation, Dunga Spirulina (Kenya), Uhundha Village (Kenya), En-VIDO (Burundi) and Mtonda Trust (Malawi)), we have identified several communities throughout the region which currently have severely limited access to electricity, clean water, cooking fuel, fertilizer & jobs, and are keenly interested in working together to set up these facilities.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

 Our business model begins with collaborating with local NGOs to identify 1) which key needs of the rural community can be addressed by adapting newly developed technologies and 2) what high-margin consumer goods can be produced & distributed -- the revenues from which we can use to help keep the costs of sustainable community & enviornmental benefits affordable  We utilize an integrated system of low-cost technologies, built predominantly of local materials (including community-scale anaerobic digesters, covered algae raceway ponds which also allow us harvest rainwater & evaporation, ethanol fermentation/distillation units) and utilize recent advances in Effective Microorganism technology to provide a triple-bottom-line solution to help overcome several of the most challenging needs of rural communities in East Africa -- renewable electricity, fresh drinking water, clean-burning cooking fuel, organic fertilizer & employment opportunities
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

 Collaborate with smallholder farmers to help build and operate low-cost facilities for cultivating, harvesting, drying, quality-testing & packaging organic Spirulina  Distribute Spirulina locally via food-aid agencies to help fight severe malnutrition  Export high-value Spirulina to US, EU, Australia/New Zealand & Asia and work with our media partners to brand as Africa's first fair-trade, social-cause "superfood"  Collaborate with technology partners & local NGOs to set up integrated algae raceway ponds, biodigesters, ethanol production & water harvesting systems to generate renewable electricity, produce fresh drinking water, clean-burning cooking fuel, organic fertilizer & employment opportunities to rural communities across East Africa
About You
Organization:
Terra Endeavors
About You
First Name

Charles

Last Name

Abramson

Facebook Profile
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Terra Endeavors

Organization Country

, CA

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

My background is in business development and energy consulting. I received my MBA from The University of Chicago in 1990 while working as an alternative energy analyst for a small consulting firm in Chicago. After less than a year working on Wall Street, I returned to school completing my PhD in Marketing from UC Irvine, taught and conducted research related to brands and consumer preferences at various universities across Southern CA.

In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to East Africa, and spend time in this remarkable part of the world. I returned to the US eager to find a way of collaborating with those I met to improve their standard of living and help preserve the majestic environment in which they live.

After connecting with several leaders in the fields of bioenergy, algae facility design & production, biodigestion, ethanol production & water harvesting, as well as several NGOs serving East Africa, Terra Endeavors was formed. My partners & I are devoted to collaborating with communities in sub-Saharan Africa to help them adapt & utilize emerging technologies to sustainably produce a variety of urgently needed outputs.

To help pay for these facilities, Terra Endeavors LLC is collaborating with rural farmers to help develop the Spirulina industry in the Rift Valley, Spirulina's region of origin. We'll be creating Africa's first enviornmental & social-cause organic "superfood" brand for export to the US, EU, Australia/New Zealand & Asia, as well as distributing the product locally via food-aid organizations to fight malnutrition.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

For us, success will be measured in terms of 1) the number of homes, schools, medical clinics & businesses who gain access to electrical service, 2) the number of households using clean-burning cooking fuel instead of wood & charcoal, 3) the number of severely malnourished children & others we are able to help with organic, high-protein & micronutrient Spirulina, 4) the number of liters of fresh drinking water we are able to supply, 5) the increase in agricultural yields our organic fertilizer is able to achieve, 6) the number of direct & indirect managerial, skilled worker & labor positions we create, 7) the number of local entrepreneurs who create their own spin-off businesses, and 8) the amount of CO2 we displace from the atmosphere from our Spirulina & other algae cultivation, purified water & algae-derivedd cooking fuel.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We are currently making arrangements with our partner, Dunga Spirulina, in the Kisumu region of Kenya, to work with local farmers to build facilities to cultivate, harvest, quality-test & package indigenous organic Spirulina for local communities to consume. Over time, with enough farmers producing a sufficient volume of product, with government clearance and with distribution partners in place, we will begin exporting this high-value product to the US, EU, Asia, Australia/New Zealand as Africa's first social-cause "superfood" brand.

We will be assigning 50% of the proceeds from these sales to support NGOs serving these same rural communities and to help pay for the construction & operation of our integrated renewable energy systems.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

A key potential barrier to our success involves gaining the acceptance of the rural communities with whom we will be collaborating. This issue becomes less of a concern as soon as these communities realize that helping them get access to low-cost renewable electricity, fresh drinking water, clean-burning cooking fuel, organic fertilizer and the opportunity to build a better future is our fundamental objective. Other strategies for overcoming this barrier include 1) closely collaborating with local NGO's who have many years experience working with these communities, 2) treating these communities as partners, who will be sharing in our success.

Another potential barrier to our success is in the area of certification. Two issues we will need to address are 1) attaining "organic" certification for our Spirulina and 2) attaining clearance to export our Spirulina to other countries (i.e., US, EU, Asia, Australia/New Zealand).

Our partners at Dunga Spirulina have just recently gone through the process of attaining "organic" certification in Kenya for their product. We will be following a similar procedure and relying on their expertise to help us attain "organic" certification for our Spirulina.

