Thirty Six Foods is a Lagos-based social enterprise inspired by the diversity in the people and environment in all the thirty six states of Nigeria and believes nothing is better than chocolate. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola spoke with Sanne Steemers a value chain consultant and a chocolate entrepreneur at Thirty Six Foods, to know more about the brand, her entrepreneurial journey and her interest in the chocolate business in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us a bit about yourself and your brand, Thirty Six Foods Nigeria Ltd?
Sanne: My name is Sanne Steemers. I have been working to connect Europe and Africa for most of my career. About five years ago, I settled in Nigeria. Even though I was reluctant to come to Lagos at first because of its reputation, I fell in love with the energy of people. Nigeria brought out my inner entrepreneur, and in addition to my value chain consulting work I decided to start manufacturing chocolate.
Thirty Six Foods operate as a social enterprise, which is a phenomenon that is not well-known in Nigeria. While we want to be profitable as a business, we also want to make sure that we create jobs, pay our staff a fair salary, and improve the lives of cocoa farmers. Nigeria has a bad reputation, and we would like to change that by making a high-quality product.
Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your chocolate business and why Africa as a choice for your business?
Sanne: Over the past five years, I have worked in several agribusiness projects, and two years ago I started Thirty Six Foods Nigeria together with my business partner Chip Odina. We are both driven by the need to diversify the economy and create employment in Nigeria. Africa has great resources and potential, and I love to work here.
I also love chocolate. I was working as a consultant in cocoa trade when I arrived in Nigeria, and brought chocolate from abroad every time I travelled. At some point, I started experimenting with making chocolate in my kitchen. When friends and family started to ask for chocolate, I knew we had a good product.
Alaba: What’s your experience working in different African countries?
Sanne: The first African country I lived in was Burkina Faso in 2005. Since then, I have worked across Africa. I like how varied the continent is. I chose to settle in Nigeria because it suits me. Nigerians are very honest and direct, people here are ready to work as long as it has a mutual benefit. I still travel a lot for my consulting work. Last week, I returned to Burkina Faso and it was wonderful to see how the country is still friendly and charming as it was almost fifteen years ago.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Sanne: There are always challenges. The most difficult ones are those that are not in our control: roads, electricity, and climate. While I learned to make chocolate in Europe, we had to redesign our chocolate making processes entirely to be able to deal with the specific context in Nigeria. But challenges come with being an entrepreneur. We learn from them, and we find creative solution.
Alaba: How is your chocolate unique and different from other chocolate brands in Africa?
Sanne: We focus on both quality and sustainable impact. We are one of the few chocolate makers actively investing in cocoa communities to increase both quality and income. We operate as a social enterprise and offer employment opportunities to people who might not otherwise have had a job. Training is very important to us.
Alaba: How can governments support businesses especially in the agricultural value chain?
Sanne: Businesses mainly need the government to ensure good roads, constant supply of electricity, and smooth processing of permits and taxes.
Alaba: What’s your view on the chocolate business and its future in Nigeria and Africa?
Sanne: Africa is uniquely positioned in the cocoa and chocolate market. The continent produces the majority of the world’s cocoa and represents a large market. Adding value to cocoa through chocolate manufacturing is a logical next step.
Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
Sanne: We are growing the business slowly but steadily, we never want to compromise on quality. We have a range of products that we are very proud of, and we have started to work with companies and individuals on custom orders. In addition to the Nigerian market, we have received our first export order which will be shipped next year.
Alaba: What’s your advice for prospecting entrepreneurs and investors considering the African market?
Sanne: Become an expert in your field while also being flexible to adjust to reality. You may need to change your processes or the way you sell. And take it one step at a time.
Alaba: What’s your favourite local dish and holiday spot in Africa?
Sanne: I love Nigerian food; it’s hard to choose just one dish! My top Nigerian dishes are suya, amala with vegetable soup, and pounded yam with white soup. I get them from my favourite spots in Surulere.
Regarding the holiday spot: I spend most of my holidays in Amsterdam to see my family and friends in The Netherlands. In Nigeria, I love Tarkwa Bay for a quick break. Other favourite African destinations include South Africa and Egypt.
Her Short Bio:
Sanne Steemers is a social entrepreneur and senior consultant who makes social impact economically viable. She is the founder of Thirty Six Foods Nigeria and senior partner in the Agri-Logic consulting network. She is passionate about value chain partnerships, impact investment, making Nigerian chocolate and creating jobs. Lagos & Amsterdam are home.
Rwandan women making a difference at water treatment plant
About 30 minutes’ drive outside Kigali, the tidy capital of Rwanda, past lush forests, marshland and makeshift roadside stores advertising their offerings on hand-painted signs, a group of women are quietly making history.
On a construction site next to the Nyabarongo River, the women are hard at work on a water treatment plant that will change the destiny of the country, as well as their own.
Florence Ntibazakwirwa spends several hours a day bending steel to precise angles, after which the metal is used to reinforce the structure of the buildings.
