Eight days in Cape Verde, and a business is born

The Santa Cruz valley, about 45 minutes outside the capital, Praia. 

The Santa Cruz valley, about 45 minutes outside the capital, Praia. 

Dan and I just returned from an intense, exhilarating trip to Cape Verde. We had three goals: to plant the seeds for Cape Verde's first domestic natural juice business, continue our work with the Prime Minister's Executive Office, and form partnerships with local Cape Verdean renewable energy developers. 

Mission accomplished on all counts. I'll touch on the governance and renewable energy work in a future post, but here I'll just cover the juice business, which has quickly become the centerpiece of our work in Cape Verde.

As we've mentioned in previous posts, Cape Verde imports 100% of the juice sold in the domestic market. That's a huge opportunity for Cape Verdean farmers, who have more access to water than ever before due to government (and donor country) investments in ag and water systems. These farmers are capable of producing hundreds of tons of mangoes, passion fruit, bananas, strawberries, papayas and other tropical fruits every year. They need partners who can help them create market stability - and better yet, help them transform the fruit into a value-added product. 

Gil Querido (far right), our partner in all things Cape Verde, speaks with Bill and two of our partner farmers, Ta and Lino, about the scale and size of our passion fruit plantation.  

Gil Querido (far right), our partner in all things Cape Verde, speaks with Bill and two of our partner farmers, Ta and Lino, about the scale and size of our passion fruit plantation.  

This trip was a chance for us to see if our theory - that providing strategic seed investments in fruit production can lead to Cape Verde's first domestic juice business - would hold up to reality. So we met with dozens of people, from senior government officials to rural farm workers, to invite feedback and, frankly, skepticism. We were prepared to hear a lot of reasons why this idea wouldn't fly. 

We didn't hear that once. In fact, to the person, the response we got was some variation of: "This is a great idea, it should have been done a long time ago." Even more exciting was the reaction we got from our partner farmers in the Santa Cruz valley - a region on the main island of Santiago that produces most of the island's fruits and vegetables. On my last visit to CV back in November, I met with a group of potential partners to gauge their interest in producing passion fruit for a domestic juice business. At the time, I was excited by their positive reaction, but I wasn't ready for what I saw when I went back less than two month later: two of our partner farmers left that meeting in November and began preparing land for a passion fruit grow operation. One of them succeeded in getting 100 passion fruit plants in the ground before we arrived in January.

These are some of the 100 seedlings that are already in the ground and prepped with "gota-gota" drip lines. 

These are some of the 100 seedlings that are already in the ground and prepped with "gota-gota" drip lines. 

When Dan and I showed up for a meeting with these partner farmers, Manel and Ta, two additional farmers were there. They heard about what we're planning and want to be a part of it. One of them, without ever speaking with us about his plans, had already started drying passion fruit seeds in preparation for plantation. These were some of the many goosebump moments that we had on this trip. 

After eight days of meetings, site visits, negotiations, and shared bottles of grogue (cane rum), here's where things stand: 

  • We're starting with passion fruit. First, it's delicious (have you had it? seriously, why don't we drink passion fruit juice here?). Second, it's relatively easy to grow. Third, it grows year-round, so we don't have to rely on seasonal production.
  • We are finalizing contracts with a core group of farmers to immediately plant up to 1000 passion fruit plants. We'll stagger the plantation times to ensure consistent yield throughout the year. We should have fruit ready to juice within 7-10 months. 
  • We're working with lawyers here and in CV to formalize a business structure and begin to move investment money into Cape Verde. 
  • We're going to need to hire a project manager - likely a focus of our next trip. For now, our partner Gil Querido (a friend for 20 years and a successful Cape Verdean entrepreneur) will manage operations until we need to hand it over to a full-time manager. 
  • The business will be majority owned by Cape Verdeans. This will be a business for Cape Verde, by Cape Verdeans, supplied by Cape Verdean farmers. 
  • Our juice will be 100% organic.

If we've learned anything in the past couple years, it's that starting a business is hard. Starting a first-of-its-kind business in an African country is harder. This will be a long and at times frustrating journey, but we took some very big first steps over these eight days.