We will be partnering with other fair-trade product producers, exporters & distributors to help us gain clearance to export our product to other consumer markets.

Tell us about your partnerships

Collaborative partnerships are one of the most central elements of our strategy. In Tanzania, we're currently partnering with East Africa Energy Technology Development Network in the Mwanza region and Tanzania Traditional Energy Development Organization (TaTEDO) in Dar es Salaam. The primary goal of both these organizations is to provide the rural communities with whom they work with renewable energy, generated in a sustainable manner.

In the Bondo district of Kenya, we're working with the Uhundha Village, in Burundi, we're working with En-VIDO, and in Malawi we're working with Mtonda Trust. Each of these NGOs are very interested in collaborating with us to set up facilities locally.

Our technology-focused partners include Dunga Spirulina, who are the one & only organic Spirulina producer in Kenya, in South Africa, we're partnering with Whitfield Consult who are a leader in algae cultivation, biodigester & ethanol production systems, and Margarita Correa, PhD of Auroville Foundation in Tamil Nadu, India, an authority in the use of a remarkable new technology for organic fertilizer/soil management called Effective Microorganism (EM) technology.

We are also investigating how our integrated system can be further augmented to include aquaculture & wastewater treatment operations, and will also continue to develop our partnerships moving forward.

Explain your selections

Our project is currently supported with the assistance of friends and family, and our collaboration partners, all of whom are devoted to seeing our project succeed so that we can begin delivering sustainable community development & environmental benefits.

We are actively pursuing the financial support of various foundations, government agencies and others to help set up our initial integrated system, but it has been challenging as we are neither a pure for-profit venture, nor are we a typical not-for-profit -- instead we are structured as a social entrepreneurship. Being recognized by Changemakers/Ashoka/Ebay Foundation would help us tremendously, both in terms of the financial award it would offer and in the recognition & legitimacy it would help impart.

If we were honored as being selected as one of the winners of the eBay Foundation/Ashoka's Changemakers Powering Economic Opportunity competition, we would use the $50,0000 award to build, and provide training in the management & operation of, our initial integrated system in either the Mwanza region of Tanzania or in the Kisumu region of Kenya.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Over the last several years, Spirulina has become a tremendously popular nutritional supplement, known for its high concentration of protein & micronutrients, and sold throughout the US, and several other consumer markets in capsule, pill & powder forms. It's also become a key ingredient in a variety of "superfood" energy drinks, energy bars & snacks. However, the vast majority of this Spirulina is "generic"/non-branded, and the few brands that do exist are positioned to either cure or alleviate a variety of medical ailments and/or presented in very technical terms.

Over the next three years, we will continue taking steps to create Africa's first social-cause organic "superfood" brand -- one which consumers will know as being ideal for supporting the general health & well-being of environmental- & health-conscious consumers, and one which consumers will know that a large portion of the sales price they pay will be going toward helping numerous rural communities in East Africa produce their own renewable electricity, fresh drinking water, clean-burning cooking fuel & organic fertilizer.

Once this phase of our operations begins, our business will not only be completely economically sustainable, we will have the ability to contribute substantially to other NGOs, as well as internally fund the expansion our foundation's activities to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of villages throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Restricted access to new markets

SECONDARY

Lack of skills/training

TERTIARY

Underemployment

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

While Spirulina grows naturally in several volcanic lakes of the Rift Valley in East Africa, and is consumed by members of a few remote villages, its potential value is far from being realized. We will be collaborating with smallholder farmers in the region to help them cultivate organic Spirulina which will be distributed locally and through food-aid organizations.

We are also taking steps to create Africa's first social-cause "superfood" brand, which we will make arrangements to distribute to the millions of health- and environmentally-conscious consumers in the US, EU, Asia, Australia/New Zealand.

Our technical & local NGO partners will provide the training so that these facilities can be managed & operated by members of the local community.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

SECONDARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

TERTIARY

Leveraged technology

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

We are currently focused on collaborating with rural farmers and setting up our initial integrated system in the Mwanza region of Tanzania or the Kisumu region of Kenya. Once we begin distributing our Spirulina to markets in the US & EU, our operations will be economically sustainable, allowing us to fund other NGOs and begin setting up facilities with our partners across the region. The need for renewable electricity, fresh drinking water, clean-burning cooking fuel, organic fertilizer & employment opportunities is nearly universal across rural developing regions, and our integrated system can be deployed nearly anywhere. We're currently in discussions with organizations from Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique & Ghana who have expressed interest in collaborating with us.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Collaborative partnerships are a key component of our business strategy. We collaborate directly with the rural communities, and through local NGOs, where we set up facilities to ensure that our objectives are aligned and that these communities share in our success.

We also collaborate with a variety of technology provides who are leaders in the development of several of the innovative approaches we will be utilizing. One example of this is our recent connection with Dr. Margarita Correa, who is at the forefront of a remarkable soil management technology known as Effective Microorganism (EM). We will be utilizing this new approach as a way of boosting the effectiveness of our organic fertilizer, as well as to provide an organic pesticide & fungucide for our rural farmer partners.