“This comes along with passion. Success has a lot to do with the commitment/urgency and passion you devote to your profession,” said the 30-year-old mother of one.
“If I manage to acquire a long-term contract in this project, I think in two years’ time I will be able to manage my own project, and to build my own house. I am looking forward to building a strong house, using my own skills, and this house will be a great example to other women.”
Florence is part of a group of 80 women on the site, as well as 421 men. In many ways, this is a landmark project, not least because so many women are involved in the construction process.
The Rwanda water treatment plant began construction in 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2020. It will service 500,000 homes, businesses and factories. It is the first public-private partnership of its kind in the country. The African Development Bank financed about $18.87 million of the estimated cost of $61.42 million.
In Rwanda, water is more than a source of life. It is also an economic enabler, especially for women. According to researchers, the less time women spend walking long distances to fetch water, the more it frees them up to be gainfully engaged in economic activities.
For that reason, water will be a major theme at the Global Gender Summit to be hosted in Kigali in November by the African Development Bank and the government of Rwanda. The topics include:
- Water, sanitation and hygiene services – enabler for women and youth empowerment in Africa; and
- Mainstreaming gender in water management.
The women at the plant are already feeling the benefits of their involvement in the water project.
“I enjoy being around my colleagues, especially the most experienced ones, because they offer me guidance. As a woman, I feel valued and proud to be in this profession, unlike before when it was known to be a man’s job only. I am grateful,” said Charlotte Nyirangarukiyimana, a carpenter.
She said her earnings at the plant had put her in a position to support her family and invest in her future, which includes buying a plot of land.
“This job has enabled me to pay school fees for my siblings…My plan is to go back to school to upgrade my skills, along with an increased income, then I can manage a full project on my own.”
E-commerce taken off in Egypt but needs more achievements: Mashtal founder
CAIRO – 19 September 2019: E-commerce in Egypt has already taken off, however it faces many challenges, Managing Director of Jazmur which owns Mashtal Garden Centers project, Karim Harouny told Egypt Today.
Harouny emphasized the importance of having digitalized business, stating that any business that doesn’t have any digital component will not succeed.
“Anything that is involved in retail can be translated to online nowadays, but infrastructure of e-commerce needs more achievements, so internet speed is definitely a very big concern,” he also referred to challenges that the sector face in Egypt.
He elaborated that internet speed needs to be improved, adding that another challenge is payment gateways. “They exist but need to be much easier,” he said.
“One of the things that slows this process down is the payment gate, so this is something that I’d love to see improved in Egypt because electronic payment will make the process much faster and easier, and it will be a huge support for e-commerce industry,” Harouny stated.
Haroun clarified that the purpose of e-commerce is that people effortlessly will be able to go through shopping experience, pick what they want, click a button and to have it delivered to the doorstep.
As per e-commerce laws and regulation; Haroun commented that at least there is a dialogue and a discussion about how to frame laws regarding e-commerce.
“I don’t see that there will be a problem, it’s moving forward, a bit slow but as long as there is a discussion and moving forward clearly, I’m optimistic, I think formalizing any business will be everyone’s benefit,” he stated.
The clear laws and frameworks are; the easier for people to do and conduct their business, according to Haroun. “It’s important to have framework controls commerce on internet.”
Regarding Mashtal Garden Centers, Haroun said that the project started two years ago, aiming to serve people who want to have gardening projects or others who already have their existing projects.
“Most of gardening stores are outside Cairo or they are informal business where there is lack of transparency,” he stated clarifying the importance of his project.
According to Haroun, Inspiration for Mashtal is that to be able to give people a beautiful shopping experience, where they can go online and find everything they need from A-Z to start and implement their gardening projects.
Going Cash-less: Hard Choices, Easy Life
Yesterday, the CBN released a circular on the “Implementation of the Cash-less Policy”. Much of the social media dialogue diverted from Andela’s restructuring to the policy’s potential impact on the economy – especially for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). A lot of comments highlighted the perceived “ineptness” of this policy and conceived it as an attempt to further complicate things, frustrate small businesses and increase the number of businesses within the informal economy.
Do the facts agree with this position? No.
In this article, I argue that yesterday was calculated and is a step in the right direction.
A Short History Lesson
On 1 January 2012, there was an attempt by the government to curb excess cash in circulation by introducing the Cash-less Nigeria Policy. It was first introduced in Lagos and prescribed handling charges on cash in excess of N500,000 (individuals) and N3,000,000 (corporate bodies).
The policy was not put in place to remove cash from the equation but to reduce its volume. It also aimed to encourage more electronic based transaction systems e.g. POS terminals, short codes and the like. The policy was first rested in Lagos state with service charges taking effect from 30 March 2012.
Under the policy, effective from June 1, 2012 daily cumulative withdrawals and lodgment in banks by individual would be limited to a maximum of N150,000, while daily cumulative withdrawals and lodgments by corporate customers is pegged at N1million. However, individuals and corporate organizations wishing to withdraw above the fixed amount would have to pay special charges.
Essentially – this has happened before, it was always in the offing.
