I was born in Mali, West Africa, and spent time during my childhood in Benin, Chad, Burkina Faso and Canada. My Dad worked for the United Nations and my Mum was a midwife – and both were driven by a passion to make a difference to people’s lives. Growing up in this environment had a deep impact on me, and inspired me to consider how I, too, could make a meaningful difference to people in West Africa.
Before founding Farafena (meaning “Africa” in local Bambara), I sat down with women farmers in Mali to better understand what would make a meaningful difference to their lives. I discovered how these women, our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and grandmothers, worked endless days to grow food for their families and villages, earning subsistence wages for the crops they would bring to market. I heard the need for a stable and fair income, and the value of increasing their market reach beyond the borders of Mali.
Expanding reach and impact
I founded Farafena to provide women farmers with an opportunity to share their food with the world, and to better the lives of these hard-working farmers, their families and the villages they live in. The seed of the Farafena idea is to connect communities across the planet with produce from Africa.
We now partner with over 850 African women farmers in nine villages to grow, harvest, mill and market. We estimate that each of these 850 women farmers positively impact the lives of at least five people (children, husbands, extended family), bringing the number of people impacted to over 4,000.
Uniquely African and healthy
These women farmers of West Africa are our partners, and the primary growers of Moringa, Baobab and Fonio – the nutrient-dense ancient grains, flours and powders that we bring to Canadian tables. These non-GMO, gluten-free products are grown without the use of chemicals.
Each of our products has a unique African story. Fonio has been called the perfect grain, a cross between couscous and quinoa which has been cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa for thousands of years; Baobab trees are extremely large and very old (many live for two thousand years or more) that produce a citrus-like fruit; and Moringa is known as the Miracle Tree, the plant is a source of calcium, protein and iron that Africans have been using for centuries in teas and other drinks.
Toward financial independence
Our direct and equitable partnerships with women farmers in West African Mali and Malawi are helping them achieve financial independence, which includes earnings that are above the national average (we pay them twice what they’d normally receive for their crops). We provide the communities with processing equipment like threshers and dehuskers so farmers don’t have to travel as far to the mills. These farmers are able to start micro-businesses, build homes and spend more time with their families educating their children. Equality between women and men is not just an African issue, it is a global issue, and at Farafena, we bring opportunities to women specifically, to improve the health and prosperity of their families and villages overall.
Blockchain technology improves transparency
Consumers want to learn about the stories, impact and journey of the food they eat. We recognize this increasing request of consumers to learn about the provenance of their food. To provide greater transparency on our supply chain process, we are introducing blockchain technology to share this information with our consumers. By the end of this year, we will be able to share real-time insights on our products through Mali and Malawi, from processing, bulk packaging, shipping, storage to milling and co-packing.
My overall dream for Farafena is to set an example of how families can engage with and get to know families like mine, our communities and our authentic African foods and culture. These African superfoods have been cultivated in West Africa for millennia and are now making their way into the kitchens, smoothies and baked goods of families all over North America. It is our mission to reorient people’s perceptions to the positive realities and opportunities inherent in the African continent.
Now is a particularly exciting time for Farafena: last month our products launched in 500 Loblaw stores across Canada, making it easier for Canadians that seek to have a positive impact from farm-to-fork to access our products. Our hope is that by expanding the market reach of our products, we can partner with more women farmers across more African countries, and have a greater impact on the lives of more women, their families, and their communities.
Oumar Barou Togola is the founder of Farafena, which provides women farmers with opportunities by sharing ancient, nutrient-dense superfoods of Africa with the world. To learn more, visit their website: www.farafena.com