Why is Everyone Worked Up on Social Media?
To clarify the position in yesterday’s release, if you withdraw or deposit N500,100, the charge will be levied on the N100 and not the entire sum. After all, it’s little drops of water that makes an ocean. Dissenting opinions on the issue argue from two major standpoints and I have set them out in the following bullets.
The first and most popular argument against the CBN’s cash-less move borders around financial inclusion. Proponents say Nigerians will be less interested in the banks and frequently conjure an illiterate Nigerian man who lives under a rock in some remote Nigerian village to prove their point. However, Nigeria’s current vector does not support the conclusions many commentators have reached.
Strong economies have equally strong banks; Nigeria’s banks are only beginning to get back on their feet. The informal economy valued at $240bn (IMF) presents an opportunity for the government to stabilize monetary policy and redefine banking in Nigeria. The pertinent question is, how does the government intend to do it?
Enter the CBN’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS)
The long term move for the NFIS is to ensure that 80% of bankable adults in Nigeria have access to financial services. This is the reason why you have telecommunications companies offering Mobile Money nationwide, why there are more vending machines on the Island and why POS Terminals are available at barbershops in Modakeke (for a commission, you can withdraw and send money).
It has taken time but, it is working out – execution is key.
Ease of Doing Business
Another argument borders around ease of doing business, especially for MSMEs. Ask anyone who makes this argument a simple question: what is easier, physically depositing/withdrawing N3,000,000 or transferring N300,000,000 via internet banking?
This particular argument sees the entire situation as high risk because, if handled improperly, there is the possibility that businesses in the informal sector are crushed in the wake of yesterday’s announcement. Businesses and individuals alike have to pay N52 bank charges (plus VAT) on inter-bank transactions. Arguments from this quarters note that transferring money or using POS Terminals to make payments can reduce the incentive to have money in the bank in the first place.
I will use an illustration to explain how difficult it is to agree with the above position. A woman walks into Tejuosho market with N500,000 – she intends to buy 4 items from 4 different vendors. Which of the following options makes her life easier?
- Making those payments with *737# mobile transfer and paying N208 extra or
- Withdrawing N500,000 from her bank, taking it into Tejuosho market and making payments at 4 different shops.
Would you rather risk your personal safety because you intend to save N208? If we consider ripple effects in the illustration above, there seems to be an upside for companies involved in online payments, procurement and logistics. An upside any responsible government should leverage. If you do not want to use electronic payment channels, you would have to shoulder time costs, transport and think carefully about security.
Understanding the N500,000 Threshold
The statistics show that if 100 Nigerians read this article, only 2 will have over N500,000 in their bank accounts. Thus, there is at least a 20:1000 chance that this policy may never apply to you. On the off chance that it does, you most likely are in the 2% of Nigerians that own 90% of all bank deposits.
The aforestated shows that the Central Bank of Nigeria has by default safeguarded most Nigerians and inadvertently created an exception to the policy – the 98%. It is simple, the bulk of Nigeria’s individual and business demographic will never have to shell these fees. It shows that this policy was carefully thought out, all that’s left is effective implementation.
Corruption has been touted as an existential threat to Nigeria. As a country, we hold multiple records on several corruption indexes. Through this policy it has become easier to monitor the movement of money and track illicit financial flows. Whether we grasp this or not, it is a big win for Nigeria.
Monetary inflation is becoming an increasing threat to efforts to stabilize the economy. Monetary inflation happens when there is a consistent rise in the amount of money available within a currency area/country. When this happens especially with the admixture of several other factors including the transmission mechanism, there is a tendency for prices of goods and services to cost substantially more. Essentially, with less cash in circulation – chances that the price of garri will go up become minimal (too much money makes garri expensive).
Also, it is impracticable for this government to pay interests on loans, fund the new minimum wage, protect the foreign reserves, subsidize petrol, cover federal salaries and continue projects under the current revenue streams. The government realizes this and is taking steps to create long term sustainability. More money from the 2% means that more projects are possible going forward.
There are obvious risks with the policy especially as there seemed to be no warning or a phasing stage. The Buhari led administration has brought this policy at a time when there is the ban on CBN forex for importation of certain goods, proposed increased in VAT to 7.5% and tons of other policies that we cannot seem to agree are in Nigeria’s best interests. However, we can all agree that the government is driving change with monetary policy.
For the Cash-less policy to work, proper execution is more important than a viral A4 printout/PDF with the CBN letterhead. The government must clarify exemptions to the rule, increase the ease of access to mobile money and better network coverage.
The Cash-less Policy, if properly executed, might put an end to tally numbers and long queues in banks, increase the amount of diversified small businesses (small businesses providing peripheral financial services) and increase the formal economy.
Irrespective of Nigeria’s lingering challenge with implementation, I am taking the road less travelled by saying, Nigeria is actually playing to her strengths – we will be fine.
Samuel Korie is a graduate of Law from Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife). He is passionate about policy, volunteering and the unchartered frontiers of the legal profession.